Three things learned: Arsenal v. Man City

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LONDON — Manchester City swept Arsenal aside on Sunday in the Premier League to win 3-0 as festive cheer was in short supply amongst the home fans at the Emirates Stadium.

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Kevin De Bruyne‘s masterclass saw him score twice and grab an assist as Man City ran riot in the first half and Arsenal’s injury-hit defense never recovered.

Here’s what we learned as interim Arsenal boss Freddie Ljungberg saw his side dominated by Pep Guardiola‘s Man City.


DE BRUYNE ON ANOTHER LEVEL

KEVINNNNN! Kevin de Bruyne was on another level on Sunday as he ripped Arsenal apart in the first half. He scored twice, cracking finishes with either foot, forced a superb save from Bernd Leno who tipped his shot onto the post, and he set up Raheem Sterling as City destroyed Arsenal. KDB has been fit for most of this season and he is the main reason why you think City could still surge towards an unlikely title push in the second half of the campaign, or more likely have a serious chance of winning the UEFA Champions League.

A fit and fired up De Bruyne is exactly what Man City need right now.

We’ve all seen the clips of him getting angry in the past (“Let me talk! Let me talk!”) and when the Belgian wizard is fired up he’s a joy to watch. In the second half Arsenal’s fans let out gasps as he nutmegged Guendouzi on the left flank to find Raheem Sterling who was 30 yards to his left and behind him. His vision is incredible and his driving runs scythed through the heart of the Gunners time and time again. Whatever Man City win, or don’t win, this season the main positive is that Kevin de Bruyne is fully fit and back to his best. Everyone’s a winner (except their opponents) when KDB is firing on all cylinders like this.


LJUNGBERG FAILING HIS ARSENAL AUDITION

Arsenal’s fans aren’t angry at their team anymore. They are just disappointed. Any teenager who’s had a similar run in with their parents can tell you exactly how horrible that feels.

Freddie Ljungberg has drawn against Norwich and Standard Liege, beat West Ham and now lost to Brighton and Man City in his first five games in charge. It’s hardly promising stuff from the Arsenal interim manager. His two week audition has seen Arsenal reignite their attacking prowess, one of his core philosophies as a coach, but defensively they remain woeful. Yes, injuries at the back, which now include Sead Kolasinac, have hampered the team but they are too naive, too idealistic. Ljungberg wants them to attack but this is no different than Arsene Wenger and the same as Unai Emery. Nothing has changed. Instead of setting his team up to be tough to beat and battling for every ball, they are too easy to pass through. There is no ‘going back to basics’ but instead the status quo remains intact.

Whispers around the press room before the game suggested that Ljungberg will be given until the end of the season to lead the Gunners while the hierarchy wait to appoint the perfect candidate. With a top four place still, quite remarkably, on the line, Arsenal’s dilly-dallying will surely cost them any chance they have to reach the top four. Tottenham’s rapid response to fire Mauricio Pochettino and hire Jose Mourinho has worked, with Spurs just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea and building momentum. Arsenal are just seven points off the top four but stuck in neutral and will be until Ljungberg is either given the rest of the season or a new man arrives. The team, fans and the entire club is stuck in limbo.

The fans seem to have checked out already. On Sunday it was so quite that at times you could heard the Arsenal players, mostly Calum Chambers, calmly giving out instructions to other defenders. There was an acceptance that Man City were so far and above Arsenal that the home fans might as well stick around to watch City play. They ignored the chants/taunts from the away end telling them they should have “gone Christmas shopping!” and watched on in despair as Arsenal’s injury-hit defense crumbled and their managerless side limp on. The damage was done in the first half and although it was 0-0 for the second half, that was more about Man City coasting than Arsenal improving.


CITY CAN STILL SALVAGE THEIR SEASON 

Man City are still 14 points behind leaders Liverpool but they’re now able to eat away at that gap a little with Liverpool on Club World Cup duty next week. They face Leicester City next and can move to within one point of the second-place Foxes with a win at the King Power Stadium. Pep Guardiola’s men will never stop believing they can win every single game between now and the end of the season, and they could quite easily do that.

Defensively they weren’t that troubled on Sunday, but they still have up gilt-edged chances as Gabriel Martinelli was denied early on and Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had chances in the second half. The back four of Kyle Walker, Fernandinho, Nicolas Otamandi and Benjamin Mendy just did okay, and that was enough thanks to the brilliance of Kevin de Bruyne. But Mendy in particular was suspect defensively and City still have a soft underbelly. Their squad strength will come to the fore in the next few weeks over the festive season and in early January, just like last season, we will get a better idea as to whether or not they can salvage their season by becoming genuine contenders in the Premier League and Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.


Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.


Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.


Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?

Netherlands forward Rob Rensenbrink dies at age 72

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Rob Rensenbrink, the forward who was centimeters away from delivering the Netherlands a World Cup title in 1978, has died at age 72, the Dutch football association said Saturday.

“We have heard with sadness of the death of football legend Rob Rensenbrink,” the association said in a tweet.

Rensenbrink played most of his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge and Anderlecht, where his weaving runs earned him the nickname “Snake Man.” He also played briefly for the Portland Timbers in the United States in 1980.

He was a regular for the Netherlands national team in its period of dominance in the 1970s.

He played 46 times and scored 14 goals for the Dutch team known for its slick, position-swapping “total football.”

But he will always be best remembered for the goal he didn’t quite score in the 1978 World Cup final.

With the scores tied at 1-1 between the Netherlands and host Argentina and the seconds ticking away in injury time of the final in Buenos Aires, Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post. The match went to extra time and Argentina scored twice to win 3-1.

It was the second straight World Cup final defeat for the Netherlands, which has appeared in three finals and lost them all.

Rensenbrink was diagnosed with a muscle disease in 2012 and died as a result of the illness, according to Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Anderlecht said he died Friday night.

“Thanks for everything Robbie!” the Belgian club wrote on its website. “We will never forget you.”

Serie A roundup: Ilicic powers Atalanta in historic win over Torino (video)

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Atalanta’s historic and overpowering win over Torino highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Torino 0-7 Atalanta

Josip Ilicic scored a hat-trick, including a center-line strike, as Atalanta humiliated Torino 7-0 on Saturday, handing the hosts their worst home loss ever in Serie A play.

With only nine men on the field towards the end of the match for Turin-based side, Atalanta were able to capitalize, elevating their goal count to 57 goals in 21 games this season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who are back in Champions League contention, lead the league in goals.

Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who scored a minute before the break, added to Ilicic’s first of three. A three-goal advantage after the first 45 minutes foreshadowed what Torino was going to encounter in the second half: more goals.

Eight minutes into the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s bout at the Olimpico di Torino, Ilicic quick-fired two more past an exposed Salvatore Sirigu.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Luis Muriel took the field for the visitors. And just six minutes after his first foot on the natural surface, the Colombian striker had a brace to his name.

“All we can do is apologize,” Torino coach Walter Mazzarri said. “In so many years of my career I had never had such a game.”

In fourth place with 38 points, Atalanta look to increase their seven-goal performances this season to three as they host struggling Genoa in a weeks time. Torino, on the other hand, meet AC Milan on Tuesday in the quarterfinal’s of the Coppa Italia.

Elsewhere

SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa