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.

Report: No money in January for Mourinho

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Jose Mourinho will have to deal with the squad he has for the rest of the season, according to a report the Guardian.

The report states that Tottenham isn’t making any money available for signings in January, meaning that Mourinho won’t have the chance to add to his Spurs squad. Usually, when a new coach comes in, they’re given at least a transfer window to bring in one or two players, especially mid-season, to stabilize the squad.

[READ: Mourinho speaks for the first time as Spurs manager]

It’s certainly an unusual move from Tottenham. It leaves Mourinho in a bad spot in terms of the five first-team players who will be out of contract in June. If any of them, including Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, leave on transfer, perhaps Tottenham can use those funds towards new signings. However, it’s more likely at this point that all five will finish the season at White Hart Lane and leave, setting up a massive summer for Mourinho.

At the same time, Tottenham has shown financial austerity for the past few seasons, as it struggles to pay back the loans it took to renovate its stadium. Pochettino didn’t make a single signing for the entirety of the 2018-2019 season and while the club broke its transfer record to sign Tanguay Ndombele, there wasn’t investment throughout the squad.

Considering Tottenham’s financial behavior, it does question why Mourinho took the job in the first place. But with his reported eight-figure salary, and the chance to work with Harry Kane, Mourinho may have decided it’s worth it, even if he can’t sign his players and mold the squad in the way he wants.

Looking Ahead: Mourinho’s first 10 games

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Tottenham’s stunning week continued on Wednesday with the appointment of Jose Mourinho as manager.

Taking in his first day of training, Mourinho can now get to grips with not only his squad, but what’s ahead for Spurs. Here’s a look at what Mourinho will be up against in the next two months.

[READ: 5 things Mourinho must do at Tottenham]


Game 1: Tottenham at West Ham, Saturday, Premier League

Mourinho’s first game in charge is a London derby, which is a pretty tough way to start life at the club. Coming on the road, you can expect a packed house, tons of media attention, and possibly a re-energized squad. That’s what Mourinho will be hoping for, anyways.

Sebastian Haller has struggled recently, and with just four goals in 11 Premier League games, he could be looking at this matchup as a way to get back on the scoresheet. It will be up to Mourinho to re-organize a want-away defense.

Game 2: Tottenham v. Olympiakos, Nov. 26, UEFA Champions League

Game 3: Tottenham v. Bournemouth, Nov. 30, Premier League

Game 4: Tottenham at Manchester United, Dec. 4, Premier League

Mourinho only has to wait three weeks before his first trip back to Old Trafford. Even though it’s coming soon, it’s not a guarantee that it will be Mourinho v. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is under a lot of pressure himself. Things haven’t improved at Man United much since Mourinho was sacked, and a win for him on the road would be the kind of grudge match he lives for.

Game 5: Tottenham v. Burnley, Dec. 7, Premier League

Game 6: Tottenham at Bayern Munich, Dec. 11, Champions League

If the Champions League stopped today, passed Go and went directly to the knockout rounds, Tottenham would be in. Despite all the Premier League troubles, Spurs have done well enough to stay ahead of Red Star Belgrade and Olympiakos in the standings. Should Tottenham beat Olympiakos in November, and Red Star loses to Bayern Munich, it will be set. However, if Tottenham hasn’t secured a place in the knockout round by then, it may need a result against Bayern at home. That will be one of Mourinho’s biggest tasks moving forward.

Game 7: Tottenham at Wolves, Dec. 15, Premier League

Game 8: Tottenham v. Chelsea, Dec. 22, Premier League

Tottenham opens the busy holiday period against Mourinho’s other Premier League former club, and the place where he made his name in England. At this point, Mourinho will have been with Tottenham for an entire month and if things are going well, Tottenham could challenge Chelsea in this match. If Tottenham remain at its current level, Chelsea could certainly win a match like this on the road at the new White Hart Lane. Another side plot will be Mourinho facing his former star midfielder, Frank Lampard.

Game 9: Tottenham v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Dec. 26, Premier League

Game 10: Tottenham at Norwich City, Dec. 28, Premier League

Mourinho will have to navigate some tough matches, including big six derbies against Chelsea and Man United, plus a trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers. However, it certainly could have been worse for Tottenham. Spurs has five home games, along with matches against Burnley, Bournemouth, Norwich City and Brighton and Hove Albion. Despite 10 games in the rest of 2019, and a busy holiday period, Mourinho has a shot to turn Spurs’ season around and put them in contention for fourth place by May.

UEFA investigates player’s claim of racial abuse in Romania

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA has called for further investigations into allegations by a Sweden player he was racially abused by Romania fans at a European Championship qualifying game.

After Alexander Isak reported his claim to the match referee last Friday, play in Sweden’s 2-0 win was briefly stopped to broadcast a warning to fans in Bucharest. The stadium will host four Euro 2020 games in June.

[READ: How the USMNT found and kept Sergino Dest]

UEFA says it opened a disciplinary investigation, and also charged Romania’s soccer federation for separate incidents of an alleged “illicit banner” and “illicit chants.” Those charges will be judged on Dec. 12.

Romania faces more severe UEFA action because it was already under one year’s probation for previous incidents of offensive fan behavior.

Only accompanied children were allowed to attend Romania’s home qualifier against Norway last month.

The next UEFA punishment could affect Romania’s next game in the Euro 2020 playoffs round in March.

Report: Austin FC hire Reyna as sporting director

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Months after locking in Josh Wolff as head coach, Austin FC is reportedly on the verge of naming one of MLS’ best sporting directors to the same role.

The Athletic reported on Wednesday that Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has hired Claudio Reyna from New York City FC to be the expansion club’s new sporting director. It’s the second expansion club that Reyna is working for since he joined NYCFC in 2013 as its first director of soccer operations.

[READ: MLS takes big step with All-Star game update]

If true, it’s a shrewd move by Precourt to bring in a man who knows MLS like the back of his thumb, and to pair him with a former teammate from the U.S. Men’s National Team. Wolff’s spent almost his entire career in professional soccer in MLS too, so the club now has two influential individuals who are knowledgable about the league and it’s various roster mechanisms.

Austin FC doesn’t enter MLS until 2021, so locking in Reyna now gives him more than a year of runway towards building an MLS-ready roster. Precourt has surely seen the best-case scenario – Seattle, Los Angeles FC, Atlanta United – where a team loaded with top-heavy talent and good role players can make a deep playoff run in its expansion season. But he’s likely also seen the worst-case scenarios – look at Minnesota United in the past and FC Cincinnati this year.

Bringing in Reyna certainly makes it more likely that Austin FC’s future will lie in the former category.