Three things we learned: Arsenal v. Chelsea

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Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to keep their top four hopes well and truly alive as they’re now just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea.

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Two first half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny did the damage against a lackluster Chelsea, as Maurizio Sarri‘s men continue to struggle to score goals and badly need to complete their business in the January transfer window.

Here’s a look at what we learned as Unai Emery got a huge win in this London derby.


NO CENTRAL STRIKER HOLDING BACK CHELSEA

With Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian deployed as the front three and the former playing as a false nine, time and time again the ball just kept coming back at Chelsea’s midfield. Even with N'Golo Kante around they couldn’t deal with it. Chelsea’s midfielders and attackers looked as if they were treading through treacle in the final third and they were lacking a focal point. In the second half they improved, but they hardly had Arsenal’s defense worried. With Olivier Giroud on the bench, Alvaro Morata on his way out of the club and Gonzalo Higuain close to arriving on a loan move, it is clear Sarri wants a focal point in his team and Higuain is the answer. But Chelsea’s play has to get the best out of a central striker and that will take a significant shift in the the Sarri-ball style. The high-pressing style wasn’t clear to see in a big London derby against one of the top four rivals. If Higuain, 31, isn’t the answer, Sarri has big problems in his debut campaign in England as Manchester United and now Arsenal breath down their necks in the top four battle. They still have United, Man City and Liverpool to play away from home, and Chelsea will be looking over their shoulders nervously. Hazard and N’Golo Kante are being played out of position and Sarri is showing signs of being stubborn. Things are not heading in the right direction.


ARSENAL’S HUNGER REIGNITES TOP 4 HOPES

In contrast to Chelsea’s slow, predictable play, the pressure from Arsenal’s attacking players was relentless and set the tone for this victory. It also showed why Mesut Ozil’s days are likely numbered at Arsenal under Emery and how big, and correct, of a call that was. The way both Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubemayeng tracked back from the front was infectious, especially in the first half when the damage was done. With the Gunners now just three points off the top four, it shows they are still in the hunt for a UEFA Champions League spot despite their recent defeats against the likes of Southampton, West Ham and Liverpool amid a defensive injury crisis. The Gunners simply had to win this game against Chelsea and they were well organized and as soon as they went 2-0 up, you never felt like they were going to blow this lead. The hunger of their frontline to deliver was key, and Emery’s men now have a run of four very winnable games (and a trip to Man City) in their next five PL games.


EMERY OUTPERFORMING SARRI

When these two teams met in August, it was Sarri’s Chelsea who prevailed 3-2 as two new managers were getting used to life in the Premier League. There were signs in that clash that Arsenal were turning the corner after a slow start. And you can now say that Arsenal look more likely than Chelsea to kick on in the second half of the season. Going forward they have more dynamism, more flexibility and more options. In midfield both teams posses masterful technicians and impactful destroyers. Emery and Sarri both have their strict philosophies and love to press high, and although Arsenal’s defensive deficiencies weren’t exposed by an extremely toothless Chelsea, that is the area Emery will want to improve. He has improved an awful lot at Arsenal since he arrived in the summer and you can make a very good argument that this win highlighted the greater progress he has made compared to Sarri. Chelsea started the season superbly, but Arsenal are just three points behind them with 15 games to go. The race for a place in the top four between two giants juggling the Europa League this season will go down to the wire.

Former Arsenal, Brazil midfielder Baptista announces retirement

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Julio Baptista’s time at Arsenal only lasted 12 months, but it was a memorable stint.

The Brazilian, who played the 2006-07 season for the Gunners, announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37. The former Brazil international only managed 10 goals with Arsenal, but they came in bunches.

Baptista memorably scored four goals against Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinal, as Arsenal finished with a 6-3 win. Baptista even missed a penalty kick that game.

Baptista cemented his legacy later in the season with a brace in the FA Cup against rival Tottenham.

Baptista, clearly an immensely talented player, suffered from being a good, but not great player. He seemed to have no perfect position other than the No. 10, and most teams he played for had better players in that position. It forces him to play along the wings, deeper in midfield or as a striker during the prime of his career.

In the end, injuries beset his career, especially a short spell at Orlando City in MLS.

 

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

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Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.

Putin awards medal to FIFA president Infantino

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MOSCOW (AP) Vladimir Putin has given FIFA president Gianni Infantino a medal.

The Russian president awarded Infantino the Order of Friendship at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Infantino has often said last year’s World Cup in Russia, where the host nation surprisingly reached the quarterfinals, was the best of the 21 editions of the tournament.

Putin thanked the FIFA leader for “your glowing assessment of our efforts.”

Infantino says of Russia’s “bonds of friendship” with soccer “is not the end, it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction.”

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