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.

Guardiola pretty happy with Man City’s 8-star win

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Pep Guardiola isn’t here for your storylines.

It’s fair to say that a lot of faith has been restored in Manchester City following last weekend’s loss to Norwich City.

[ RECAP: Man City 8-0 Watford ]

The reigning champs hung a collective 11-0 score line in wins over Shakhtar Donetsk and Watford over the past four days, eight of those goals coming in an utterly rampant roll over the Hornets on Saturday.

So, point proven? Nope, says Pep.

“Do you think after what these guys have done for two seasons they have to prove something?”

A rhetorical question, sure, but this City team had lost to a newly-promoted team days after losing its best defender for six months. Then another center back, John Stones, fell victim to the injury bug.

Enter Fernandinho at center back. And two clean sheets.

“What I like the most is normally when it’s 5-0 at half time the second half is not serious, it’s boring but we did the opposite and we were more aggressive and made a very good second half,” Guardiola said. “People still don’t understand, journalists, pundits, former players, losing games is part of life. Opponents always deserve respect. The same feeling I have now I had after Norwich so it was not a bad performance. We can lose the games but the important thing is the approach and how we react.”

The BBC also had a pretty snarky response to Guardiola being asked about just missing the Premier League single game goals record, held by Manchester United with nine.

Bookmark this, because if he didn’t know it before the post-match, he knows it now.

“I didn’t know the record. Who is it? They deserve it, congratulations.”

Wood brace sees Burnley past Norwich City

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Chris Wood scored a pair of early goals as Burnley punished Norwich City 2-0 at Turf Moor on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Clarets rise seventh with eight points, while Norwich City has six points and will finish the weekend on the outskirts of the relegation zone.


Three things we learned

1. Wood comes good: Chris Wood entered the match with zero goals through five matches after scoring 10 in each of his first two Premier League campaigns with the Clarets. He’s got two now, using his noggin and boot to score a pair of typical Chris Wood goals. Very encouraging for the Kiwi striker, and his coach Sean Dyche.

2. Canaries defense undone: The many injuries to Norwich City’s back line have been well-documented, and the club would have the league’s worst goal conceded total were it not for Watford’s abject display at Man City on Saturday. Teemu Pukki and the win over Man City are great stories, but these are the concession numbers for Norwich over six matches: 4, 1, 3, 2, 2, 2. The one is lowly Newcastle.

3. Pope delivers a clean sheet: Twenty-seven year old Nick Pope isn’t even the first Nick Pope that shows up in a Google search, but he’s proven two England goalkeepers second-best in his time at Burnley. There wasn’t a lot for Pope to do, but his early save on Teemu Pukki is not something to be overlooked from the win.

Man of the Match: It’s Wood, but give a lot of credit to Ashley Westwood. The 29-year-old has been a service machine for Burnley the past two seasons, and also went in for five tackles on Saturday.


What a start.

You were almost putting 1-0 on the board when Teemu Pukki cut his defender to the inside and shot on goal, but Nick Pope made a fine save in the 8th minute.

Burnley went ahead two minutes later through Wood, who was the near post difference maker at the front of a sea of bodies from a corner kick.

 [ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Wood made it 2-0 with another leaping header, the Kiwi finisher putting the defensively-solid Clarets in fine position with 76 minutes to play.

Sheffield United secure shock win at Everton

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Sheffield United secured a shock win away at Everton on Saturday, as the Blades beat the Toffees 2-0 at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A goal in each half sealed the win, with Yerry Mina‘s own goal setting the Blades on their way and then Lys Mousset‘s first PL goal settled things. Everton had plenty of chances but Dean Henderson was in fine form to secure a clean sheet.

With the win Chris Wilder‘s Sheffield United move on to eight points, while Marco Silva‘s Everton have seven points and plenty of Toffees fans are far from happy.


3 things we learned

1. Pressure mounts on Silva: Plenty of Everton fans streamed out of the exits with over 10 minutes to go. They’ve seen this before and they’re getting pretty fed up with it. The Toffees were supposed to be challenging for a top six finish this season, but they’ve now lost to Bournemouth, Sheffield United and Aston Villa in their opening six games. The pressure is on Silva, especially with all the money he has spent, and it is easy to see why the bookies are making him the favorite to be the next PL manager sacked. There is no clear identity to this Everton side, and they have a hodgepodge of talented players trying to knit things together. It is not working. At all.

2. Blades bounce back: Sheffield United rode their luck as Dean Henderson made some fine stops and Wilder’s side sat back and soaked up plenty of pressure. But they had a plan and it worked. What you see is what you get with the Blades, and after losing to Southampton last week in disappointing circumstances and not recording a win since Matchweek 2, they bounced back to continue their solid start to life back in the big time. In a week which started with the Blades’ ownership battle being sorted out off the pitch, on the pitch they kept their philosophy and prevailed.

3. Moise Kean lively, but not going enough support: Always on the move and trying to make runs into good areas, Kean was impressive. The only thing missing was plenty of support for him. The young Italian striker can’t do it on his own, and Silva hasn’t found the right balance in attack and it is holding Everton back. Kean was denied by Henderson in the second half and he needs support, either alongside him or for the likes of Sigurdsson or Richarlison to step up, if he’s going to be a success on Merseyside. He has the potential. Now he needs the support.

Man of the Match: Dean Henderson – The Blades had plenty of defending to do and Henderson stood tall. He was calm and collected when marshalling his defense and he also made some very good stops. A second PL clean sheet for him this season, and both have resulted in victories. After a few early-season struggles, the young Man United loanee is growing up. Fast.


After an even start Everton had the first big chance of the game, as Lucas Digne‘s drive from outside the box was pushed away by Dean Henderson.

An almighty scuffle then broke out as Bernard and George Baldock were involved in a coming together and plenty of players piled in. Bernard and Baldock were booked and shook hands in a feisty encounter.

The Blades improved as the first half went on and they took the lead as Jordan Pickford missed the ball as he came for a corner, and it hit Mina and went in to put Sheffield United 1-0 up.

VAR was used to see if Pickford was fouled, but the goal stood as Sheffield United’s fans celebrated wildly in the away end.

Everton should have been level moments later, as Kean picked out Richarlison in the box but his tame header from a great position was easily saved by Henderson.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half the Toffees pinned Sheffield United back and Henderson made a fine stop from Kean at the near post.

Richarlison went down twice in the box after tough challenges as Everton huffed and puffed throughout the second period.

But just when it looked like Everton were set to equalize, Mousset pounced to seal all three points for the Blades.

John Lundstram‘s pass from the right flank set up Mousset brilliantly and the former Bournemouth striker finished superbly as Pickford rushed off his line.

Sheffield United’s smash and grab was complete.

Man City hammers Watford by near-record margin

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Manchester City harvested a near-record amount of goals in destroying Watford to the tune of an 8-0 win at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bernardo Silva had a hat trick, while David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Nicolas Otamendi, Sergio Aguero, and Riyard Mahrez also scored in a match which saw City score inside of 54 seconds and five times in the first 18 minutes.

City hit the post several times and just missed a goal in stoppage time which would’ve matched Manchester United’s single game PL record.


Three things we learned

1. De Bruyne unfair: Sensational on the day in pulling the strings, he pulled a ripcord to unveil a vicious strike on City’s 85th minute goal. The way he made it look so easy to unleash so much power was an emblematic moment for the 8-star display.

2. Too much, too fast for Watford: Watch all five first half goals here. Quique Sanchez Flores opened up with Gerard Deulofeu alone up top and nearly got a goal, but his offense-first five-man midfield was a cool idea that fizzled oh-so-quickly. The Hornets have already accepted their fate as a bottom half team by changing managers after four weeks, but they may have to also view themselves as a relegation possibility despite so many good players.

3. Bernardo Silva arrives: There were fits and starts for Pep Guardiola‘s Portuguese playmaker to start the season, and a goal against Brighton was met by an assist in the loss to Norwich City. On Saturday, he unleashed his power to the tune of a hat trick.

Man of the Match: We want to refuse to pick just one, as WhoScored rated Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne, and Mahrez as perfect 10s on the day. Okay, we’ll take KDB.


What a start.

It took 54 seconds for De Bruyne to assist David Silva with an outstanding opener, but Gerard Deulofeu nearly answered when he danced around Nicolas Otamendi to force a conceded corner out of Ederson.

Silva, marked for Inter Miami in a mid-week report, was the finisher for the 55th time in his Premier League career and 72nd for his club.

Ben Foster then gave away a useless penalty when he slapped a through ball out of bounds before felling Riyad Mahrez for an easy penalty. Aguero stepped to the spot calm as you like and dispatched the No. 2 to the scoreboard.

That was hardly the end to Watford’s woes, as Mahrez dazzled with a dribble through the heart of the field to earn a free kick atop the 18. There was only one destination, given the series of events. 3-0.

Bernardo Silva then got in on the act, when Otamendi nodded a De Bruyne corner to the back post for a prone finish and 4-0. Not to be outdone, Otamendi was back post for a finish of his own, giving City its fifth goal off an Aguero assist.

 [ MORE: Premier League stats ]

The Silvas, no relation, led a counter for City’s sixth goal, with Bernardo depositing the marker and the reigning PL champions within three goals of matching the league’s single game record.

De Bruyne collected another assist on Bernardo’s hat trick goal, as the Portuguese attacker scored despite bungling his first touch a bit.