Four things we learned: Arsenal v. Man United

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LONDON — It was a case of unlucky 13 for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as he lost for the first time as Manchester United manager in the Premier League at Arsenal on Sunday.

The Gunners scored in each half through Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to push themselves into the driving seat in the top four battle as they won a ninth-straight home game. United missed numerous glorious chances and hit the woodwork twice as their heroic midweek win at PSG seemed to catch up with them.

Here’s a look at what we learned from a gripping encounter in north London.


EMERY HAS INSTILLED STEEL

It wasn’t pretty from Arsenal, but they got the job done and kept a clean sheet, and it is clear that Unai Emery has instilled a steely resolve into this Gunners team. In recent weeks they’ve held firm against the rampant attacks of Tottenham and Man United in the Premier League, and on Sunday it took a lot of courage to dig deep and fight back after their disappointing midweek defeat at Rennes in the Europa League. By the end of Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal reign, they had become a weak-minded, fragile bunch of players. There is now a fighting spirit and grit to their play which complements their free-flowing attacking prowess. Despite various setbacks along the way this season, one thing that has improved drastically under Emery is their defensive organization. And despite that improved defensive solidity, helped mainly by Sokratis’ arrival, they have also scored more goals (63) than they had at this point last season. With three goals conceded in their last five PL games, if Arsenal’s defense keeps this up it will get them into the top four. Coupled with turning the Emirates into a fortress, the Gunners have finally added some steel to their silky attack.


UNITED’S MIDFIELD MUDDLE COSTS SOLSKJAER

25 minutes into the game Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had seen enough from his midfield. He switched the formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 because Fred and Nemanja Matic were left woefully exposed to Arsenal’s fluid attacks. Young shifted to center back, Diogo Dalot went to right wing-back and all of a sudden United had more control. Pogba was drifting around aimlessly early on, not sure if he was playing in the center or on the left of midfield, and it was all a bit of a muddle. Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay were badly missed alongside Matic, and although Fred gave away a penalty kick, he didn’t play too badly. United’s failure to finish chances was their biggest downfall on Sunday, as Solskjaer’s fine unbeaten run is over. Injuries, constant personnel changes and the PSG win in midweek caught up with them, but there is still plenty of life left in their top four quest.


LUKAKU GOES COLD IN FRONT OF GOAL

After scoring twice in each of his last three outings, Romelu Lukaku was bang on form heading into this game. Moments before Arsenal took the lead he somehow hit the crossbar from close range, and before half time he gave Bernd Leno just enough time to claw the ball away after he rounded him. In the second half Lukaku was clean through again but was denied and it just wasn’t his day in front of goal. The Belgian striker still caused problems with his runs and combination play with Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba, but he had an off-day in front of goal. Lukaku going stone cold in front of goal was the main reason why Man United failed to get anything from this game. And the fact that only 14 percent of Lukaku’s 113 Premier League goals have come against “big six” opposition (16 in 75 appearances) will add fuel to the fire of those saying Anthony Martial must replace him in the starting lineup.


TOP 4 BATTLE BLOWN WIDE OPEN

The race to finish in the top four of the Premier League got real this weekend. Tottenham lost at Southampton. Chelsea drew at home against Wolves. And Arsenal beat Man United. Arsenal now sit in fourth on 60 points (just one point short of third-place Spurs), Man United are in fifth on 58 points and Chelsea are in sixth on 57 points with a game in hand.

In the matchday programme Arsenal skipper Laurent Koscielny said that this was a “crucial game” for the Gunners and their season. It’s cliche, but every game between now and May 12 is huge for Emery’s Arsenal project. And the same can be said for Pochettino, Sarri and Solskjaer at their respective clubs.

This race for UEFA Champions League qualification will go down to the wire and you have to say that Arsenal have the edge with an easier remaining schedule than their rivals. Spurs still have to visit Liverpool and Man City, while United have to play City and Chelsea. The latter have to play Liverpool and United, so there are plenty of twists and turns ahead in the top four race. Momentum means a lot at this stage of the season and Arsenal’s big win gives them a spring in their step ahead of the run-in. And that is a run-in where they do not have to play against any of their rivals and can sit back and watch them all take points off one another.

FIFA propose salary cap, transfer fee talks

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has proposed talks with leagues across the globe about potentially implementing a salary cap and limits on transfer fees as the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The leader of soccer’s world-governing body released a lengthy video statement Saturday, in which he also asked league associations to work together to find the best solutions for the club and international calendar moving forward.

Last week he said FIFA wanted a ‘common sense’ approach to players who are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and that players showing messages of support should be ‘applauded and not punished’ despite FIFA’s previously strict rules around players sharing political, religious or personal messages during games.

FIFA are working on a financial package which they hope to discuss with members and finalize in their next council meeting later this month but recent talks with associations across the globe have suggested a salary cap or transfer fees limit could work.

Here is what the FIFA chief had to say specifically when it comes to soccer adapting to the changing financial environment.

“On the financial and governance aspects, I also heard some interesting proposals on a wide range of topics,” Infantino said. “From salary caps to transfer-fee caps or other taxation mechanisms, to the possible obligation for governing bodies, competition organisers and clubs to build reserves or to contribute to a reserve fund which can be of assistance in hours of need such as now.

“I personally advocate for clearer and stricter financial regulations, imposing full transparency and good governance principles, and not only limiting this to the transfer system, but to the entire football ecosystem. FIFA is doing already a lot of work on this area, even if we face some strong vested interests who fight against our plea for a better global governance in our sport.

“Dear friends, we will need your full support and commitment to move to the next level of good governance in football globally. I think that these and other measures, projects and ideas should be discussed at all levels. I know that this is something that will spark intense debate, but debate is healthy, and we should speak about it all together – as we stand together during this difficult period.”

Quite how a salary cap or a limit on transfer fees would work remain to be seen but given the huge financial burden places on clubs during the coronavirus pandemic, it is a very plausible solution to help stop clubs from going out of business.

With governing bodies such as UEFA placing strict financial fair play rules on clubs to stop them from spending beyond their means, FIFA doing something similar would be possible.

Would clubs, leagues and associations sign up for these new rules? In the short-term, probably. Long-term, it would be tough. Nobody knows how long sports, and society, will be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and even if a vaccine is found and fans can return to stadiums and things go back to relative normality, the financial implications of the past four to five months is likely to be felt for years to come.

The salary cap system will not work for every league or even every region but as we’ve seen in Major League Soccer, it can bring stability and certain leagues need that across the globe.

Premier League confirm zero positive COVID-19 test results

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Following the latest batch of tests on players and club staff the Premier League have revealed that there were zero positive results out of 1,195 COVID-19 tests taken on Thursday June 4 and Friday June 5.

The last three rounds of testing has now seen one positive result as Tottenham Hotspur confirmed the individual that tested positive earlier week was one of their players or staff.

With the sixth round of testing now completed in the Premier League, a total of 6,274 COVID-19 tests have now been carried out with 13 positive results.

All players and staff at Premier League clubs will be tested twice a week during the strict return to training protocols put in place, as full contact training is now up and running and a restart date of June 17 has been set.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full on the latest result:


The Premier League can today confirm that on Thursday 4 June and Friday 5 June, 1,195 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, zero have tested positive.

The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing.

Round 1: 17-18 May – 748 tested, with six testing positive from three clubs.
Round 2: 19-22 May – 996 tested, with two testing positive from two clubs.
Round 3: 25-26 May – 1,008 tested, with four testing positive from two clubs.
Round 4: 28-29 May – 1,130 tested, with zero testing positive.
Round 5: 1-2 June – 1,197 tested, with one testing positive.
Round 6: 4-5 June – 1,195 tested, with zero testing positive


Watford season restart preview

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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they are at ahead of the final nine weeks of the season as Watford are up next.

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Focusing on Nigel Pearson’s Watford, they have battled back from an awful first half of the season (which included having three different managers) to drag themselves out of the relegation zone as things stand. However, there is plenty of hard work ahead for the Hornets as they try to preserve their Premier League status.

[ MORE: Every PL season restart preview ] 

Let’s take a closer look at all things Watford when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Watford were rock bottom and looked doomed heading into December but the turnaround since Nigel Pearson arrived has been remarkable. They won once in their opening 17 Premier League games of the season as first Javi Gracia then Quique Sanchez Flores were sacked, and Nigel Pearson arrived to bring organization and defensive stability. He has done more than that as home wins over Man United, Aston Villa, Wolves and Liverpool has breathed new life into their season. Now, Watford are still only out of the relegation zone on goal difference (one goal, to be exact) and if Aston Villa win their game in-hand they are back in the bottom three. That said, any Watford fan would have bitten your hand off in December had you offered them this scenario heading into the final nine games of the season. Their home form should see them over the line but there are plenty of tetchy games coming up between now and late July for Watford. If Troy Deeney can return to training and action, that will be a big boost, but losing Gerard Deulofeu to a serious knee injury just before the suspension was a cruel blow as he’d been the catalyst to turn their season around.


Tactical analysis: There’s no doubt Watford have the talent to be further up the table, just as it showed last season when they were battling in the top half for most of the campaign (before their famed second half of the season slump hit) and reached the FA Cup final. Putting players in the right positions is key and Abdoulaye Doucure has been vital to their turnaround in form. His surging runs from midfield were not impacting play enough earlier this season but Pearson has moved him into almost a No.10 role and he’s flourished. With Etienne Capoue and Will Hughes in deeper central midfield roles behind Doucoure, they have found the right balance in the engine room. The French midfielder causes havoc and has defenses dropping off, which allows the wingers and forwards around him to find space. Defensively, Ben Foster has been great all season in goal and Pearson is very good in setting up his teams to be tough to break down in two solid blocks and then lethal on the counter. Ismaila Sarr has settled down in his first season in the Premier League (Liverpool know all about that) and he will have a big say in their battle against the drop as he will cut in from the right flank. Watford are now sturdy and if Andre Gray can hold the ball up in Deeney’s absence, Sarr and Doucoure will give him plenty of support in attack.


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Foster —–

— Feminia — Cathcart — Kabasele — Masina —

—- Capoue —- Hughes —- 

— Sarr — Doucoure — Pereyra —

—– Deeney —–


Remaining schedule:
Home: Leicester, Southampton, Norwich, Newcastle, Man City
Away: Burnley, Chelsea, West Ham, Arsenal

Predicted finish: They don’t have the easiest run-in but given the fact they’ve beaten Man United and Liverpool, we know this Watford side under Pearson has a shock up their sleeve. Wins against relegation rivals Norwich and West Ham will be key and they will likely need two more wins from their other seven games to have a chance. That is doable and I think with Bournemouth and Aston Villa having a very tough run-in, Watford will just stay up. Just. No matter what happens, Pearson has done a fine job to organize them and he is a master at orchestrating great escapes against relegation.

Dortmund beat Hertha on day of Bundesliga protests (video)

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Borussia Dortmund beat Hertha Berlin 1-0 in a hard-fought encounter at the Westfalenstadion, as Saturday saw Black Lives Matter protests and messages of support take place across the Bundesliga in Germany.

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Dortmund and Hertha led the protests, as players and staff from both teams knelt as one before kick off to show support for the movement sweeping across the USA, Europe and now the world.

After Bayern Munich’s players wore armbands which read ‘Black Lives Matter’ and had warm-up shirts which called for an end to racism, while Dortmund had warm-up shirts on which read ‘No Justice, No Peace’ among other messages of support after widespread protests in the USA.

As for the action once the game started at Dortmund, Jadon Sancho (who last weekend paid tribute to George Floyd) went close on several occasions throughout but a battling and in-form Hertha came close to taking a shock lead in the second half but Alexander Esswein dragged his shot inches wide.

Moments later Dortmund finally broke through as Sancho clipped the ball into Julian Brandt who nodded down for Emre Can to calmly slot home and seal all three points.

The victory means Dortmund are steady in second place but are seven points behind leaders Bayern Munich with four games remaining. Hertha lost for the first time since the restart but remain well in the hunt for Europa League qualification.

Below are videos of the protests from both clubs, plus the game-winner for Can which just about keeps Dortmund in the title race.