Arsenal’s title hopes dashed in draw which epitomizes season

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Arsenal’s performance in their 3-3 draw at West Ham United on Saturday summed up their season in a nutshell.

The Gunners raced into a 2-0 lead but just when you thought they were going to head into half time with a healthy advantage, they crumbled.

[ VIDEO: Carroll’s 8-minute hat trick

Andy Carroll struck twice in the final three minutes of the first half to stun Arsenal and the towering forward scored again seven minutes into the second half to make it 3-2.

They are now 10 points behind leader Leicester and despite having a game in hand, their faint title hopes appear all but over.

Far too often this season Arsenal’s lack of leadership in defense has led to them rolling over and surrendering easily. The lack of accountability, at times, is shocking.

Petr Cech, the man who was meant to help with that, was on the bench on Saturday after returning from injury. In truth, you couldn’t blame Arsene Wenger for not selecting David Ospina who has been superb in recent games, but Arsenal’s defense looked shaky and couldn’t cope with long balls and crosses into the box. You have to think Cech’s influence and experience would’ve help Arsenal grind out a win which would’ve kept them in the title race.

Speaking after the game, Wenger admitted their title hopes aren’t looking good and was upset with their defending.

“We’ve shown resilience and spirit to come back to 3-3. In the last 20 mins it could have gone both ways. I’m disappointed we didn’t (have an answer to Andy Carroll),” Wenger said. “I’m not here after the game to blame the players. We are disappointed to concede three goals. Particularly after 2-1. Overall it’s a shame.

“Do we still have an opportunity to win the title? I don’t know. We made it more difficult today.”

Wenger isn’t there to blame the players?

Well, at some point somebody has to take responsibility for these defensive displays. Arsenal have now conceded two or more goals against Swansea City, Manchester United, Tottenham and West Ham in their last six Premier League games and against the more potent offenses they just can’t seem to grind out results.

Laurent Koscielny (who scored Arsenal’s 70th-minute equalizer) was trying to hold things together, while full back Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal were more focused on going forward than defending and their distribution could be questioned.

Then, we come to Gabriel. He’s inconsistency throughout a 90 minute game is indicative of Arsenal. The Brazilian center back was bullied by Carroll, despite starting the game well, and Wenger’s failure to buy a top class central defender over the past few seasons must be infuriating for fans of the Gunners. Per Mertesacker‘s days appear to be numbered at the Emirates and I don’t think Wenger really believes Gabriel is the answer.

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The most annoying thing is, Arsenal isn’t a million miles away from winning the PL. That’s been the case for the last 10 years as they finished in either third or fourth in each of those campaigns.

With Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin adding some steel and balance to central midfield plus Jack Wilshere almost ready to return, that area of the pitch seems to be locked down. Improving the center of his defense must be the offseason priority for Wenger, as he’s adamant he’ll still be in charge next season.

Make no mistake about it, there will be an almighty inquest into how Arsenal didn’t win the title this season. Wenger’s men have all but conceded failure in their bid to secure the PL and only two teams in the top eight, West Ham and Stoke, have conceded more goals than Arsenal’s 33 this season. It all started so well at the back this season as they conceded just three times in their opening five PL games and optimism levels at the beginning of the campaign were sky high after signing Cech in the offseason.

Going forward, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez continue to deliver the goods and the vast array of attacking talents at Wenger’s disposal isn’t the problem. The real issue is his failure to add a top class center back.

Until that happens, it will be the same old story for the Gunners. Close, but not quite good enough.

Henderson puts Liverpool ahead at half, Mane limps off

Sadio Mane injury
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Sadio Mane walked off the Molineux pitch with an injury in the 33rd minute of Liverpool’s visit to Wolves on Thursday.

The Senegalese winger sat on the turf until the ball was played out by Wolves, then stood up and took a couple of steps before sitting down again.

[ STREAM LIVE: Wolves v. Liverpool ]

It certainly didn’t look like anything major, but Mane’s quick and decisive exit certainly won’t ease the concerns of Reds supporters.

Takumi Minamino took his place, making a Premier League debut with Liverpool leading 1-0 on a Jordan Henderson goal.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Henderson rose high to nod a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick towards goal, and Wolves keeper Rui Patricio could get a hand on it to redirect it into the side netting.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Liverpool

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Liverpool has the opportunity to go 16 points ahead of the pack still with a game in hand as they visit Wolverhampton Wanderers at 3:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ STREAM LIVE: Wolves v. Liverpool ]

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has decided to keep Joe Gomez in the starting lineup alongside Virgil Van Dijk at center-back, with Joel Matip on the bench. Matip has not featured since returning from a knee injury. Van Dijk, meanwhile, continues to power along as Liverpool’s rock, making his 23rd start of the season having played every single minute of the Premier League campaign thus far.

Liverpool has Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield alongside captain Jordan Henderson and creative force Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Fabinho sits on the bench.

For Wolves, the hosts make no changes from the wild 3-2 win over Southampton last time out. Portuguese boss Nuno sees Raul Jimenez lead the line yet again, looking to follow up his game-saving brace against the Saints that leveled the scoreline in the 65th minute before giving Wolves the lead for good 10 minutes later. The pair marked the first two goals of the new year for the Mexican, who hadn’t scored since the December 27th win over Manchester City.

Adama Traore also looks to continue his good form, having assisted two of the goals against Southampton and generally terrorizing Premier League clubs since the turn of the calendar year.

Wolves has scored just one goal in its last six league games against Liverpool, all losses. They do, however, have moxie this season, having gained gained 18 points from losing positions this season, seven more than any other club.

NCAA D1 soccer to vote on expanded season

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A report by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald has revealed that NCAA Division 1 men’s soccer is close to heading towards a full-season schedule, expanding the current fall schedule that sees the College Cup finish up around mid-December.

Tannenwald’s report, which cites Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski who has led the charge for a full calendar season, states that the new proposal would drop the regular season schedule from 25 to 23 total games, but would expand the campaign across the entire school year. The first half would consist of 13 games and end around Thanksgiving, before picking back up in the spring with nine official games. Three exhibitions would be spread around the season, as opposed to the current setup of five meaningless exhibition games all set in the spring offseason.

The main goal of the plan, which is years in the making, is to eliminate midweek games, helping to cut down on missed class time for players. At least, that’s what Cirovski is selling to the NCAA. His true goal is to help players get used to a full professional schedule, knowing that currently, collegiate players tend to hit a wall in their first few professional seasons, holding their careers back.

Tannenwald reports that the eventual vote, which will be held in April, will consist of 64 total submissions. Each Power 5 conference will have four votes each, while the Group of 5 conferences get two votes each and the remaining conferences get one vote each. To pass, the proposal needs a full majority, meaning 33 yes votes are required out of the 64. The report states that the Atlantic 10 confirmed to the Inquirer that they will vote yes to the proposal, while the Ivy League said it will vote no.

“The college coaches on the men’s side are going to be working hand in hand for the next three months to try to get us to the finish line, to do something that is transformational, an evolutionary and positive change, and a game-changer in this country for not only college soccer, but we feel for soccer in general,” Cirovski said.

The report states that Cirovski has solid support from inside the college soccer space, and also in the pro soccer community where there is excitement that the new proposal will help development and transition from college soccer to professional life. It says that while this would only cover the Division 1 men’s schedule for now, it’s likely that the women’s ranks would follow soon after should this initial proposal pass through, and D2 and D3 could also tag along.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Chelsea searching for striker

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Chelsea is still determining how long the club will be without talismanic striker Tammy Abraham after an ankle injury saw him limp his way through the final few minutes of the 2-2 draw with Arsenal. Chelsea had run out of substitutes so Abraham was forced to stay on, but he was clearly struggling at the end and now the club waits on further testing.

While the Blues were already linked with strikers before Abraham’s ankle trouble, they have now reportedly stepped up the chase for a short-term injury replacement. Widely reported as the club’s first choice, it appears that Edinson Cavani – who handed in a transfer request at PSG, the French club confirmed – will likely move to Atletico Madrid.

That has seen Chelsea look to other options, and according to multiple tabloids across England as well as some fringe reports in France, the Blues have reopened talks with Lyon over the availability of Moussa Dembele. The 23-year-old former Fulham youth product has been prolific this season for the French club, scoring 11 goals in 19 Ligue 1 games plus another four in four domestic cup matches. Still, Lyon reportedly rebuffed a $44 million bid earlier this month which at the time ended the conversation.


Manchester United’s public chase of Sporting CP midfielder Bruno Fernandes has taken yet another twist.

According to a report by Portuguese publication Record, an unnamed agent of Fernandes has a signed agreement with the club for a $5.5 million fee should he arrive with a $55 million transfer bid that the club rejects. This could potentially put pressure on Sporting to sell the 25-year-old whereas the club had been playing hardball on his valuation.

The report does not specify which agent the clause is connected to, which is notable because it could either be Fernandes’s personal agent or superagent Jorge Mendes who reportedly struck a deal with the club to help broker this transfer. Mendes is on record saying that Fernandes will leave Sporting, but they may wait until the summer to pull the trigger.

Even former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho had jokes about the drawn out transfer saga regarding Bruno Fernandes. After Tottenham’s win over Norwich on Wednesday, Mourinho jabbed with a reporter, approaching him about his assignment in Portugal covering the transfer rumor. “How was Lisbon?” Mourinho asked in jest. “Lisbon was good? So Bruno Fernandes come to United or no?” Mourinho said. “So you go to Lisbon and he’s not coming? But coming or no?”


According to Italian journalist Gianluca di Marzio, Newcastle is nearing a loan deal for 23-year-old Inter wide player Valentino Lazaro. The report states that Newcastle has entered a loan bid involving a $1.7 million fee that includes a $26 million option to buy at the end of the season.

Lazaro joined Inter this past summer from German club Hertha Berlin for about $25 million, but has failed to make an impact at his new home, with just six Serie A appearances to date and just three of those starts. He has not collected a goal and has just one assist, resulting in significant time on the bench. With the arrival of Victor Moses and Ashley Young this winter, Inter is hoping to offset the additions to the squad with the sale of Lazaro.

The Austrian international scored three goals and assisted seven others last season with Hertha, earning his move to Inter. As a right-sided player, he would be direct competition for USMNT international DeAndre Yedlin who is currently on the shelf after suffering a hand injury.


Multiple Italian tabloids have picked up on the rumor that Carlo Ancelotti has plugged back into his Napoli roots in the hopes of convincing Brazilian midfielder Allan to join Everton this winter.

According to both Gianluca di Marzio and Tuttomercadoweb, Ancelotti has made contact with Napoli regarding the striker, although he has heavy competition from Inter. The 29-year-old has been with Napoli since joining in 2015 from Udinese, and he has logged significant time this season, making 14 Serie A appearances and five more in Champions League play.

Known as a tough tackler, Allan would take a significant investment by Everton to pry him loose mid-season, given his importance in the Napoli squad and his current contract that runs through the summer of 2023.


Italian publication Tuttosport thought it prudent to report that Manchester United is considering bringing Carlos Tevez back to the Premier League on loan. He’s started one game for Boca Juniors since late August. Yea, that ain’t happening.