Sokratis Papastathopoulos

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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.

FA Cup: Arsenal survive Leeds scare thanks to Nelson goal

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Arsenal are through to the fourth round of the FA Cup, barely, after surviving a noble effort from EFL Championship leaders Leeds United at the Emirates Stadium on Monday.

[ MORE: Full results from FA Cup 4th round draw ]

For 45 minutes, the Gunners were the second-best side, by some distance. The performance was so dire that defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos reportedly gestured to the crowd to calm down and ease off their criticisms moments before halftime. Manager Mikel Arteta “shouted a lot” at halftime, according to forward Alexandre Lacazette, and everything changed in the second half.

20-year-old Reiss Nelson scored the game’s only goal in the 55th minute. It came in somewhat fortunate circumstance as Nelson got on the end of a touch by Nicolas Pepe, and goalkeeper Illan Meslier couldn’t keep hold of the ball after making the initial save.

[ MORE: Tottenham end racism investigation due to lack of evidence ]

Leeds out-shot Arsenal by a margin of 14-3 in the first, before the Gunners roared to life in the final 45 minutes and dominated the second period by an 11-3 tally.

Following the fourth-round draw earlier on Monday, Arsenal will be away to fellow Premier League side Bournemouth in the fourth round on the weekend beginning Jan 24.

Pepe, Arsenal impress in dispatching haggard Man Utd

Pepe drives Arteta to first Arsenal win
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Arsenal gave Mikel Arteta his first win and it came against an age-old rival.

The Gunners controlled Manchester United 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, riding an eye-opening show from Nicolas Pepe in the process.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pepe and Sokratis Papastathopoulos scored the goals as Arsenal moves 10th on 27 points. The Gunners are nine points back of the Top Four.

United whiffs in a bid to move within a win of fourth-place Chelsea, and remains fifth with 31 points.


Three things we learned

1. Arteta overwhelms injury-hit United midfield: The Red Devils midfield isn’t a league-winner at full strength, and not having Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay is a problem. The depth behind them is just not there, or too green. Nemanja Matic and Fred were easy starters, but Jesse Lingard‘s rough time continues and Andreas Pereira has been inconsistent.

Mikel Arteta knew this and was able to start Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Nicolas Pepe. It was less of a risk than usual because of the opposition. It became even less so given another fine showing from Granit Xhaka.

United should go shopping even if Pogba plans on staying, given Matic’s age. Both Matic and Fred were decent in a poor effort for United. Maybe Juan Mata was the play, as his cameo was okay.

2. Pepe embraces rare start, demanding more: Nicolas Pepe has been much more effective for Arsenal as a Premier League starter than a sub, and his first league start since Dec. 15 was right on the money. His first half: Goal, 25-of-25 passes, hit post, whipped-in corner that became 2nd goal, three dribbles, two aerials won, one tackle. 2-0 Arsenal. He was still subbed off in the 62nd minute, so, okay. He must be the worst training player on Earth, or hide everyone’s car keys.

To borrow Pep Guardiola‘s favorite phrase modifier, he was so, so good. And there’s room for more, as he’s a shade off when it comes to following his instincts in the final third. That’s something Mikel Arteta will have seen fine-tuned with Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus at Manchester City.

3. Rashford runs out of steam: If we’re going to relentlessly praise Marcus Rashford‘s arrival, and deservedly so, we need to note when United’s key piece doesn’t quite have it. It’s understandable given the minutes and magnitude of contribution asked, but he won just one of nine first half duels. He didn’t get a shot on target during the frame and passed at less than 70 percent.

Man of the Match: Pepe only played the first hour, so we’ll give a nod to beleaguered goal scorer Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The ex-Borussia Dortmund man was the standout performer of a back four which seems to have a simplified plan under Arteta.


A bad Ainsley Maitland-Niles giveaway threatened to open up Arsenal, but Jesse Lingard didn’t handle the opportunity well.

Pepe put Arsenal ahead when Sead Kolasinac‘s cutback was deflected into his path. A clever adjustment later and the ball was in the back of the goal.

Aubameyang couldn’t side volley a Pepe cross home moments later.

The Gunners were all over the Red Devils, and Pepe slipped Lacazette into the box for the Frenchman to torch Harry Maguire but fire wide.

Pepe then curled an 18-yard shot off the far post.

The Gunners got a deserved second in the 43rd as De Gea saved Lacazette’s flick of Pepe’s corner, but Sokratis was at the ready to punch in the rebound.

Harry Maguire headed a free kick to Bernd Leno on the final play of the first half.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

United’s second half was improved at the outset, with Fred stinging Leno’s palms with a shot in the 55th but still no real threat on goal.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer removed Daniel James and Jesse Lingard for Mason Greenwood and Andreas Pereira in the 58th minute.

Matic set up Pereira for a shot in the 59th, but the Brazilian smashed into the outside of the goal.

Leno beat Rashford to Juan Mata’s cross in stoppage time to keep the clean sheet.

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 15

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The congested schedule means we’ve had two match days since we last took stock of the Premier League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

We’ve got a brand new Top Five (well, in terms of the four behind eventual champions Liverpool) and two teams dipping to season lows on our ol’ litmus test.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — As many losses as goals (9), and that figure is one more than the Hornets’ total points. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them on the verge of full-time manager No. 3, as full-time manager of Watford is a bit more like seasonal help.
Last week: 18
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Crystal Palace

19. Everton — A top half team in terms of talent seeks the manager who can organize its way out of the drop zone. Might it be this guy? Better than the alternatives.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Lost 5-2 at Liverpool
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea

18. Norwich City — The first team to 10 losses is four points shy of 17th.
Last week: 16
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Southampton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Sheffield United

17. West Ham United — A gigantic ball of “blah.” Should thank Everton for existing so people aren’t more focused on this particular collection of currently squandered talent.
Last week: 20
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-0 at Wolves
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday v. Arsenal

16. Bournemouth — It’s just not good enough, is it? To have held onto Callum Wilson and get another step up in class from Philip Billing and still be so wildly inconsistent.
Last week: 11
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Liverpool

15. Southampton — It really feels like the Danny Ings revival show could rival any story for the best individual one in the league this season. Happy to see Ralph Hasenhuttl get some good performances, as he was being scapegoated in a hurry.
Last week: 19
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Norwich City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Newcastle United

14. Aston Villa — Allowing a league-worst 18.8 shots per game, but staying in the mix thanks to Tom Heaton and Tyrone Mings.
Last week: 13
Season high: 8
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Leicester City

13. Arsenal — The Gunners back line gets a lot of heat, and rightly so, but maybe a little help from the midfield would be nice considering Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz have combined for 39 blocks. Sokratis is third in the PL and Luiz fourth.
Last week: 12
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Monday at West Ham United


12. Brighton and Hove Albion — First win ever away to Arsenal is another feather in the cap of Graham Potter, especially nice considering they had lost four on the bounce.
Last week: 14
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

11. Newcastle United — No one is punching above its weight more than Steve Bruce‘s Magpies, and they’ve been aided in a big way by Martin Dubravka. The Slovakian goalkeeper has a league-best 44 saves from shots inside the 18.

Also, according to Understat’s xG numbers, they should’ve lost to the Blades. In fat, the xG table says they should be dead last. Life’s funny like that. It’s Steve Bruce’s world and we’re living in it.
Last week: 15
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Southampton

https://understat.com/match/11786

10. Sheffield United — Just lost for the first time since September. That’s amazing.
Last week: 6
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 2-0 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Norwich City

9. Burnley — Striker Chris Wood has been credited with 12 “big chances missed” by Sofascore, more than any player in the league.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Man City
Up next: 10 a.m. Saturday at Spurs

8. Spurs — Jose Mourinho learned Wednesday that Moussa Sissoko is nice for the squad, but not to be leaned on.

Last week: 9
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Manchester United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Burnley

7. Crystal Palace — Wilfried Zaha‘s 68 dribbles are 13 more than anyone else in the league.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Watford

6. Manchester United — Ole had himself a moment in outfoxing Mourinho without Pogba or Martial.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Spurs
Up next: 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Man City

5. Chelsea — We told you, Frank. WE TOLD YOU.
Last week: 4
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Aston Villa
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Everton

4. Manchester City — Aymeric Laporte is still two months away and that’s two months too long.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 4-1 at Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Manchester United

3. Wolves — This is going to sound nuts, but there are days I’d rather see Liverpool on my schedule than Wolves. The Reds are obviously better weaponized, but Wolves come at you in waves, man, and Nuno Espirito Santo is doing it without his best center back.
Last week: 5
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-0 v. West Ham United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Brighton and Hove Albion

2. Leicester City — How’s this for an unsustainable stat? Wilfred Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira rank first and second in the league in tackles, with 67 and 62.
Last week: 3
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 2-0 v. Watford
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Aston Villa
1. Liverpool — Big Virgil Van Dijk is on track to become the first Premier League player to complete 1000 passes this season, currently at 953.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 5-2 v. Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Bournemouth

Emery fumes at VAR decision, Xhaka’s reaction to jeers

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Unai Emery had plenty of reasons to be angry after Arsenal threw away a two-goal lead and saw a goal taken off the board at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

The Gunners drew Crystal Palace 2-2 after going up via goals by Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz in the first nine minutes of play.

[ MORE: Match recap, 3 things ]

Sokratis looked to have solved the Palace defense late, but VAR saw a seemingly phantom foul from Calum Chambers in the build-up that left many — hand raised — questioning what just happened.

From Football.London:

“We need to respect the decision, which was amazing,” Emery said. “Last match here against Bournemouth, they didn’t check for a clear penalty on Pepe and at Sheffield on Sokratis. … VAR is positive but at the moment it is not working well. I think we deserved to win this evening. Only I can be disappointed about not controlling the match better.”

Another moment that might’ve had Emery fuming was Granit Xhaka‘s departure in the 60th minute.

The captain was jeered by the home fans as he walked off for a substitute, motioning to and cussing at the Emirates Stadium faithful.

“He was wrong,” Emery said. “We need to stay calm, speak to him internally about that. We are working with the club and the players to play under pressure … We are going to speak with him because the reaction was wrong. We are here because we have supporters. We work for them and need to have respect for them when they are applauding us and criticizing us.”

More to come there, for sure, given the tempestuous relationship between the Swiss midfielder and his club’s supporters.