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.

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.