Four things we learned: Arsenal v. Man United

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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.

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 28

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There’s a new team at the top, a new one at the bottom, and a club reaching its highest point of the season… in terms of power rankings and maybe soon in terms of the table.

[ MORE: Ranieri fired ]

20. Fulham — The last time Fulham fired a pair of managers in the same season, well, they got relegated. The hiring of Scott Parker may just be a, “Let’s see if you’ve got the stuff to lead us back next season.”
Last week: 19
Season high: 11
Season low: 20

19. Huddersfield Town — A feel-good win for Jan Siewart at the John Smith’s Stadium against a very good Wolves team. Maybe they have a shot at survival? Almost certainly not, but maybe.
Last week: 20
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

18. Cardiff City — As the Bluebirds slip into the Bottom Three, their remaining fixtures pick up in caliber of opponent. Uh oh?
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

17. Brighton and Hove Albion — In danger/eligible for the unlikely “Win a cup, qualify for Europe, get relegated” combination.
Last week: 18
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

16. Burnley — Looking down after an 8-match unbeaten run to clearly see the drop zone is alarming.
Last week: 14
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

15. Southampton — Ralphampton lives.
Last week: 17
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

14. Newcastle United — There’s a world in which Rafa Benitez wins Manager of the Year, Miguel Almiron makes Mike Ashley realize the potential of a spending Newcastle, and next season does not involve a relegation fight. It’s somewhere, like the old TV show “Fringe,” and we bet there’s a lot of Geordies who would like to drag it through the breach.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 19

13. Bournemouth — Since starting 6-2-2, the Cherries have collected 14 points. Not good, Ed. Not good.
Last week: 9
Season high: 6
Season low: 14

12. Crystal Palace — Maybe this is Roy Hodgson‘s last Palace hurrah, but he’s getting a job done.
Last week: 10
Season high: 6
Season low: 17

11. Everton — How huge would a Merseyside Derby result be for both the Toffees and the title race? Monumental.
Last week: 13
Season high: 5
Season low: 15

10. Leicester City — I’m not sure that Brendan Rodgers fixes anything, but the Foxes are better than what they showed under Claude Puel.
Last week: 12
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

(Nigel French/PA via AP)

9. West Ham United — Manuel Pellegrini‘s done a fine job, but needs to pile up points over the next four matches to give the Irons a legit shot at seventh.
Last week: 11
Season high: 6
Season low: 20

8. Watford — What is this team?
Last week: 8
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

7. Wolves — A dry patch has seen Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men claim just two of nine available points while losing to Huddersfield Town and drawing Newcastle and Bournemouth. We hate to say it, but that could be it for their European aspirations given Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United on the back end.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

6. Chelsea — That was a quality win against Spurs. You might even call it a Kepa (We’ll be here all night).
Last week: 7
Season high: 1
Season low: 7

5. Spurs — There’s a school of thought that Spurs have overachieved in their continued finishes inside the Top Three, but this season feels like a couple of colossal missed opportunities. One was the summer transfer window, and the other is the last five days.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 8

4. Arsenal — They are fun again, yeah, but the Gunners also very much carry the vibe that Arsene Wenger left behind (both the good and bad parts). We kinda want to see Unai Emery, Season 2 without seeing any more of the first edition.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 9

 (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

3. Manchester United — *New season high*Fun again. And we’ve also learned through the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era that the Ed Woodward redemption tour is a thing; This roster, even with its lack of spending on defenders, gave the Red Devils enough to compete in England.
Last week: 4
Season high: 3
Season low: 14

2. Manchester City — Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Will Liverpool open the door?
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3

1. Liverpool — The fact is that Liverpool’s point against Manchester United gives it an advantage only exceeded by one other facet; Liverpool may only have Premier League matches on its docket within a couple of weeks, while Man City remains alive in three competitions.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

Kolo Toure joins Brendan Rodgers’ staff at Leicester City

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A familiar face has made his return to the Premier League, although in a very different capacity.

Longtime Liverpool defender Kolo Toure has joined the Leicester City coaching staff, following Brendan Rodgers from Celtic to Liverpool. The 37-year-old retired a little under two years ago, having played for Rodgers at both Liverpool and Celtic. He immediately joined Rodgers’ staff upon retirement, and the two have formed a coaching partnership.

Toure has dived headfirst into coaching since the end of his playing days. Not only has he begun to learn under Rodgers and the rest of his backroom staff in Chris Davies and Glen Driscoll, but Toure was also been a part of the Ivory Coast coaching setup, serving on both the senior squad during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations as well as working with the U-23 squad.

When he joined Celtic in 2017, Toure said, “I can learn so much from working with Brendan Rodgers, he is a top manager. I will be working with him and his staff very closely each day. He is one of the best young managers in the world right now. What he’s doing for Celtic is there for all to see, he’s doing amazingly right now.”

In his playing days, Toure made 354 Premier League appearances for Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester City, earning a pair of league titles eight years apart. While the majority of his career came under legendary Gunners’ boss Arsene Wenger, he made 64 appearances in his career for Rodgers between Liverpool and Celtic.

Toure also owns over 100 caps for Cote d’Ivoire, playing in two World Cups and finishing runners up in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations as the host country.

Former Arsenal midfielder Diaby announces retirement

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Arsene Wenger had high hopes for Abou Diaby when he signed just over 13 years ago in London. Unfortunately, injuries kept Diaby from realizing his sky-high potential.

Arsenal confirmed on Monday that Diaby has announced his retirement from playing soccer at the age of 32. Diaby has been without a club since the end of the 2016-2017 season, where he left Marseille after playing just five league matches in two years.

Despite a career with Arsenal that lasted nearly a decade (January 2006 through July 2015), Diaby made just 180 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners. That’s because, according to the Daily Mail, he suffered an incredible 42 separate injuries in London. Diaby missed action due to injuries to his calf muscles, thigh muscles, knees, back, and one concussion he suffered as well.

All in all, he only had two seasons in his entire career where he played more than 20 league matches in a season – 2008/2009 and 2009-2010. Diaby’s 2009/2010 season was enough to get him into the France National Team squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. However, despite starting all three group games, that tournament ended in infamy for Les Bleus, with some players staging a mutiny.

Amazingly, despite the years of injuries and lack of matches, Wenger continued to believe in Diaby and give him a second chance, hoping that if healthy, he could shore up the team’s shaky central midfield position. Alas, Diaby was never truly able to be fit for long enough stretches, and Arsenal let him leave in 2015.

When he did play, Diaby showed good technical ability for a player standing at 6’4″, and he was agile enough to evade tacklers when dribbling through midfield.

It’s a sad end to Diaby’s career, but by officially calling it quits, perhaps the Frenchman can now move on to another career, within soccer or on the outside. Even though he never became a club legend, he’ll always have a connection to Arsenal.

Arsenal fears broken jaw for Koscielny

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Things are getting worse for Arsenal on the injury front as their defensive line continues to take hits from all angles.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery said they fear Laurent Koscielny has suffered a broken jaw after a clash with Romelu Lukaku in the 3-1 FA Cup loss to Manchester United.

Koscielny departed in the 64th minute after falling hard in a tangle with Lukaku. He received treatment on the field that resulted in a lengthy delay, and it was clear he was struggling with a facial injury.

The Frenchman’s injury is an even bigger blow to Arsenal considering fellow central defender Sokratis was forced off in the first half with an ankle injury from landing awkwardly following an aerial challenge. That, coupled with Hector Bellerin‘s lengthy absence from a torn ACL suffered just a few weeks ago, has left the Arsenal defense in tatters.

It’s not the first time this season that the Gunners have struggled with injuries to their back line. Rob Holding, like Bellerin, is out for the year with an ACL tear. Koscielny himself missed nearly the entire first half of the season after recovering from his own ACL tear, while Sead Kolasinac dealt with a knee injury that left him sidelined for the first three months. Nacho Monreal missed nearly two full months with a hamstring injury, and 21-year-old Konstantinos Mavropanos has struggled with a groin problem for most of the season. Shkodran Mustafi missed three matches in December with a hamstring problem, while Sokratis has been one of the more consistent presences for Arsenal this season, but has had ankle problems crop up this season before his injury on Friday.

Arsenal has even suffered injury problems to its defensive line before this season, with Arsene Wenger facing the same situation in his final few years in charge. Monreal, a left-back naturally, was forced deputized in central defense for a significant portion of Wenger’s final season in charge of Arsenal.