Four things we learned from Arsenal v. Chelsea

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What a game. Arsenal and Chelsea played out a pulsating 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday to showcase the bets the Premier League has to offer.

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Arsenal took the lead via Jack Wilshere, but Chelsea scored twice through Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso before Hector Bellerin equalized late on.

Here’s what we learned from an absorbing encounter in north London between the crosstown rivals.


CECH, COURTOIS EXCEL

We rave about sublime goals and attacking play time and time again (we usually do when Arsenal play at home. See: Arsenal v. Tottenham, Arsenal v. Man United and Arsenal v. Liverpool this season) but Wednesday was the time to applaud two top-class goalkeepers who put on a clinic despite conceding two goals each.

Both Thibaut Courtois and the man he took the No.1 jersey from at Chelsea, Petr Cech, excelled as they each made at least three key saves and Courtois was the slightly busier of the two.

Courtois usurped Cech as Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper in 2014 and you can see why it was such a tough decision for Jose Mourinho at the time. Both goalkeepers are very similar in the way they play the game, their size and their strengths.

Both made good stops with their feet and also by coming out and smothering chances with Cech denying Alvaro Morata late on but standing his ground at the crucial moment.

With Courtois said to be in talks with Chelsea over a new contract amid constant links to Real Madrid, he continues to be the main man battling David De Gea as the top goalkeeper in the PL. Yet the experienced head of Petr Cech also reminded us just how good he still is.


WILSHERE CONTINUES RESURGENCE

Jack Wilshere has now started six-straight PL games for Arsenal for the first time since September-October 2013 and he continued his resurgence with a fine goal and an all-action display in central midfield.

Is their still rust after his numerous injuries over the past few years? Yes. Undoubtedly. But the England midfielder is doing his chances of earning a new contract at Arsenal no harm, just as Arsene Wenger said last month.

Wilshere, 26, is at a real crossroads in his career but if he can stay fit we all know the quality he has on the ball and being able to make the Gunners tick in central midfield. He is rusty and at times the pace of the game seemed to nullify his impact, but he popped up to score a goal and tried his best to drive Arsenal on from midfield despite getting a yellow card in the first half for clattering Cesc Fabregas.

The one disappointing moment from Wilshere was when he went down easily under a challenge from the excellent Andreas Christensen in the second half but wasn’t shown a yellow card for simulation. He should have been sent off before he scored Arsenal’s first goal in a breathtaking draw.


VAR DEBATE CONTINUES

The debate of simulation has cropped up time and time again over the festive period and it did so at the Emirates. Two crucial moments in the game both involved questionable dives from star players and both could have been cleared up with the VAR system.

Wilshere should have been handed a second yellow card for simulation by referee Antony Taylor, it was as simple as that and the referee had a decent view but may have been slightly blocked.

Then, the big turning point of the game came as Hazard won a penalty kick. The Belgian went down under minimal contact from Hector Bellerin but Taylor pointed to the penalty spot and Chelsea equalized just as Arsenal were in the ascendancy and looked like running away with things.

Wenger was furious with a late handball decision against his side at West Brom on New Year’s Eve which cost them a win, while the likes of Wilfried Zaha has been accused of diving and Mourinho complained about a handball which could have led to a penalty kick for his side over the festive period.

When Chelsea and Arsenal meet in the in the League Cup semifinals later this month VAR will be used and both managers will probably be very happy with that.

Given VAR’s problems at the Confederations Cup last summer, you can understand why the PL is waiting before bringing it in full time.

But with so many debatable calls and managers upset with decisions from referees, surely now is the time to give the officials extra help and take some of the tougher decisions out of their hands and to a team upstairs watching on TV?


STONE COLD MORATA

Alvaro Morata has been deadly for most of his first season at Chelsea in the Premier League. He wasn’t on Wednesday.

The Spaniard missed three glorious chances, slotting wide after going clean through early on, then dinking over in the second half when one-on-one with Cech, while he hit a tame effort at the Arsenal goalkeeper in stoppage time with the score locked at 2-2.

Morata can’t be faulted for the way he’s settled in the PL since arriving at Chelsea in the summer (12 goals in all competitions so far) but he certainly fluffed his lines in the big moments on Wednesday.

He should have given Chelsea the three points which would’ve pushed them up to second place in the PL table and on the same night that Diego Costa scored on his second debut for Atletico Madrid, the man who replaced him at Chelsea, Morata, proved his isn’t quite as clinical. Not yet, anyway.

River Plate to sponsor car in Indy 500

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There will be a soccer presence at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.

On Thursday, Club Atletico River Plate announced, along with car owner Juncos Racing that Kyle Kaiser’s No. 32 car will feature a River Plate logo on the front of the vehicle. Juncos Racing is named after founder Ricardo Juncos, an Argentine native and clearly a big River fan.

Per a press release from River Plate, it’s the first time a soccer team is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500, which takes place this Sunday, May 26.

[READ: Pochettino hopeful Kane will be ready to make an impact in UCL final]

“As a River fan, I always wanted to have the logo of the Club in the car,” Juncos said in a press release.
“This race is very important for me. I am very happy and I believe that in the goal of River to expand into the Indy 500. From here to there will come positive things for both.”

Kaiser, just 23, is one of the new guys on the main IndyCar scene, especially after winning the IndyCar Lights title in 2017. It’s the racing equivalent of winning the Europa League. Unlike River’s reputation as one of the biggest clubs in South America, Kaiser just barely made it into the field all together, bumping former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the field by about one hundredth of a second.

While it’s cool to see a soccer team get involved in the Indy 500, a worldwide viewing event that’s also akin to a religious holiday throughout the state of Indiana, it’s another Buenos Aires club that really should have been the first to sponsor a car.

Racing Club, defending Argentine league champs, would have been terrific, Racing in Uruguay, or Racing de Santander in Spain. Perhaps one day in the future the three clubs can combine forces to sponsor an IndyCar event or a car competing in a race.

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

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NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Perry did not announce any decision.

Wenger hints he may be retired from management

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It’s been a year since Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal departure was announced, and the legendary manager remains on the sidelines.

Whether by his choice or not, Wenger has spent the year away from soccer, instead vacationing and being a studio TV pundit in France. In his latest public comments, Wenger hinted that while he still plans to return to a role in soccer, he likely won’t be a club manager anymore.

“I thought I will come back into management very quickly, but I enjoyed taking a little distance,” Wenger told the BBC. Now I’m at a crossroads.”

Per the BBC, Wenger later added: “You will see me again in football. As a manager… I don’t know.”

In the weeks and months after Wenger was effectively forced out of Arsenal after 22 seasons, Wenger repeatedly said that he had many offers to return to management, and it was only a matter of time before he’d accept one of these offers. And yet, it’s been a year and Wenger remains on the outside, perhaps a clear sign that today’s soccer has passed him by, and unless he wants to move to the Middle East or another soccer outpost, he won’t be able to get a top job in Western Europe.

Despite his acrimonious exit, Wenger still supports the Gunners and had some thoughts on the team’s season, as well as the club’s run to the Europa League final.

“I miss competition and I miss Arsenal because I left my heart in there,” Wenger said. “I gave my life to this club for 22 years. Every minute of my life was dedicated to this club and I miss the values we developed inside the club.

“I support Arsenal. It will be forever my club.”

Pochettino hopeful Kane can “give us a hand” in UCL final

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Harry Kane returned to training this week as Tottenham continues preparations for the UEFA Champions League final.

The England and Tottenham captain has been out with yet another ankle injury since April 9. Initially feared he would be out for the rest of the season, Kane now looks set to play in the final match of the season, and his manager Mauricio Pochettino is hopeful he can make an impact.

“He’s training and has entered the final stage of his recovery, Pochettino told a conference in Bilbao, via video link, per AS. “We’re hoping he’ll be able to give us a hand – either from the start, from the bench or if not, then by giving us moral support in the dressing room. But we are optimistic that he’ll be able to help us on the pitch.”

Pochettino completed a magnificent feat guiding Tottenham to the Champions League final, but he may have one of the most difficult decisions he has to make in his managerial career ahead.

Should Kane be available to start, Pochettino has to decide whether he should break from the lineup that came back from a 3-0 deficit to Ajax, and potentially put Lucas Moura on the bench. If Tottenham loses, Pochettino is probably darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t with Kane.

Either Kane wasn’t fit enough to play and make a big impact, or he clearly was and he didn’t have enough time in the match.

Regardless, Pochettino will hope to have a full squad available, with Kane able to make a difference should be needed.