Olympiakos 0-3 Arsenal: Giroud hat trick sends Gunners through

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Arsenal pulled off mission impossible in Athens on Wednesday, as the Gunners reached the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the 16th straight season with a 3-0 win over Olympiakos.

[ MORE: Who can Arsenal get in last 16?

Olivier Giroud was the hero as he netted his first Arsenal hat trick in a crucial game with one goal in the first half and two in the second, as the Gunners eliminated Olympiakos in the process as they knew before the game that they needed at least a 2-0 victory.

Arsene Wenger was a happy man as his side recovered superbly from losing their opening two Group F games and won three of their last four matches to clinch qualification to the knockout round.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Early on Arsenal weathered a storm and then pushed forward as Joel Campbell cut the ball back and Mathieu Flamini slipped as he hit the ball then his shot crashed against the crossbar and out. The ball was then half cleared and Nacho Monreal‘s crossed the ball back in but Olivier Giroud’s header was a tame on after

Arsenal worked their way into the game more and more and Ozil lobbed a great ball through to Giroud but the goalkeeper was forced into a stop. Moments later Giroud wasn’t to be denied as a beautiful pass from Ozil found Aaron Rasmey and his cross was met with a superb header by Giroud as he gave Arsenal the lead. 1-0 to the Gunners as their mission to sneak into the UCL last 16 was well and truly on.

After that goal Arsenal were caught in two minds about whether to go for the crucial second goal which would see them go through to the last 16, or sit back and protect their lead before launching a late onslaught. Ozil looked dangerous every time he got on the ball and almost played in Theo Walcott before the break but after 45 minutes the Gunners were 1-0 up and needed one more goal to advance at Olympiakos’ expense.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

In the second half Arsenal came flying out of the traps and were soon 2-0 up as Ozil lobbed the ball into Joel Campbell and his exquisite play set up Giroud who swept home. 2-0 to the Arsenal who were going through to the last 16.

Olympiakos went close to pulling a goal back right away as they piled in at a corner but Petr Cech saved fairly comfortably and then Walcott went close to making it 3-0 as Campbell’s cross found him at the back post but his volley was deflected just wide.

The home side needed just one goal and knew they would still qualify with a 2-1 defeat and Kostas Fortounis forced Cech into a magnificent diving save to keep Arsenal 2-0 up and Brown Ideye then couldn’t finish

Arsenal then won a penalty kick as Omar Elabdellaoui threw himself at the ball and the referee awarded a soft penalty for handball, which Giroud stepped up and scored to net his and Arsenal’s third goal, meaning Olympiakos needed to score three times in the final 24 minutes to make the UCL last 16 at Arsenal’s expense.

Late on Arsenal sat back and soaked up Olympiakos pressure as the Greek side needed didn’t get anywhere near scoring once, let alone three times, and Wenger’s men had pulled off a miraculous escape to make the knockout rounds.

Report: Six Barcelona board members quit, recommend new election

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Barcelona might be atop La Liga, but the behind the scenes atmosphere is ugly.

A day after reports that president Josep Maria Bartomeu asked four board members to leave the club, the quartet and two others have resigned and called for new leadership.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Marca translated the letter signed by Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Maria Teixidor and Jordi Calsamiglia (Spanish report here). The first four were asked to leave, with Teixidor and Calsamiglia joining them.

That leaves the board at 13 members.

“We ask that once the results of the audit entrusted to PWC are presented, all responsible to be swept away with the eventual corresponding compensation.

“As a last service to our club, we recommend that as soon as circumstances allow it to call new elections to allow to direct the club, with all the ‘authority’ and in the best possible way in the face of the important challenges of the most immediate future.”

It’s been a terrible season for Barca off-the-field, and Bartomeu’s leadership simply must be questioned given the actions of him and some of the people under his watch. Former players and legends have spoken out against the club’s hierarchy, including Pep Guardiola.

The ouster of Ernesto Valverde was handled without much class, and director Eric Abidal threw the players under the bus for the managerial change. The club has also dealt with “Barcagate,” in which a contracted social media company was fired for posting Tweets against Barca’s players.

Both drew the ire of Lionel Messi, who can exercise a clause to leave the club this summer (though that seems unlikely). Messi also admitted he “sees weird things happening” after Bartomeu spoke to the players after “Barcagate.”

Messi also refuted Thursday rumors of a move to Inter Milan in a since-deleted IG post.

Bartomeu has been Barca’s president since January 2014, and the club has won the 2014/15 Champions League and four of five La Liga crowns during his full seasons in charge. There have, however, been a lot of misses in the transfer market.

It might get uglier before it gets better, but there isn’t too much room for worse.

Premier League March Madness: Handicapping the Final

Premier League March Madness
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There was a thriller when Wolves and Everton met at Goodison Park on Sept. 1, and we’re hoping for the online poll equivalent when our Premier League March Madness concludes on Friday.

Wolves already gave us one on Thursday, blowing a lead they held for most of the day to see a 50-50-to-the-vote deadlock before a sizeable win in extra time (30 minutes of added voting).

Everton had an interesting win of its own, destroying Merseyside Derby rivals Liverpool with more than 80 percent of the vote.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

Road to the Final

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The Toffees are the favorites here, having knocked off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

But this will be the first time in the tournament where Everton won’t have the benefit of a club many other teams hate as the opposition.

Wolves’ extra time win over Sheffield United was a first real scare of the tournament, and the Molineux set will hope its extra time performance was a showing of what it will do when faced with elimination.

It’s difficult to choose against Everton here, even if the Anfield faithful will move to the side of the Wolves. We’ll call it 54-46 to the blue side of Liverpool.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Final Four

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Everton has its first Merseyside Derby since 2010 thanks to the voters of ProSoccerTalk.

The Toffees’ 21-match run without a win over Liverpool “ended” Thursday in Premier League March Madness, the fusion of two of our favorite sporting competitions.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

We hinted at this win on Wednesday given the exits of all the Premier League giants besides Liverpool, as supporters of Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea might leap at the chance to take the Reds off any throne.

But to say we saw this margin? The Toffees didn’t just beat their rivals; Carlo Ancelotti’s men stomped the Reds into online oblivion.

So who will Everton meet in the final after knocking off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool?

The winner of Sheffield United and Wolves came in nail-biting fashion, the two sides nearly as evenly-matched as their 1-1 draw at the Molineux on Dec 1.

Wolves led for much of the day but saw their lead slip to 50.4-49.6 with minutes left in voting.

At 6:30 p.m. ET, it was dead-even. 50-50.

So we extended voting to extra time, and Nuno Espirito Santo must’ve deployed a ridiculous substitute because Wolves ran away with the thing to the tune of 59.6-40.4. #Swing.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Much-chased Havertz reportedly prefers Bayern move

Kai Havertz
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The latest transfer gossip regarding rumor mill regular Kai Havertz pours a lot of cold water on the hopes of several Premier League giants.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City this season with his odds of leaving Bayer Leverkusen at an all-time high. He’s also been connected to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham to cover most of the Top Six bases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

But Sky Sports says the German playmaker is keen to stay in his home country and make a move to Bayern Munich, who has been linked with Havertz, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner in a bid to revolutionize its UEFA Champions League credentials.

Havertz has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 matches this season after exploding for 20 and seven in 42 last year. He doesn’t turn 21 until June.

The youngster provides little defensively but averages 2.3 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match in Bundesliga play while passing at a tidy 87 percent despite living in the danger areas.

Whoever gets Havertz has a gem on its hands, but perhaps the Premier League will amp up their interest and recruiting efforts after these reports (if they haven’t already).