Arsenal’s incredible comeback wins FA Cup final vs. Hull, first trophy since ’05

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LONDON — Arsenal won their first trophy since 2005 on Saturday as the Gunners lifted the FA Cup after a pulsating 3-2 win in the final against Hull City at Wembley.

This one will go down in history as an epic final saw Arsenal clinch their first pieces of silverware in nine years.

The Gunners trailed 2-0 after just eight minutes when Hull defenders David Chester and Curtis Davies put the Tigers’ fans in dreamland. However a stunning free kick from Santi Cazorla made it 2-1 in the 17th minute and Arsenal pressed for the equalizer for the rest of the game.

They finally drew level in the 71st minute as Laurent Koscielny hooked home from close range and Arsene Wenger’s men battered Hull with wave after wave of attack. Hull held on as the game went to extra time but just Arsenal went ahead for the first time in the match in the 109th minute through Aaron Ramsey who finished the game-winner with panache after Olivier Giroud’s sensational back heel.

MORE: Three things we learned from Arsenal’s FA Cup final win

Arsenal have now won the FA Cup a record 11th time, as they now join Manchester United with the only other English club to have 11 FA Cups to their name. That nine year wait for a trophy at the Emirates Stadium is finally over.

It all started so different for Hull City after an incredible start to the FA Cup final at Wembley. After just three minutes Hull were ahead as a drilled corner from the right found Tom Huddlestone on the edge of the box and his goalbound effort was tucked home by Chester to send the Hull fans wild.

Soon after the amber and black contingent were enjoying more scenes of jubilation as they went 2-0 up thanks to Davies tucking the ball home after Alex Bruce’s header bounced off the past and Hull’s captain popped up at the back to score.

Wenger stood hands on hips and looked at the ground with disgust. The Gunners’ defense had imploded as Hull go off to a flyer with their physical approach proving too hot to handle. Arsenal were 2-0 down after eight minutes. It could have been 3-0 to Hull after 12 minutes as Alex Bruce saw his header cleared off the line by Kieran Gibbs. Arsenal’s nightmare start at Wembley looked to have cost them their best chance of silverware in nine years as the Gunners, and pretty much everyone else, underestimated Hull City.

Then the Spanish magician Cazorla stepped up and curled in a wonderful free kick after 16 minutes to make it 2-1 and put Arsenal right back in the match. A flurry of early goals has this FA Cup turning into an instant classic.

source: AP
Hull raced into an early 2-0 lead but blew it.

Arsenal came close to making it 2-2 soon after as Lukas Podolski crossed from the left and an onrushing Mesut Ozil got clear of his marker but completely missed the ball. The Gunners were well in the ascendancy midway through the first half as another chance fell to Ozil on the edge of the box but the German international scuffed his shot into the ground and Davies cleared off the line. The game settled down, finally, as half time approached. Hull’s back-five sat deep and sprayed the ball around while Arsenal tried to get things going in midfield with Aaron Ramsey and Ozil hungry to get on the ball and create. Some hefty challenges from in across the pitch with Hull manager Steve Bruce patrolling the touchline nervously before the interval.

Hull held onto their lead at the interval, as the Tigers were 45 minutes from winning their first FA Cup in the clubs 110 year history. The opening exchanges in the second half saw Huddlestone drive a rasping left-footed effort over the bar as Hull looked dangerous on the  break and Arsenal controlled possession. The Gunners then had a huge penalty shout with 30 minutes left as a long ball into the box saw Olivier Giroud run clear but Huddlestone had one look after his left shoulder before hauling the Frenchman to the ground with his right arm. Referee Lee Probert didn’t point to the spot as Arsenal’s sea of fans behind the goal were incensed. Another two penalty incident then went against the Gunners soon after as Jake Livermore looked to have handled in the box and then Davies tripped Cazorla but Probert continued to wave away Arsenal’s protests.

Arsenal cranked up the heat as the second half wore and after 71 minutes it finally paid off. Bacary Sagna attacked a corner from the left and his header deflected into the path of Koscielny who hooked the ball home to make it 2-2 and set up an enthralling final 20 minutes.

The Gunners were rampant and Hull were hanging on for dear life. A driving run from substitute Yaya Sanogo saw the ball played back to Kieran Gibbs seven-yards out as the left back took his time… but blazed the ball over with a horrendous miss. In the 81st minute Alan McGregor made a terrific stop from Giroud as Arsenal’s striker slammed a left-footed volley towards the bottom corner. The London club kept pushing to win the match in regulation as just before stoppage time Giroud teed up Sanogo perfectly but the French youngster dragged his effort just wide.

Extra time was needed to decide where the FA Cup would be heading and just four minutes into the extra period Giroud rattled the crossbar with a powerful header that had beaten McGregor. Arsenal continued to push forward and Hull had no answer to the Gunners’ relentless pressure. Ramsey and Cazorla had multiple efforts from distance which didn’t threaten Hull’s goal as the Tigers saw out the first half of extra time. Arsenal introduced Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky’s off the bench for the final 15 minutes as the Gunners went for it.

In the 109th minute the Gunners finally went ahead as Sanogo made a nuisance of himself in the box and Giroud’s backheel found Ramsey to finish and win Arsenal their first trophy in nine years. Late on Hull striker Sone Aluko rounded Fabianski but sent his shot wide from a tight angle as Arsenal held on to clinch the FA Cup.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Fabianski; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla (Rosicky, 105′), Ozil (Wilshere, 105′), Podolski (Sanogo, 61′), Giroud

Goals: Cazorla (17′), Koscielny (71′), Ramsey (109′)

Hull City: McGregor; Rosenior (Boyd, 102′), Bruce (McShane, 64′), Chester, Davies, Elmohamdy, Livermore, Huddlestone, Meyler, Quinn (Aluko, 75′), Fryatt

Goals: Chester (4′), Davies (8′)

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

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After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

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After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

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Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.