Dani Ceballos

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FA Cup final: Key battles for Arsenal v. Chelsea

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Three matchups to keep a particularly close eye on when Arsenal and Chelsea meet at Wembley stadium in the FA Cup final on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET)…

[ MORE: How will Chelsea and Arsenal line up in FA Cup final? | Preview ]

Christian Pulisic v. Arsenal’s right back/wing

Whether the assignment goes to Hector Bellerin (calf injury), Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Cedric Soares, the Gunners’ starting right back/wing back will have his hands plenty full every time Christian Pulisic touches the ball.

The American superstar has undeniably been Chelsea’s best player — if not for the whole of the PL — since the season restarted (four goals, two assists in nine league appearances), and the 21-year-old will once again be heavily relied upon come Saturday. It won’t be Pulisic’s first cup final appearance after playing part in Borussia Dortmund’s 2016-17 DFB-Pokal triumph, though it will be the first time he’s started a final and would represent his first major trophy since he was the 19-year-old breakout star in Germany.

The fact that Mikel Artera’s options are a pair of right backs not long returned from serious injuries (Bellerin and Cedric) and a winger-turned-right-back (Maitland-Niles) only tilts the scale further in Pulisic’s favor.

Advantage: Chelsea

Xhaka & Ceballos v. Kovacic & Jorginho

With both sides likely to start the game in a 3-4-3 formation, the battle for central midfield will be particularly interesting — and important. When it comes to the 3-4-3, there are typically two was to go about setting up your midfield:

  1. pick defensive-minded, ball-winning midfielders to make central midfield a no-fly zone for the opposition, and lean on your wide midfielders/wing backs as the extra attackers pushing forward;
  2. lean on attacking-minded, creative midfielders as the extra attackers, and pick more natural wide defenders to patrol the center of the field and fill in the gaps defensively

If Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard opt for the lineups set out by PST’s Nicholas Mendola — and each seems a calculated bet to do so — Arsenal will be the former and Chelsea the latter. The same formation will look and operate drastically differently for the two sides. Granit Xhaka is a pure destroyer and Dani Ceballos operates best on the second level (of three) in midfield. On the other side, Jorginho will take up the same space as Ceballos and Mateo Kovacic will be the most advanced of the four.

As such, Arsenal’s wingers will be given the green light to fly forward, allowing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe to sit a bit more narrow and combine with Alexandre Lacazette. Meanwhile, Marcos Alonso and Reece James will be more stationary and moving back toward their own goal.

Advantage: Push

Aubameyang v. James

Best-case scenario for Chelsea: this will be the most lopsided head-to-head battle at Wembley. Best-case scenario for Arsenal: it will be the decisive battle and represents Arsenal’s most straightforward path to lifting the Cup.

If it is indeed James who starts on the right side of Chelsea’s midfield, he’ll likely find himself pushed deeper and deeper until he’s effectively playing next to Cesar Azpilicueta. Aubameyang’s combination of speed and dribbling ability will be far too much for James to handle himself, so he’ll lean upon Azpilicueta to hold down the inside channel while himself shading toward the outside. Azpilicueta’s experience as a long-time right back will undoubtedly give him a leg up on most natural center backs in the same situation, but even still Aubameyang’s 27 goals (all competitions) will be a terror from the opening to closing whistles.

Advantage: Arsenal


How to watch Arsenal – Chelsea in the FA Cup Final

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: ESPN+

Arteta eager for Ceballos to stay; laments missed chances, VAR

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has revealed he is eager for Dani Ceballos to stay long term and he also lamented their missed chances as they drew 1-1 at home against Leicester City.

Arteta’s side dominated the first half and should have gone in more than 1-0 up as a combination of fine saves from Kasper Schmeichel and poor decision cost the Gunners.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

A red card to Eddie Nketiah and a late Jamie Vardy equalizer, but checked by VAR, cost them what would have been a big win in their battle to get back in the Champions League race.

ProSoccerTalk asked Arteta after the game about Ceballos’ future, as his loan from Real Madrid is due to end in a few weeks’ time when the 2019-20 season is over.

“I am really happy with him. I think it is something the club has to go a little bit further with Real Madrid on that. At the moment he is playing really well, I am really happy with him and he is a player with a big talent and still a lot of things to improve,” Arteta said.

So, Arteta wants Ceballos to stay longer at Arsenal.

Watch this space as the Gunners aim to make a permanent move or loan deal for Ceballos who played a lovely ball to Bukayo Saka on their goal and continues to form a superb, and unlikely, partnership with Granit Xhaka as a holding midfielder instead of being a No. 10.

“He was superb again,” Arteta said of Ceballos. “Him and Granit are creating a really good understanding. They give us a lot of balance and a lot of stability with the ball as well to make the first decision in transition moments. They are evolving a lot together and I think defensively Dani has made a big step forward with the way he is pressing, the amount of interceptions and the tackles he is putting in. He is enjoying it.”

Arteta didn’t enjoy Arsenal’s finishing, though, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener wasn’t enough for the win. Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and others popped up in dangerous positions but Arsenal just couldn’t find that killer second goal that Arteta craved.

That lack of a killer instinct in the final third is something Arteta and Arsenal will look at.

“It is very difficult to do. The hardest thing to do is to score goals. When you are generating more than enough opportunities, you should go in with a much bigger margin into half time,” Arteta said. “We will make a lot of reviews about situations like that and how important they are in crucial moments to make the right decisions and be clinical and ruthless. But if you don’t do that, you cannot give anything to the opponent and you cannot play this type of game with 10 men.”

VAR, as it always seems to do now, will have the last word, as Arteta couldn’t believed that Nketiah was sent off for his challenge on James Justin and believed that Jamie Vardy should have been sent off in the first half for a similar challenge.

“I am extremely proud of our team, the way we played against this kind of opposition. We should have been three or four-nil up. With the red card you have to know he is a young kid. Leicester should play with 10 men after 42 minutes. For a challenge between the 40th and 45th minute,” Arteta said. “I don’t understand the rules. I never see a referee check any of the images. But I can do nothing now, it is the rules. We lost two points, we lost Eddie and we will see now for how many games. But we go to Spurs now and try to win three points.”

Arsenal remain in the hunt for fifth place — which could still be a Champions League spot depending on whether or not Man City’s European ban is overturned — but they are five points off Man United with four games to go and it will be tough for the Gunners to qualify for the Champions League this season.

That was always going to be the case given their poor start but since Arteta arrived in December things have changed. The fact that they are in with a shout, and disappointed to not be closer to fifth place, shows you how much progress the Gunners have made since the Spaniard arrived.

Arsenal are getting there, step-by-step, but this draw against Leicester feels like a ‘what if’ moment when all is said and done in their 2019-20 season.

Ceballos stoppage-time goal sends Arsenal to FA Cup semis

Sheffield United - Arsenal recap
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Arsenal overcame a late Sheffield United equalizer to advance to the FA Cup semifinals with a 2-1 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Sunday.

Nicolas Pepe converted an early penalty and helped set up Dani Ceballos’ splendid finish in stoppage time to move to within two wins of a record 14th FA Cup.

Arsenal has won three of the last six FA Cups.

Sheffield United now has a draw and three losses since the restart of English football.

[ RELATED: Liverpool win title – everything to know ]

Arsenal led from the 25th minute until the 87th when David McGoldrick’s quick reaction to clean up a mess in the Gunners’ box leveled the score line.

But Pepe ran onto an incisive Eddie Nketiah pass and there was no help for Enda Stevens when Ceballos latched onto a partial clearance and fired past Dean Henderson from an acute angle.

Arsenal joins Manchester United in the semifinals with two more matches set for Sunday.

Transfer news: Arsenal to extend Ceballos loan; Zaniolo to Man United

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The latest transfer news doing the rounds in the Premier League includes Arsenal trying to extend the stay of Dani Ceballos, plus Man United are among a host of clubs linked with Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, a report from Spanish outlet El Confidencial says that Arsenal are keen to extend the loan of Ceballos from Real Madrid until the end of the 2019-20 season but do not plan on signing him permanently.

The Spanish midfielder, 23, has been superb for the Gunners when he’s been fit and he’s flourished in a deeper central midfield role since Mikel Arteta took charge. Ceballos, a Spanish international, has previously stated he wants to return to Real but if there’s no spot for him in Zinedine Zidane’s plans, perhaps another loan move beckons?

Arsenal probably aren’t in a financial position to buy Ceballos as the club have already agreed with their players to a pay cut over the next 12 months amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock and Lucas Torreira around, Arsenal have plenty of central midfield options but Ceballos has real quality on the ball and given the way Arteta wants to play, he needs someone who can retain possession and link the play effortlessly in a central midfield role.

After his injuries, a change in manager and a topsy-turvy season for Arsenal overall, it is tough to judge Ceballos’ first season in the Premier League so far but it’s obvious their midfield has more class when he’s in it.

Staying in midfield, Man United and Tottenham have been linked with Roma star Nicolo Zaniolo, 20, who is one of the top young talents in Serie A.

The Daily Star have the report, as Zaniolo is a fine midfielder who can play in a variety of positions.

Zaniolo suffered an ACL injury in January but he is expected to be fit in June and both Man United and Spurs are keen to try and test Roma’s resolve with a cut-price offer. Previously the Italian giants wanted over $63 million for Zaniolo but the report states that United could offer way below that due to Roma’s financial situation.

This seems more like a Ole Gunnar Solskjaer transfer than Jose Mourinho. Man United are prioritizing adding young players and Zaniolo fits the bill. Man United are one midfield player short, with a more creative force needed out wide on the right in particular.

Zaniolo would obviously be a lot cheaper than signing Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund and his clever running, passing and flicks would knit things together nicely alongside Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in attack. He made his debut for the Italian national team in 2019 and scored twice in five outings for the Azzurri.

It is clear Man United are keen on signing a new midfielder when the transfer window next opens, while Tottenham will prioritize signing new defenders and more a defensive central midfielder.

Premier League social media wrap: Robertson, Milner rank sitcoms; Richarlison chills

Premier League social media
Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
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Shooting down transfer rumors, tossing video game controllers, and debating the laugh tracks are all a part of Friday’s PL social media wrap.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Liverpool stars Andrew Robertson and James Milner pitched in to the club feed with a video discussing the best sitcoms in British history.

It’s worth it if only for Robertson’s marginally accurate turn doing a dance from “The Inbetweeners.”

Everton star Richarlison looks to be home in Brazil, and quite chilled out in a beach setting.

The forward turns 23 on Sunday and has already collected 28 Premier League goals between Watford and Everton.

He has 19 caps and six goals for Brazil.

The ePremier League Invitational has been a source of entertainment for soccer-deprived fans this coronavirus pandemic, and play continued in the second edition on Friday.

Sheffield United’s John Egan handled his business against Brighton and Hove Albion’s Aaron Connelly, who was none-too-pleased to concede a goal.

Thrown controllers. Stars, they’re just like us.

Arsenal loanee Dani Ceballos turned to an American politician to show his feelings about a transfer rumor after an account Tweeted thoughts of a swap deal.

Ceballos, a Real Madrid player, would join left back Sergio Reguilon, currently on loan at Sevilla, and $32 million in moving to Sevilla in exchange for Argentine striker Lucas Ocampos.

It’s never happening that way, but it’s funny enough.