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In the Mixed Zone: Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — To make sure you have every angle covered for the marquee Premier League games, our new feature “In the Mixed Zone” will take you behind-the-scenes and into the tunnel areas to hear from the star players moments after their magic has decided games or drama has ensued.

[ MORE: In the Mixed Zone ]

The idea is to set the scene of being inside the tunnel area in Old Trafford, by the dugouts at Stamford Bridge and in the swanky new players area in Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium as Premier League stars walk out of the dressing room and break down the game with media members around the world.

We will tell you what they are saying and the kind of antics going on amid the hubbub of the mixed zone as players from both teams have their say on the 90-plus minutes of action we’ve just witnessed.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Here’s the scene from pitch side at Stamford Bridge in the hour or so after the full time whistle blew between Chelsea and Arsenal, as their crazy end-to-end clash ended in a 2-2 draw after late drama, red cards and superb solo goals.

Safe to say one set of players were more keen to stop and chat with us than the other, as Arsenal’s players must have a secret exit…


10:30 p.m. (local time): Mixed Zone opens on the side of the pitch at Stamford Bridge, just in front of the dugouts as a flimsy advertizing board is put up. Chelsea’s players are warming down in the background. With Pedro, Batshuayi, Alonso and Mount running sprints up and down the pitch on a chilly west London night. To be fair, I may join them. Cannot feel my hands after two hours or so sat outside tapping away at a laptop…

10:35: Reece James is the first player to walk the mixed zone, walking a little gingerly and dodging behind the sponsorship boards as he is looking sheepish. The young defender, dressed in a tracksuit, missed the game through injury but Frank Lampard confirmed it was nothing serious.

10:38: One of just a few Arsenal players to walk through the mixed zone (seriously, have they borrowed Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak!?) Rob Holding has a big smile on his face as he says hello. A late sub, Holding spent a ridiculous amount of time warming up on the sidelines as it looked like he would come on in the first half but Granit Xhaka played very well at center back.

10:42: Next up is current Chelsea striker (for how much longer?) and former Arsenal star Olivier Giroud. Asked about a reported move to Inter Milan and if this was his last time on the pitch at Stamford Bridge, Giroud laughed when journalists said “Arrivederci” to him. Giroud won’t speak about a move to Inter Milan, which is understandable as he didn’t make it onto the pitch. But maybe with Tammy Abraham picking up a knock he won’t be allowed to head to Milan after all…

10:45: Talking of Milan, Andreas Christensen looked very moody and magnificent as he strode past the media like it was a catwalk in the famed fashion capital of Italy and the world. A tough night for the young Danish center back once again, as Chelsea’s fans were very nervous every time he got on the ball and the Blues were guilty of giving up possession cheaply at the back.

10:48: Robert Pires has been seen gliding around the press areas as he works for French TV. Imagine him on the wing for this Arsenal side! My word, that man could open a can of beans with his left foot…

10:51: With a lull in the players walking through, we popped into the press conference room to hear from Mikel Arteta. Sporting a lovely turtleneck sweater, Arteta was beaming when asked about the character of his young side as they played for over 60 minutes with 10 men and looked the more likely to win it late on. Arteta singled out Bakayo Saka, Granit Xhaka, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Martinelli for special praise but admitted his entire team showed the desire he is asking for as they look to turn things around.

“The togetherness and leadership they showed today, this is what I wanted to see. It’s very important for the development. We are in the a process and are going in the right direction but I think tonight is a special night for everybody,” Arteta told BBC’s Match of the Day. Right on, Mikel, right on.

Arsenal skipper Hector Bellerin, who was lauded by the away fans after his late left foot swinger grabbed them a point, talks about their progress under Arteta in touch circumstances with so many players injured and out of position: “The second half had been very tough for the team. You could see the spirit in the team. I am very proud and the manager I’m sure is very happy with how we responded with 10 men.”

BTW, Bellerin’s cockney/Spanish accent is absolutely amazing. That is all.

10:54: Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic strolls through as he rolls a suitcase. One journalist is clearly a fan but is upset he doesn’t stop often: ‘Mateo is such a nice guy but he never stops to talk. The worst thing about it? He speaks five languages, so he could speak to every media member here!’ If I was Kovacic I’d be showing off my incredible linguistic skills. Shortly after him is little N’Golo Kante, who slipped to allow Arsenal to make it 1-1. Kante, shy as ever, had his head down as he rolled his miniature suitcase alongside the side of the pitch.

10:55: Oh, this is very interesting. Tammy Abraham limps out of the tunnel area and hobbles along the side of the pitch. He took a late whack and has been icing his right leg. “Tammy, you can’t get injured!” jokes one journalist as he intimates that Abraham is their only real option up top. “Mate, don’t, I know, I know” is his reply with half a laugh and half a grimace.

10:57: David Luiz, usually a shoe in to stop and talk, didn’t stop and that was understandable. His return to Chelsea saw him sent off but his team rallied to pick up a draw as TV cameras showed him in agony late in the game, watching the action on the smallest TV in history in the tunnel area. It was Luiz’s fault for giving away a penalty kick as he brought down Abraham as he tried to make up for Mustafi’s error. But there was mutual respect in the mixed zone because Luiz is one of the good guys who always stops. He will stop next time, for sure, we hope…

10:59: Okay, a quick pop back into the press conference room as the final few stragglers come out. Frank Lampard is up and looks like Christmas has just been canceled. He questions Chelsea’s game management after going 2-1 up late on and bemoans their lack of creativity in the final third. When then ask him for an injury update on USMNT star Christian Pulisic and if he thinks the Pennsylvanian Messi would have made a different to unlock this Arsenal defense.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said, as he nodded in realization.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard added.

11:04: Back outside in the cold, Kurt ‘Happy’ Zouma and Michy Batshuayi walk through together and the former is living up to his name as he is beaming with a massive smile as he says hey. Can’t help but think that Zouma will be back in the Chelsea team for their FA Cup clash against Hull this weekend, and probably the trip to Leicester City next weekend.

11:09: Hear he is, the nicest man in football. Cesar Azpilicueta (Dave, to the Chelsea fans) is smiling and laughing as he emerges from the tunnel. “I’m not speaking to you guys, nothing for you!” he jokes as he looks over to the mixed zone. He does go and have a chat with Chelsea TV as he puts on a comically large set of headphones. Azpilicueta, who put Chelsea 2-1 up late on as it looked like being the winner, then shows off his amazing language skills as he talks to English radio, outlets from the Middle East, then speaks in French to RMC and Canal+ and chats in Spanish to one journalist. He then speak to us about Pulisic and how important it is that he returns to full fitness. In a nutshell, Azpilicueta is an impressive dude.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said. “After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies. In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”

Here he is speaking in French because he can.

11:15: Senior Chelsea officials are then seen ushering guests out and there are plenty of handshakes. Journalists chatter about who it is, maybe a new owner!?

11:16: The flimsy advertizing board is gone. The stadium is pretty much empty. The Mixed Zone is closed as frost descends on freezing London.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”

Three things learned: Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — 10-man Arsenal fought back twice to draw 2-2 at London rivals Chelsea on Tuesday in a wild encounter at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Jorginho gave Chelsea the lead from the penalty spot after David Luiz was sent off but Gabriel Martinelli made it 1-1, then Cesar Azpilicueta put Chelsea back ahead and late on Hector Bellerin drew Arsenal level again in dramatic fashion.

With the point Arsenal are on 30 points and sit in 10th place, while Chelsea are on 40 points in fourth.


3 things we learned

1. Gutsy Arsenal pass a huge test: This was brilliant from Arteta‘s Arsenal, who were down to 10 men for over an hour. Bellerin didn’t stop running. Saka was superb at left back. Xhaka played brilliant at center back after a red card for Luiz. This was a landmark moment for Arsenal in their rebuild under Arteta. With all the players they were missing (Chambers, Sokratis, Aubameyang and Kolasinac to name a few) they showed true guts to come back and grab a draw in a London derby. They are 10 points behind Chelsea in the table but Arteta has them playing with an intensity which suggests they are trending in the right direction.

2. Chelsea miss Pulisic: The Blues had plenty of the ball but lacked creativity in the final third. I’m going to say it. They are missing USMNT playmaker Christian Pulisic who is out injured for the next few games. Willian and Hudson-Odoi were handled easily by Arsenal, while Frank Lampard‘s youngsters just ran out of ideas as Tammy Abraham missed a sitter and Chelsea, at times, looked like they were playing with 10 men. Pulisic’s trickery would have caused Arsenal problems and he would have run at the heart of Arsenal’s defense. Once again Chelsea slipped up at home and their top four hopes are in danger. Pulisic’s stock has risen without doing anything.

3. Martinelli ready for the big time: He is 18 years old and he’s now scored three goals in his five PL starts. His goal was a beauty as he put Kante under pressure and slotted home after running half the pitch. His composure is brilliant and with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang suspended, Martinelli has staked his claim that he is ready for the big time week in, week out. How can Arteta leave him out now?

Man of the Match: Hector Bellerin – Wore the captains armband with pride and marshalled the defense superbly, then cut in from the right late on to score an equalizer. After his injury nightmare in recent years, that was a lovely moment and Bellerin deserved it for his hard work.


Chelsea came flying out of the traps as Mateo Kovacic had a shot well blocked and then Andreas Christensen headed a corner wide after he got free at the back post.

Tammy Abraham then sent a header straight at Bernd Leno then Callum Hudson-Odoi whipped a cross onto the top of the bar as the Blues dominated with Mikel Arteta screaming at his team from the dugout.

A massive moment then arrived as Shkodran Mustafi‘s awful back pass set free Abraham and he rounded Leno but David Luiz took him out to concede a penalty kick and he was also sent off.

Jorginho calmly slotted home the penalty kick to make it 1-0 and Chelsea had Arsenal on the ropes as Leno then denied Callum Hudson-Odoi.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

At the start of the second half Chelsea dominate with Cesar Azpilicueta popping up in the box and causing problems while Abraham made a nuisance of himself.

But then disaster struck for the Blues, N’Golo Kante slipped at a crucial moment and Martinelli ran in on goal from the halfway line as the Brazilian teenager kept his cool to slot home and make it 1-1. Cue scenes in the away end.

Moments later Lacazette offside lashed home but he was clearly offside as the 10 men of Arsenal took the game to Chelsea.

Chelsea finally put Arsenal under pressure late on as Ross Barkley flicked Jorginho’s long ball goalwards but Leno saved superbly down low.

In the final five minutes all hell broke loose as first Apzilicueta flicked home a short corner to make it 2-1 but moments later Arsenal were level again.

Bellerin cut in from the right and sent a low curling shot into the far corner to send the away fans wild as Chelsea’s supporters couldn’t believe it.

Michy Batshuayi almost grabbed a win for Chelsea but he couldn’t get on the end of a low cross as a wild game ended level.

Newcastle stuns misfiring Chelsea

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Chelsea couldn’t find a clinical edge and Isaac Hayden scored in stoppage time as Newcastle United beat Chelsea 1-0 at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

The visitors had 70 percent of the ball and a massive edge in shots, but couldn’t capitalize on the few chances they found behind the back line.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Isaac Hayden powered a header home off a stoppage-time set piece to give the Magpies a shocking win and 29 points, seven clear of the Bottom Three.

Chelsea stays on 39 points, five ahead of fifth-place Manchester United. The Red Devils play Liverpool on Sunday.


Three things we learned

1. Fortunate Magpies get big payoff late: Hayden had not scored in a year and turned Saint-Maximin’s desperate cross of a poorly-cleared corner kick past Kepa Arrizabalaga. A solid if unspectacular midfielder, Hayden has dealt with a lot and might’ve left the Northeast due to family reasons. He’s stayed, Steve Bruce has him confident, and the Magpies have a win against all odds.

2. Newcastle’s low block heroics highlight Chelsea need: Frank Lampard‘s attackers were limited to shots from distance, as Steve Bruce’s men might be even better than they were under Rafa Benitez when asked to defend deep. A lot of this is due to spending on attackers who keep defenders honest, but that doesn’t excuse Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi‘s inability to produce much. The former had Dubravka beaten but failed to find finish on the day.

The defense-first style can be boring to, well, everyone including the home fans and managers loathe when it’s employed against them. But Newcastle has now beaten Chelsea, Spurs, and Manchester United this year, also drawing Man City. The expected goals table says Newcastle is having one of the luckiest seasons on record, but don’t bother the Geordies with that right now.

3. Lampard waits for Abraham: Related to point No. 1, Lampard showed faith that his struggling striker would show up late. After all, the 22-year-old has 13 goals and three assists this year. Abraham got behind the Magpies back line twice and also flicked a ball off the bar, but it was the right move to get Michy Batshuayi out there. Alas, it probably should’ve come before the 80th minute.

Man of the Match: Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernandez were the key parts of the aforementioned low block, and we’d give the honors to Clark. But Hayden, man.


Newcastle loan star Jetro Willems are stretchered off the pitch with his head in his hands are an innocent play out wide, a new worry for the injury-ravaged Magpies.

Then Isaac Hayden pulled up lame after being stretched in a 50-50 with Mason Mount.

The best scoring chance of the early stages came in the 22nd minute, as Kepa Arrizabalaga may have got a finger to Joelinton‘s header off the bar.

Chelsea took hold of the match at the half-hour mark, an offside Tammy Abraham flicking off the bar before Martin Dubravka saved N’Golo Kante’s effort in the 34th.

Newcastle held firm against the attack through five minutes of stoppage time.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Magpies opened up a little bit in the second half, and Willian missed a chance to open the scoring in the 53rd.

Cesar Azpilicueta was lively in both halves, and hammered a shot to Dubravka in the 55th.

Newcastle’s physical and aggressive back line held firm, big challenges and clearances from Ciaran Clark and Federico Fernandez on show.

Miguel Almiron and Allan Saint-Maximin teamed up to tee up Joelinton, but the Brazilian drove his 88th minute shot wide of the goal.

Soon after, Saint-Maximin sent a half-desperation, half-pinpoint cross to the back post for Hayden to turn past Arrizabalaga. Insane.

Christian Pulisic issues injury update

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USMNT and Chelsea star Christian Pulisic is nursing an adductor injury after a hamstring and hip issue, and we haven’t seen him in action since New Year’s Day and may not seem him for another week or two.

[ MORE: Ranking Pulisic’s first 6 months ]

Pulisic, 21, has become a key figure in Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea side this season and with the Blues in the top four with a five point cushion at just over the halfway point, the Pennsylvanian native is eager to return and help the west London club kick on.

In an interview with ESPN, Pulisic revealed that he is still a few weeks away from returning as he’s set to miss Chelsea’s clash with Newcastle this Saturday, their London derby against Arsenal next Tuesday and their FA Cup trip to Hull City the following Saturday.

“It’s been almost a week, and I’m just kind of taking it day by day. I’m just rehabbing every day. I’m doing my best to be back in the next week, the next couple weeks,” Pulisic said. “I don’t think it should be too long, so I’m just working every day, doing everything I can to be back on the pitch.”

Asked about his battle to become a regular after plenty of time on the bench in September, Pulisic is soaking in everything he can at Chelsea and in the Premier League and he thanked experienced teammates like Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho for helping him through a tough period when he was out of the team.

“I’ve just been trying to learn every day, man. I mean, I’m still learning,” Pulisic explained. “It’s my first season now, kind of halfway through, so I’m just kind of learning to take it day by day, game by game and just focusing on the next opponent and just getting ready and healthy for the next game because it’s always right around the corner. It’s just a lot of competition, I think, in every game, within your team, and for every game, it’s just been great learning from some of my teammates. And yeah, just being here in London, I’m just kind of taking it all in.”

Pulisic was also asked about his first six months in England overall, and he is pretty happy to have battled back from adversity and is looking forward to finishing the season strong.

“You know, everyone says I’m going to go into the Premier League, it’s a big change, it’s tough. It’s a league where there’s definitely a lot of games, a lot of stuff going on, and it wasn’t easy for me at the beginning, of course,” Pulisic said. “I think I’m really proud of how I pushed through things and then I got my opportunity, and I felt I was playing very well recently, and I’m proud. It’s been great. I’ve been enjoying it so much. You know, the football culture here is amazing, and I’m really happy, and I’m so excited to finish off the season strong.”

Now that Pulisic is used to the physical grind of the Premier League it will be intriguing to see how the USMNT star finishes the campaign as Chelsea push hard in the PL, UEFA Champions League and FA Cup.

He then has the Nations League tournament with the U.S. this summer and his status as a leader in Gregg Berhalter’s squad means all eyes will be on him when he returns to his homeland.

All in all, a very decent first six months from Pulisic who is just ahead of schedule when it comes to these early days at Chelsea.