Sokratis Papastathopoulos

Arsenal
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Arsenal handles Portsmouth to advance in FA Cup

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Arsenal clinched the first spot in the quarterfinals of the 2020 FA Cup with a 2-0 victory over Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Monday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Eddie Nketiah scored for the Gunners, whose 13 tournament titles are the most in the history of the competition.

Arsenal hosts West Ham United on Saturday.


Three things we learned

1. Gunners steady despite Europa ouster: Arsenal’s home disappointment to Olympiacos in the Europa League last week might’ve been its only hope of Champions League football. There was plenty of focus on how the Gunners would react, even given substandard competition, and Mikel Arteta‘s men did well enough. Seventy-five percent of the ball and only one big chance allowed show a real professional win, even if their attackers’ finishing deprived them of a blowout score line.

2. Pablo Mari makes solid first impression: Arsenal’s January addition took some time to get up to speed because Flamengo was out-of-season when he arrived from Brazil. The towering former Man City center back didn’t have a ton to do and was credited with 100 touches, five clearances, three blocks, 89 percent passing, and a quality 12-of-16 connection on long balls. Promising, albeit against a League One side.

3. Torreira injured: Lucas Torreira needed to be removed from the match with a lowe leg injury after tangling legs with Pompey’s James Bolton. A trainer was shown holding his ankle in place and Dani Ceballos took his place, though reports said he did not require a hospital visit. Torreira has played in all but three of Arsenal’s Premier League matches this season.

Man of the Match: Martinelli was clever and Mari’s strong debut adds sentimentality to the shout, but Sokratis was probably the Gunners’ top player.


Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli drove the end line to cut back for Eddie Nketiah but the chance resulted in a corner.

The Gunners went ahead when Reiss Nelson crossed into the traffic from the right flank and Sokratis burst onto the ball to smash home.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pompey had some good moments in the latter stages of the first half, and would’ve been content to be down one.

Arsenal made it 2-0 with the help of some poor defending, Nketiah running onto a cross and keeping his cool as the ball bobbled in traffic.

PL Sunday preview: Wolves, Man United, Everton, Arsenal in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as Wolves, Manchester United and Arsenal all take the field.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Norwich City  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Gold and NBCSports.com

Wolverhampton Wanderers are heading into Sunday’s match against bottom dwellers Norwich City with fresh, positive inertia.

On Thursday, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men thumped Espanyol 4-0 in the knockout stages of the Europa League, giving Wolves a much-needed boost of confidence. The club, who has yet to win in Premier League play since January 18, ended a two-game streak without generating a goal against the Spanish side.

Wolves are the clear favorites heading into Molineux Stadium on Sunday. But on the other side stands a well-rested and hungry Norwich, who before going to winter break, showcased class and discipline against Liverpool in their last league showing.

Daniel Farke‘s side are eight points out of the safe zone but time is running out. The sense of urgency is at an all-season high for the Canaries, believers of their under-appreciated strengths.

“They (Wolves) are playing in Europe, they have kept three clean sheets, they have individual quality and it is a huge task,” Farke said. “But I don’t see any easy fixtures at this stage. It is about us. We always have a chance if we are good at our topics.

“People can write us off and say we have no chance to close the gap. But I don’t agree. It is possible.”

INJURIES: Wolves — OUT: Ruben Vinagre (hamstring) | Norwich — OUT: Timm Klose (knee), Sam Byram (hamstring)

Manchester United vs. Watford — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

History and data say Watford, who have never won a league game at Old Trafford, stand no chance against Manchester United on Sunday.

But if one victory inspired a mostly-lethargic Hornets this season under Nigel Pearson it was the 2-0 win over United at Vicarage Road. The second-to-last side went on a six-match unbeaten streak following the said victory. It brought the club back to life, lifting them out of the bottom three.

Watford have since faltered and dropped back below the red line, but Pearson promises to stick to his philosophical guns.

“We approach every game in a very similar way and that is to try and be as positive as we can,” he said. “We’ll go out there and we’ll do what we can to win the game, we’ve not changed our approach, it’s just that results sometimes change how people perceive things.”

United will certainly look different, as Odion Ighalo is expected to make his home debut against his former club following his arrival in earlier this month.

United, who stand in the seventh spot with 38 points, have a clear window of opportunity to surpass fifth-place Tottenham with a victory. Prior to Sunday’s match, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer addressed questions regarding consistency.

“It is team selection – you’ve got to maybe rotate in Europe like we’ve done, then maybe go back to what we were at Chelsea this week,” Gunnar Solskjaer said. “I feel that Bruno [Fernandes] and Odion [Ighalo] coming in will get more goals in the team. That’s been lacking. The games we’ve lost – West Ham, Burnley, Palace, Bournemouth – we’ve had chances but we haven’t scored goals.”

Perhaps Ighalo could finally contribute towards a win at Old Trafford with Watford jerseys on the field.

INJURIES: Manchester United — Paul Pogba (ankle), Axel Tuanzebe (thigh), Marcus Rashford (back) | Watford — OUT: Daryl Janmaat (knee), Tom Cleverley (match fitness)

Arsenal vs. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Subplots reign supreme ahead of Everton’s visit to the Emirates.

Mesut Ozil, who missed the Gunners’ 1-0 Europa League victory, and Andres Gomes, 16 weeks after an ankle dislocation and fracture, are both expected to return to action. Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti will meet for the first time after being linked to each other’s position before the start of the new year.

Perhaps the most significant one, however – at least to Everton – is that it’s been 24 years since the Toffees won at Arsenal. If they can pull it off this time around, the Liverpool-based side will be one step closer to the European dream.

“We have to be focused on Arsenal,” Ancelotti said. “Then there are very important games after. There’s [Manchester] United, Chelsea, Liverpool. After these four games, we can see what is going on for Europe.”

“This is a really important game against a strong team, away, but we have to have confidence to do our best and try to win. We’ve got 13 games to go and have got ourselves in a decent position,” he said. “It gives us the platform to have a decent season. I think we’ve done okay. We’ve had huge problems over six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience.”

Everton have picked up 17 points out the 24 possible under the Italian, while Arsenal have only experienced two wins under the Spaniard.

INJURIES: Arsenal — Cedric Soares (knee), Kieren Tierney (shoulder), Callum Chambers (knee), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (knee) | Everton — OUT: Jean-Phillipe Gbamin (thigh)

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.