Can Mathieu Flamini’s grit get Arsenal back into the Premier League title race?

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LONDON — Coming on for Jack Wilshere in the 43rd minute, Mathieu Flamini’s second spell at Arsenal started in the exact manner you would’ve expected.

Crunching tackles, grit, determination and a hard-fought win in the North London derby was the perfect stage to show off what Flamini does best.

The destroyer is back and boy, Arsenal have missed him.

Returning this week on a free transfer after five-years at AC Milan, Flamini has been missed by Arsenal ever since he left in 2008. He may not be the most skillful or talented player in the world but he does all of the dirty things that keep the Gunners ticking over. He presses, tackles, organizes, harasses the opposition and leads by example.

(MORE: Arsenal 1-0 Spurs; Giroud’s goals continue as Gunners grind out win)

Many people questioned Arsenal manger Arsene Wenger for bringing back 29-year-old Flamini on a free, as fans and pundits continued to scoff at the Gunners lack of transfer of activity. But adding the experienced Frenchman could be a masterstroke after his display against Spurs.

“I said it was a no-brainer. I’m just sorry that it didn’t cost $35 million,” Wenger joked. “His overall performance on the pitch was exceptional, he hasn’t played since May but overall his performance was very convincing.”

As Arsenal and Tottenham’s players walked off the pitch at half time on Sunday, Flamini remained. He had only just come on as a substitute for Wilshere two minutes before the break and was ready to roll. So, as the sprinklers swung their vapor across the immaculate Emirates pitch, Flamini stayed out on his own to perform shuttle runs and get a touch on the ball.

His commitment to the cause was there for everyone to see and it’s something that’s been sorely missed by Arsenal.

source: AP
Flamini’s destructive nature in the engine room is exactly what Arsenal need.

In the 54th minute Flamini went flying into a tackle with Danny Rose midway through his own half and was rightly booked for an extremely rash challenge. The sight of a yellow card for the combative Frenchman was greeted with applause by the home fans.

They’ve missed that.

That nasty streak Arsenal was famed for during Wenger’s most successful years in charge has vanished over the last five or six seasons. Visions of Martin Keown shoulder-barging into a striker, Patrick Vieira clattering into a tackle and Ashely Cole getting in the oppositions faces are a distant memory.

(MORE: Arsene Wenger aims big; “We need one or two super players”)

But Flamini’s second half performance against Spurs was a reminder of Arsenal’s wild side. And make no mistake about it, his presence after the break was pivotal as Arsenal’s spirit pushed them on to claim all three points. Flamini was screaming at left back Kieran Gibbs as stoppage time ticked away. He talked, he chased, he led from the front like a warrior in the midst of battle.

After the match Wenger spoke about that togetherness and claimed he always knew it was there.

“I was one of the few that never doubted that,” Wenger said. “This team has lost one game since March in all competitions. You don’t do that with an average spirit.”

And with Flamini’s return you have to think the spirit will only improve and the famous chant “1-0 to the Arsenal”, which rang out across English stadiums throughout the 1990’s, could also be returning. Wenger was delighted with his sides new desire and defensive nous as they beat their North London rivals.

“We showed aspects in our game that aren’t use to see from us,” Wenger said. “That means commitment, desire, defending. And overall their ‘keeper was their best player, so that shows we had the chances to win comfortably today.”

The last time Flamini wore an Arsenal shirt they lost out on the league title by four points in the 2007-08 season, the year before they narrowly lost in the Champions League final to Barcelona. And although Flamini’s first spell with the Gunners wasn’t exactly trophy laden, just one FA Cup and a Community Shield to show for his efforts, the French midfielder brings a certain je ne sais quoi that has been lacking in Arsenal’s engine room for some time.

Is Flamini the magic ingredient to success?

Earlier this week he returned to the Emirates, signing a three-year deal after turning down AC Milan’s offer of a new contract, his motivation was that he had ‘unfinished business’ in North London. He certainly played like that on Sunday afternoon.

“The story with Arsenal is not finished… I have unfinished business,” Flamini said. “I am happy to be back and I have come to fight and win titles.”

And Flamini’s style separates him from the rest of Arsenal’s midfielders as Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey are all ball-playing midfielders who can get stuck in when need be, but that tough-tackling approach doesn’t define them.

(MORE: Olivier Giroud the hero again… Do Arsenal need a new striker?)

Flamini is purely a no-nonsense midfielder. His job is to win the ball and give it to others to create. That is what Arsenal need this season as they aim to not just make the top four, but win the title.

“What Arsene made clear with me is that we are fighting for the title,” Flamini said. “Not fourth place and qualification for the Champions League. This is a big club with big ambitions for the title.”

A statement of intent from the new man who will put his body on the line, week in, week out, to try and deliver the Gunners first trophy since 2005. We’ve talked about his penchant for tackling above all else but Flamini can still stroke the ball around midfield with great accuracy. The former Marseille man had a pass accuracy rate of 85 percent during his 102 games with Gunners before he packed his bags for the San Siro in 2008. But his appetite for destruction is what should excite Arsenal fans.

Many would argue that Arsenal have missed having a true midfield terrier, someone who isn’t focused on playing attractive soccer and wowing the crowds. Flamini plays to win and at his destructive best, the Frenchman is perhaps the missing cog in Arsene Wenger’s flamboyant attacking mechanism.

Colombia thrash poor Poland, set up must-win vs. Senegal

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Colombia thrashed Poland, to the tune of 3-0, in the two sides’ must-win game in Group H play at the 2018 World Cup on Sunday, getting goals from Yerry Mina, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado to leave their destiny in their own hands ahead of Thursday’s decisive group finale against Senegal.

Poland have been eliminated with one group game still to play.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Colombia could have scored two or three goals in the first half, with Cuadrado and Juan Quintero causing constant problems for the left side of the Polish defense, but the necessary finishing touch was consistently lacking until Mina headed home a James Rodriguez cross in the 40th minute.

Poland offered very little, both before or after Mina’s opener, as Robert Lewandowski was effectively contained with the vast majority of his touches coming 30 yards from goal and further out. After disappointing in their tournament-opening loss to Senegal, manager Adam Nawalka made a handful of changes to his lineup — dropping the likes of Arkadiusz Milik, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Kamil Grosicki — to no avail.

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

Despite the scoreline remaining 1-0 for the first 25 minutes of the first half, Poland never looked threatening and were put to the sword by Falcao’s first career World Cup goal (missed the 2014 tournament due to a knee injury), courtesy of Quintero’s seeing-eye through ball.

James played provider five minutes later, when he slotted what might just be the pass of the tournament across the field, across the Polish defense, and found a streaking Cuadrado with acres of space in front of him. From one end of the field to the other, in no time at all.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

When Colombia (3 points) meet Senegal (4 points) on Thursday, they’ll need a win to overtake them for second place, or for Poland (0 points) to beat Japan (4 points), who currently sit top of the group — but that seems highly unlikely at this point.

VIDEO: England players ask for US support during World Cup

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With England making the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup on Sunday after hammering Panama 6-1, now may be a little too late to get on the Three Lions bandwagon.

Well, maybe not…

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Comedian James Corden spent some time with the England team and put together the video above to try and entice Americans to support the English national team this summer with the USMNT, obviously, not at the World Cup in Russia.

With Jamie Vardy acting like a cowboy, Kyle Walker refusing to say soccer and Eric Dier getting a football helmet stuck on his head, it’s safe to say they had fun.

Japan, Senegal deliver enthralling draw

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  • Senegal, Japan both have four points
  • Mane, Wague twice put Senegal ahead
  • Inui, Honda equalize twice for Japan

Japan and Senegal played to an entertaining 2-2 draw in Yekaterinburg to leave Group H finely balanced heading into the final round of games.

Sadio Mane and Moussa Wague twice put Senegal ahead but Japan fought back with goals from Takashi Inui and Keisuke Honda to grab a point.

Both teams now have four points heading into their final group games, with Japan facing Poland and Senegal playing against Colombia on Thursday.

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

Senegal started superbly and Mane was denied by a timely block when he got a shot away from close range early on. But the Liverpool man wasn’t to be denied his first World Cup goal.

Shortly after a cross from the right was only half cleared and Youssouf Sabaly’s shot was punched out by Eiji Kawashima but straight into Mane as the ball ricocheted off him and in. A slightly fortuitous goal from Mane but Senegal deserved the lead.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Japan had a few opportunities from distance and grew into the game as an equalizer arrived before half time.

Nagatomo controlled the ball superbly and he played it inside to Inui who curled home a beauty into the far corner to make it 1-1.

Senegal then had a great chance on the break but Niang’s shot was saved by on the onrushing Kawashima.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

At the start of the second half Osaka’s header lacked power as N’Diaye saved, then at the other end Niang volleyed over in an end-to-end encounter.

Osako then squandered a wonderful chance after a fine move down the right saw Shibasaki cross to him six yards out but the Japanese forward somehow missed the ball entirely.

Japan went even closer soon after as Inui again curled a beautiful shot in on goal from the left side of the box but this time his effort pinged off the crossbar and went over.

Wague then put Senegal ahead as they worked the ball from the left to the far post and the 19-year-old right back arrived to smash home as the Lions of Teranga celebrated.

Osako had a shot superbly blocked by Salif Sane but then Senegal shot themselves in the foot as N’Diaye came for a cross and got it all wrong.

That led to Honda having a simple tap in to make it 2-2 and that is how an entertaining encounter finished.

Report: Salah may quit Egypt national team

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Mohamed Salah is said to be considering his future with the Egyptian national team.

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The Liverpool and Egypt star, who wasn’t fit enough to play in the Pharaohs opener against Uruguay but scored in their 3-1 defeat to hosts Russia earlier this week, is said to be fed up with being used as a political pawn as Egypt based themselves in Chechnya during the tournament.

A report from CNN claims that Salah isn’t happy with what’s been going on in Egypt’s World Cup base in Grozny, as the report states he feels he is being used as a political symbol for Chechnya.

The leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, had the following to say via social media about the 26-year-old superstar.

“Mohamed Salah is an honorary citizen of the Chechen Republic! That’s right! I gave Mohamed Salah a copy of the order and a pin at a celebratory dinner that I gave in honour of the Egyptian team.”

Salah will likely play against Saudi Arabia in Egypt’s final Group A game on Monday, but his future with the Egyptian national team seems to be in doubt.