Three things we learned from Arsenal’s failed UEFA Champions League campaign

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Following Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League exit to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, it seems like a good time to reflect on another disappointing European campaign for the Gunners.

Despite their brave effort in Bavaria — Arsenal drew 1-1 but barely threatend Munich who prevailed 3-1 on aggregate over the two legs — the North London club somewhat stuttered through the Champions League this season.

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There were some bright spots along the way, but some familiar problems popped up as Arsene Wenger’s men bowed out at the last 16 stage for the third time in the last four years.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from another UCL campaign to forget for the Gunners.

  • Lack of squad depth horribly exposed

In Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Bayern  Munich on Tuesday they had to rely on players like Serge Gnabry, Lukazs Fabianski, Thomas Vermaelen and Tomas Rosicky. Most of those names — who by the way, let nobody down — have been bit-part players this season and too many times throughout this domestic and European campaign they’ve been called upon on short notice and rushed back into the fray. The Gunners lost Nacho Monreal, Kieran Gibbs and Yaya Sanogo over the past weekend, that was on top of missing Nicklas Bendtner, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. That’s a lot of injuries, but it only acted to reinforce what we already knew: outside of their starting XI, Arsenal haven’t got much depth. Instead of spending $63 million on one player — we’ll get to you in a minute, Mesut Ozil — they should have added strength in-depth throughout the squad during both the summer and January transfer windows.

That cost them dear in the UCL knockout stages, as injuries in the PL and FA Cup have come back to haunt the Gunners. The players replacing Walcott and Ramsey in the lineup were simply nowhere near good enough to cause teams like Bayern problems. We saw that play out twice, painfully.

  • Ozil hasn’t delivered expected UCL pedigree
source: AP
Wenger’s big gamble on Ozil taking the Gunners to the next level hasn’t paid off, so far.

When Mesut Ozil arrived at the end of August to delight and delirium on the streets of North London, many believed he was the missing cog in Arsenal’s well-oiled machine. “He will make the difference in the Champions League,” they said, “Ozil has delivered on the biggest stages, he can be our leader” exclaimed plenty of Arsenal’s fans. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way in the UCL, did it? Yes, the German playmaker had his moments, after years of experience with Real Madrid on Europe’s biggest stage that was bound to happen. But when the biggest moment of all arrived, a penalty kick in the opening 10 minutes of their last 16 tie to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead over Bayern, he fluffed his lines. Even before that tie-changing PK miss, Ozil only scored once in Arsenal’s Champions League campaign and failed to turn up when it really mattered.

The official reason for replacing the German at half time of Arsenal’s second-leg away in Munich was “a hamstring injury” but he simply looked off the pace and disinterested. The man Arsenal bought in to quarterback their UCL charge didn’t deliver. Will this failure have a lasting impact on his legacy at the Emirates?

  • Away day blues are over

Okay, it’s not all doom and gloom. Besides the crazy 2-0 loss away at Napoli in the final group stage game, which Arsenal never looked losing until the last 15 minutes and then somehow were almost heading out of the tournament on goal difference, the Gunners were solid and sensational away from the Emirates. In recent seasons the Gunners have struggled away from home in the UCL group stages, winning just twice in the last two season on the continent. But early in the campaign with Olivier Giroud, Walcott, Ramsey and Ozil firing on all cylinders, the Gunners looked unstoppable away from home with their silky style shocking homes teams on the break.

Wins away at Borussia Dortmund and Marseille in the group stages were added to by their 1-1 draw away in Munich, and if you take into account their 2-0 win in the last 16 of the 2012-13 UCL tournament to Bayern, Arsenal have now lost just one of their last five away games in the Champions League. Not many sides can say that in the UCL, so a silver lining, of sorts, for Wenger to chew on as he tries to digest Arsenal’s latest failure to get over the first hurdle of the Champions League knockout stages.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE