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Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win vs. West Brom

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LONDON — Arsenal beat West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday with Arsene Wenger‘s men strengthening their grip on the top four.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

It was a strange night for Wenger and his players as fan unrest was clear but Alexis Sanchez’s double at least moved the Gunners up to third in the Premier League table.

Here’s what we learned from a subdued Emirates Stadium.


ARSENAL UNREST GROWING

About a minute before the game kicked off it was clear that Arsenal’s fans were making their feelings well known about recent results.

Following the 1-1 draw at home against Crystal Palace last Sunday unrest among Arsenal fans has reached almost unprecedented levels during Wenger’s reign. The Arsenal boss knows it and had this to say before the West Brom game.

“I want our fans to be happy and when they are not it affects me. Ideally, yes, you want to play in a positive environment,” Wenger said. “You do not want to play in a negative environment, but if we do we can still perform. ‘We are responsible for the performance of the team and it is true that at the moment it is not a highlight but we have to take a distance with that.”

The “tickets sold” sign said 59,568 but if the crowd at the Emirates was over 55,000 I’d be surprised. Sure, it was a Thursday night, it was West Brom and it was slightly chilly for April, but fans of Arsenal showed their disdain for the way this season has panned out in the best way they knew how. Staying at home.

If this continues to happen in the coming games and maybe into the start of next season then the pressure on Wenger from the board, not just the fans, will grow. Arsenal has become an incredibly successful business over recent years and one of the main reasons is their ability to charge top dollar in a stadium a few stops away from Central London on the tube and each and every week the stadium is sold out. Now that attendances are showing small signs of regression, Wenger and the club will need to address their needs this summer and buy in central defense and in central midfield to strengthen. A top four finish is still not guaranteed but they are four points clear of fifth place with four games to go.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | standings

Make no mistake about it, 20-straight seasons in the top four under Wenger is an incredible record and Arsenal fans calling for him to be fired should be careful what they wish for. However, they are also entitled to ask for more. In each of the last 10 campaigns they’ve ever finished third or fourth. They’ll likely do the same again this season. Usually that’s enough to ward off the critics but with all of the perennial big boys faltering below them and only Leicester City and bitter rivals Tottnham Hotspur above them, the mood at the Emirates on Thursday summed up how Arsenal’s fans are feeling overall.

This season is a huge opportunity missed. That, plus Spurs pushing for the title, has accelerated the unrest among Arsenal’s fans. “Arsene Wenger, we will support you ever more,” said an Arsenal fan, sarcastically, as he walked past the press box at the full time whistle. That about summed it up.

SLICK SANCHEZ STREAKING

Alexis Sanchez has now scored in four consecutive games for Arsenal and the Chilean forward scored twice in the first half to set the Gunners on their way to victory. Arsenal’s fans should feel free to question tactical and personnel decisions from Wenger, but what they can’t question is Sanchez’s commitement to the cause. In his second season in the PL he’s gone through streaks. He started slowly, then scored in six-straight games, then cooled off in the middle as injuries took their toll. After a busy summer with Chile at the Copa America last year he’s faded in the last few months. Now he’s back to his best.

After just five minutes he swiveled past Sandro and smashed home low to put Arsenal 1-0 up and wheeled away with the same verve as if he’d just scored a crucial goal in an early season win. He was everywhere in the first half. Sanchez double-dummied Saido Berhaino on the halfway line, produced a majestic flick to Hector Bellerin who drove forward and smashed just over, then he scored the second with a clever free kick through a gap in the wall.

When Arsenal purr it’s because Sanchez is gently rubbing their belly and soothing them into action. In the second half he tiptoed around two defenders and sent a back heel perfectly into the path of Bellerin. It draw admiration and gasps from the home fans. On a difficult night for Wenger and Arsenal, that man Alexis delivered some cheer to liven up the mainly melancholy crowd.

PERFECT RETURN FOR MOSS

Following his eventful outing at the King Power Stadium last Sunday, this was the perfect game for referee Jon Moss to make his return to the middle.

[ MORE: How long should Vardy be banned? ]

The referee is currently public enemy number one in Leicester after sending off Jamie Vardy last Sunday and then mentioning in his match report that Vardy had been abusive towards him when leaving the field of play. That led to an FA charge and will likely cost Leicester its star man for at least the next two games as Vardy accepted the FA’s improper conduct charge on Thursday. On top of his automatic one-match ban for picking up two yellow cards — the second of which came for simulation after Vardy went down in the box — the England international could miss an extra game, or even two, for pointing in the face of Moss and allegedly swearing at the official. Vardy, Leicester’s top goalscorer, has requested to speak to an FA panel early next week to try and reduce any extra ban. His important to Leicester is clear and Moss’ decision will have a huge say in whether or not Leicester win the title.

This outing for Moss was much less eventful. An Arsenal side stumbling for fourth and a West Brom side in midtable promised as much. He gave two penalties last weekend at Leicester, one correctly for a tug on Winston Reid and then another incorrectly in stoppage time after Jeffrey Schlupp went down under contact from Andy Carroll. On Thursday both Alex Iwobi and Mohamed Elneny went down in the box under slight contact but halfhearted appeals were waved away by Moss. He made the correct calls and it was an uneventful game. He’s a good referee, one of the PL’s best, and doesn’t deserve some of the criticism he’s been getting. The only mistake he made was being too human and awarding Leicester a late penalty kick last weekend under intense pressure from the home fans.

On Thursday there was no pressure on him and it was a breeze. I bet he wishes every outing was like that…

Premier League Friendly Roundup: Leicester, Norwich in action

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Ayoze Perez got off to a great start for his new club on Tuesday, as Leicester topped Scunthorpe United, 1-0.

Perez, who arrived earlier this month from Newcastle in a $38 million transfer, scored on a first-time strike in the box that proved to be the difference in the game.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brendan Rodgers side got a chance to get minutes for plenty of first-team regulars. Johnny Evans, Jamie Vardy, Perez and Youri Tielemans all started. Wes Morgan, new signing James Justin, Rachid Ghezzal all came off the bench.

An interesting note was that Harry Maguire, the target of serious transfer interest from Manchester United, came off the bench at halftime and played the second half of the game. According to the latest reports, Man United and Leicester City are still very far apart regarding a transfer fee, so Maguire looks set to remain for the time being.

Elsewhere, Norwich City continued its preseason tour of Germany with a friendly match held behind closed doors. Norwich beat Bonner SC, 4-1, with goals from Adam Idah, Onel Hernandez and Teemu Pukki.

UCL Roundup: Red Star, The New Saints (Wales) advance to second round

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Second legs are underway in the UEFA Champions League first qualification round, and both Red Star Belgrade and The New Saints from Wales are through to the second round.

Here’s a short roundup of UCL action on Tuesday:


Red Star Belgrade 2-1 Sudova (2-1 on Aggregate)

The Serbian giants advance to the next round with a big 2-1 win over Lithuanian Champions Sudova. Richmond Boakye and former Chelsea midfielder Marko Marin both scored in the first half. Red Star Belgrade was set to keep a clean sheet but Sudova scored late.

With the win, Red Star Belgrade moves on to face HJK Helsinki in Finland in the second round.


The New Saints 1-0 Feronikeli (3-2 on aggregate)

Welsh Premier League side The New Saints defeated Kosovan club Feronikeli, 1-0, thanks to a goal from Irish forward Dean Ebbe. Ebbe came off the bench and headed home a lofted ball into the box.

Feronikeli had chances to take the lead early, including twice in the first ten minutes, but blasted shots in the box well over the wall.

UEFA Champions League Second Leg Results

Shkendija 1 – 2 Nõmme Kalju 
Saburtalo 1 – 3 FC Sheriff
Valletta 1 – 1 F91 Dudelange
HB 2 – 2 HJK 

Solskjaer: ‘We just need consistency’

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In a vague, general word, Manchester United manager knows exactly what his club have been missing. Consistency.

More specifically, consistent success.

In a sit-down interview with the BBC, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mentioned striving for consistency in performances on no less than four occasions, including when speaking about Alexis Sanchez. Man United won eight straight matches in all competitions and 10 of its first 11 under the Norwegian manager.

[READ: De Ligt lands in Turin ahead of Juventus move]

And yet, the consistency wasn’t there late in the season, when Man United faltered down the stretch and won just two of its last ten matches to close the season on a sour note. Man United finished in sixth place, and while Solskjaer said he believed it would be a challenge to break into the top four, he said with some consistent performances, Man United could achieve its goals.

“We have to aim for further up than fourth,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “I would rather be an optimist and be wrong than a pessimist and be right. I am not used to us being fifth or sixth but that is where we are at. That is the size of the challenge. I love that challenge.

“We have to work with the players, sign the right types and gradually make our way to the challenging line. Our players do have quality. They do have a chance. We just need consistency. We have to keep working every single day and not take our eyes off the target. Everyone gets off line at some point but you can’t let it drift too far because then you won’t get to the overall goal.”

Some Man United fans have been mumbling and rumbling due to the slow start in this summer’s transfer window. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have both departed on free transfers, while only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have come in. While it’s not the improvements some fans were hoping for, it’s helped give some of the young players, like James Garner, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenword, some hope that they can get minutes.

Perhaps the push from the young players for first team minutes will make Man United a bit more competitive in training again, which can only help in terms of having success on the field.

The big question remains, which Man United team will we see this season. The one from Solskjaer’s first two months on the job, or the one from his last six weeks.

MLS Notes: Shea out for season with torn ACL, and more

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It appeared Brek Shea had finally gotten his career back on track, only for a serious injury to end his season prematurely.

Atlanta United announced on Tuesday that Shea had suffered a “right knee injury” that will involve season-ending surgery. An earlier report from the Athletic stated it was a torn ACL, which could leave Shea sidelined into the start of next season.

[READ: de Ligt arrives in Turin]

Shea has made 10 starts out of 19 appearances so far this season for Atlanta, where he’s often played as a left wing back or left midfielder, offering speed down the flank and a deeper starting position to connect with Atlanta’s talented attackers. A good season from Shea could have propelled him back into the USMNT conversation, especially if he took part in next season’s January camp. Now, that option is off the table.

Here’s some more MLS news and notes:

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