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Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

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The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Wenger’s fiery response to Deeney comments: “You can’t question our character”

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Arsene Wenger was none too pleased at Troy Deeney‘s comments question whether Arsenal had the “cajones” to compete at the top of the Premier League.

The Arsenal boss blasted back at the Watford striker, telling reporters “you can’t question our character.”

Speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League match at Red Star Belgrade, Wenger launched into an attack of his own. “People try and put us down, they always have. Those comments aren’t justified. Everyone is entitled to talk. We don’t listen to what people say – we try to analyze or own game. I love my players and I trust their strength of character to respond quickly. I know who my players really are.”

[ MORE: Everton boss Koeman cracks joke, “Maybe I am in the crisis” ]

When asked if Deeney’s comments hurt, Wenger replied, “Yes but I know who my players really are. In the last seven games we had six wins and one draw. ‘Comments are part of the modern game. I love my players and I trust their strength of character to respond.”

The Frenchman was responding to comments by Deeney following Watford’s 2-1 comeback victory over Arsenal. The 29-year-old was told that Wenger disagreed with the penalty that allowed the Hornets to draw level, and he responded by saying, “There’s a reason they lost and is wasn’t because of one penalty. I have to watch what I say but… having a bit of cojones, I think the word is. Having a bit of nuts. ‘Whenever I play Arsenal and this is just personal, I go up and I think let me whack the first one, let’s see who wants it. ‘I came on today, I jumped up with [Per] Mertesacker, didn’t even have to jump actually, nod it down, the crowd gets up, and they all just backed off.’

World Cup playoff dates set for Honduras-Australia, Peru-New Zealand

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The interconfederation playoffs set to determine two more places in the 2018 World Cup have dates and locations.

While UEFA has to wait for Tuesday for its playoff draws, the schedule is in place for CONCACAF vs. AFC, and CONMEBOL versus Oceania.

[ VIDEO: Jermaine Jones’ fiery USMNT diatribe ]

And, yes, each of these posts carries a reminder that the U.S. will not headed for Russia, and stings us just as much as you.

Honduras (CONCACAF) vs. Australia (AFC)

Nov. 10 at San Pedro Sula
Nov. 15 at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium

Peru (CONMEBOL) vs. New Zealand (OFC)

Nov. 11 in Wellington, NZ
Nov. 15 at Lima’s Estadio Nacional

Deeney: Arsenal shrink when challenged, lack “cojones”

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Troy Deeney thinks, and says, what everyone else has been saying about Arsenal for a few years now — that Arsene Wenger‘s side lacks toughness and heart — only the Watford captain has done so far more bombastically and scathingly following his side’s 2-1 victory over the Gunners on Saturday.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City, Spurs win while everyone else drops points ]

Deeney, who pulled Watford back to level terms in the 71st minute on Saturday, has always been an outspoken character, but Saturday’s post-game assessment of Arsenal’s formerly great team and manager was relentless and unbridled. The 29-year-old believes it’s a bit of “cojonesquotes from the Evening Standard” which Arsenal lack, and he was more than happy to explain just why that is — :

“I’ve heard Wenger’s already blaming [the penalty] as the reason for why they lost. Well, I’m not going to be one to tell Mr. Wenger about himself, but there’s a reason that they lost and it wasn’t because of one penalty.

“I have to watch what I say, but it’s [having] a bit of cojones, is what I’ll say. Whenever I play against Arsenal, I’ll go up and think, ‘Let me whack the first one and see who wants it.’

“I came on today and jumped up with Mertesacker — I didn’t even have to jump, actually — I nodded it down, the crowd gets up, ‘Yeah, we’ve got somebody who can win it,’ and they all just backed off.

“For me as a player, I just think, ‘Happy days.’ That’s my strength — if you’re going to let me do my strength against you, you’re going to have a tough afternoon.”

Again, the above is nothing that hasn’t been said of Arsenal for years now. The difference, of course, is that now it’s a current player — one who’s just bested on them on the field of play — throwing haymakers and putting them on blast.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen, and how happy everyone appears to be to dance on their grave.

Watford 2-1 Arsenal: Cleverley seals upset in stoppage

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  • Mertesacker scores in rare start
  • Watford PK lone shot on target over 90…
  • …then Cleverley scored in stoppage
  • Watford moves fourth
  • Arsenal drops sixth

Tom Cleverley scored in stoppage time to hand Watford a surprising 2-1 win over Arsenal at Vicarage Road.

Per Mertesacker‘s first Premier League goal in 1400 days was offset when Troy Deeney converted a 72nd minute penalty to level the score.

Watford’s 15 points move it into the Top Four, while Arsenal sinks sixth.

The match was Watford’s first home match since its lone loss of the season, a 6-0 shellacking at home versus Manchester City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Roberto Pereyra couldn’t turn a hard cross on goal early, and Arsenal missed a chance through Mohamed Elneny, too.

Mertesacker scored when he rose above Tom Cleverley to head home a 39th minute marker off a corner kick.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Watford was on the front foot to start the second half, with Richarlison and Andre Gray providing moments of quality and danger.

Petr Cech stopped a cross from reaching a leaping Abdoulaye Doucoure at the back post.

Arsenal needed to swing the game back in its direction, and substitute Mesut Ozil swept Alex Iwobi to the left post for a quality chance that Heurelho Gomes slapped just beyond the right post.

That’s when life got harder for Arsenal, with Hector Bellerin fouling Richarlison on the left of the 18. Richarlison certainly made the most of contact, and Deeney stepped up to face Cech. He scored.

That wasn’t the end of Watford’s chances, the hosts’ hitting the goal post in the final 10 minutes before a stoppage time rebound landed on the doorstep for Cleverley to hammer home.