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PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Arsenal wandering no man’s land

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The Premier League’s top-four is all but confirmed this season, which means perennial Champions League sides Chelsea and Arsenal have little to nothing to play for in their final seven games; the same can’t be said for either of their opponents on Sunday…

[ PL ROUNDUP: United deny City their title; Spurs inch closer to Liverpool ]

Arsenal vs. Southampton — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Arsenal’s quest for a top-four-five-six finish in the PL continues on Sunday, when the Gunners welcome relegation-battling Southampton to the Emirates Stadium, a day after seventh-place Burnley closed the gap to just two points with a 2-1 win over Watford. Form has improved, marginally, in recent weeks (back-to-back league wins, plus three single-leg victories to reach the brink of the Europa League semifinals), but 16 points is the current margin between themselves and fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur. This year’s un-St. Totteringham’s Day could come as soon as next weekend.

18th-place Southampton, meanwhile, face a three-point deficit which represents the difference between the PL and Championship come August. Having lost two straight in the league, and won none in their last five outings, Mark Hughes‘ men are flirting with a return to the second division after five seasons in England’s top flight (and successive finishes of 8th, 7th, 6th and 8th the last four seasons). Last weekend’s 3-0 loss to fellow relegation battlers West Ham United is the season’s low point thus far, though tougher times still appear on the horizon, with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City still to come on Saints’ remaining schedule. Finally, Southampton haven’t won in any of their last 22 trips to Arsenal (November 1987).

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), David Ospina (ankle), Santi Cazorla (achilles) | Southampton — OUT: None

[ THREE THINGS: What we learned from Man United’s comeback over City ]

Chelsea vs. West Ham United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Much like Arsenal, the final stretch of Chelsea’s season is almost entirely a non-starter — only without the possibility of qualifying for next season’s Champions League by wining the Europa League. Last weekend’s 3-1 loss to Tottenham, the Blues’ first defeat to Spurs at Stamford Bridge in 28 years, all but sealed their place in Europe’s “other” club competition right on the heels of last season’s PL title. Antonio Conte is widely expected to depart in the summer — whether by his choice, or that of Roman Abramovich — and land in any number of high-profile jobs across Europe.

West Ham, on the other hand, enter Sunday’s London derby at Stamford Bridge full of confidence for the first time in months (they lost their three games prior to the win over Southampton, by a combined score of 11-2), and a full five points clear of the relegation zone. Like Saints, though, the Hammers have been woeful in recent years against Sunday’s foe: 11 games without a win at the Bridge (outscored 22-6).

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Ross Barkley (fitness), David Luiz (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: Pedro (knock) | West Ham — OUT: Micahil Antonio (hamstring), Winston Reid (knee), Sam Byram (ankle), Andy Carroll (ankle), Pedro Obiang (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Manuel Lanzini (knee), James Collins (hamstring)

Racist abuse delays England v. Bulgaria qualifier

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England raced out to an impressive 4-0 lead at Bulgaria by halftime, but the wonderful attacking display was marred by horrendous incidents from the crowd.

The match in the Vasil Levski Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria was stopped on two occasions with announcements being made to ask sections of the crowd to stop their abusive language. This comes with the stadium already serving a partial stadium closure due to racist chanting from the crowd in previous qualifiers.

Below is UEFA’s protocol on how to intervene in these situations, and what transpired from lead writer Joe Prince-Wright.

Tottenham re-signs goalkeeper Vorm

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With Hugo Lloris set to miss at least another two months of action with a broken elbow, Tottenham has turned to a familiar face to provide some cover between the pipes.

Tottenham announced Monday it had re-signed goalkeeper Michel Vorm to a contract through the end of the 2019-2020 Premier League season. Vorm spent five seasons with Tottenham after signing from Swansea City in 2014. However, after playing second-fiddle to Lloris and later serving as the third backup behind current Tottenham No. 2, Paulo Gazzaniga for the past couple of seasons, Vorm was released at the end of last season.

Its certainly a boost for Tottenham that a player with a long history at the club and plenty of experience was available to help in this situation. Similar to Liverpool picking up Adrian after Alisson Becker’s injury, Tottenham know what it’s getting in Vorm and may play him a few times if Gazzaniga needs a night off in the next few months.

According to Vorm, he had been home in his native Netherlands and was watching the game when he saw Lloris get injured.

“Obviously I saw straight away that he had a bad injury and at the time I thought about how bad it was, Vorm told Tottenham’s website. “After the game I spoke with Jan (Vertonghen), he told me what was going on and I spoke also with Toni (Jimenez, our goalkeeping coach) and, yes, during the week I got the phone call to ask if I was open to come back and help out. I’ve kept in contact with a lot of the players and also with Toni. We were speaking quite regularly and on Thursday he called me, we had the conversation and from there on, it went very quickly.”

In his five seasons with Tottenham, Vorm made a total of 47 appearances in all competitions. He saw plenty of time in the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and Champions League during his stay at White Hart Lane.

In-form striker Duvan Zapata injured on international duty

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This international break has been particularly brutal to clubs who have seen a host of key players go down with injuries, and there’s still a few days of matches remaining.

The latest player to succumb to injury is Atalanta striker Duvan Zapata who returned from Colombia duty with an adductor strain and will miss at least three weeks, according to Sky Sports Italia (via FootballItalia). Zapata went down 23 minutes into Colombia’s 0-0 friendly draw with Chile on Friday and was sent back to Italy for tests at his club.

Those tests have reportedly confirmed the initial fears. The loss of Zapata is a massive one for Atalanta, as the 28-year-old has been steadily building for years and is having a breakout start to this campaign, scoring six Serie A goals in seven matches plus one more in Champions League play, currently on a run of four consecutive games with a goal across all competitions. With Zapata’s help, Atalanta sits third in the Serie A table, having bagged the most goals of any team with 18 through seven games.

Zapata becomes the latest high-profile injury from this international break, joining Colombia teammate Alexis Sanchez who went down late in the same match and is reportedly out until 2020 with a serious ankle injury. Chelsea has been hit the hardest, with Andreas Christensen, Mateo Kovacic, and Reese James all pulling up while N’Golo Kante was injured in France warmups but he is expected to be fit for the weekend. Luka Modric may miss time after going down in a Euro qualifier against Wales, while Gareth Bale also picked up a knock in that match. Neymar went down in Brazil’s match against against Nigeria, which forced manager Tite to explain his reasoning for the selection in a friendly. Sergio Aguero is apparently struggling to train with Argentina thanks to a mystery injury confirmed by Lionel Scaloni. Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos withdrew from Spain training earlier in the week with “hamstring overload.” Atlanta United defender Miles Robinson left USMNT camp with a hamstring problem with the MLS playoffs on the horizon.

Ex-England midfielder Gascoigne on trial for sexual assault

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LONDON (AP) — A prosecutor has alleged that former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne sexually assaulted a woman on a train by “forcibly and sloppily” planting an unwanted kiss on her lips.

Prosecutor William Mousley’s comments Monday came as Gascoigne, who has struggled with alcohol and mental-health problems, went on trial at Teesside Crown Court charged with sexual assault of the female passenger.

Mousley said the former England star “put his hands on her cheeks and kissed her forcibly and sloppily on the lips.”

The 52-year-old Gascoigne denies the charge.

The alleged victim has told the court that she froze when the man, who appeared drunk, kissed her in August 2018. She says she did not realize it was Gascoigne until after the alleged incident.