Pepe stars, Arsenal crushes Newcastle

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Nicolas Pepe had a goal and two assists as Arsenal handled Newcastle United 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil scored the other goals as Arsenal moved into 10th place, seven points back of the top four.

It was a tale of two very different halves for Newcastle, who entered the day even with Arsenal on 31 points, and leaves it in 13th place. The Magpies were very good in the opening 45, and dismantled in the second stanza.


Three highlights

1. Arsenal defense finally approaching Leno’s level: There were moments for Newcastle’s tricky wide men, but Mikel Arteta‘s defense continued its improvement under his watch. Bernd Leno saved Arsenal’s lives on so many cases earlier in the season, and he’s finding life a lot easier as the Arteta era finds its footing.

2. Pepe powers Gunners attack: Nicolas Pepe entered the day leading Arsenal in assists and dribbles per game, and was second in key passes despite starting just 14 of his 21 appearances. Mikel Arteta trusted the Ivorian on Sunday, and boy did he deliver the goods in being involved in all four goals. But there’s so much more.

Pepe was credited with four key passes and three big chances created, winning 7 of 13 duels with an interception and two tackles. Three of his seven crosses were on target and he passed the ball at 83 percent.

3. Saka continues to impress: We’ve had to remind ourselves that Bukayo Saka is still just a teenager so many times this season. The 18-year-old burst onto the scene as a fun winger, but has become an able left back with incredible threat moving forward. The Gunners have a wealth of fine young players with promise. Imagine if they’ve found the boss to organize them.

Man of the Match: Pepe, with notes of appreciation for Saka, Saint-Maximin, and Aubameyang.


Arsenal held the ball for most of the first four minutes, but Joelinton drove past Shkrodan Mustafi to pick out Valentino Lazaro, whose shot was blocked for a corner.

Allan Saint-Maximin wanted a penalty call when fouled by Granit Xhaka, but neither Lee Mason not VAR thought it the case.

A training ground routine off a corner kick led to a Sean Longstaff rip from 25 yards, and Leno had to act quickly to stymy a deflected effort.

Joelinton then just missed a near-post chance after a bit of Saint-Maximin wizardry. The Frenchman soon drew a dangerous free kick that Longstaff sent into orbit.

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The game was wide open, Bukayo Saka missing with an arrow meant for the upper 90 and Miguel Almiron wasting the end of a long, wonderful dribble.

Arsenal grew into the game and Eddie Nketiah looked more and more dangerous in tearing into a shot that Dubravka caught in the 38th. Dubravka then tipped a Nicolas Pepe free kick over the bar.

Saint-Maximin then dribbled the Arsenal team to push a pass through the six, but Joelinton was hobbled and didn’t follow the play.

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Arsenal burst out of the halftime gates and Nicolas Pepe set up Nketiah for a point-blank chance cranked off the top of the crossbar.

Aubameyang pushed Arsenal onto the score sheet in the 54th minute, heading home from close range after a terrific Pepe cross.

Pepe got on the board soon after, the Ivorian star igniting the Gunners.

Ciaran Clark ripped a Saint-Maximin pass that was deflected out for a corner, and Saint-Maximin later smashed the far post with a shot from distance.

The third Arsenal goal was a Dubravka error. Ozil led a rush and spotted Pepe, who passed to Lacazette before Ozil pushed a clumsy shot to goal that defied Newcastle’s star keeper.

Pepe was back involved in the fourth, Joe Willock‘s incisive pass to the winger doing the heavy lifting en route to Lacazette’s finish.

Report: Serie A could resume training May 2, games late in month

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Blanket testing for players and a 14-day quarantine for foreign players are on the menu as Serie A reportedly looks to resume in May.

Football Italia cites a report from Italian news outlet Adnkronos that discusses a May 2 return to training with matches resuming late in the month.

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Vincenzo Spadafora is Italy’s minister for sport, and is hopeful that the worst of the coronavirus is behind the country.

According to the report, any player returning to Italy from abroad would be quarantined for two weeks before returning to training.

After an initial round of testing for all players, more would follow:

More tests would be made weekly to maintain that level of certainty all the way to the end of the season. Clubs are believed to be stocking up on COVID-19 tests, in accordance with medical structures in their cities, ensuring everyone has enough to go around.

The plan may be met with resistance, as combustible Brescia owner Massimo Cellino says his club will not play and has accepted that it earned relegation.

European bodies implore member associations to wait to abandon seasons

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UEFA is speaking up regarding its hope to finish club seasons once the environment is safer.

Sky Sports reports that UEFA has sent a letter to its 55 members associations imploring them not to cancel their competitions early and that they exhaust all options “until the last possibility exists.”

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The letter is signed by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli and European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson.

The report comes as the Belgian Super League reportedly prepares to award its league title to Club Brugge on April 15. The league would be the first to see its season abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

From Sky Sports:

“We are confident that football can restart in the months to come – with conditions that will be dictated by public authorities – and believe that any decision of abandoning domestic competitions is, at this stage, premature and not justified.”

Many leagues, such as the Premier League, continue to suspend their seasons indefinitely as they wait for improvements with the coronavirus pandemic.

Although UEFA have relaxed their previous stance that domestic seasons should be finished by June 30, it is looking more likely that the 2019-20 season would need until August or September.

Burning question: Which clubs have the best crest, look in soccer?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the next one focuses on something we all have: a team we like that we don’t want to admit.

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Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: Which clubs have the best crest and uniform combination?

It’s a difficult one, as some are great on the former and others on the latter. Look at the Premier League alone. Liverpool and Chelsea have terrific crests, iconic even, but the Reds and Blues’ traditional uniforms are not altogether different from several big clubs in the world. It’s difficult to lay claim to red.

We’re not kicking either of the above clubs out of the house party, but here are five looks that are inevitably theirs.

That said, you might argue the case of either club and we’d encourage you to do so in the comments.

Without further ado…

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil during their golden era.

Brazil

The yellow shirt with a dosing of green around the neck is instantly associated with Brazil, though the more green on the collar the better. The blue shorts matter here, too, completing a look worn by some of the greatest players of all-time. That helps the brand.

Celtic

The green and white hoops are unmistakable, as is the four-leaf clover. Celtic actually wore green-and-white horizontal stripes for the early part of their existence, but the hoops were the proper switch.

Barcelona

The Blaugranas — blue and dark red, don’t you know? — striped-top has met the stripes in its crest, which also is topped by the red-and-white cross and red and gold stripes of the Barcelona coat of arms. Many say the stripes were brought to Spain by its Swiss leader, Joan Gamper.

Arsenal

The Gunners moved white sleeves onto their red tops in the 1930s, and the look is one of the most iconic in the world. While the crest has changed more than a few times, the addition of a cannon from the middle of the last century onward has been everpresent.

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Also considered:
Ajax
River Plate
Real Madrid
England
Argentina
AC Milan
Inter Milan
The Netherlands
Mexico
Dozens more…

PFA explains position as players urged to take pay cuts

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The Professional Footballers Association is explaining why it has not yet accepted deferred pay cuts during the coronavirus suspension, and the English government is not withholding its opinion.

As non-playing staff accept furloughs or worse across the tiers of English football and players in other European nations accept pay cuts, the PFA has not found an arrangement to its liking.

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Health secretary Matthew Hancock addressed the situation in his daily public briefing.

From Sky Sports:

“Given the sacrifices people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS, who have made the ultimate sacrifice and gone into work and caught the disease and have sadly died, I think the first thing Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution; take a pay cut and play their part.”

That’s a heavy statement, one that surely resonates with all.

The PFA issued a post on its site that runs up nearly 1000 words on its position, stating that a big part of its concern is representing League One and League Two players. Those members do not receive the massive pay packets of PL stars.

Basically, what the PFA is requesting is time to make an educated decision considering the books and futures of every club are different. They’d like to see those books to make sure that if players are making a sacrifice that shareholders are as well.

From ThePFA.com:

We fully accept that players will have to be flexible and share the financial burden of the COVID-19 outbreak in order to secure the long-term future of their own club and indeed the wider game. Our advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation.

In addition, the PFA is also expecting to contribute financially to any solutions agreed upon.

Like everyone else in the country, we are trying to deal with a situation that has never been faced. Our spirits have been lifted seeing communities come together to support each other. We have been proud to see many of our own members and clubs step up to support the NHS, to help children who would usually benefit from free school meals, donating to food banks and other charitable donations to those affected by this crisis. Much of this has been done privately and without publicity.

Obviously there will be a resolution to this soon, but it’s a complex and layered situation. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe became the first PL boss to take a voluntary pay cut on Wednesday, with Brighton’s Graham Potter following suit.