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FIFA fines Xhaka, Shaqiri, Lichtsteiner for goal celebrations

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MOSCOW (AP) — FIFA has fined three Switzerland players for making hand gestures of an Albanian national symbol to celebrate World Cup goals against Serbia, and cleared them to continue playing.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri received a warning and a fine of $10,100 for unsporting behavior, in a judgment Monday by FIFA’s disciplinary panel.

Switzerland captain Stephan Lichtsteiner was warned and fined $5,050.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

The FIFA judges had the power to impose two-match bans if the actions of the players in a 2-1 win last Friday in Kaliningrad were judged to have provoked the general public.

Xhaka and Shaqiri made hand gestures of a two-headed eagle after scoring second-half goals, and Lichtsteiner joined in the celebration.

World Cup referees miss yet another physical penalty in box

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Let’s get this out of the way first: VAR (Video-Assistant Refereeing) has been a fabulous addition to the game of soccer. In the 2018 World Cup, the availability of replay has done nothing but improve the ability of referees to correctly officiate the game, providing an outlet for mistakes to be corrected. Earlier on Friday, a referee gave a penalty to Brazil for a foul on Neymar, but with VAR applied correctly, the penalty was wiped off after it was determined Neymar went down easily. The game continued as it should, and a clear and obvious error was erased.

Unfortunately, despite the clear improvement to the game VAR provides, there’s still some work to be done in one very specific area of the game.

[ MORE: Recap of Serbia 1-2 Switzerland ]

On multiple occasions this World Cup, referees have missed wrestling matches in the penalty area, allowing defenders to essentially get away with murder instead of awarding attackers a deserved penalty. The worst example of this yet took place in the 66th minute of the 2-1 Switzerland win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, already with a goal to his name early in the match, went up to meet a set-piece delivery with his head. He was fully bear-hugged by Switzerland captain Steven Lichtsteiner, and while being wrapped up, was then rugby tackled by Swiss central defender Fabian Schar.

Yet somehow, Mitrovic was called for the foul, as the referee whistled him for ending up over the back of his defender on a genuine attempt to play the ball.

With every replay shown, it became more and more evident that not only should a penalty have been awarded, but the referee missed a clear and obvious call. Yet the match referee, German Felix Brych, was given no assistance from the VAR booth, left on an island after blowing the call.

There have been so many instances of this throughout the tournament, despite a public directive reportedly given by FIFA to referees asking them to crack down on physical play in the box, according to Fox rules analyst Dr. Joe Machnik. England striker Harry Kane was wrestled to the ground numerous times against Tunisia with no call, while many Egypt fans felt hard done by after Mohamed Salah was bullied in the box repeatedly against Russia.

The more defenders can get away with while defending set pieces in front of net, the more the game will be muddied by controversy, clouding an otherwise glittering debut for VAR on the international stage. That’s frustrating.

Emery hands new Arsenal deal to Granit Xhaka

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Granit Xhaka will start his third season at the Emirates Stadium with a brand new contract for new boss Unai Emery.

The Swiss midfield disruptor and playmaker, 25, is extending his stay at Arsenal with a new “long-term” deal, the club announced late Friday.

[ RECAP: Portugal 3-3 Spain ]

Xhaka played in every match for the Gunners last season. His seven assists were third on Arsenal and his 10 yellow cards paced the North London outfit.

Only 13 players in the Premier League registered more assists, and Southampton’s Oriol Romeu was the only player to be shown more yellows.

New Arsenal defender Stephan Lichtsteiner is Xhaka’s captain for Switzerland, and lauds the midfielder in an interview on the Gunners’ official page:

“I’ve known Granit now for more than six or seven years, so he’s just an amazing player,” Lichtsteiner told Arsenal Player.

“He’s very good and he’s still young. It’s not easy for him to be the direct leader at 23 or 24 years old, so I hope I can help him to become bigger and bigger. He had a very good season and I hope next year he will do even better.Off the pitch he is just a great person, a great character, very calm, he knows when he can joke and he knows when to concentrate. A top professional player on the pitch, great passing and just a great player.”

Like the deal, Arsenal fans? Xhaka seems a lightning rod amongst Arsenal supporters, but it’s hard to debate his impact on games (especially when in form).

Free transfers: Lichtsteiner to Arsenal; Fredericks to West Ham

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Arsenal will sign 34-year-old Swiss defender Stephan Lichtsteiner on July 1 when his current contract with Italian champions Juventus expires.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]  

And the experienced defender, who joins on a one-year deal, will be Unai Emery’s first signing as Gunners boss.

The right back has been at Juve since 2011 and has reached two UEFA Champions League finals with the Turin giants, as well as winning seven-straight Serie A titles and four consecutive Italian cups. He will also captain Switzerland at the World Cup this summer.

Speaking about his move to Arsenal, Lichtsteiner is looking forward to the challenge ahead as they aim to break back into the top four of the Premier League.

“It’s a great moment. It’s great for me after Juventus to come to Arsenal and have this big challenge to make big things [happen] with this big club,” Lichtsteiner said. “I’ve never played against Arsenal, but of course there was the big era of Wenger. He won a lot of titles with Arsenal and [made them] a big team. Now it’s a new moment. Wenger went and now everything is a bit new, so it’s a big challenge.”

His new manager at Arsenal believes the Swiss national team captain can help the Gunners in other ways than just on the pitch.

“Stephan brings huge experience and leadership to our squad. He’s a player with great quality with a very positive and determined attitude. Stephan will improve us on and off the pitch,” Emery said.

Lichtsteiner will add competition for Hector Bellerin at right back and the veteran defender is also able to play elsewhere in defense and midfield to add extra cover to the backline.

With another UEFA Europa League campaign coming up for Arsenal, Emery will certainly need a large squad to rotate between domestic and European action in 2018/19.


It was a busy day for right backs coming to the Premier League on a free transfer as Ryan Fredericks arrived at West Ham United.

Fredericks, 25, was a regular for Fulham as they were promoted to the PL via the Championship playoffs (he was named in the 2017/18 PFA Championship Team of the Year) but his deal with the Cottagers expires on July 1 and he was locked into contract talks but couldn’t agree on a new deal at Craven Cottage.

The Hammers and their new boss Manuel Pellegrini are delighted to have snapped up the attacking full back on a four-year deal.

“It’s amazing for this deal to finally happen,” Fredericks said. “I know we’ve been speaking about it for a while and trying to get things in place and finally, we’ve got it over the line. I’m just buzzing to be here. West Ham United is one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League. Everyone knows the history of West Ham and there’s a lot of factors that brought me to the club.

“Obviously, it’s an exciting time for West Ham. The club have just brought in a new manager in Manuel Pellegrini and everyone knows his CV and what he has done in England before and in other leagues as well. I’m sure I can learn a lot from him.”

Fredericks, who began his career at Tottenham’s youth setup before moving on to Bristol City and then Fulham, will fight with the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and Sam Byram for playing time at right back at the London Stadium.

Reports: Arsenal nearing deal for Lichtsteiner on free transfer

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According to multiple reports in England, including the BBC, Arsenal is looking to sign Juventus right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner on a free transfer this summer, potentially becoming the first signing under new manager Unai Emery.

Lichtsteiner is out of contract at Juventus this summer, having been with the club since 2011. Lichtsteiner has played in Italy since joining Lazio in 2008.

The Swiss international will captain his country at the World Cup this summer in Russia and will earn his 100th cap in his second match at the event.

[ MORE: Tottenham target trio ]

Lichtsteiner has been a mainstay in a Juventus squad that has won seven consecutive Serie A titles, but at 34 years old has been slowly phased out. He has made less than 30 Serie A appearances each of the last seasons, despite a nearly spotless bill of health since undergoing heart surgery in October of 2015. Last season, Lichtsteiner completed just nine full 90 minute performances, including just three after November. Lichtsteiner may have had an even smaller role this most recent campaign had Mattia de Sciglio not struggled with injuries for much of the season.

The Gunners have Hector Bellerin as the club’s main right-back, with the Spaniard leading the squad in total minutes played this past season. However, Bellerin’s level of performance has regressed considerably since proving one of the best young Premier League players in his first full season in 2015/16.

Lichtsteiner has also been linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund, where Lukasz Piszczek mans the right-back spot, but talks between the clubs reportedly broke down.