Arsene Wenger has some very big personnel decisions to make

Leave a comment

Wednesday’s Champions League flop against Bayern Munich is the latest ingredient to the not-so-delicious cake Arsene Wenger currently has in front of him.

With a title race to concentrate on, the FA Cup still in play, and a prayer in Europe to cling to, the Gunners have plenty of important fixtures remaining this season.

Unfortunately, there are some side-stories brewing that have made the team sheets Wenger compiles much more complicated than just being about who plays where on the field.

The Emirates saw on Wednesday a mentally derailed Mesut Ozil. The knockout blow to his psyche came on a grotesque penalty which was easily saved by his boyhood buddy Manuel Neuer.

With Ozil in la-la land following his ninth-minute snafu, calls for him to be plopped on the bench have become deafening.

With four goals and nine assists on the Premier League season, playing at a high level with Ozil on the bench is a tall task for Arsenal.  However, his on-the-field sulking has temporarily opened the door for players like Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla to take over the playmaking role with less depression.

It’s quite possible that some time to think and reflect on the bench, and/or an electric performance or two off the bench would do Ozil a world of good.

(MORE – PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW: ARSENAL VS SUNDERLAND)

But that’s not all Wenger is wrestling with on his lineup card.

source: Getty Images
English reports are speculating Lukas Podolski could quit Arsenal this summer if he doesn’t play more.

With Olivier Giroud sat for the Champions League match following his relationship fiasco (which Wenger insists had nothing to do with his decision), youngster Yaya Sanogo has impressed – even in the Bayern match where the Gunners failed to score.

Giroud is also essential to the squad, with a team-leading 14 goals on the year in total, and leaving him to rot for too long could have adverse effects.  However, Sanogo also played very well, and certainly planted a seed in Wenger’s mind.

With three goals in his last 12 league games, Giroud’s form has come crashing down since his furious start to the season, but Wenger said “his head is in the right place. He will be focused.”

Muddying the attacking waters for Arsenal is the presence of Lukaz Podolski.  According to a report in the Telegraph, one of England’s less sensational papers, players have privately expressed their feelings that Podolski should be the recipient of more playing time.

The winger has taken a back seat for much of the year, missing over four months due to injury, but also failing to secure regular time on the pitch since his December 23rd return.  But his teammates have seen otherwise, as the German has bagged six goals in 10 appearances across domestic competitions (league and FA Cup play).

The report in the Telegraph speculates that the players are worried Podolski could leave in the summer if he’s not given ample playing time.  If Ozil is dropped, it would allow Cazorla to slot into the playmaker position leaving Podolski an opening on the left wing, his favorite spot. But that’s only a temporary fix for the German.

The Gunners manager is quite aware of his upcoming dilemmas, saying, “It’s part of the job to decide who plays, it’s debatable every time. I have to live with that and I have to make my decisions with my conscience and I just make my decision based on who can help us win the next game.”

Unfortunately, his decisions at the moment have just as much effect on life off the pitch as they do the results on it.  And he has to sleep in whichever way he chooses to make the bed.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
2 Comments

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
1 Comment

Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’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 – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
2 Comments

FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Leave a comment

At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.