Getty Images

Europa League: Inter held, Napoli wins big, Benfica beaten

Leave a comment

Arsenal slumped to a 3-1 defeat on the road at Stade Rennais in the first leg of Europa Round of 16 play, while Chelsea hammered Dynamo Kiev 3-0 in a comprehensive victory.

The Gunners put forth a dismal performance in France, with Mesut Ozil the scapegoat again, putting together an uninspiring performance up front. Nacho Monreal gifted Rennais the lead with an odd own-goal and Rennais scored an important third as Ismaila Sarr beat Aaron Ramsey to a header at the back post in the 88th minute. Arsenal would have fancied its chances down 2-1 heading home, but they now have a two-goal deficit to make up.

[ MORE: Arsenal falls to Stade Rennais ]

Chelsea, meanwhile, enjoyed a dominating display at Stamford Bridge, taking a significant lead with them into the second leg in the Ukraine. Pedro scored the opener on a wonderful flick from Olivier Giroud, while Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi added the cherry on top as the Blues were in charge throughout. Chelsea finished the match with eight shots on target and held Dynamo to none.

[ MORE: Chelsea pummels Dynamo Kiev ]

Marcelo Brozovic missed a penalty and Ivan Perisic was yanked with an injury as a poor Inter performance resulted in a 0-0 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt. Lautaro Martinez was fouled in the penalty area on 22 minutes running away from goal chasing a loose ball, leading to Brozovic’s attempt from the spot, but his penalty was low and weak, and Eintracht goalkeeper Kevin Trapp dove to reach it for the save. In the 59th minute, Perisic was withdrawn after an injury, replaced by Antonio Candreva. Perisic has been a critical player for Inter this season, playing 2,511 minutes out of a possible 3,240 across all competitions.

Inter was lucky to escape with the draw, as Frankfurt had a goal disallowed in the 50th minute for an interfering player standing in an offside position, while defender Martin Hinteregger missed a wide open header in the 69th minute. Samir Handanovic was required in the 89th minute as he made a fingertip save on a shot by Luka Jovic.

Napoli blitzed FC Salzburg with two goals inside the opening 20 minutes and cruised to a 3-0 win. Arkadiusz Milik found himself free on goal after a beautiful feed from Dries Mertens for the opener just 10 minutes in, while Fabian Ruiz volleyed in Napoli’s second eight minutes later. The Italians found a third just before the hour mark, with Mario Rui’s deep cross headed into his own net by Jerome Onguene.

Valencia grabbed two early goals at home on a brace by Spanish international Rodrigo, but Russian side Krasnodar picked up an important away goal in a 2-1 finish. Rodrigo’s first was a wonderful curler unleashed at the top of the box and finishing in the top-left corner of the net in the 12th minute. He doubled Valencia’s lead in the 24th minute with a powerful low finish on a cross from Toni Lato. The visitors picked up the important consolation just past the hour mark as Viktor Claesson beat Cristiano Piccini to a long ball and muscled the Valencia defender off the ball for a fastbreak finish.

Dinamo Zagreb topped Benfica in Croatia 1-0 on a penalty by Bruno Petkovic in the 38th minute. Benfica held 65% of possession but managed just two shots on target and conceded the penalty when Ruben Dias barged over Dani Olmo in the penalty area.

Sevilla drew 2-2 at home with Slavia Prague with all four goals scored in a wild first half. Wissam Ben Yedder scored in the opening minute of the match, threaded through after a turnover in midfield to put Sevilla 1-0 up after just 24 seconds. The visitors drew back level in the 25th minute, but Munir El Haddadi put Sevilla back up just three minutes later, volleying home a corner with power. Alex Kral levelled things up again in the 39th minute on a hilarious goal that saw the ball ping off his neck unintentionally, looping into the top corner.

That was all for the scoring, as Sevilla pushed for a winner with nine total shots including four on target, while holding Slavia Prague to no shots on target in the second half. The final result is a win for Slavia Prague who heads home with a pair of away goals.

Villareal went into halftime level with Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 and came away with a 3-1 win after second-half goals from Gerard Moreno and Manuel Morlanes. Moreno headed home Pablo Fornals’ cross in the 64th minute to give Villareal the lead, while Morlanes blasted his low effort through traffic in the 71st minute to seal the win. Sardar Azmoun and Vicente Iborra had cancelled each other out in the first half.

Pochettino praises Tottenham: ‘We were better in all aspects’

1 Comment

LONDON — The north London derby ended in a dramatic 1-1 draw, but Mauricio Pochettino didn’t believe his team deserved anything other than a victory.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

From Harry Kane‘s controversial penalty kick equalizer to Arsenal having a spot kick saved in the 90th minute, there was plenty of late drama on show at Wembley between the bitter rivals.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Pochettino believed his side were superior to Arsenal “in all aspects” and should have taken the victory.

“If we assess the game I think we were better than Arsenal in all the aspects,” Pochettino said. “It was a fantastic game, exciting game with great atmosphere with two teams that wanted to play and win the game. It’s tough to play Arsenal, conceding after 15 minutes was tough for us. But I am so happy with the character and personality that we played with. Our performance was not great, but it was really good to draw and maybe deserve to win. After two defeats it was important today to start to build our positive run.”

Pochettino is maybe heaping a little too much praise on his team here.

In the first half they really struggled to control Arsenal’s counter attacks as Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan wrecked havoc supporting Alexandre Lacazette. There’s no doubt Spurs were the better team in the second half, so from a simplistic standpoint a draw was a fair result in this game.

As for the controversy which dominated the game, Pochettino has previously revealed his disdain towards VAR but seemed less critical of the technology on Saturday.

When asked about whether Kane should have been awarded a penalty kick (replays show he was clearly offside when the cross came in) and if Aubameyang’s missed PK should have been retaken due to encroachment, his answer was clear.

“Football was never fair and it is never going to be fair,” Pochettino said.

Although he argues that Spurs should have won the game, they are showing signs of fatigue and mental mistakes which are costing them dear at a pivotal stage of the season.

With Tottenham in the title race one week ago, they are now in a real battle to finish in the top four as Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United have made up considerable ground amid Spurs’ two defeats and a draw in the past seven days.

Let’s see if Pochettino’s positivity has the desired impact and gives his players a boost for the tough games ahead.

Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Arsenal

3 Comments

LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal went at it in a wild 1-1 draw in the north London derby at Wembley on Saturday.

Aaron Ramsey‘s opener was canceled out by Harry Kane‘s controversial penalty kick, as Hugo Lloris then saved Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s spot kick in stoppage time and Lucas Torreira was sent off in a wild finish.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating clash at Wembely, as Spurs stay four points ahead of Arsenal in the table.


VAR CONTROVERSY REIGNS SUPREME

VAR is once again a talking point in the Premier League. Tottenham’s penalty kick came after Harry Kane was legitimately bundled over by Skhodran Mustafi, but he was clearly offside when the free kick was swung in. The linesman couldn’t see around the defenders as he wasn’t in the correct position, and if VAR had been used the penalty decision would have been overturned. Simple as that. The incident for Spurs’ penalty kick is exactly why VAR is arriving in the Premier League for the 2019-20 season, and highlights that it was a mistake to not introduce it this season. Once again we are talking about a mistake being a game-changing one, and Arsenal’s top four chances have taken a hit due to VAR not being used this season. Throughout the game there were other moments of controversy as Granit Xhaka hit Kane hard early on, Danny Rose could have seen red for a challenge on Bernd Leno, then on the penalty kick Arsenal missed in stoppage time there was clear encroachment from Jan Vertonghen who eventually cleared the ball on the rebound. Officials need help and VAR can’t come soon enough to help eradicate these major mistakes in huge games.


ARSENAL’S TWEAKED LINEUP LOST MOMENTUM

Emery surprised many by leaving the likes of Lucas Torreira, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil on the bench, but his lineup choice and tactics were spot on. At least in the first half…

The Spanish coach set up his team to sit back and launch counters, with Alexandre Lacazette popping the ball back and some incisive one touch football opening Spurs up easily. The way Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ran riot with their midfield runs in the first half set Arsenal up for victory.  The former scored the first goal and will be sorely missed when he heads to Juventus in the summer. His clever runs allow Arsenal’s entire side to push higher up the pitch quickly and quite how Ramsey has been allowed to leave for Juve boggles the mind. Yet when Aubameyang, Ozil and Torreira came on in the second half, Arsenal lost the momentum and danger they had on the break and bringing on Ozil at 1-0 up was a strange decision. Maybe Ozil’s arrival subconsciously impacted the Arsenal players, as he is not the ‘closer’ you need in these type of games just as Tottenham were building a head of steam. Emery got his tactics right in the first half but in the second half they couldn’t cope with Spurs’ extra attacking player.


TOTTENHAM’S TOP FOUR CHANCES IN TROUBLE

Tottenham avoided a third-straight defeat in the Premier League for the first time since November 2012, but it was not pretty. Pochettino’s men are struggling at precisely the moment everyone thought they had cracked it. Last week they were genuinely in the title race despite having several injury problems to contend with. One of those who has returned recently, Harry Kane, looked shattered once again and in the first half he failed to control the ball on several occasions and he lost the ball in the box in the build up to Arsenal’s first goal. A lot has been made about Kane’s return to the team coinciding with a string of defeats for Spurs and if he’s fit enough to start, but the issues run a lot deeper than that.

Kane rallied in the second half and bullied Arsenal’s defense, and even though he may not be at his sharpest, he is still a menace. In truth, in the four Premier League games Kane missed, Spurs snatched victory against Fulham, Newcastle, Watford and Leicester, both they were poor for large spells of those games and got out of jail on several occasions. Their good luck has run out and just a week after they were supposed to be in the title race, their top four chances are in serious trouble with Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United hunting them down and all three have greater momentum than Spurs. The latter have trips to Liverpool and Man City coming up and even though they nicked a point against Arsenal, the cracks are showing. Big time. Spurs look shattered.


Tottenham peg Arsenal back on derby day (video)

Leave a comment
  • Controversial equalizer for Tottenham 
  • Harry Kane has nine goals in north London derbies, more than any other player in PL history
  • Mauricio Pochettino has never lost a home Premier League game against Arsenal
  • First draw of the season for Tottenham
  • Lloris saves Aubameyang’s 90th minute penalty
  • Torreira sent off in 90th minute

LONDON — Controversy reigned as Tottenham Hotspur drew 1-1 with Arsenal in the north London derby at Wembley on Saturday.

Harry Kane’s penalty kick (which should not have been awarded as he was offside) nicked a point for Spurs after Aaron Ramsey had given a solid Gunners side the lead in the first half.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then had a 90th minute penalty kick saved by Hugo Lloris as Arsenal missed the perfect chance to close the gap to their bitter rivals with Lucas Torreira sent off in stoppage time for the Gunners.

With the draw, their first of the season, Spurs remain in third on 61 points. Arsenal have 57 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had the first big chance of the game as Alex Iwobi‘s deflected shot looped into the air and found Alexandre Lacazette who scuffed the difficult chance wide.

Spurs then did plenty of pressing but just as they got on top, Arsenal took the lead. Harry Kane lost the ball in Arsenal’s box and a long ball forward caught out Davinson Sanchez. Lacazette slotted the ball into Ramsey who raced free, rounded Lloris and tapped the ball home to give the Gunners the lead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Kane had the ball it the net soon after but his brilliant header from a free kick was correctly ruled offside, while Son continued to run at Arsenal’s defense which held firm despite Eriksen firing an effort wide of the box.

On the counter Arsenal looked dangerous throughout the first half and Alex Iwobi’s curling short was brilliantly pushed away by Lloris. Right on half time Spurs thought they had equalized but Leno made a wonderful double stop to deny Eriksen and then Moussa Sissoko as the home side pushed hard to get level.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

At half time Lucas Torreira came on for Matteo Guendouzi as the youngster was guilty of giving the ball away cheaply on several occasions.

In the second half the same pattern continued, as Spurs got into some great positions but Arsenal launched another great attack which saw Lacazette skew his effort off target from a glorious position inside the box.

Toby Alderweireld then smashed wide at the back post after another dangerous Spurs free kick, with Arsenal bringing on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try and stretch Tottenham further on the counter.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Substitute Erik Lamela drilled a shot just wide as Spurs pushed hard for an equalizer late on, which they got in controversial circumstances.

A free kick into the box found Kane at the back post and he was bundled over by a combination of Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscileny as Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot.

Replays showed Kane was offside when the cross came in, but Spurs’ main man dispatched the penalty kick to become the all-time leading scorer in north London derbies in PL history.

Arsenal were awarded a penalty kick in the 90th minute as Sanchez brought down Aubameyang in the box but Hugo Lloris saved his spot kick and Spurs somehow cleared the rebound to snatch a draw.

Torreira was sent off for a lunging tackle on Danny Rose in stoppage time as Arsenal also finished the game with 10 men.

Arsenal boss Emery defends team selection after BATE Borisov loss

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has come out to defend his team selection after losing to BATE Borisov 1-0 in Europa League play on Thursday in Belarus.

Emery dropped playmaker Mesut Ozil in his ongoing feud with the German international, saying before the match that Ozil was a healthy scratch. After the loss, Emery was quick to defend his team selection, going so far as to say his team should have won despite the final scoreline.

“Last week we won and we played with the same players,” Emery said after the game. “For me today there was no difference to the performance. We deserved to win but didn’t get the result.”

“They were very organized defensively and they found the moment in the game. It’s not for one player or another. We can win with every player and lose with the same players.”

Arsenal held 77% possession and out-shot BATE 16-6, but each side picked out just three on target. Emery preached patience on multiple levels, saying his players need to control their emotions, and the fans need to understand that there is still a second leg to go.

“It’s the first match,” said Emery of the situation, with the second leg coming from the Emirates next Thursday. “We are going to play another 90 minutes next week and I’m sure it’s going to be different.

“Our big opportunity is next week at home. Today is not the result we wanted. We deserved more but they worked for this. Next week is going to be different with our supporters.”

Emery continued to talk about his players keeping their cool, and said he spoke with Alexandre Lacazette, who was sent off for a late elbow. “I didn’t see the action [Lacazette’s foul] but we need to control the frustration,” Emery said. “It’s bad news, this red card. Next week we won’t play with [Lacazette]. But it gives chances for another player.”

Ozil could be in contention to come back into the team in Lacazette’s absence, or Emery could turn to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a lone striker up front with a number of changes behind him, potentially including a return for Aaron Ramsey who missed the first leg with a knee problem.