Four things we learned: Arsenal v. Man United

Leave a comment

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.

Alaves seeks new coach after Fernandez resigns

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Spanish club Alaves says coach Abelardo Fernandez has resigned.

Alaves says it was Fernandez’s decision to leave after leading the modest Basque Country team to an 11th-place finish in the Spanish league.

[ MORE: La Liga results, stats

Fernandez said in a news conference on Monday the club did everything it could to try to keep him, but he felt he “would not be at 100 percent next season” and decided it was best to resign.

Fernandez joined Alaves at the end of 2017, helping the team finish 14th in the league last season, comfortably escaping relegation.

The club had a surprising start to this season, being as high as second in the standings and remaining in the fight for the final Champions League place until about 10 rounds to go.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Transfer rumor roundup: Felix to Man United; Sane to Bayern

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Premier League transfer window is officially open again and that means one thing: transfer reports are going to start kicking up a few notches.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Here’s a look at some of the latest gossip from around the PL…


Benfica’s teenage superstar Joao Felix reportedly has a release clause of $130 million, and Manchester United are among the host of clubs ready to trigger it.

A report from the Daily Record says that United and Real Madrid are both ready to seal the deal for the 19-year-old attacking midfielder. Per the report United have opened talks with Benfica and their representatives were in Lisbon to see him play for the final time this season.

Felix has burst onto the scene in Europe this season and has helped Benfica win the Portuguese league title. His 20 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season prove his pedigree, and United certainly need to rebuild their squad. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has constantly spoken about adding young, hungry, talented players this summer, and Felix is touted as the best young playmaker in Europe right now.

This transfer deal would make Felix the most expensive signing in United and Premier League history, and it does make you wonder if a deal is being lined up to offload Paul Pogba to Real Madrid and replace him with Felix.


Manchester City are struggling to keep hold of one of their stars, as a report from the Daily Mirror says that Bayern Munich are increasingly confident of signing Leroy Sane this summer.

Sane, 23, has failed to agree a new contract at City despite being in talks with the club for 18 months and Pep Guardiola has admitted he could leave this summer in search of more game time. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are City’s main starters in the wide attacking midfield roles, which has meant Sane and Riyad Mahrez have had to fight for minutes off the bench and starts here and there during their historic 2018-19 season.

That has often led to Sane looking pretty unhappy on the sidelines, but when he has got the chance to play he has been pretty good with his best-ever season in terms of goals scored with 16 across all competitions. Coming off the back of his shock omission from Germany’s 2018 World Cup squad, Sane has bounced back well and scored a pivotal goal in Man City’s PL win against Liverpool and a stunning free kick late on against his old club Schalke in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

Sane moving to Bayern would make sense as legendary wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are moving on, with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman set to take their mantle and any summer move for Callum Hudson-Odoi now in doubt after his serious injury. The German international has delivered in his three seasons at City, but Guardiola often seems enraged by his penchant for drifting inside with his runs and with the ball instead of staying wide on the touchline.

It seems like the stars are aligning for Sane to return to Germany and be a star at Bayern.

Out of contract Premier League Best XI

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2018-19 season in the books, Premier League clubs are already turning their attention to next season.

Players are coming towards the end of their contracts, with the PL’s summer transfer now open which means some players can move on free transfers when their deals expire, usually on July 1.

Which players are available to pick up at the end of their deals on freebies?

There is always a lot of chatter at this time of the year about who will stay, which players have a one-year option to extend their deals, and which clubs also have that option. Olivier Giroud will stay at Chelsea for one more season, but he would have been the top striker available on a freebie this summer, while Ander Herrera is expected to sign for PSG after announcing he will leave Man United when his contract expires.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding several star names at some of the PL’s biggest clubs. If you are a newly promoted club (Norwich, Sheffield United and one of Aston Villa and Derby County) you are no doubt looking at this list of experienced PL players and getting pretty excited.

Take a look at our “Out of Contract Best XI” below, as several players have yet to agree new deals with their current clubs.


Premier League, Out of Contract Best XI – 4-4-2 formation

—– Michel Vorm —–

Danny SimpsonGary CahillPhil JagielkaNacho Monreal — 

Antonio ValenciaMohamed DiameJuan MataAlberto Moreno — 

—- Daniel Sturridge —- Fernando Llorente —- 

On the bench
Willy Caballero
Leighton Baines
Danny Williams
Ander Herrera (expected to join PSG on free transfer)
Samir Nasri
Bakary Sako
Andy Carroll


Mbappe to stay at Paris Saint-Germain

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It appears that one of the transfer sagas of the summer is over before it truly began.

Kylian Mbappe, 20, hinted at leaving Paris Saint-Germain this summer for “a new project” in another country during his acceptance speech after being crowned the Ligue 1 Player of the Year on Sunday.

He has since stood by those comments, telling French outlet L’Equipe: “When I say something, I mean it. I said it. If it is at PSG, that’s good, if it is elsewhere, it is elsewhere.”

With Real Madrid leading the long list of clubs hoping to sign the Frenchman, who arrived at PSG in the summer of 2017 on loan from Monaco and then the move was made permanent for a fee of $210 million. That makes Mbappe the second most-expensive player in history behind his PSG teammate Neymar.

But PSG aren’t having any of this departure talk from Mbappe. Nope. Nada.

The French champions released a statement on Tuesday dismissing Mbappe’s comments and drawing their line firmly in the sand.

“Very strong ties have united Paris Saint-Germain and Kylian Mbappe for two years and this story will continue together also next season. With the shared ambition to write the history of European football, in the year of the 50th anniversary of PSG,a long awaited moment to write together a big page in the history of our club and in which everyone will have to do his part, always giving value to the collective.”

So, Monsieur Mbappe, over to you…

At 20 years of age he has plenty of time to move to Spain or England in the future but there’s no doubting Mbappe’s quality to move on and be a star for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Man City, whoever he wants.

Those three are probably the only three clubs who can afford his transfer fee and wages combined, but his 32 Ligue 1 goals this season show his quality and we all saw how good he was for France at the 2018 World Cup last summer. Real need a new hero and if they offer Gareth Bale and a large chunk of cash to PSG for Mbappe, could Les Parisiens really turn that down?

After all, PSG have Neymar and Edinson Cavani up front, so losing Mbappe would hardly hit them in terms of their attacking prowess. But Mbappe is a local kid who is the rising star in the game. Selling him before they’ve conquered the UEFA Champions League, their holy grail, would be unthinkable.

Mbappe’s comments suggest he isn’t totally happy at PSG, but unless Real Madrid put down an offer the French champs can’t refuse, he’s staying in the French capital.