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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.

Arteta, Xhaka: Arsenal ‘showed big character’ in comeback at Chelsea

Granit Xhaka says Arsenal has big character
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Granit Xhaka was a center back for the day after David Luiz was sent off in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

The Swiss midfielder’s tumultuous season is most certainly in heady territory since Mikel Arteta was hired in December.

Xhaka was ebullient after the Gunners twice came back following Luiz’s red card, which preceded a Jorginho penalty.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

“We played very well after the red card,” Xhaka beamed. “So difficult, but we showed great team spirit.”

Arteta agreed.

“I am proud,” the manager said. “I said to them I believe they can get back in the game and I’m very pleased. … Tonight is going to be a great experience for (the young players) as in football anything can happen.”

He went on to discuss the Gunners oft-debated character, as the 10th place Gunners sit 10 points behind fourth place Chelsea and will finish the match week at least four points off fifth.

“After this game nobody will have to speak about us: We showed big character,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people say we have no character in the team, so after this game we showed we have.”

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 things learned ]

Arsenal visits Bournemouth this weekend in the FA Cup, and will like the look of their next two Premier League fixtures at Burnley and home to Newcastle.

The Top Four is a longshot, but you wouldn’t bet against the Gunners’ attack surging them into or near fifth. Baby steps.

Fleck artistry gets Sheffield United point at Arsenal

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John Fleck‘s perfectly lashed side volley gave Sheffield United a 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Saturday.

The Emirates Stadium saw a wasteful first hour from the Gunners give way to a resurgent Blades side and a share of the points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Gabriel Martinelli opened the scoring for the Gunners, who sit 10th with 29 points. The Blades move to 33 points and sit seventh.

The match was Mike Dean’s 500th Premier League match, and not without controversy. Dean neglected to award a penalty when Nicolas Pepe was chopped down in the box, but VAR stayed with him.


Three things we learned

1. Blades are for real: There’s a reason Chris Wilder is getting linked with plenty of jobs and got a new contract: Sheffield United’s men are bought into a system about as well as anyone not named Jurgen Klopp. Granted Arsenal let early United errors slide, but once the Blades took hold of momentum it rarely felt like the Gunners would score the game’s second goal

2. Aubameyang absence glaring: It’s no surprise that missing one of the world’s best scorers is a not good, but you’d peg Arsenal’s talented group of attackers to sort it out. Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette had their moments and Martinelli did get his goal, but there was an Auba-sized hole in both the aura and composure of the Gunners in the final third. That red card is stinging like a fresh cut.

3. Xhaka, Torreira steady: Mikel Arteta has found better play from Swiss hard man Granit Xhaka, while Lucas Torreira is working well with his center midfield mate. Their play allows Mesut Ozil to do whatever he wants, more or less. Throw in a fine day from Shkrodan Mustafi, and the Gunners were a Maitland-Niles 50-50 battle away from a clean sheet

Man of the Match: Give it to Fleck for the goal plus four tackles and another day of committed challenges.


Lacazette sent Nicolas Pepe down the right flank, and the Ivorian sent a terrific cross for Gabriel Martinelli. The youngster volleyed across goal and wide of the far post.

Lucas Torreira popped a dipping shot that Dean Henderson smothered in the 32nd minute.

Martinelli didn’t miss his second, punching home a 45th minute deflected cross from Bukayo Saka. The latter had a terrific first half for the Gunners.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Blades didn’t quit, and Arsenal was forced into a goal line clearance in the 56th.

Pepe could’ve won a penalty when he was chopped down on a dribble into the box, but VAR upheld Mike Dean’s initial judgment.

Sheffield United scored an equalizerr in brilliant fashion, Fleck slashing a bounding side volley past Leno in the 83rd minute.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles blocked a shot and Leno made a tremendous save in stoppage time to keep the hosts’ point.

Premier League storylines: Matchweek 22

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The Premier League dips its toes back into the water with a 3 p.m. ET Friday match at Bramall Lane before roaring into the weekend with seven Saturday kickoffs.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The opener sees West Ham at Sheffield United, and here’s what to watch for over the weekend.

Can Spurs muster offense without Kane? Will they try? [STREAM]

  • Tottenham Hotspur v. Liverpool, Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

If it feels like Liverpool’s title is predestined via a combination of xpected goals Fortune, good bounces, or excellent play, that vibe will only be amped up by Thursday’s visit to Spurs not including Harry Kane. Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli will have to do a lot of heavy lifting, but asking them to do it against thriving, unbeaten Liverpool is a big ask.

The bigger question is whether Jose Mourinho will challenge the Reds back line much at all.

Which Chelsea will show up this week? [STREAM]

  • Chelsea v. Burnley, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Who’s going to Stamford Bridge: The Chelsea side who beat Arsenal and Spurs, or the one who’s taken one point from Bournemouth, Southampton, and Brighton? Burnley is going to give them the ball, but will Christian Pulisic and Co. take advantage of it?

Arteta to continue Arsenal’s defense resurgence? [STREAM]

  • Crystal Palace v. Arsenal, Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

A 2-2 draw between these two at the Emirates was one of the wildest matches of the year. Granit Xhaka flipped out on the fans who flipped out on him, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos saw the second goal of a would-be brace stripped away by VAR (probably wrongly, too). But for all of Arsenal’s struggles, the Gunners can leap above the Eagles with a win in South London. And perhaps they can collect a third-straight clean sheet in the process.

Can Villa pull off one of the upsets of the season? [STREAM]

  • Aston Villa v. Manchester City, Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Injury-hit Villa has had its good moments of late, but the majority of the operation has been poor since the start of December. Take away the 5-0 League Cup beatdown of Liverpool’s kids, and the Villans have produced just two wins in that period (Norwich City and Burnley). Now enter Man City, riding high off an extra day’s rest. It shouldn’t go well for Dean Smith‘s men, but City’s season has been uneven. Maybe?

Watford’s quest to escape the bottom three hits the South Coast [STREAM]

  • Bournemouth v. Watford, Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Ten of Watford’s 19 season points have come since Dec. 22, and Nigel Pearson‘s Hornets can complete their stunning run out of the drop zone with a win and help from the out-of-town scoreboard on Saturday. The Cherries have sunk in the other direction, claiming just one point in that same period of time. Sitting in 18th place and just a point ahead of Watford, Eddie Howe‘s Bournemouth needs help, fast.

Players say Arteta lit Arsenal squad up at halftime of Leeds win

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Arsenal should have been down 2- or 3-0 to Leeds United at halftime of their FA Cup match. Mikel Arteta was displeased.

“The manager shouted a lot,” Alexandre Lacazette said after the eventual 1-0 Arsenal win. “He was not happy because we knew they’d play like this and we didn’t respect what he had said.”

[ RECAP: Arsenal survives against Leeds ]

It worked. After being completely dominated through the first 45 minutes of the match against the Championship leaders, Arsenal came back out refreshed and revitalized, eventually winning through Reiss Nelson‘s game-winner in the 55th minute.

“As a coach you always need to have the aggressive side and the side where you give love as well,” Nelson said after the match. “He just said that we weren’t playing the way we should be playing. Mikel is a manager who wants to play with a purpose. He said we needed to be more aggressive and we did that in the second half. We showed more fight and character. We went out and did what we were supposed to do.”

Nelson said Arsenal wasn’t prepared for the high Leeds press that forced the Gunners into a number of bad mistakes. The visitors at the Emirates held 63% possession in the first half and ripped off 15 shots to Arsenal’s three. Granit Xhaka committed a number of first-half fouls and David Luiz was guilty of a bad turnover in the defensive third, among many other mistakes. Yet it was 0-0 at the break, and Arsenal regrouped.

“They [Leeds] played well in the first half,” Nelson said, “but of course Leeds are a great team and they pressed us. We didn’t expect it. In the second half we played with a real purpose. The team came out ready to go and showed we could create a lot of chances.”

Arteta may be partially to blame for the team not being totally prepared to face Marcelo Bielsa’s side, but they survived and advanced, likely also thanks to the Spaniard’s leadership qualities, displayed at the break.

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