Offshore Drilling, Champions League: at Schalke 2, Arsenal 2

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Meeting for the second time in two weeks, Schalke again proved superior to Arsenal, even if Tuesday’s final score didn’t reflect their superiority. A first half error from midfielder Roman Neustädter (heading a long pass from Per Mertesacker back and beyond his defense) began a 10-minute dip that left Schalke down two after 26 minutes. The Germans eventually fought back through Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Jefferson Farfán, salvaging a draw that keeps them on top of UEFA Champions League’s Group B.

Man of the Match: Paired with Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta has had to rekindle his defensive midfielder past to provide some deterrent at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. Today, that deterrent was often pushed into the back, Arteta sliding into the left side of the Gunners’ defense to cover the space vacated by Thomas Vermaelen (as the Gunners’ makeshift left back went wide). The positioning paid off in the second half when Arteta was able to fall back and clear a ball off Arsenal’s line with his left shoulder.

In the other facet of his game, Arteta was his normal self, leading the team with 52 completed passes at an 82 percent rate. His best ball came in the build up to Arsenal’s second goal when he split Schalke’s defense with a 15-yard pass for Wilshere, who played the ball out before Lukas Podolski found Olivier Giroud to make it 2-0.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Schalke’s midfield variety is enviable.

There are better midfields in the world, but few provide the variety – the balance – of Schalke’s. Jermaine Jones provides a ranging, physical presence. The acquisition Neustädter has added some needed savvy and nuance. Barcelona loanee Ibrahim Afellay provides a wide threat with the intricacy to contribute through the middle, while right win Jefferson Farfán is an imposing matchup for any opponent (as evidenced by Arsène Wenger’s decision to start Vermaelen ahead of Andre dos Santos at left back).

Lewis Holtby’s improvement has helped bring the group together. The 22-year-old occupies the playmaker’s role in Huub Stevens’ 4-2-3-1, leading the team to two goals per game in Germany. On Tuesday, his deft touch to knockout a ball for Klass-Jan Huntelaar allowed his striker to pull Schalke within one just before halftime.

Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud are finally starting to contribute.

Podolski may had have his best day as a Gunner, putting in a strong defensive effort and providing good service from the left. While the German international’s provided mixed results over his first few months in London, Tuesday gave of a glimpse of what Arsène Wenger hoped he was getting when he brought 27-year-old in from Kohn this summer.

Another of the Gunners’ big summer buys, Olivier Giroud, had a more mixed day, yet he still provided fans a reason for hope. His diving header in the 26th minute was as assertive a play as we’ve seen from the France international since he arrived from Montpellier.

Arsenal needs ball winners.

None of Wilshere, Arteta, or Santi Cazorla are ball-winners, yet that’s the midfield Arsenal’s relying on while Abou Diaby’s out. If you want to know why Schalke was able to hold the ball for 57 percent of the game, consider the inadequate ball-winning abilities of that trio.

Arsenal’s able to get by with that threesome against most of the Premier League or against Olympiakos and Montpellier, the other teams in their Champions League group. Against Schalke – a very good but far from elite European team – it won’t work.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Schalke lost both of their right backs during Tuesday’s game. Starter Atsuto Uchida had to leave half-way through the first, with replacement Marco Hoger getting hurt in the second half. Höwedes finished the game at right back after Kyriakos Papadopoulos came on.
  • Theo Walcott completed 14 passes. Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone completed 15.
  • Arsenal’s substitutes tell you what they think of their point in Germany: Francois Coquelin and Andres dos Santos came on for Santi Cazorla and Podolski. Given Schalke close their group stage with Olympiakos and Montpellier, Wenger was effectively conceding the group to his hosts. We’ll see if Schalke gives it back.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 7 — Spain, Portugal aim for wins

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Spain and Portugal got through the toughest match on their Group B dockets, against each other, but now need to stack some W’s.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s EURO champs open Wednesday’s World Cup action with a match against Morocco, and manager Fernando Hierro leads Spain against Iran to close out the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

In the middle, Uruguay looks to suck the drama out of Group A by joining Russia as 2-0 sides.

Below is Wednesday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group A
Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia: Rostov, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Portugal vs. Morocco: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Spain: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Fortunes up or down? 32 thoughts after first 17 World Cup games

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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All it took was one round of games for some favorites to be doubted, others to verify their status, and some underdogs to earn dark horse status.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

While there are valid reasons to make early judgments, it’s important to note that some perceived setbacks don’t change much while others put a serious crimp in tournament hopes.

Group A

Russia (2 games played) — Fortunes way up — Two resounding wins combined with early tumult in Group B could help Russia consider a quarterfinal spot.

Uruguay — Fortunes level — Jose Gimenez’s 89th minute winner may allow the CONMEBOL side to render its group finale moot by hammering Saudi Arabia.

Egypt (2 games played) — Fortunes way down — Could be out of the tournament should Uruguay get a point against lowly Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia — Fortunes down — Unsure anyone figured the Green Falcons as anything other than an obstacle, but their performance against host Russia was miserable.

Group B

Iran — Fortunes up — Carlos Queiroz would’ve circled the Morocco opener as a must-win. Mission accomplished, however it was done.

Portugal — Fortunes level — Needed a PK, goalie error, and wonder free kick to get a point from Spain. Still, got the point.

Spain — Fortunes down — Still look capable of imposing themselves on the tournament, but too many errors in their first outing.

Morocco — Fortunes down — Probably should’ve had a point against Iran, but would’ve wanted three anyway. Very disappointing and now a mountain ahead.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 15: Karim Ansarifard of Iran is challenged by Noureddine Amrabat of Morocco (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Group C

France — Fortunes level — Clearly the better side against Australia, didn’t inspire title confidence but could’ve easily nabbed a three- or four-goal win.

Denmark — Fortunes up — Despite being the second-best side against Peru, now can expect the knockout rounds by beating the Socceroos.

Australia — Fortunes down — France first was always going to be a struggle, but to fight so valiantly and fall to an own goal will be a mental hurdle ahead of Peru.

Peru — Fortunes down — Terrific energy and performance would’ve led to a win with any finishing luck, but getting a result from Denmark was very important. A loss presents a major challenge.

Group D

Croatia — Fortunes up — Its tactical options for the second match against Argentina are wide open after securing three points against Nigeria.

Argentina — Fortunes down — Forget control of the game and Lionel Messi’s 11 shots on target; Not getting full points against Iceland is a significant setback. A group stage without Messi is possible.

Iceland — Fortunes up — It remains hard to picture Iceland getting out of the group, but the UEFA side has now flummoxed Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in successive tournaments. Can they find a win against Nigeria to set up a wild final day?

Nigeria — Fortunes down — Group D was always going to be tough, but a 2-0 loss to Croatia means the margin of error is almost zero.

Group E

Serbia — Fortunes up — Forget how Serbia won, their fortunes have leapt due to Brazil drawing Switzerland.

Brazil — Fortunes down — Drawing their second-trickiest game could see Neymar and Co. in position to finish second in the group instead of first. The only silver lining is that Germany may also fail to claim its group and make runner-up a good thing for the Round of 16.

Switzerland — Fortunes up — Maybe Swiss supporters were expecting it, but a result against Brazil is a positive step for a team that took Argentina to extra time at the 2014 tournament but underwhelmed at EURO 2016.

Costa Rica — Fortunes down — Now needs to beat Brazil to have much hope of anything going into the final group match vs. Switzerland.

Group F

Sweden  — Fortunes level — Beating South Korea was nice and we understand the chemistry argument, but a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic would’ve feasted on the spoils offered in the opener.

Mexico  — Fortunes way up — El Tri is a very good tournament team, but if you had them beating Germany 1-0 in the opener you’re a better prognosticator than me.

Germany  — Fortunes down — Still favored to come out of the group and deep enough to repeat as champions, being unable to get a result from Mexico will only raise more questions about leaving Leroy Sane home (fair or not).

South Korea — Fortunes down — Would’ve wanted no less than four points from the Sweden and Mexico encounters, and has zero heading into the second against El Tri.

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA – JUNE 18: Andreas Granqvist of Sweden. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Group G

Belgium  — Fortunes up — Delivered expected dominance against Panama and could have a spot in the knockout rounds sewn up by the end of Day Two versus Tunisia.

England  — Fortunes up — There will not be Wayne Rooney questions about this tournament’s captain, as Harry Kane scored twice on a day he perhaps wasn’t at his best. Will clinch a berth in the knockout rounds by beating Panama next, you’d have to think.

Tunisia  — Fortunes slightly down — Needed to surprise England or Belgium to get out of the group, and still has a second opportunity after losing late to the Three Lions.

Panama  — Fortunes slightly down — Not sure anyone was expecting a Cinderella story, but even those will feel it more unlikely after a big loss to Belgium.

Group H

Japan  — Fortunes up — Not a bad team at all, but prospects were dim given the talent of the group. After beating Colombia in match one, there’s a house money feel to this one.

Senegal  — Fortunes up — Controversy aside, the Lions of Teranga deserved all three points against Poland and are in pole position to win the group.

Poland  — Fortunes down — Disappointing is an understatement leading into a match versus Colombia which could leave both on the outskirts with a match to go.

Colombia  — Fortunes down — Carlos Sanchez’s third minute red card didn’t ultimately doom them, but the task is tall with equally desperate Poland up next.

Arsenal seals transfer of German goalkeeper Leno

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Arsenal unveiled German goalkeeper Bernd Leno on Tuesday as the latest member of Unai Emery’s unit.

The longtime Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, 26, has six caps for Germany but is not on the World Cup roster.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Leno had appeared in 304 matches for Bayer before the move, which will reportedly cost the Gunners approximately $25 million.

Head coach Unai Emery said: “We are very pleased that Bernd Leno will be joining us. Bernd is a goalkeeper of high quality and experience. He has been a top performer and regular number one goalkeeper with Leverkusen in the Bundesliga for the past seven years. We are all excited that Bernd has chosen Arsenal Football Club and look forward to start working with him in pre-season.”

The Gunners have Petr Cech and David Ospina at goalkeeper, but it’s reasonable to expect at least one to leave town. Emery has already added Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus to help shore up his defense.