MLS Preview: Chicago Fire at Montreal Impact

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Was Montreal’s surprising burst of March largesse just a mirage for the Impact, which has suddenly drifted toward a place where more of us expected to find them all along?

This is a toughie to sort out. Under new manager Marco Schallibaum, the Impact had MLS heads on a swivel a month ago, turning to get a closer look as the bunch from Quebec was perfect in its first four. A 1-0 win over New York back on March 23 served to extinguish any remaining doubts; the sophomore MLS side really did look like a player in the Eastern Conference race.

And then April happened.

Actually, the slide (if we’re calling it that) started in late March with a 2-0 loss in Kansas City. But everyone struggles in Kansas City, right?

A 1-1 draw at home against Columbus could also be written off as an odd duck of a result; the match was delayed 24 hours by massive snowfall. Besides, Columbus has proven to be a bugger on the road.

But then came Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at rival Toronto in the Amway Canadian Championship. So it leaves us all to wonder if the early Impact burst was smoke-and-mirrors stuff? Or was that close to the real Impact, with this recent splat of mediocrity sure to be a passing thing, just the inevitable dip over a long season?

Let’s talk after Saturday’s meeting with the Chicago Fire at cozy little Stade Saputo; kickoff on the NBC Sports Network is 4 p.m. ET.

Schallibaum has some lineup juggling to do; this is the club’s second match of a ridiculously busy stretch with six contests in 18 days.

Chicago’s Frank Klopas won’t have the same busy-busy issues, his club well rested and presumably enjoying an uptick of confidence after last week’s 1-0 win at home, venting some of the mounting pressure around the club’s suburban Bridgeview ground. Huge goal, Jeff Larentowicz!

Arne Friedrich, proving to be even more of a defensive giant for the Fire in his ongoing absence, remains injured and unavailable for Chicago. Jalil Anibaba was strong last week in Friedrich’s spot alongside 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry.

Klopas will have to adjust the back line, however, due to Wells Thompson suspension, so a new right back will find the Stade Saputo field.

Montreal will call on back line reinforcements, too, as Matteo Ferrari’s calf strain will keep the veteran defender out a few weeks.

Best matchup to watch in this one: Impact holding midfielder Patrice Bernier (pictured above) remains something of a well-kept MLS secret. He’ll find himself more or less directly matched with Fire attacking midfielder Chris Rolfe, who hasn’t quite had a big 2013. But then again, no one with the Fire really has.

Puel, Schmeichel fume at referee after Leicester loss to Arsenal

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While the world looked on at the performance by Mesut Ozil in awe, Leicester City manager Claude Puel and Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were left stewing after the match at a first-half decision which they believed changed the game completely.

Had the referee awarded a penalty for a Rob Holding handball in the first half with Leicester City up 1-0, the game would likely have turned out very differently. Holding, already on a yellow card, would have likely been sent off and Leicester City would have a chance from the spot to go up 2-0.

“I think [the first half was] our best half since the beginning of the season,” Puel said after the match. “We deserved to score more goals and make the difference in the first half. I didn’t understand why the referee didn’t whistle for the penalty, because in this moment it was a penalty, it was a second yellow card and so a sending off for the Arsenal player. This situation can change the finality of the game.”

Puel said that once the call was not made, and Arsenal was able to equalize before the break, Leicester City’s level of play dropped enough for the Gunners to pounce.

“I regret a little our beginning of the second half. We lost a lot of balls and we gave them the ball too easily to put us under pressure, but we have had the chances to score and to be leading in the game with the header from Ndidi. A lot of regret in this game because we showed a lot of quality and we were not lucky with the refereeing decision.”

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was in agreement with his manager about the key first-half decision. “We got no help from the official,” Schmeichel said. “I’ve never seen a clearer penalty. It’s tough to take because we were so good in the first half but in the second we’ve got to do a lot better than we did.”

At halftime, the replay showed the ball clearly hitting Holding’s forearm while above his head. However, the NBC studio crew argued that the penalty was not called because Holding’s arm was hit into the ball by the Leicester City attacker who attempted a header, and that although his arm was above his head, it was not in an unnatural position due to the natural human instinct to balance the body while jumping into the air.

Emery still searching for improvement after Arsenal win

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Arsenal won its 10th match in a row across all competitions with a 3-1 victory over Leicester City, with Mesut Ozil playing the starring role.

Still, Unai Emery isn’t fully pleased with the performance.

[ WATCH: Ozil sets up 2 beautiful goals in Arsenal win over Leicester City ]

Arsenal fell behind 1-0 thanks to a Hector Bellerin own-goal, and the Gunners boss is concerned about his assessment of the 90 minute performance. “Different halves, every match is difficult,” Emery said after the match. “First half we didn’t control the match with possession and positioning.”

Ben Chillwell got behind Bellerin and sent in a cross to the middle of the box, to which goalkeeper Bernd Leno reacted, but the cross clipped off Bellerin’s foot and past the wrong-footed goalkeeper. Arsenal responded with a 3-goal wave, as Ozil scored the first and set the next two up in brilliant fashion.

“We are happy because we are progressing. We need to play with organization but also with heart. We are beginning to play with heart. When you continue to improve your demands are very high. We need to control the matches more than we are doing now.”

The win pushed the Gunners to fourth in the Premier League table, above rivals Tottenham on goal differential. Emery said in order to have success long-term and maintain their Champions League positioning, the players need to be flexible.

“First half we didn’t play well but then we played with quality and heart. This feeling together is very good. We need the number 10 position sometimes with Mesut Ozil and sometimes with Aaron Ramsey. We can’t play with both sometimes. Last match was away and we played it with two strikers. Today Mesut was very good but I believe in every player and different positions for the players.”

West Ham midfielder Yarmolenko out six months after Achilles surgery

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West Ham announced on Monday that midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko would miss around six months after undergoing successful surgery on his Achilles tendon.

Yarmolenko was carried off on a stretcher in the 40th minute of West Ham’s 1-0 loss to Tottenham on Saturday. He appeared to catch his studs in the penalty area turf and went to the ground.

[ MORE: Arsenal tops Leicester City 3-1 ]

The Hammers released a statement confirming the surgery was “successful” and that he would miss around six months. That likely leaves Yarmolenko out for the rest of the season, unless he returns for the final month or so.

The 28-year-old Ukranian international joined West Ham this summer from Borussia Dortmund for a reported $23 million, and had just cracked the starting lineup after coming off the bench for the first four matches of the season. He had a brace in a 3-1 win over Everton, but has otherwise struggled to find the back of the net.

Yarmolenko was expected to be a major part of the West Ham squad this season, with a significant amount of top flight and international experience. Yarmolenko has 80 caps for Ukraine, with 36 goals to his name. He is a versatile player, able to play either on the wing or centrally, and his injury will likely mean more minutes for Michail Antonio who has started just one match for West Ham in their last five.

Arsenal 3-1 Leicester City: Ozil conjures magic in Gunners victory

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They say Mesut Ozil is one of the best players in the Premier League, when he wants to be. He wanted to be on Monday afternoon.

The Gunners captain scored the opener, and he truly shone while orchestrating two of the most brilliantly constructed goals of the Premier League season to help Arsenal shake off an early Hector Bellerin own-goal to earn a 3-1 victory at the Emirates.

Leicester City attacked well from the onset and would go ahead just seconds past the half-hour mark as they push down the left. Ben Chilwell burst down the flank past Alexandre Lacazette and behind Hector Bellerin just enough that as Bellerin hoped to recover, Chilwell’s cross clipped Bellerin’s foot and into the back of the net, with goalkeeper Bernd Leno already diving the wrong way to stop the cross.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal surged into the asencency after falling behind, and nearly found an equalizer shortly after. A long ball was just out of reach for a streaking Alex Iwobi behind the defensive line, Granit Xhaka came close on a long-range free-kick, Aaron Ramsey whiffed on a free header at the near post on a corner, and Iwobi’s effort from the right was saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

Eventually, the pressure would prove fruitful and the Gunners would equalize just before the break. As the Gunners looked to build out of the back, Mesut Ozil charged through the midfield on the ball, and after spraying it right to Bellerin, he got the ball right back in front of net and had plenty of space for a one-touch finish on the run.
[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After the break, Arsenal had a big chance as Lacazette’s shot pinged around and fell to Henrikh Mkhitaryan whose scissor kick swerved across the face of goal and just wide of the left post. Still, Leicester proved pesky and nearly put themselves back in front in the 58th minute as Wilfred Ndidi headed a corner straight into the crossbar.

That would prove costly, as Arsenal took advantage minutes later. With the Gunners on the ball in the attacking third, Ozil threaded an absolutely delicious through-ball for Bellerin that completely unlocked the Leicester City back line, and the Spaniard simply tapped across to substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the goal.

The Gunners would do even better three minutes later on one of the prettiest goals we’ve seen this Premier League season. Bellerin sent the ball into the mixer with Ozil waiting at the top of the box. The German international let the ball go through his legs, dummying to Lacazette who touched right back to Ozil on the run past the Leicester City back line. With Arsenal now through, Ozil produced a delicious chip over a charging Schmeichel to Aubameyang waiting to finish a simple tap-in for his second goal of the evening.

Arsenal probably should have had a fourth, but Lacazette’s look on the doorstep was smothered well by Schmeichel. That was the last serious action of the game, as the Gunners cruised to victory.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

The win pushed Arsenal up to fourth in the Premier League table, even on 21 points with Tottenham and Chelsea, and ahead of their West London rivals on goal differential. Leicester City, meanwhile, remained stuck in 11th on 12 points for the season.