Arsenal 1 – Aston Villa 3: Benteke penalties sink Gunners (Video)

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Arsenal scored early but defensive mistakes in the box cost them as Christian Benteke buried two penalties and gave Aston Villa a shock 3-1 win on the road at the Emirates.

Olivier Giroud began the scoring in just the 6th minute when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sprinted down the touchline before cutting back behind the defense and hitting Giroud who was free in the middle.  The French striker used just one touch to direction the ball perfectly to the far post past Brad Guzan.

Guzan barely escaped a chance for Arsenal to go 2 up when the American spilled the ball outside of the net, and it fell to Theo Walcott with an empty net but his cross to the front of goal found a Villa defender.

Christian Benteke then pulled Villa level when Wojciech Szczesny was forced to bring down Gabriel Agbonlahor in the box.  Agbonlahor shot a ball ahead through the defense, and trailing his touch all by himself, Szczseny had no choice.  Szczesny saved Benteke’s original penalty, but the ball came back to the Belgian and he headed in the rebound.  It was a superb performance by Agbonlahor on the day, who ran the thin Arsenal defense ragged.

Szczesny did exactly the same as Guzan before in the 36th minute, deciding to play as an outfield player outside of the box and almost allowed Villa to pull ahead, but the defenders held in time for the Polish keeper to make his way back and make a pretty-looking diving save.

Arsenal continued to build from Jack Wilshire in the midfield in the second half as the game got chippy.  Yellow cards began to fly, and Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny brought down Agbonlahor to give away a second penalty. Benteke buried this one for the lead. Arsenal will believe they’ve been harshly judged, as Koscielny went in hard but did get a foot on the ball before bringing Agbonlahor down.

Koscielny then had insult added to injury when he barely made contact with Andreas Weimann but the winger went down anyways and drew Koscielny’s second yellow.  Arsenal still managed to keep attacking. Santi Cazorla banged a 79th minute shot into the ground and it came up and ricocheted off the crossbar.  Bacary Sagna went down hard in added time, making Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s headaches even worse for after the match.

When Arsenal threw everything forward, they continued to come close, but it bit them in the end as a counter fell to Antonio Luna who buried the one-on-one breakaway past Szczesny to secure the result on his club debut.

The Arsenal fans came down hard on Wenger at the end of the match, berating him for having made no moves so far in the transfer window.

Lineups

Arsenal: Wojciech Szczesny; Bacary Sagna (Lukas Podolski, 90′), Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs (Carl Jenkinson, 28′); Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshire; Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Santi Cazorla, 45′), Aaron Ramsey; Olivier Giroud.

Aston Villa: Brad Guzan; Nathan Baker (Ciaran Clark, 17′), Ron Vlaar, Antonio Luna, Matthew Lowton; Karim El Ahmadi, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph; Andreas Weimann (Leandro Bacuna, 88′), Gabriel Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke.

Reaction

Arsene Wenger: “I didn’t like the spirit with which he [Anthony Taylor] refereed this game,” Wenger fumed. “That for me is the most worrying thing, more than the decisions he made. I was quite amazed how stubborn his behaviour was through the whole game. I was really amazed. I can’t fault the spirit of the team. Everything went against us. Injuries, decisions and we had a bit of bad luck.”

Wenger: “I want our fans to be happy and proud of their team and when we lost at home, I just have to be sorry.”

Villa captain Ron Vlaar: “I thought maybe I could have got a second yellow but I was standing there and I couldn’t just disappear out of nothing. It’s a little bit silly to get two yellows for obstruction and the second yellow for Laurent Koscielny, I don’t know if that was one. But it’s his [Taylor’s] decision and that’s not the reason we won the game.”

Platini vows to return to soccer after “end of long nightmare”

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PARIS (AP) Banned former UEFA President and FIFA vice president Michel Platini says he is planning to return to soccer after Swiss federal prosecutors confirmed he was not being charged in an investigation into possible financial wrongdoing.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

Platini says in a statement it’s “the end of a long nightmare for my family and those close to me.”

Since September 2015, the former France midfielder had the status of “between a witness and an accused person” in criminal proceedings opened against then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter. No criminal case was ever opened against Platini.

The evidence related to Blatter authorizing FIFA to pay Platini $2 million in uncontracted back salary in 2011.

[ MORE: Ronaldo hints at Real Madrid exit | Bale does the same ]

FIFA’s ethics committee also investigated Platini’s request to FIFA for pension contributions he was not entitled to. It was agreed by Blatter and added more than $1 million to Platini’s retirement fund.

Platini was eventually banned for four years, through October 2019. Both he and Blatter denied wrongdoing but Court of Arbitration for Sport judges refused to overturn his ban and that of Blatter’s.

[ UCL FINAL: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The case meant Platini was removed from the UEFA presidency and he was barred from trying to succeed Blatter as FIFA president in 2016.

Platini, a former France captain and coach, says “I will come back: where, when, how? It’s too early to say. But I will come back into football.

“Because football is my life and I deny anyone the right to deprive me of my life,” the 62-year-old Platini says.

Neymar appears in good shape after first week with Brazil

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Neymar finished his first full week of training with Brazil on Saturday in apparent good shape ahead of the upcoming World Cup after foot surgery.

The striker continued his recovery, dribbling and passing at high speed in Brazil’s last training session on home soil before the national team sets up camp in London on Monday.

The Brazilian has been recovering from right foot surgery in March.

[ MORE: Neymar “annoyed” by latest (and constant) transfer speculation ]

Earlier in the week, members of Brazil’s coaching staff said Neymar was fit to train but they tried to reduce pressure on him by saying it would take time until he delivered his best performances.

Left back Filipe Luis said Neymar did well in training but still needs to forget the injury.

“I had a serious injury in 2010 and I came back with fear. In the first chance I had in a game, I went with it all so I could lose that fear. I saw it didn’t hurt and I just forgot,” Luis said. “It will be the same with Neymar, the first time an opponent kicks him … he will forget it.”

In the first training session in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, Neymar occasionally dragged his right foot onto the pitch. On Thursday he took his right boot off, sat down for a few minutes and looked upset. Once the football was underway, he seemed as fit as his teammates despite accidentally kicking the pitch with his injured foot. He soon afterward got back in action.

[ MORE: Messi: It would be ‘terrible’ to see Neymar at Real Madrid ]

In the first and only Brazil open training session, with fans screaming his name on the sidelines, a playful Neymar nutmegged right-back Danilo and flipped the ball over Luis’ head.

Throughout the week Neymar showed his finishing was sharpening, especially from close range.

After Saturday’s training Neymar welcomed his girlfriend, actress Bruna Marquezine, and family members to the Granja Comary training ground.

With Brazil players off duty for the rest of the day, Neymar is expected to take some teammates back to his mansion in Mangaratiba, near Rio.

The 20-strong squad will meet again Sunday morning at the Brazilian football confederation headquarters in a visit to their museum.

Players then travel to London hours later and will set up camp until June 8 at Tottenham’s training ground.

Ronaldo hints at exit: “It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid”

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In the minutes after helping Real Madrid win their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy, Cristiano Ronaldo dropped the most unexpected of transfer bombshells on the world.

[ MORE: Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool — Los Blancos make it three straight ]

With three more seasons remaining on his current contract, Ronaldo appeared to hint that he expects leave the club this summer, at the age of 33.

“It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid,” he told the television broadcast with tears in his eyes, revealing that he will announce his plans for his future “in the coming days.”

Gareth Bale, who scored Saturday’s winning goal, said something quite similar during his post-game remarks.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Perhaps it’s not the most surprising development on the whole, given his age and the obvious need for a youth movement at the Santiago Bernabeu, but to choose that stage — mere moments after winning his fifth career UCL title (four with Madrid) — to tease something so newsworthy and unexpected was certainly eye-opening.

Gareth Bale hints at Premier League transfer

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Gareth Bale jumped off the bench with Real Madrid drawing 1-1 with Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Moments later he scored one of the greatest goals in the history of European finals via an outrageous overhead kick, then added another late on to seal a 13th European title for Real.

[ MORE: Mohamed Salah injured ]

Yet speaking to BT Sport after the game, Bale’s mind was quickly on why he didn’t start the game as Zinedine Zidane instead went with Isco and Karim Benzema in support of Cristiano Ronaldo up top.

“Obviously I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt I deserved it but the manager makes the decisions,” Bale said. “The best I have been doing is to come on and make an impact, I certainly did…

[ MORE: Player ratings | Recap ]

Asked about a potential move back to the Premier League, Bale had the following to say.

“I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season. I had an injury five, six weeks in but fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it and go from there,” Bale said.

That sound you can hear is the phone of Bale’s agent ringing…

[ MORE: Ronaldo also hints at Real Madrid exit

Seriously, he has every right to question why he wasn’t playing more often and the Welsh international has been in fine form in recent weeks with six goals in his last four games.

Zidane made the right call because Real Madrid won their third-straight European title but it appears that Bale is getting fed up with being the odd man out at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If that was his final game for Real, what a way to go out. Now the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and others will be battling to bring Bale back to the Premier League, with his former club Tottenham said to have first refusal on buying him but surely they’d be unlikely to afford his wages and transfer fee.