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Premier League preview: Arsenal vs. Hull City

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With everything else happening in Arsenal Land, you might have forgotten the 2016-17 Premier League season is far from over. Sure, the future of Arsene Wenger is in greater doubt now than it’s ever been; sure, the Gunners have lost two in a row in league play, and fallen to fourth in the league table, 12 points back of leaders Chelsea; and yes, they suddenly find themselves closer to sixth place (just two points between Arsenal and Manchester United) than they are to second (three points back of Tottenham Hotspur).

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But Hull City are coming to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), which means an easy, automatic three points, right? Well, actually, wrong. Marco Silva’s side shocked Liverpool just last weekend, a result which gives the Tigers points from three of four PL games (their only loss came against Chelsea) under their newly appointed Portuguese boss. Another upset this weekend would almost certainly jump Hull from 18th in the PL table, where they presently sit, to safety outside the bottom-three.

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INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Aaron Ramsey (calf), Granit Xhaka (suspended), Santi Cazorla (achilles), Yaya Sanogo (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Hector Bellerin (concussion) | Hull City — OUT: Abel Hernandez (hamstring), Michael Dawson (calf), Curtis Davies (hamstring), Ryan Mason (head), Markus Henriksen (shoulder), Will Keane (knee), Moses Odubajo (knee)

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger, on the support of the fans: “Our fans have been consistent and have a high level of expectation, as I have as well. But I don’t feel it is absolutely clear. You cannot be a fan until last Tuesday and not be a fan anymore and not be behind the team this Saturday, it doesn’t make sense. … I want the fans to be behind the team. But at the same time, I am not fool enough not to know that the first priority is us and our dynamic inside the team that will create and facilitate the support of our fans.”

Marco Silva, on turning one good result into two: “Of course last weekend was important because we won three points. We take those points but now we forget the game because in my mind, all we do now is prepare for the match against Arsenal. We have to continue to show our best on the pitch and prove that what we did last week in terms of the result is our real value.”

Prediction

At some point, all those injuries are going to catch up with Hull — not just the number of players unavailable, but they quality and import they carry with them as well — and if we know one thing, it’s that Arsenal bite back the hardest after they’ve been written off. Alexis Sanchez has himself a day to remember, and Arsenal are up 2-0 or 3-0 before halftime.

Mohamed Salah starts for Egypt despite int’l retirement talks

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Mohamed Salah is coming off of his best season as a professional, but reports suggest that his time with the Egyptian national team could soon be coming to an end for reasons that extend beyond soccer.

Salah will however be included in Egypt’s Group A finale against Saudi Arabia on Monday, though, after the team sheet was revealed by the Pharaohs ahead of the match.

CNN reported over the weekend that Salah believes he is being used by Egypt as a political symbol to represent Chechnya, which has sparked talks of the talented Liverpool winger ending his international career.

Egypt has already been eliminated from reaching the Round of 16 after losing its first two matches at the World Cup.

The tides have turned significantly for Toronto FC

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2017 gave Toronto FC its first MLS Cup, as well as significant notoriety for the club’s historic season, but Greg Vanney and his side are in a world of trouble in 2018 for reasons that are still unfathomable.

[ MORE: NYCFC tops TFC in come-from-behind victory ]

A deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League (which ended in heartbeat at the hands of Chivas) and a number of injuries have plagued Toronto this season, and for that, the defending champions find themselves in unchartered MLS waters.

Over the course of Major League Soccer’s 22 previous seasons, only three defending champions have gone on to miss the playoffs the next year (D.C. United in 2000, LA Galaxy in 2006 & Portland Timbers in 2016).

So, how poor has TFC been through nearly half the season?

The Canadian side has acquired 15 points in as many matches, which puts the club on pace to finish with 34 points in 2018.

That total would leave TFC well below the average points needed for a club to get into the playoffs. It varies on a year-to-year basis, but teams typically need somewhere in the range of 45 to 50 points to finish above the red line in their respective conferences.

Last season, three teams in MLS finished with less than 34 points (D.C. United, LA Galaxy & Colorado Rapids), and none of the clubs finished within striking distance of the postseason.

While Toronto wouldn’t be the first team to show signs of struggles in the first half of the season and then proceed to turn things around over the second portion, there are definite concerns for Vanney and Co.

In 2018, the Reds haven’t earned back-to-back victories in MLS play, leaving the club in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

The talent within the squad remains there, and if TFC gets the rest of its squad healthy there could be a run made by the team, but as things stand, the club’s historic run a season ago looks to be crumbling in 2018.

Gressel ties it in Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw with Timbers

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ATLANTA (AP) Julian Gressel tied it in the 56th minute and Atlanta United held on for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

A loose ball deflection off defender Larrys Mabiala bounced into Gressel’s path and he pounced on it with a right-footed volley. Atlanta (10-3-4) stayed atop the MLS standings and extended its unbeaten streak to five games.

Mabiala opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Samuel Armenteros was the first to get a touch with a left-footed stab on Diego Valeri’s free kick. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked it out, but Mabiala headed home the rebound and Portland took the early lead.

The Timbers (6-3-5) extended their unbeaten run to nine.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.