Lucas Torreira

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.

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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.

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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.

Where it went wrong for Emery at Arsenal

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There were many highs and lows of Unai Emery‘s stewardship of Arsenal FC, but arguably the moment where things turned for the worst came away from the perfectly manicured grass at the Emirates Stadium.

Heading into the summer, it was clear that Arsenal needed more help defensively. Emery’s signings of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi were a good sign, showing that Arsenal was committed to finally plugging a hole in defensive midfield that hadn’t been filled since Patrick Vieira – former coach Arsene Wenger always preferred a Jorginho type passer in that position, but they’d be overrun against every big-six opponent.

[READ: Who are the favorites to replace Emery at Arsenal?]

But at centerback, the team was woefully overmatched. Shkodran Mustafi looked like a shell of himself, Laurent Koscielny was still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the run up to the 2018 World Cup, and prospect Rob Holding suffered a torn ACL, meaning he was out for the season.

So the last thing Emery could afford was losing one of his best remaining centerbacks, in maybe the worst way possible. And yet, that’s essentially what happened.

Koscielny returned to training on July 5, and per the Guardian, made it clear that if he didn’t have a new contract by next week, or perhaps at least some progress on a new deal, he would be holding out. That meant the Arsenal club captain wouldn’t be traveling with the squad to the U.S. for preseason training.

This seemed to take Arsenal’s leadership by surprise. In the 2018-2019 Premier League season, Aaron Ramsey and the club weren’t able to meet in the middle, and so Ramsey let his contract run out and freely traipsed to Juventus. But Ramsey never made a fuss on the training pitch over his contract negotiations. He was a professional on and off the field and let his play do the talking.

Koscielny, on the other hand, wasn’t having it. Perhaps emboldened by his stature at Arsenal and that a new manager was at the helm – would he have done this against Wenger? – Koscielny never got on the plane to America. One month later, he completed a permanent transfer to Bordeaux, and Emery never appeared to recover as Arsenal manager. Before the end of the calendar year, Arsenal fired Emery.

The Koscielny case – and other similar recent mishaps by Emery, such as the captaincy fiasco and freezing out Ozil only to bring him back in recently – paints a picture of Emery as a brilliant tactician with average to below average man management skills. We have that here in the U.S. There are plenty of brilliant minds who coach football and basketball, but devising clever plays is worthless if you can’t get your team to understand the plays and execute them. What makes coaches like Bill Belichick and Steve Kerr successful is getting the buy-in from their players and managing them along the way. Tactics is only half the battle.

On paper, even with a creaky defense and a young midfield, this Arsenal team shouldn’t be languishing in ninth place. But it was clear as the weeks went on that Emery was essentially powerless to stop the sieve of goals into Arsenal’s net. Each week it was a different culprit, whether David Luiz, Sokratis, new signing Kieran Tierney or Calum Chambers. Under another manager, perhaps those four could raise there level. Under Emery, with everyone seemingly playing just for themselves, their levels sunk below the opposition.

At the same time, despite the $87 million Arsenal committed to spend on new signing Nicolas Pepe to go with stars Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they didn’t click in attack as often as they should have. Aubameyang continues to score but his goals often grab a point or a late, often undeserved win, for the Gunners. They were not blowing teams apart even with their vast array of talented attackers.

Emery wasn’t all bad at Arsenal. He brought positivity back to the Emirates Stadium in the 2018-2019 season with his new energetic signings like Guendouzi and Torreira. Fans won’t soon forget the 4-2 win at home over Tottenham, where the roof nearly blew off on Torreira’s wonderful second half goal. There was also wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, plus Napoli and Valencia in the Europa League, but Arsenal was struggling in the Premier League around the time of the latter two wins.

Off the field, by all reports Emery was a true gentleman to everyone at the club. And although some disgustingly made fun of his accent, Emery always tried to communicate in English when he could have easily just brought along a translator for every interaction. He tried his best to integrate himself in the club and in England.

But this season, Emery could never find his mid-season momentum again from last year, and things began falling quickly. Emery will certainly get another opportunity to coach in top-flight football, and perhaps he’ll eventually learn from his mistakes. However, it’s a second-successive coaching failure in which Emery lost control of the locker room due to poor man management skills, and his firing was ultimately inevitable.

Lucas Torreira unhappy with Arsenal role, says agent

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According to Lucas Torreira‘s agent, the 23-year-old Uruguayan has some reservations about how he’s being used tactically by manager Unai Emery.

Torreira has become a fan-favorite at Arsenal since joining from Sampdoria in the summer of 2018. His prowess as a holding midfielder has branded Torreira a tenacious player who excels in preventing counters and progressing the ball forward.

Yet with Arsenal struggling for results and Emery under fire, the players are apparently struggling to accept the tactical makeup of the squad. The Gunners have gone five matches without a win across all competitions, including four in league play, dropping them to sixth in the Premier League table, a whopping 17 points back of leaders Liverpool.

“Torreira is doing well at Arsenal, although the change of role doesn’t make him happy,” said Torreira’s agent Pablo Bentancur to Italian radio station Radio Marte, as quoted by CalcioMercado, “but it must be said that this year the whole team is not doing well. It was difficult to take Torreira at the time, now I don’t know how things are, but I think Arsenal wants to retain him. In the new role he is not at ease, but we respect the coach’s decisions, after that we’ll see what happens.”

Betancur wouldn’t go into specifics, but a closer look at Torreira’s usage this season specifically points to a neutering of his ability to move the ball forward in Arsenal’s attack, instead seeing him pass laterally to hold possession conservatively.

Being an Italian station, the agent was also asked about Torreira’s prospects of returning to Italy, which Betancur answered positively, saying he would especially be open to a move to Napoli, citing his Uruguayan heritage. “Why? Because he is Uruguayan. To tell you, he wants to end his career at Boca and Napoli is an environment very similar to that of Boca. Naples future destination? In football anything can happen.”

Torreira’s contract runs for another three full seasons, expiring in the summer of 2023, so Arsenal has significant control over the player’s immediate future. However, should the club continue to struggle and miss out on Champions League play yet again, there could be some tough decisions to make at the Emirates regarding how to control the wage bill with yet another season outside Europe’s top competition.

Emotions run high amid Xhaka turmoil at Arsenal

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After another Arsenal disappointment, binning a 2-0 lead in an eventual 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in front of the home fans, Unai Emery may have expected to face the brunt of the blame yet again, the heat turned up on the Arsenal boss.

While the Spaniard still must face the music, temporarily the venom was directed elsewhere.

Controversial captain Granit Xhaka exited the pitch was withdrawn in the 61st minute, marking the second straight match and third in the last five that he failed to complete the full 90 minutes. As he walked off the pitch visibly frustrated with the manager’s decision, jeers swelled in the crowd and he was booed off the field. Xhaka reacted angrily to the crowd, sarcastically gesturing for louder cheers as he walked off before eventually caught swearing at the home supporters in retaliation for the hostile reception.

The incident has blown up to a full-on crisis. The media took the incident and ran with it, with some calling for Xhaka’s removal as captain just weeks after being given the full-time role.

The controversy has left the squad in a difficult situation. According to The Athletic’s Amy Lawrence, who details the team’s reaction to the situation, Xhaka is a well-liked figure in the dressing room, and it has put some players in a bind, unsure whether to support their beloved teammate and friend in fear of supporter reaction. Still, that hasn’t stopped the players from sticking together.

Midfielder Lucas Torreira was caught by team photographer Stuart MacFarlane in tears as Xhaka was booed off the field, requiring consolation from both Emery and Hector Bellerin. Xhaka reportedly left the stadium early, only inciting further anger among the fanbase. Fan favorite Bellerin took to social media pleading for fan support, saying “we only win when we are together.”

According to Lawrence, a handful of players actually visited Xhaka at his home on Sunday, hoping to show their cohesion and offer emotional guidance to their chosen captain. Her report says that Xhaka is “devastated” by the occurence at the Emirates over the weekend and the ensuing fallout.

The job for Unai Emery looks more daunting than ever. The club is fifth in the league table but on pace for its lowest points total since the early 90’s. They sit 12 points adrift of leaders Liverpool after just 10 matches and look to be set for yet another scrap for a Champions League place, in danger of wasting yet another season of high wages and little return. There’s plenty of time to turn things around, but it remains unclear whether Emery is the man to make that happen.

Now, in addition to rebounding on the pitch, Emery must bring his squad together in a time of emotional need and also must placate the supporters who feel the appointed club captain has betrayed them.

Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield

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Liverpool cooked poor, wasteful Arsenal to record the best result of their early season with a 3-1 win over the Gunners at Anfield on Saturday.

[ MORE: Three things | Stars and duds ]

Mohamed Salah scored twice after Joel Matip broke Liverpool onto the score sheet, as the Reds will be the lone 3-0 team after three weeks of the young season. They were denied a clean sheet by Lucas Torreira‘s 84th minute goal.

Liverpool is off to Burnley next week, while Arsenal hosts Tottenham in the North London Derby.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 


Three key figures

  1. Alexander-Arnold will burn you — If teams like Arsenal are going to let Liverpool produce cross after cross to elite crosses like Trent Alexander-Arnold, well, they are going to get burnt. Never mind for a second that Alexander-Arnold’s assist came from a corner, the young English defender was given a limitless budget for his invitations by Arsenal. If you disagree with this, well, so does one of my co-workers.
  2. Salah still the one — The Egyptian wizard scored twice and was a menace all day. Make no mistake about it: However highly you rate Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane, this is the fella who makes Liverpool a threat to win any competition on Earth.
  3. Emery gets it wrong — We get that the idea of matching attack with Liverpool is daunting, but it could hardly have gone any worse had Unai Emery opted to start Alexandre Lacazette in addition to Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang. The way Arsenal allowed Liverpool to send in cross after cross after cross in the early stages, they wouldn’t have lost much by having a third forward. It’s no surprise that one of his subs, Torreira, got on the score sheet.

Man of the Match: Salah.


A lapse in communication between Virgil Van Dijk and Adrian allowed Arsenal a chance to make it 1-0 in the 11th minute. Fortunately for the Reds, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t loft the ball into the back of the goal from distance after failing to spot Nicolas Pepe in the 18.

At the other end, a horrible Dani Ceballos clearing attempt set up Liverpool in the 21st but Sadio Mane could only sting a shot that Bernd Leno did well to save.

Jordan Henderson made a terrible error in possession, allowing Pepe to race toward Adrian. The Spaniard bailed out his captain to keep it 0-0 in the 35th.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Matip thumped his header past Leno off an Alexander-Arnold corner kick before halftime.

The next scoring chance will come off a dead ball chance, as David Luiz pulled on Mohamed Salah’s shirt in the box. Salah finished emphatically.

Matip also saved Liverpool in his more traditional office, racing to stop Aubameyang on a breakaway when the Gabon striker took an extra touch.

Salah then skipped past a puzzled David Luiz and dribbled 40 yards too cook Nacho Monreal and Leno.

Aubameyang helped cue up Torreira for a well-taken concession goal with five minutes to play.