Premier League Playback: Why Sanchez will leave Arsenal

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WHAT NOW FOR SANCHEZ?

Alexis Sanchez’s benching in Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat at Liverpool was one of the most bizarre decisions in Premier League history.

Sanchez, 28, is Arsenal’s leading scorer and has been involved in more goals than any other PL player this season. He was fully fit and Arsene Wenger was also without his other star man, Mesut Ozil, who was back in London after falling ill.

Wenger gambled and it backfired badly. Now, both he and Arsenal will pay the consequences.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

Citing “tactical reasons” for dropping Sanchez and instead starting Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud, it was pretty inconceivable that Sanchez (even though he’s been in mixed form of late) wouldn’t have helped Arsenal had he been on the pitch. They were 2-0 down at Liverpool at half time and Wenger had to hold his hands up. He brought on Sanchez at half time and he set up Welbeck’s goal, caused Liverpool countless problems and had a shot blocked in stoppage time which could’ve rescued a point before Liverpool’s late clincher.

His situation at Arsenal seems past the point of rescuing.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Talk of a training ground bust-up between Sanchez and his teammates came after the defeat but Wenger has since brushed that off (see above) and called those rumors “completely false” in an angry statement.

All of this bluster aside, it all points to one impending factor: Sanchez will not be at Arsenal next season.

Following the mass speculation, the fiery Chilean forward — we’re talking about a guy who pounded the floor after Arsenal secured a miraculous point at Bournemouth when they trailed 3-0 late in the second half, is often told to stop training so hard and almost cried when subbed out in a routine win at Swansea — could have nipped it all in the bud.

Instead, he said the following on Instagram.

“The true warrior fights not because he hates the ones in front of him, but because he loves those behind him. Let’s go Gunners. The only failure is not trying,” Sanchez said.

That was it.

With Wenger saying that Arsenal Football Club will decide the future of Sanchez, and Ozil, regarding new contracts, it seems ominous that Arsenal’s star man has 15 months to go and there doesn’t seem to be any new contract announcement in sight.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

He will likely leave this summer for a fee below $30 million as he’ll have just 12 months left on his contract. That will be a steal for whoever buys him and selfishly I hope he stays in the Premier League. Of course, Arsenal will do their utmost to sell Sanchez to Spain, France or Italy if they can but with his former boss Pep Guardiola at Manchester City there’s a real danger that the Gunners are set to lose another star to a PL rival for the prime of their career.

Think Robin Van Persie to Manchester United. Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea, via Barcelona. To a lesser extent Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Bacary Sagna to Manchester City. Heck, even Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira before these guys, but that trio all went overseas.

In the current climate, with six heavyweights all scrapping for the top four and all capable of challenging for the title, Arsenal can’t afford to strengthen a rival. That’s what they will do if Sanchez joins Man City.

Until something changes at Arsenal and they’re willing to break the bank to not only keep but attract the biggest names in the world, they’ll be destined for top four finishes, getting knocked out of the UEFA Champions League last 16 and winning the FA Cup. That’s not something to scoff at. It’s also why Wenger will likely sign the two-year extension gathering dust on his desk before this season is over.

Still, the most important man for Arsenal’s immediate future looks even more likely to move on after this weekend. You can file this article away and dust it off every four or five years when the Gunners are in contract negotiations with a star player about remaining in north London.

It’s the same outcome. But this time with Wenger and Ozil’s future up in the air too it could be incredibly damaging for Arsenal’s ambition of a top four finish. Not just for this season but for the next generation.


CHELSEA UNSTOPPABLE

10 points clear with 11 games to play, Chelsea look imperious as Antonio Conte‘s men march towards the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea record breakers?

Many things are helping the Italian coach with N'Golo Kante running the show in midfield and a solid defensive unit thriving in the 3-4-3 system he introduced in September, but the form of Eden Hazard has somewhat flown under the radar.

Hazard, 26, is back to his best and is putting the horrors of the 2015-16 campaign behind him. Many thought he would never recover from a horrendous season which saw him look a shadow of the PFA Player of the Year in 2014-15 who led Chelsea to the crown.

[ MORE: 3 things learned

He has 11 goals and four assists in the PL and his latest strike in the 2-1 win at West Ham on Monday summed up Chelsea’s brilliantly incisive play this season. Kante intercepted the ball and gave it to Hazard and that was the trigger for Pedro‘s run. The duo darted forward together, leaving West Ham’s defenders bamboozled as Hazard slotted home the opener after rounding goalkeeper Darren Randolph following a devastating 11-second counter-attack.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Following the victory, Pro Soccer Talk asked Conte about Hazard’s ability on the counter and just how important he is to this Chelsea team.

“Eden is really important for us; we all know that. He’s a really good player with great technique and talent,” Conte said. “It’s better when he plays between the lines to score on the counter-attack. It’s not his specialty but he’s very good at receiving the ball, going one v one and beating his opponent to score the goal. We also have other options of scoring a goal on the counter-attack, people like Willian and Pedro and Costa, and this is also good.”

They have so many ways to hurt teams — on the counter, from set pieces, by dominating possession, you name it — and it is clear Chelsea will win the PL.

Only seven teams in PL history have had 66 or more points after 27 games of the season. Every single one of them has gone on to win the title. Chelsea currently has 66 points after 27 games.

Even if Man City beat Stoke in midweek to cut Chelsea’s lead at the top to eight points, it seems like the pressure isn’t getting to Chelsea and all of their players are rested and ready each week.

Not having European action has been pivotal in their run of just one defeat in their last 21 games, but so has the brilliance of individuals such as Diego Costa, Kante, David Luiz and the forgotten man: Hazard.


FA GET ZLATAN, MINGS SPOT ON

The officials don’t often get praise, and they didn’t get much this weekend in the Premier League with an impromptu bachelor party muddying the criticism around officials, but in the end the English Football Association got the main point of contention spot on.

[ MORE: Ibra accepts three-game ban ]

On Monday both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings were charged with alleged violent conduct for their ongoing spat during Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

Ibrahimovic accepted the charge and has a three-game ban, while Mings is set to contest what is reported to be a six-game ban for his stamp on Zlatan’s head which then led to the an elbow in his face by the veteran Swede.

Kevin Friend and his officials didn’t see the incidents clearly at the time and took no action. With the retrospective action coming in to save the day, it’s a system which works well. Even though Zlatan and Mings both came out and said they didn’t mean to injure one another after the game, they had the look of guilty men plastered across their faces.

Both men will have to take their punishment for a bruising battle. We will also cherish another gem from Zlatan when he tried to explain what happened.

“With the stamp, I don’t see it. I just felt something hit me behind my neck,” Ibrahimovic said. “With the elbow I see it clearly. I jump up, I jump high to protect myself. At the same time I jump for the ball and he jumps into my elbow. Hopefully he didn’t get injured or something. My intention was not to injure, it was the opposite, to protect myself to go for the ball. It was unlucky he jumped into the elbow. This happens many times.”

Okay, Zlatan…


KING KANE

“One season wonder, he’s just a one season wonder!” sang Tottenham’s fans after Harry Kane belted in the opening goal of Spurs’ 3-2 win against Everton on Sunday.

The Englishman, still just 23, added another to take his tally to 19 for the season as he leads the PL in goals and he’s now scored 24 times in 28 games in all competitions for Tottenham. That’s getting to the Ronaldo and Messi-esque bracket of a goal a game or better.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Before the weekend all the talk was about the Kane vs. Romelu Lukaku battle. Give me Kane all day long. He creates goals, drops deep, is a pure finisher and you always know he is going to leave everything out on the pitch. He is one of the most complete forwards in the game and Mauricio Pochettino was correct to say he can go on to become a Spurs legend. With Tottenham in second place, they’re 10 points off Chelsea and it’s destined to be another case of “close, but no cigar” for the second season running in their title hopes.

Their talisman will keep on trucking away though.

Don’t forget, Kane was out for over six weeks this season too through injury. Imagine if he was fit throughout October. Where would Spurs be had Kane been on hand as they dropped points against Leicester, Bournemouth and West Brom during his absence?

Probably challenging Chelsea for the title.

Still, with no defeats at home all season and a record nine-straight home wins in the PL they are looking nailed on for a top four finish as they only have two of the top four (Arsenal and Manchester  United) left to play. Both at home. That will please Pochettino as he kicks on the project to the next step ahead of the stadium move and with his young squad all committed to the vision.

Plus, their goal celebrations are as awesome as they are elaborate…


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Chelsea through to UCL knockouts

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle on Liverpool’s nervy 2-0 win against Red Bull Salzburg to take first place in Group E of the Champions League (1:55), Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Lille to secure a place in the Round of 16 (13:15) and who is the current favorite to win it all (20:45).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Plus, what Arsenal’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at West Ham means for both London clubs (29:10) and the Robbies discuss what they’re looking forward to most at the next Live Premier League Mornings Fan Fest in Miami Beach (46:05).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 16

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The Premier League didn’t issue too many surprises at the bottom of the table this week, but two top-tier sides didn’t behave as such and shook up our rankings.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Chelsea and Man City have dipped low, and Bournemouth’s skid doesn’t have it sinking lower (yet) because of the teams beneath it.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — Liverpool and Manchester United are next, and it’s looking a long way back to safety.
Last week: 20
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

19. Norwich City — Outshot, out-passed, our possessed Sheffield United at home and still lost. Bad vibes, man.
Last week: 18
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

18. West Ham United — Just feels like there’s something lurking below the surface here. Doesn’t smell right given the Irons talent.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-1 v. Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

17. Bournemouth — Losing to Liverpool is no shame, but it’s almost officially time to worry.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Aston Villa — Tom Heaton is a heck of a goalkeeper but he can’t be expected to save four A-plus danger chances per game.
Last week: 14
Season high: 8
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

15. Southampton — West Ham and Villa back-to-back have to provide four points if Saints revival is to be believed.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Newcastle United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

14. Everton — Duncan Ferguson gives the Toffees board reason enough to be patient with their managerial hire, and then Napoli goes and fires Carlo Ancelotti.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Burnley — The defending against Spurs — we know, Spurs are good — was enough to drop them far lower than four spots. Abject stuff from a Sean Dyche side.
Last week: 9
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 5-0 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle

12. Arsenal — Freddie Ljungberg started Nicolas Pepe, and Nicholas Pepe was his best player. Stunning stuff, really. Look at the assist below.
Last week: 13
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 3-1 at West Ham
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

11. Crystal Palace — I want to believe, but am holding out for something more. A derby win versus Brighton would suffice.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Watford
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Monday v. Brighton

10. Newcastle United — Again, Steve Bruce‘s men are getting tremendous Fortune and he’s pushing almost all the right buttons (It takes guts to start Andy Carroll over the struggling record signing Joelinton). This could be a sign of the Geordie Apocalypse.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

9. Sheffield United — A little wobbly lately, but still a good comeback at Carrow Road.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 10 a.m ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

8. Brighton and Hove Albion — Doesn’t it say something that a country who starves for young, strong English coaches had one sitting in Sweden for eight years? Graham Potter is legit.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

7. Chelsea — Some of those young guys who’ve played so well, so early, are looking a little ragged. It’s a shame Frank Lampard is still waiting on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will really help things take another step.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

6. Manchester City — It probably has nothing to do with the system, and a lot to do with not having Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane… Still, it needs to be better than a home derby loss to a Paul Pogba-less United.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur — We’re gonna need multiple screens on Sunday morning, as Wolves-Spurs and Man Utd-Everton are both must-monitor.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 5-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

4. Manchester United — Ole’s at the wheel, and still doesn’t feel like Lewis Hamilton or anything but we’re not worried about heading off a cliff.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

3. Wolves — Beat Spurs on Sunday and I’ll go ahead and bet on them as a Top Four finisher, even after the Brighton draw failed to deliver the goods.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Spurs

2. Leicester City — Wow.
Last week: 2
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City

1. Liverpool — Wow, only atop the table.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 3-0 at Bournemouth
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

Champions League Weds. preview: Two spots remain

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Only two spots remain in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, and those will be settled Wednesday afternoon.

In Group C, hosts Shakhtar Donetsk need to beat Atalanta to go through, while the visitors can also go through with a win if Dinamo Zagreb fails to defeat Man City.

[ MORE: Ancelotti reportedly speaking w/ Everton ]

In Group D, Atletico Madrid is through with a win over Lokomotiv Moscow, though Bayer Leverkusen can complete a remarkable comeback from an 0-3 start to the group stage if they beat already-qualified Juve and Atleti loses to their Russian visitors.

You certainly wouldn’t be against Diego Simeone there, though.

“Tomorrow is a great opportunity, every day that you wear the Atletico shirt is,” Simeone said, via Marca. “I believe in my team, in the humility that they have at the moment. The results will come based on what they are demonstrating on the field.”

Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham Hotspur both have their fortunes settled, with City having won Group C and Spurs settled into Group B’s second spot, but they still have plenty to figure out on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are going up against a Bayern team that walloped them at home, while City is living an unusual 2W-3D-2L lull in form.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb v. Man City

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur

Ancelotti fired by Napoli as Everton, Arsenal lurk

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Carlo Ancelotti won a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, then lost his job.

The Napoli’s boss strained relationship with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis came to a head, with the Neapolitan side advancing in Europe to end a nine-match winless run.

[ MORE: Sporting KC adds Liga MX top scorer ]

That run may’ve included seven draws, but it also saw Napoli dip into seventh on the Serie A table. They are seven points back of sixth and 17 points behind leaders Juventus.

A strained relationship got worse when Ancelotti refused to take the team on a De Laurentiis-ordered “team retreat” following a draw against Salzburg in early November.

Gennaro Gattuso is rumored as Ancelotti’s replacement, and the fired coach himself is being mentioned as an immediate target for Arsenal and Everton.

In fact, the Toffees are in discussions with the Italian legend already, according to Sky Sports. Football Italia claims Arsenal is in on the action, too.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League with AC Milan twice and a third time with Real Madrid. He’s claimed domestic titles in five of Europe’s top leagues, with silverware at Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid.