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.

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United host Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane on Sunrday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blades fans will enjoy their first home game back in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Chris Wilder, the lifelong United fan who is now their manager, will be emotional and fans of the Yorkshire club will create a heated atmosphere for opponents to visit this season.

In team news Sheffield United are unchanged from the team which drew at Bournemouth last week, with club captain Billy Sharp on the bench.

Crystal Palace bring in star man Wilfried Zaha who starts up top


LINEUPS

Zidane says Bale will stay at Real Madrid

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Gareth Bale is staying at Real Madrid.

The Welshman was not wanted by manager Zinedine Zidane, who stated that publicly on many occasions over the summer.

But Bale started and grabbed an assist as 10-man Real beat Celta Vigo 3-1 in their La Liga opener on Saturday and it seems like Zidane is ready to brush all of this Bale talk under the carpet.

“He’s going to stay and we all have to think of that as a positive thing,” Zidane said. “The injury to Eden Hazard was bad luck for us but it didn’t change the plans we had for Bale in this game. Gareth and everyone else here is going to show this shirt the respect it deserves.”

After his move to China broke down at the last minute amid conflicting reports blaming Bale and the club for the collapse of the deal, his future at Real has seemed pretty much dead in the water.

Adding in a serious injury to Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard picking up a knock, and all of a sudden Bale is needed again. But for how long?

He was linked with a loan move to Bayern Munich but Philippe Coutinho moved to Bavaria instead, and Bale wasn’t chased by Premier League clubs during the summer due to his huge wage demands. With the transfer window across many European countries closing at the end of this month, he has run out of options to leave a club where the hierarchy and fans don’t want him.

Bale, 30, is now stuck at Real and he has another three years left on his contract. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the man who has won four Champions League trophies at Real, yet has become the main villain at the Santiago Bernabeu as fans lambast him for playing golf and not learning to speak Spanish fluently during his six years in Spain.

Ibrahimovic scores twice, 10-man Galaxy ties Sounders 2-2

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half and the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire match down a man.

The Galaxy’s Daniel Steres was sent off in the sixth minute for the denial of obvious goal opportunity.

Ibrahimovic tied it at 1 for the Galaxy (13-11-2) with a header in the 45th minute. In the 65th minute, he was taken down by Kim Kee-hee while going for a header in the area and converted the penalty, making it 2-1 with his 20th goal of the season.

LA defender Jorgen Skjelvik scored an own goal in the 82nd minute when he inadvertently deflected goalkeeper David Bingham’s attempted clearance into the Galaxy net.

Raul Ruidiaz opened the scoring in the 42nd minute for the Sounders (11-8-7). Harry Shipp hustled to round up a loose ball and fed it to an open Ruidiaz, who slotted it home.

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Three unanswered goals from FC Dallas to earn a draw, a late Jozy Altidore goal and Chicago cruises past Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s early slate of games had it all. Here’s what we learned from the busy action.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Montreal, Dallas split points in six-goal thriller

The Montreal Impact, up 3-0 in the 56th minute, probably thought they had the game in the bag. Dallas said, ‘not so fast.’

With three unanswered goals – one of those in stoppage time – Dallas did the unthinkable, stunning the Impact and flying back home with a point that tastes like three.

Dallas, like practically everyone else in the West this season, is dreaming of cracking into the final seven. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. What was palpable on Saturday, however, is that Dallas played with a lot of determination on the road and with all the odds against them.


Chicago gets by Philadelphia with ease

The Philadelphia Union are good but not good enough to beat the Chicago Fire, apparently.

It could have been the league’s well-known parity, or the fact that the Union were on the road, but the Fire were able to squeeze out the three points, winning 2-0 with 10 men. Nicolas Gaitan earned a straight red right before halftime.

The Union, a proven side time and time again this season, alternatively, have questions to answer and a set of defects that were unearth Saturday (including finishing) to polish up on. But as they shown several times this season after suffering loses, they’ll bounce back under Jim Curtin.

The Fire (33 points) sit one point behind Montreal, Toronto and Orlando, while Philadelphia (45 points) remain clear leaders in the Eastern Conference.


 

NYCFC too much for Cincinnati 

NYCFC had quite the showing.

With Valentin Castellanos and Heber recording a brace each, Allan Cruz’s goal stood no chance. City, who are now third in the Eastern Conference with 41 points (one behind Atlanta), are clearly in midseason form, while FC Cincinnati is yet to win under Ron Jans.

With a defense that has allowed 61 goals – like the one above – Jans’ rest of the season is looking bleaker than brighter. But then again, it’s with a team he purely adopted. It worth noting that New York’s attack has produced eight goals in the last three games, so maybe that was the determining factor.

 

 


 

Altidore earns last-minute draw for Toronto

Like in many other instances, it was Altidore to the rescue for Toronto FC.

Its goal No. 10 for the 29-year-old goal, making it his fourth season with double digit goals. Jonathan Osorio, too, pitched in a goal in the 42nd minute. 26 games in, this is exactly when Greg Vanney needs his big-time players to step up.

The Columbus Crew, in contrast, can’t catch a break. Once again the superior team, a lack of finishing and defensive concentration make it three-straight draws for the Caleb Porter’s men. With seven games to go and seven points out of playoff contention, even a late run might not be enough for a postseason regular.