Three things learned from Arsenal v. Liverpool

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LONDON — The festive season got off to an incredible start at the Emirates Stadium on Friday as Arsenal and Liverpool went hell for leather and delivered an early Christmas present.

Liverpool were 2-0 up after 52 minutes with goals from Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah and it looked like they’d be heading for a routine away win.

Then the craziest five minutes the Emirates has ever seen arrived with Alexis Sanchez pulling one back, Granit Xhaka hammering home from distance when Simon Mignolet should’ve done better, and then Mesut Ozil dinking home to create pandemonium and make it 3-2.

Roberto Firmino made it 3-3 with less than 20 minutes to go and that’s how it would finish despite chances for both teams to win it late on.

Here’s what we learned from an encapsulating encounter at the Emirates.


DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES GALORE

Both Arsenal and Liverpool had conceded the highest number of goals in the top seven going into this game. Yep. We can all see why.

Performances littered with defensive mistakes from both teams show exactly why they’re so far behind leaders Manchester City.

This game could have easily finished 5-5 and Liverpool will be ruing their missed opportunities, especially Salah, as they should have been at least 4-0 up at half time.

Yet Arsenal hung in there, probably knowing that a Liverpool defensive collapse was coming. They didn’t have to wait long. With three goals in five minutes, Arsenal turned the game on its head as Joe Gomez was caught sleeping, Mignolet made a hash of a long-range effort and then Ozil breezed through the heart of Liverpool’s defense.

For Arsenal, they were too slow to track Coutinho’s run for his header and Wilshere was guilty of failing to follow Salah’s run when he put Liverpool 2-0 up.

Both clubs prefer to attack. We get it. But so many basic defensive errors were on show to remind us of their weaknesses.

This performance highlighted exactly why both of these teams will not be challenging for the title this season and why they deserve to be in a top four battle.


WILSHERE CONTINUES TO SHAKE OFF RUST

The mutiny at Arsenal was in full flow once again as the half time whistle approached.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, the Gunners’ two wantaway stars, were being called every name under the sun by their supporters for not trying hard enough and Arsene Wenger had abuse hurled at him readily.

After the break things changed rapidly in that crazy five minute spell and one player who received plenty of praise from the fans was Wilshere.

Optics can be deceiving with Wilshere running hard, trying to shut down Liverpool’s midfield but he struggled to cope with the power of Can and the trickery of Firmino, Coutinho and Salah dropping deeper.

Wilshere did dig in and win the ball back on multiple occasions, but he was also guilty of giving the ball away cheaply and being caught in possession.

As the game wore on Wilshere improved and after a lengthy spell on the sidelines he is starting to shake off the rust.

He isn’t back to his best but he’s getting there.


COUTINHO ON ANOTHER PLANET

Philippe Coutinho played a different game to the other players on the pitch on Friday.

The Brazilian is in simply irresistible form as he smashed a shot just wide, then whipped in two delicious crosses before heading in the opener in the first half and dictated the tempo of Liverpool’s attacks all night long.

Coutinho, 25, is untouchable as he speeds up and slows down the entire game at will.

He gave Arsenal’s defense a torrid time and in this kind of form it is easy to understand why Barcelona will push so hard to sign him in the next two transfer windows.

Coutinho is on another planet.

Spurs defender Kieran Trippier officially joins Atletico Madrid

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A transfer that only became legitimately rumored one day ago has come to fruition as Tottenham right-back Kieran Trippier completed a move to Atletico Madrid, the two clubs confirmed.

The move is for a reported transfer fee of about $25 million plus add-ons and sees Trippier become Atletico Madrid’s first English player in over 90 years.

The 28-year-old signed a team-friendly three-year deal with Atleti, keeping him tied to the Spanish side through the summere of 2022. Trippier will hope to replace the retired Juanfran, and will no doubt benefit from the coaching of Diego Simeone, but it will be interesting to see a player with some defensive deficiencies look to earn a place in the starting lineup of such a defensively stout team.

Trippier leaves Tottenham after a four-year spell where he made 114 appearances for the club across all competitions after joining from Burnley in 2015. However, he began to lose his consistent starting place at Spurs over the past year after a dip in form this past season. While he started the Champions League final, Juan Foyth began to take Trippier’s place as the third center-back in Mauricio Pochettino‘s three-at-the-back system, and both Serge Aurier and Kyle Walker-Peters began to challenge for the traditional right-back role.

There is a lot of risk for the England international in this move. With such a short contract, he could be shopped by Atletico Madrid if he does not lock down a first-team place in his first year, with clubs often looking to cash in on players with two years left on their deal before market value dips. He also will need playing time to earn his place on the England national team, having played a starting role for the country at the 2018 World Cup but with plenty of competition at his place. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, and the versatile Joe Gomez all made the England squad over Trippier for the recent Nations League semifinals and finals.

FOLLOW LIVE – Tunisia and Nigeria in AFCON third place game

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The appetizer to the main course takes place today as Tunisia and Nigeria meet in the third place match of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Both sides fell in the semifinals on last-minute goals, with Tunisia dropping to Senegal on an extra-time own-goal while Nigeria was pipped by a Riyad Mahrez 95th minute winner.

[ LIVE: Africa Cup of Nations scores ]

While this match is obviously a chance for both sides to finish the tournament on a high note, also notable is the race for the Golden Boot. Odion Ighalo is in the lead with four goals and could look to tack on to that total with Mahrez, Adam Ounes, and Sadio Mane all on three goals and playing in the final.

Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr will want to save face after a disappointing tournament, and while he received the dreaded vote of confidence from the Nigerian federation, he still will want something tangible to take home. The Super Eagles came into the tournament as the third-highest FIFA ranked African nation, but after a shaky group stage performance and a pair of narrow one-goal knockout stage wins before the loss to Algeria, the need for a quality outing is great.

Five of the six previous matches between these two teams have ended in draws, so something has to give this time in Cairo.

Guardiola to Leroy Sane: only “happy” players will see the field

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Leroy Sane has been the subject of some uncertainty this summer, and it might be getting to Pep Guardiola.

After Sane came off the bench and helped Man City pummel West Ham 4-1 in the preseason Premier League Asia Trophy, Guardiola was asked about his future with the club after reports this summer that Bayern Munich was interested in snatching him away from the Etihad.

“The club made him an offer last year,” Guardiola said. “So, I have said many times, we only want people happy to be here. We are going to help him to be the best, we know his potential and what level he is. He has a special quality that is difficult to find around the world. He knows, they all know, all the forwards, all the midfielders, how difficult it is to play, it’s difficult because of the quality we have.”

“But, at the same time I spoke to the club ten times and I want people here to be happy, if they don’t want, they go. The desire to have him be with us is always there.”

Sane was spectacular at times last season as Manchester City won the Premier League title, but he played a shrinking role as the end of the campaign pressed on, forced to come off the bench as a substitute four times after February and left as an unused substitute five other times down the stretch as well. Sane played just two full 90 minute appearances in Premier League play in the 2019 calendar year.

With that in mind, it has proven difficult to convince Sane to sign a new contract at Manchester City, with his current deal set to expire in two years. That caught Bayern Munich’s attention, and the German side has been persistent in hoping to attract the 23-year-old to Allianz Arena.

Once Guardiola made his comments about happy players, he was asked bluntly if he thinks Sane will be with the team at the start of the season. He did not want to go into the situation further, saying, “I have already answered that question really well.”

Argentina women’s team players critical of coaches after roster changes

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The Argentine national team is facing controversy after making a host of changes to its roster for the 2019 Pan American games despite a solid showing in the World Cup earlier this summer.

Most notably, 29-year-old Estefania Banini, who captained the side at the World Cup, was left off the roster. She lashed out on social media, claiming on Instagram that she was left off after making internal comments critical of the coaching staff and trying to improve the team’s ability to compete.

“No rest, not injured, permission from my club, I have enough to be in the national team,” she wrote. “From 5 years old I trained to defend the blue and white, fighting for my place equally without discrimination. The coaching staff decided to leave me out…because we have our differences, they decide to put an end to my dream of defending the shirt.”

Banini goes on to explain that she wants coaches “with enough experience we can learn from” and who can help grow the game in their country. She said what they don’t want is something they experienced at the World Cup – “being told ‘just defend because we don’t want to concede 11’ when going out to play.”

Other players left off the roster for the Pan American games are Ruth Bravo and Lorena Benitez, both of whom were starters at the World Cup less than a month ago. Bravo, along with Belen Potassa, posted similarly critical comments on their own social media accounts after being left off the roster, with much of the content word-for-word to what Banini wrote.

Argentina performed well in the group stage of the World Cup, nearly advancing in the final seconds of the group stage before a 3-3 draw with Scotland saw them fall just short of passing Japan into a qualifying spot. They managed a 0-0 draw with Japan in the opening match and fell to England by a close 1-0 scoreline.

Banini has been outspoken in the past, criticizing the Argentinian federation back in 2014 for not supporting the women’s game enough. With her most recent comments potentially costing her a place in the team, some of her teammates had her back. Soledad Jaimes and Florencia Bonsegundo, also both starters in the World Cup, resigned their places on the Pan American Games roster in solidarity with their teammates, believing them to be unfairly treated.

“While 18 teammates pack their bags for the Pan American Games, I decided to withdraw from the roster,” Bonsegundo wrote in her own Instagram post. “Today I have to take a step forward for this struggle that we all started and that few have the courage to do. I understand that in this way I am protecting you more [the fans] because I know that in a future with properly trained players, Argentina may be at the level of the world powers! I’m still dreaming of a country with greater equality, without discrimination and where the voice of women is taken into account with the same weight as that of a man”

Argentina was drawn into a group with Panama, Costa Rica, and Peru for the Pan American games, with their first match set for July 28.