Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win vs. Manchester City

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Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 on Monday at the Emirates Stadium with the Gunners putting in a perfect counter-attacking display to boost their title credentials against a surprisingly lackluster City.

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Theo Walcott and Oliver Giroud grabbed the goals to keep Arsenal second — with Yaya Toure curling in a late goal for Man City — and put them just two points behind league leaders Leicester City.

Here’s three things we learned from the battle between two title contenders.

CLINICAL GUNNERS GO BACK TO THE FUTURE

Arsenal were at their ruthless best for a clinical stretch at the end of the first half as Mesut Ozil — more on him below — set up both Walcott and Giroud to score in the final 12 minutes of the half. Despite sitting back and defending for large patches of the game, Arsenal did the damage when they needed to and this mature display over a fellow title contender mirrored their win at the Etihad Stadium back in January 2015 when a switch seemed to click in the heads of the players and manager Arsene Wenger. Going back to that game — where I asked Wenger about the beauty of Francis Couqelin’s display in the post-game presser — Arsenal found a way to win without dominating possession and used their pace on the counter to deliver heavy blows at crucial moments. Now, almost 12 months on from that new-found defensive blueprint they followed so successfully at City, they can roll out that kind of performance at home, just like they did earlier this season in a 3-0 win over Manchester United, as Arsenal had less possession but did more when they had it.

In the first 45 minutes the Gunners only had two shots on target and scored with both of them. The final possession stats read 63 percent for Man City and 37 percent for Arsenal. In truth, Arsenal could have won more convincingly but Joel Campbell lifted the ball over when he should have scored in the 53rd minute, then Joe Hart‘s face made a big save on Aaron Ramsey when clean through, plus Campbell forced Hart into another save in the 66th minute as his toe-poke was saved down low. Add in another chipped shot from Ramsey which he should have done better with and Arsenal certainly produced enough chances to win handsomely. Despite a late wobble they held on to win and made a big statement in the title race.

OZIL IS AN ASSIST MACHINE

Mesut Ozil has oozed class all season long. In his third season with Arsenal the German playmaker has sprung into life and is now producing magic assists on a regular basis. After setting up both of Arsenal’s goals on Monday Ozil, 27, now has 15 assists in the Premier League this season and in each of his last 11 games he has either assisted or scored. He’s rolling.

Both of Ozil’s assists against City weren’t wonderfully pleasing on the eye but his delicate passes into Walcott and Giroud teed them up perfectly and he found pockets of space in the center of City’s midfield where Yaya Toure was sleeping in the first half. Walcott curled home a lovely finish for the first and Giroud slammed home another with Ozil instrumental in the game-winning moments. That $60 million Arsenal paid Real Madrid for Ozil in 2013 is looking like pretty good business right about now.

Elsewhere in Arsenal’s midfield Mathieu Flamini and Ramsey (who should’ve scored but put in a tireless shift) held down the central spots superbly with the injured duo of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin missing. If Arsenal are to win the Premier League title for the first time in over a decade there is no doubt they will need contributions from their entire squad. There is also no doubt that Ozil will link everything together seamlessly with his silky skills.

CITY WASTEFUL

It took Manchester City until the final 30 minutes to wake up, but when they did they looked menacing. In the first half Kevin De Bruyne skinned Nacho Monreal on the inside and fired his shot to near post which Petr Cech saved, then the Belgian had a gilt-edged chanced in the 32nd minute when he went clean through after a mix-up in the Arsenal defense but instead of squaring to David Silva he flashed a shot wide of the far post. 60 seconds later Arsenal went ahead as a game-changing minute arrived. Despite having plenty of the ball, City were wasteful when they did get in and around the box as they lost for the third time in five games and are without a win in their last five Premier Leagu away games.

It took a moment of predictable laidback brilliance from Toure — who had been asleep for most of this game — to get City on the scoreboard and after that he took over the game with Toure stabbing a shot just wide and Wilfried Bony having an effort deflected wide. It was too little too late for City who missed Vincent Kompany terribly at the back, once again, and Sergio Aguero returned from injury but looked rusty in attack. With plenty of speculation around Manuel Pellegrini‘s future as City’s manager with Pep Guardiola said to be close to agreeing a move to take charge in the summer, being six points off the top on Christmas Day is far from ideal as the big bucks City spent in the summer aren’t showing on the pitch.

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.


Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.


Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.


Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?

Netherlands forward Rob Rensenbrink dies at age 72

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Rob Rensenbrink, the forward who was centimeters away from delivering the Netherlands a World Cup title in 1978, has died at age 72, the Dutch football association said Saturday.

“We have heard with sadness of the death of football legend Rob Rensenbrink,” the association said in a tweet.

Rensenbrink played most of his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge and Anderlecht, where his weaving runs earned him the nickname “Snake Man.” He also played briefly for the Portland Timbers in the United States in 1980.

He was a regular for the Netherlands national team in its period of dominance in the 1970s.

He played 46 times and scored 14 goals for the Dutch team known for its slick, position-swapping “total football.”

But he will always be best remembered for the goal he didn’t quite score in the 1978 World Cup final.

With the scores tied at 1-1 between the Netherlands and host Argentina and the seconds ticking away in injury time of the final in Buenos Aires, Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post. The match went to extra time and Argentina scored twice to win 3-1.

It was the second straight World Cup final defeat for the Netherlands, which has appeared in three finals and lost them all.

Rensenbrink was diagnosed with a muscle disease in 2012 and died as a result of the illness, according to Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Anderlecht said he died Friday night.

“Thanks for everything Robbie!” the Belgian club wrote on its website. “We will never forget you.”

Serie A roundup: Ilicic powers Atalanta in historic win over Torino (video)

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Atalanta’s historic and overpowering win over Torino highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Torino 0-7 Atalanta

Josip Ilicic scored a hat-trick, including a center-line strike, as Atalanta humiliated Torino 7-0 on Saturday, handing the hosts their worst home loss ever in Serie A play.

With only nine men on the field towards the end of the match for Turin-based side, Atalanta were able to capitalize, elevating their goal count to 57 goals in 21 games this season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who are back in Champions League contention, lead the league in goals.

Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who scored a minute before the break, added to Ilicic’s first of three. A three-goal advantage after the first 45 minutes foreshadowed what Torino was going to encounter in the second half: more goals.

Eight minutes into the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s bout at the Olimpico di Torino, Ilicic quick-fired two more past an exposed Salvatore Sirigu.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Luis Muriel took the field for the visitors. And just six minutes after his first foot on the natural surface, the Colombian striker had a brace to his name.

“All we can do is apologize,” Torino coach Walter Mazzarri said. “In so many years of my career I had never had such a game.”

In fourth place with 38 points, Atalanta look to increase their seven-goal performances this season to three as they host struggling Genoa in a weeks time. Torino, on the other hand, meet AC Milan on Tuesday in the quarterfinal’s of the Coppa Italia.

Elsewhere

SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa