Wenger explains switch to 3-4-3, praises Arsenal response

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Desperate times call for desperate measures, even when you’re a legendary manager like Arsene Wenger, apparently.

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With his Arsenal side having won just two of their last seven Premier League games heading into Monday’s clash away to Middlesbrough, Wenger set the Gunners starting 11 out in a way that hadn’t been done in some 20 years: three at the back, with four in midfield, and a fluid front three. After the game, Wenger explained the thought process behind such a drastic change after two decades, and praised his team’s response after a humiliating defeat away to Crystal Palace last time out — quotes from the BBC:

“I felt [playing three at the back] added a bit more stability on the long balls. We faced a direct game and we have been punished a bit on that. It gave the opponents more of the ball. Against Palace we had 70 percent possession, but lost.

“Sometimes we want to have the ball but when a team lacks confidence just to change the system can help believe something different.”

We responded well. I think it was not perfect but the commitment and focus was there. At 1-1 we found a response and managed to win. It was a big test, Middlesbrough gave everything. It’s one of their last chances to stay in the league.

“It [the top four] is mathematically still alive. We knew we needed to win. Now we have a little break with the FA Cup and then we come back again to the league.”

[ MORE: Ahead of FA Cup semifinal, Conte calls Spurs “the best team” in PL ]

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was quick to accept blame for recent performances on behalf of himself and his teammates — quotes from the BBC:

“We have not been good enough, we need to take responsibility for that and today we had to win.

“We had to get back to basics, it’s a massive honor to play for a team like Arsenal, you have to give 100 percent and maybe that’s been slipping recently. The formation was something new, a change, but we adapted well to it. It worked well in the first half especially.”

With seven games to go, Arsenal (57 points) sit sixth in the PL table and trail fourth-place Manchester City (who have played one game more than the Gunners) by seven points in the race for a top-four finish. Manchester United are fifth on 60 points, having played the same number of games as Arsenal.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE