Konstantinos Mavropanos

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Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

PL Sunday Preview: Bournemouth hosts Everton; Arsenal visits Watford

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The Premier League’s Matchweek 5 is going to keep on giving, with two matches lined up for Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Bournemouth v. Everton — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Following a sluggish start, an up-to-speed Everton, powered by Richarlison, Alex Iwobi and Moise Keane, look to continue on the same path, with similar speed. 

In their first league starts, Keane and Iwobi contributed positively in the Toffees’ three-goal performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Couple Marco Silva‘s new arrivals with Richarlison and Gyfi Sigurdson, and the side’s current attacking prowess is what the side desperately needed when the season first kicked off. It now seems like Everton’s lucrative investments on their attack is paying dividends.

With Bournemouth’s defensive struggles in mind, things can be worse than a trip to the southern tip of England for Everton.

Despite a win against Aston Villa earlier this season, injury-ravaged Bournemouth are struggling to stay afloat. In their last three league matches, the Cherries have allowed 18 shots on target, seven goals. The attack isn’t compensating for the lack of defensive stability either, scoring four goals in the team’s five competitive matches this season. 

There is a small silver lining for Eddie Howe and Co. ahead of Sunday, though. Midfielder Lewis Cook, 22, is slated to make his Dean Court return, following a lengthy injury.

INJURIES: Bournemouth —  OUT: David Brooks (ankle), Dan Gosling (hip), Charlie Daniels (knee), Arnaut Danjuma (foot), Junior Stanislas (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Simon Francis (knee), Lloyd Kelly (ankle) | Everton  — OUT: Jonas Lössl (calf), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: None


Watford v. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

For a second time at Vicarage Road, the Quique Sanchez Flores era is on. 

The 54-year-old’s official return to Watford comes after three years away in Spain and in China. This time, though, the stakes are much higher and the room for error is much slimmer. The table says it all.

With only a point to their name after four bouts, the Hornets are quickly morphing into the league’s bottom dwellers. Will the Spaniard be able to overturn a disastrous defense and a lackluster attack that has only produced two goals? Unlike other teams in the league, Watford’s manager has a nearly-healthy team, and is only a few weeks away from regaining captain Troy Deeney from a knee injury.

That said, there is a stack of work to be done, and taking on Arsenal and Manchester City back-to-back is probably not going to help Watford’s frail state.

Coming in, Arsenal aren’t as feeble as their counterparts, but their confidence (and standing on the table) can use some help, following a loss to Liverpool and a draw to Tottenham in their last two league matches.

The Gunners, who in three weeks will play seven matches, will be without Alexandre Lacazette, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang becomes the team’s lone center-forward option with experience. Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney, too, are not expected to dress on Sunday, although manager Unai Emery hinted that their returns are imminent (a defensive boost, in theory).

Given their far-from-ideal situation, improvement is not something Arsenal are going to shy away from on Sunday against a transitioning and vulnerable Watford.

INJURIES: Watford —  OUT: Troy Deeney (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Craig Cathcart (thigh) | Arsenal  — OUT: Hector Bellerín (knee), Kieran Tierney (groin), Alexandre Lacazette (ankle), Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin); QUESTIONABLE: None

PL Sunday Preview: Everton hosts Wolves; Tottenham visit Arsenal

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Saturday’s action was jam-packed, but two more fixtures are left to be settled in Matchweek 4 on Sunday.

[ MORE: Liverpool play ‘perfect’ game against Burnley | Highlights ]

Everton v. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Having lost to Aston Villa 2-0 in their last Premier League bout, Everton went into their midweek League Cup match against Lincoln City with one objective in mind: to resuscitate a dead attack. They did so, winning 4-2 with a pair of goals from attacking players such as Alex Iwobi and Richarlison. No more than ever, the Toffees, who have only scored a goal in three matches despite registering 34 shots, will hope to implement the same levels of productiveness at Goodison Park.

Wolves, however, are hungrier than ever for their first taste of three points this season. Despite having drawn the first three bouts of the season, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side proved to be too much for Torino in a two-leg series midweek, qualifying for the Europa League group stage for the first time in nearly 40 years. With the excitement that comes from a feat such as returning to European competition coupled with striker Raul Jimenez’s fine scoring form, there are zero doubts that Wolves have the upper hand on the majority of teams in the league when it comes to momentum. For now, that joy has yet to seep into Premier League play, but it could be just around the corner.

INJURIES: Everton —  OUT: Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: None | Wolves  — OUT: None; QUESTIONABLE: None


Arsenal v. Tottenham — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

After what was an abysmal loss to a lowly Newcastle, Spurs march into Emirates Stadium in this season’s first North London derby with their heads down. It was not anticipated for Mauricio Pochettino and Co. to be in a conundrum this early, but that’s reality for Tottenham. Only in their first match (against Aston Villa) did the North London side register more shots on target than their competition. If one digs deeper, the offensive woes are only surface problems for the side. Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen are reportedly one foot out the door with moves lined up away from Tottenham. And if Spurs fail to find their groove on Sunday, a loss to rivals Arsenal will only make matters worse.

Arsenal come in with a fresh loss under their belts, too. A defeat at Anfield against a record-setting Liverpool, however, is a different story. In his second season at the helm, Unai Emery holds a better record after three games than during his first time around.

Conveniently, against Tottenham, in what is the fiercest match of a young season for Arsenal, Emery hopes to rely on Mesut Ozil for the first time this season.

“We need him,” Emery said ahead of Sunday’s North London Derby. “And [ we need] him first to be consistent in training, to be available in each match. For example last week he wasn’t ready to play 100% in Liverpool. This week he is getting better with each training [session] and I think physically he is now better. He is closer to helping us. We need him because he is a different player in our team. He can help us with his quality.”

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Hector Bellerin (knee), Rob Holding (knee), Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin), Kieran Tierney (groin); QUESTIONABLE: None | Tottenham  — OUT: Tanguy Ndombele (thigh), Kyle Walker-Peters (hamstring), Juan Foyth (ankle), Ryan Sessegnon (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Eric Dier (hip)

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.

Premier League preview: West Ham v. Arsenal

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  • Arsenal has lost just 1 of its last 21 PL matches against West Ham
  • Aubameyang has scored in four straight London derbies
  • West Ham has 16 points in its last 8 games, 4th best in the PL

West Ham could hand a debut appearance to Samir Nasri as the Hammers host Arsenal at London Stadium, Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Nasri’s arrival in the West Ham squad times up perfectly with the recent unrest surrounding Marko Arnautovic, who could be held out of the match as rumors swirl about a possible big-money move to China. Arnautovic’s absence would be a brutal blow to the West Ham attack, but Nasri could slot into his place and would have an immediate chance to make an impact on his return to the Premier League. Nasri last played a Premier League match on August 28, 2016 for Manchester City against West Ham.

For Arsenal, the Gunners are without a growing number of injured players, including Mesut Ozil, Laurent Kosciely and Hector Bellerin. Thankfully, it appears they will have natural defenders along the back line, as Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal are apparently fit, as is Konstantinos Mavropanos.

The Gunners must be wary of a trap game against the Hammers, with an enormous match against fourth-placed Chelsea on the horizon. If Arsenal can keep focus, they could put pressure on the Blues ahead of their upcoming match that will be critical in shaping the race for the final Champions League position.

What they’re saying

West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini on responding to season-opening loss to Arsenal: “We have changed a lot more with four months of working. We didn’t play badly against Arsenal last time, but we lost with an own goal but after that we have worked hard, improved in every sense.”

Arsenal manager Unai Emery on West Ham: “I know he [Pellegrini] needs time to create his idea with the team. I think they are improving and they also have good individual players with quality. Players like Anderson, like Arnautovic, who are very good players. They are also playing at home with their supporters and that’s difficult for us.  Each away match is a very big challenge for us to find consistency and progression with our way. Saturday is a new challenge. We are [determined] to play [well] and to work hard in finding our victory.”

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Prediction

This match greatly hinges on the status of Arnautovic. While Samir Nasri could have a big day in his return, Arnautovic brings an element to West Ham that is special among their squad. If he doesn’t play, it’s likely Arsenal wins 2-0 thanks to Aubameyang’s good form up front.