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Arsenal has doubts over Mkhitaryan’s availability for Europa League final

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Arsenal attacker Henrikh Mkhitaryan could miss the Europa League final over concerns for his safety at the event’s location in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, according to the club.

Arsenal confirmed to the English media via a spokesperson that the club is not satisfied with the assurances they have received from UEFA regarding Mkhitaryan’s safety on the trip. “We are seeking guarantees from UEFA that it will be safe for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to travel to Baku for the Europa League final, which both Arsenal and Micki require for him to be included within our squad,” the statement said. “Acceptable guarantees have not been received yet, and we hope that UEFA will be able to supply these promptly. We are of course hugely concerned that the location of the final could lead to Micki not being able to play in a European final.”

According to a report by the BBC, UEFA has said the situation is still “a work in progress.”

However, despite Arsenal’s publicized concerns, the Associated Press reports that Azerbaijan has indicated that there will be no problems for Mkhitaryan entering the country. “Many major sports events have been hosted in Azerbaijan, and Armenian athletes have taken part in them. Sports and politics are separate,” said ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva as quoted by the AP.

In addition, the AP received a statement from UEFA that seemed to indicate they had received assurances of Mkhitaryan’s safety, but did not mention a relationship with the Azerbaijani government. “Assurances were sought on this matter by UEFA and Arsenal FC, with the Azerbaijan Football Association confirming that there would be no problem for the player in question to enter and stay in Azerbaijan and that all necessary security measures would be in place,” UEFA told the Associated Press via email.

The Armenian international missed Borussia Dortmund’s Europa League trip to Azerbaijani club Gabala in 2015, and he missed Arsenal’s trip to Azerbaijani club Qarabag in Europa League group stage play back in October, with tensions between the two countries high. However, Qarabag head coach Gurban Gurbanov said back in October before the match that there should be no problems with Mkhitaryan’s travel to and from the country, and that Arsenal may have simply left him off the roster to avoid the problem altogether.

“If Henrikh Mkhitaryan would come to Azerbaijan it is not the first time,” Gurbanov said. “A lot of Armenian sportsmen came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send him. Arsenal may be afraid that in front of 60,000 Azerbaijani fans, Mkhitaryan has some pressure and that is why they didn’t send Mkhitaryan.”

Relations between the two countries have been excessively strained since the late 80’s and early 90’s when Armenian-backed forces took control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Azerbaijan. The conflict was somewhat resolved in 1994 with a cease-fire but it has escalated in the past few years, including a brief clash in 2016 and subsequent reverberations.

Arsenal is set to play fellow Premier League side Chelsea in the Europa League final on May 29.

Norwich City shock struggling Leicester at Carrow Road

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Leicester City clearly missed the injured Jamie Vardy, pummeling the Canaries time and again with shots but none had the killer instinct of the absent striker. That was critical as the Foxes had no response once Jamal Lewis put Norwich City in front as the Canaries worked a crucial 1-0 victory at Carrow Road.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The game was goalless until the 71st minute when Lewis received a cross from Max Aarons that skittered through the area to the opposite side where the left-back ripped an absolute rocket that tucked inside the right post.

Vardy and his 17 goals were missing through a calf problem that may have cost the Foxes points on the road. With Leicester City looking to push Manchester City for second in the Premier League table, this loss saw them slog seven points back of the Citizens. Norwich City, meanwhile, will relish the victory as they draw just three back of the other two relegation-threatened sides.

The closest Leicester City came to a goal was a cancelled strike from Kelechi Iheanacho – Vardy’s replacement – who has a goal cancelled by VAR on a dicey handball call. It was a spotty performance at best for the Foxes who created few solid chances and


Three things we learned

1. How is Norwich City bottom of the table?

Seriously, how? Watching the first half, this Canaries squad is capable of dangerous forward play and solid defending that can only be undone by quality attacking moves. It’s true that as the first half waned on, they conceded heavy possession to the Foxes, but the hosts still threatened Leicester City multiple times and looked up for the match at Carrow Road. They are clearly missing a consistency indicative of an established Premier League side, but they look far from the worst team in the top flight. In fact, even when the game was goalless, Kasper Schmeichel was the busier of the two goalkeepers, with Tim Krul not truly threatened.

The goal was Norwich City’s first goal from open play in nearly 11 hours, an unbelievable total if you only watched this 90 minutes. If the Canaries are going to climb the mountain and stay up, they will need to channel this performance through the rest of the season.

2. Kelechi Iheanachi is no Jamie Vardy

Leicester City ripped off 12 shots in the first half, but only managed three on target. Once halftime had come and gone, Leicester City had just four more shots in the tank, with 16 total but just four on target and none with a mark of over 0.21 xG.

Vardy’s exquisite finishing ability was sorely missed as the Foxes created plenty of chances but couldn’t finish many dangerously. The 23-year-old Nigerian was hardly involved in the game, seeing a goal ruled out but also contributing little else. With Vardy at 33 years of age, the Foxes clearly need a Plan B should he end up missing any more time in the near future or down the road, because they had nothing to aim at with the talisman sidelined.

3. Leicester City is in a rut

Iheanacho was not the only on who struggled against the Premier League’s bottom side. James Maddison had very few touches in the attacking third, creating four chances but two of them came off corners and two were miles from the net. Dennis Praet and Ricardo Pereira were probably the Foxes’ most creative player but even they popped up few and far between, producing just 1.44 xG on a whopping 19 shots. Jonny Evans was constantly screaming at his fellow defenders for their loss of shape. The Foxes challenged for Man City’s second position lasted a few weeks, but they have fallen off the table and now just hope to solidify third before they fall any further in what could be a precarious home stretch.

Man of the Match: Ben Godfrey


The two teams were both bright in an entertaining start with Norwich threatening down the right on the overlap and Leicester City pressing hard. Teemu Pukki had an opportunity from the right edge on 22 minutes but Caglar Soyuncu made an acrobatic last-gasp block. That started a lengthy spell of pressure from the Canaries, but the hosts couldn’t cash in.

Leicester City’s best chance of the first half-hour came on 25 minutes as Dennis Praet found himself in a dangerous area, but he could only clip Ricardo Pereira’s delivery off the outside of the right post. Ayoze Perez also put a shot into a precarious position moments later which cannoned dangerously off the leg of Norwich City defender Grant Hanley, but went wide instead of into the gaping net.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Foxes began to assert their dominance past the half-hour mark and Perez found Kelechi Iheanacho right in front of net, but he disappointingly fired over.

Minutes into the second half Iheanacho found the ball in the back of the net but saw it ruled out by VAR thanks to a handball on the buildup. That was Leicester City’s biggest moment as they were toothless up front otherwise. Norwich City capitalized with 19 minutes to go as Lewis pounced on a Max Aarons delivery clean across the box and delivered a cannon blast into the back of the net. Norwich nearly had a second a few minutes from full time but Kasper Schmeichel came up to save a quality effort from substitute Josip Drmic.

Eintracht Frankfurt dumps RB Salzburg from Europa League

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Andre Silva struck twice as Eintracht Frankfurt played to a 2-2 draw at Red Bull Salzburg to become the final team with a berth in the Europa League quarterfinals on a 6-3 aggregate scoreline.

The match had been originally scheduled for yesterday alongside the rest of the Europa League Round of 16 slate but storms in the area forced its postponement.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

Goals for Salzburg’s Andreas Ulmer and Jerome Onguene were not enough to offset the 4-1 first-leg loss plus another two conceded at home. Silva’s second goal was the pick of the lot, finding the top corner from outside the top of the box with a brilliant looping effort.

Frankfurt’s advancement will be a boost for them domestically where they have lost two straight in Bundesliga play but recently dumped RB Leipzig from DFB-Pokal play. USMNT veteran Timmy Chandler came off the bench for the final two minutes.

On the flip side, the match came at a bad time for RB Salzburg, who has only won one of its last five league games in Austria, seeing LASK take over the top spot in the table. That poor form worked its way to European play as well, unable to give themselves a chance at the already improbable comeback. They can take positives from the goals scored up front as Ulmer’s was an absolute rocket from just inside the top of the box and Onguene bagged a header off a corner.

Watch Live: Norwich v. Leicester

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Norwich City host Leicester City on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Canaries and Foxes in very different positions heading into this clash at Carrow Road.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Daniel Farke’s Norwich are scrapping for their lives and although they’ve played some wonderful attacking soccer this season with Teemu Pukki, Emiliano Buendia and Todd Cantwell all starring, they sit bottom of the Premier League table with 11 games to go. The Canaries badly need a win against Leicester if they’re going to avoid relegation back to the Championship at the first attempt. They currently sit seven points from safety.

As for Leicester, their poor form in 2020 has continued but they remain in third place in the Premier League and Brendan Rodgers‘ side are nine points ahead of fifth place. Jamie Vardy‘s goals have dried up as he hasn’t scored in his last nine appearances and only once in his last 12, which has meant a big downturn in results.

Norwich v Leicester should be a real treat on a windy Friday evening in Norfolk as both teams have plenty to play for and both managers urge their teams to play fluid, attacking soccer.

In team news Norwich bring in Buendia for Rupp as the Argentine playmaker is key in their battle against relegation.

Leicester are without Jamie Vardy who isn’t in the squad due to injury as Kelechi Iheanacho replaces him.


LINEUPS

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Here are the latest Prince-Wright‘s Premier League picks ahead of Matchweek 28 in the Premier League, with eight games on the slate due to the League Cup final between Aston Villa and Man City on Sunday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun with these Premier League games.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Watford 0-2 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

West Ham 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Norwich 1-2 Leicester – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-1 Man United – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Newcastle 2-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 1-0 Chelsea – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham 1-3 Wolves – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM