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Arsenal sink United to revive top-four bid, Liverpool held

May 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsenal are back in the hunt to qualify for the Champions League after Arsene Wenger finally got the better of Jose Mourinho in a 2-0 win over Manchester United, while Liverpool were held to a 0-0 draw by Southampton on Sunday.

Arsenal

Wenger had failed to win any of his previous 14 competitive clashes against Mourinho dating back to 2004, with his only victory over his old rival coming in the 2015 Community Shield when the Portuguese coach was in charge of Chelsea.

The Gunners boss brought an end to that frustrating streak at just the right time as goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck improved Arsenal’s chances of salvaging a troubled season by finishing in the top four.

Sixth-placed Arsenal are now six points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with four games to play, while Pep Guardiola’s side have only three matches remaining.

Downplaying his rivalry with Mourinho, Wenger said: “It is not manager against manager.

“It was a patiently built win where in the first half you could see we were a bit nervous, but in the second half we took the edge off and scored the goals.”

Fifth-placed United remain four points behind City with three games left.

“Of course, we knew we were not coming in our maximum power. That’s a decision,” Mourinho said.

“We want to try to win the Europa League. It’s more important than finishing fourth.”

With Mourinho prioritising the Europa League semi-final second leg against Celta Vigo in midweek, United, who hold a 1-0 first-leg lead, fielded a much-changed side in north London.

United can qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League and they may well need to do exactly that after surrendering their 25-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.

The Gunners’ only route back into Europe’s elite club competition is via a top-four finish, so it wasn’t surprising that they played with more hunger than United.

Even so, they still needed a stroke of luck to open the scoring in the 54th minute.

Xhaka blasted a long-range strike that slammed into the back of United midfielder Ander Herrera, looping high in the air before dropping into the net just out of the reach of goalkeeper David de Gea.

If that was a fortuitous way to take the lead, Arsenal had no need to apologise for their superb second goal three minutes later.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whipped over a teasing cross and when United defender Chris Smalling misjudged the flight of the ball, former United forward Welbeck was perfectly placed to bury his header past De Gea for just his second league goal this season.

Infamously labelled “a voyeur” and “a specialist in failure” by Mourinho in the past, this was a sweet moment for Wenger, but it won’t mean much unless Arsenal find a way to catch City.

At Anfield, Liverpool’s James Milner saw his penalty saved by Fraser Forster as his side wasted a chance to bolster their Champions League bid.

It was Milner’s first missed penalty since November 2009.

Liverpool’s second-half penalty arrived when Jack Stephens elbowed away the ball inside the area.

It was well spotted by referee Bobby Madley and although Milner’s spot-kick was right in the corner, Forster did well to get down and palm the effort away.

Liverpool are up to third, five points ahead of United, who have a game in hand.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp had a curious excuse for Liverpool’s woes as he blamed the poor quality of the Anfield pitch.

“Nobody wants to hear it but the pitch was really dry today,” Klopp said.

“We gave all the water we had and after 15 minutes it was really dry – a lot of passes you could say why are they playing this?”

Wenger ready to make peace with Mourinho

May 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he is prepared to bury the hatchet with old foe Jose Mourinho ahead of Sunday’s home game with Manchester United.

Jose Mourinho

Wenger regularly clashed with Mourinho during the Portuguese’s two stints as Chelsea manager, the rivalry spilling over into a touchline shoving match during an October 2014 game at Stamford Bridge.

The pair resume hostilities at the Emirates Stadium with their sides competing for a place in the Premier League top four.

Asked if peace could be made with United manager Mourinho, Wenger told reporters: “I am open always in life for everything, you know, for peace.

“But what is important when you are a competitor is that you give absolutely everything to win the next game.”

Wenger, who has never beaten Mourinho in the league, was reminded of his relationship with former United manager Alex Ferguson, which shed its initial spikiness to become corial.

“My relationship with Ferguson mellowed, yes. We have respect,” Wenger said.

“I think I try to respect everybody and I do not want to make a case of any person. I think it is important that I focus on my own team, the performance of my team and forget all the rest.”

Arsenal approach the weekend in sixth place in the table, five points below United and six behind Manchester City, with a game in hand on both.

“It just shows that everybody has moved up,” said Wenger, whose side will face Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

“The number of clubs that can fight at the top is bigger this season and the difference between the teams is smaller. As soon as you are not at your best, you can lose.”

With Sunday’s game sandwiched between the two legs of United’s Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo, Mourinho has indicated he will rest players for the trip to north London.

Wenger said that if Arsenal fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League he will follow Mourinho’s lead by making the Europa League a priority.

“I take every competition seriously,” he said during Thursday’s pre-game press conference at Arsenal’s London Colney training base.

“The only thing I always did over the years was to use the League Cup to give chances to young players. We always treated all the other competitions seriously.”

Wenger is still to announce what he will do at the end of the season and has faced calls to stand down from disgruntled supporters.

United’s struggles in the post-Ferguson era have been held up as a warning to fans calling for Wenger to go, but he says his departure could prove to be a good thing.

“It can as well go better from when I leave one day,” said the Frenchman, who has been in charge at Arsenal since 1996.

“You know, when you are such a long time at a club like I am, like Ferguson was, it is a little bit like when you have children. You want them to be happy.

“Even when you are not there anymore, you want them to be happy.”

Reminded that he had vowed to make an announcement on his future in March or April, Wenger joked: “That means I was wrong!”

He added: “I don’t want to speak about my personal case any more.”

Wenger revealed midfielder Granit Xhaka is likely to miss Sunday’s game after taking a kick to the calf in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at derby rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Wenger faces new quit calls after Palace loss

April 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger faces renewed calls to resign after Arsenal’s miserable season spiralled out of control with furious fans turning on his flops during their humiliating 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace.

Crystal Palace

Wenger’s side hit a new low on a chastening evening in south London as struggling Palace condemned the shambolic Gunners to their heaviest Premier League defeat of the season.

Wenger’s side have lost four successive away league games for the first time in his 21-year reign as manager.

Goals from Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic gave Palace their first home win over Arsenal since 1979 and left Wenger in turmoil after his team’s fifth defeat in their last eight league games.

With many Arsenal supporters again demanding Wenger resign, the toxic atmosphere around the north Londoners boiled over as fans refused to give the ball back to Gunners right-back Hector Bellerin when it went into the away section in the second half.

Instead, they berated Bellerin and his team-mates with chants of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”, with the Spaniard having to be consoled by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain when he was jeered again at the final whistle.

Wenger and his squad were targeted for more abuse when they made their way from the dressing room to the team bus. Arsenal’s shocking surrender leaves them in sixth place, lagging seven points behind fourth placed Manchester City.

With Wenger’s record of leading Arsenal into the Champions League for 19 consecutive years in severe danger, the beleaguered Frenchman acknowledged he has to find a way to avoid the mutinous mood wrecking what may yet prove to be his final season in charge.

“I want the fans to support the team, but I can understand they are extremely frustrated, like we all are,” Wenger said.

“We came with the desire to win the game, but in the decisive moments of the game Palace were sharper.

“To see us lose in that way is disappointing. It’s part of my job to build the confidence. We have a week to do it. it’s our job. we will try to do it.”

Faced with the prospect of missing out on the Champions League for the first time since 1997, Wenger has hardly helped his cause by refusing to confirm if he will sign an extension to the contract which runs out at the end of the season.

The uncertainty over his future has been a major distraction for a team lacking the fighting spirit required to cope with adversity.

Wenger conceded Arsenal’s chances of making the Champions League via a top-four finish look bleak, but he refused to be drawn on whether or not he will stay.

“I think it will be very difficult certainly,” he said. “I don’t want to speak about me tonight. I’m not in the mood.

“At the moment I pay more respect to the fact we had a disappointing result.”

Looking shell-shocked and far less defiant than he often is at such downbeat moments, Wenger must have been devastated by the way the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott went missing when he needed them most.

Arsenal legend Ian Wright claimed Wenger has lost the support of his players and even the Gunners boss admitted Palace had shown more passion.

“They were sharper and more decisive than us,” he said. “In the second half they came out strong and scored again.

“After that it was more difficult. “I don’t say the players gave up. For a long time we were unbeaten away but since we lost a few we don’t have the confidence. “You could sense it had an impact on us after the second goal.”

Palace moved six points clear of the bottom three and boss Sam Allardyce hailed a magical 10 days that also included a win at leaders Chelsea.

“One or two more results and we should be safe, but it’s a massive night for everybody, and a huge week for us all,” he said.

Thiago-inspired Bayern hand Arsenal 5-1 rout

February 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger’s future was plunged into further doubt on Wednesday as Thiago Alcantara inspired Bayern Munich to a 5-1 rout of hapless Arsenal to leave the Gunners facing a seventh straight Champions League last-16 exit.

Bayern Munich

Bayern extended their Champions League record to 16 straight home wins by flooring the Gunners with three goals in ten second-half minutes.

“That was a good performance, which perhaps wasn’t so expected,” said Thiago, who scored twice.

“We were playing at home, knew we had to score a few goals and everything worked very well after the break.”

Bayern knocked Arsenal out at the same stage in 2005, 2013 and 2014 and look comfortably placed to make it four times after romping through Wednesday’s first leg.

The Allianz Arena defeat raises the pressure on Wenger for the return leg on March 7 with only Alexis Sanchez’s away goal for comfort.

The result matched the 5-1 group-stage thrashing Arsenal received in Munich in November 2015 — the club’s joint record away defeat in Europe.

Arjen Robben’s superb curling shot gave Bayern the lead on 11 minutes, but Sanchez levelled by drilling home after Manuel Neuer saved his penalty on 30 minutes.

Robben also admitted he was surprised by the big win.

“Things worked very well,” said the Dutch winger.

“I am a bit surprised that we played so well, but on the other hand, I know the team has great character and can move up a gear when it matters.”

Bayern hit top gear after the break with a flurry of goals in quick succession.

Robert Lewandowski headed Bayern back into the lead on 53 minutes before Thiago added two in quick succession while Thomas Mueller came off the bench to complete the rout.

Bayern spent the opening minutes camped in the Arsenal half and took the lead on 10 minutes through Robben’s wonderful strike.

The Dutch winger cut in from the right and curled home a superbly-weighted shot off his left foot from outside the area.

Arsenal then raised the tempo and started pressing the hosts.

Bayern defender Mats Hummels was given a yellow card for fouling Sanchez just outside the box.

Mesut Ozil drilled the resulting free-kick at Neuer, but moments later Arsenal were awarded a penalty.

Lewandowski mistimed a clearance in the area and struck Laurent Koscielny’s raised leg.

Despite Bayern’s furious protests, Serbian referee Milorad Mazic pointed to the spot.

Neuer saved Sanchez’s penalty, but the Chile international drilled home the rebound at the second attempt.

It was the valuable away goal Bayern had talked about not conceding in the match’s build-up.

There were equally furious Bayern protests at the other end when David Alaba’s cross struck Hector Bellerin on the hand, but the referee waved play on.

It was 1-1 at the break, but Bayern stepped up the pressure in the second half.

Robben released Philipp Lahm who put in a perfect cross and Lewandowski twisted to tuck his header past David Ospina’s reach.

The Poland hot-shot then flicked Xabi Alonso’s pass into Thiago’s path and the former Barcelona midfielder fired past Ospina.

Lewandowski hit the crossbar on 61 minutes, but Thiago added his second when his shot from the edge of the box deflected past the Arsenal goalkeeper on 63 minutes.

Mueller came on for Lewandowski on 86 minutes and added Bayern’s fifth two minutes later after Thiago squared the final pass.

Pressure on Wenger to break Bayern curse in Champions League

February 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger is once again under pressure to end Arsenal’s Champions League last-16 misery as the Gunners travel to bogey team Bayern Munich in Wednesday’s first leg.

Arsenal

Bayern are riding a record 15-match home winning streak in Europe with the midweek clash marking the 11th meeting between the sides at Munich’s Allianz Arena in the Champions League.

Arsenal have suffered last-16 defeats in each of the last six seasons, losing to Bayern in both 2013 and 2014, and another early exit would further ramp up the pressure on 67-year-old Wenger to quit after 20 years in charge.

The teams know each other well, having met six times in the last four years, and Bayern thrashed the Gunners 5-1 in Munich in their previous meeting in November 2015.

Arsenal warmed up for their trip to Germany with a 2-0 win over Hull as Alexis Sanchez scored both goals to stop the rot following back-to-back league defeats to Chelsea and Watford.

The Gunners are confident for the Allianz Arena leg with the return in London on March 7.

“If we put in our best performance, then we can beat Bayern as well,” Arsenal’s German defender Shkodran Mustafi told Sky.

“It’s down to us and it’s in our hands.”

Arsenal beat Bayern 2-0 in Munich in 2013, but still lost the last-16 tie following a 3-1 defeat in the first leg in London as the Germans went on to win that year’s final at Wembley.

“We have already won there and I feel we have a chance to go through,” said Wenger.

Midfielder Mesut Ozil, another Germany international, is enduring a dip in form, though, and has not scored since early December.

“It’s time for him to score again,” said Wenger. “I felt he did not feel confident (against Hull).

“It’s always a problem because you think he can deliver something special.”

Arsenal are third in the English Premier League, 10 points behind leaders Chelsea, while Bayern are seven clear in Germany’s top flight.

The Bavarians have reached the semi-final stage in Europe in each of the last three years, but Bayern are itching to go one better and reach the Cardiff final on June 3.

Despite their lead in the Bundesliga, Bayern have turned in below-par performances in recent weeks and needed two late goals to earn a 2-0 win at relegation-threatened Ingolstadt on Saturday.

Xabi Alonso suffered an injury scare in training on Monday, while Bayern will be missing defender Jerome Boateng and winger Franck Ribery, who are recovering from shoulder and thigh injuries respectively.

Germany forward Thomas Mueller is enduring a goal drought with just one goal in 17 league games this term, but Robert Lewandowski has hit 23 goals in all competitions and is relishing the Arsenal showdown.

“Everyone is waiting for this game and it’ll be a big challenge for us,” said Lewandowski.

“Arsenal have very good players, but we need to concentrate on ourselves and if we play our best football, Arsenal probably won’t have many chances.

“We need to score at least once and concede nothing, then it’ll be a good evening for us.”

Wenger hails angry Alexis after Swansea rout

January 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger lavished praise on Alexis Sanchez after Arsenal brushed aside Swansea 4-0 at the Liberty Stadium, despite the Chilean star’s anger at being substituted.

Arsenal

Sanchez scored the last of Arsenal’s four goals on a day when new manager Paul Clement saw precisely how big the job of keeping Swansea in the top flight is going to be.

The 28-year-old Sanchez was taken off in the final quarter as Wenger sought to give the returning Danny Welbeck some valuable game time.

Even though Sanchez appeared far from happy with the decision, Wenger brushed aside the incident.

“I thought he (Sanchez) was very sharp. I rested him for two weeks and gave him a little breather. I think he benefited from that,” said the Arsenal boss.

“I gave him another rest for today, so he will benefit from that as well. He’s hugely influential.

“When you look at the numbers, he’s been involved in about 25 goals in our team. But we also have players on the bench who are strikers who need competition. We were 4-0 up, he’s just come back from a good rest, Mesut Ozil as well comes back from sickness, so it was a good opportunity not to be stupid.

“All the players are frustrated when they come off, some show it, some not. I just make the decision I feel is right, that’s it.

“There’s no problem. In every culture it’s different. Some South Americans are a bit different to Europeans. Southern Europeans are more different to northern Europeans, you have to respect that.”

Sanchez’s 14th goal of the season added the finishing touches to Arsenal’s convincing win as the Gunners moved to third in the table. They have 44 points but remain eight behind leaders Chelsea.

In-form France striker Olivier Giroud gave the visitors a first half lead before own goals from Jack Cork and Kyle Naughton made the outcome certain, paving the way for Sanchez to add his name to the scoresheet.

Wenger was pleased with the overall performance of his team, albeit after a slow start.

“We had some problems getting going, but I put that down to the fact that Swansea played very well in the the first half,” said Wenger.

“They were well organised and they put in an unbelievable amount of work. Certainly in the second half we took over and in the second half they couldn’t follow the pace any more. We were relentless until the end.”

Swansea manager Clement said he saw enough to give him optimism that the Welsh side can stay up.

The defeat left Swansea at the foot of the table, but only six points separate the bottom six teams.

“In the first half the game was fairly even. Our defensive shape looked good and they weren’t producing clear cut opportunities,” said Clement, the club’s third manager of the season.

“Everyone knows the task at hand is a very hard one but we’re all up for it.

“There are games we will have to win. We have to make sure when those games come around we are in top form and ready to do that.”

Ozil and Arsenal look to bounce back after mini-slump

December 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger knows Arsenal have no margin for error when they attempt to revive their Premier League title challenge against West Bromwich Albion on Monday.

Ozil

The visit of Tony Pulis’s side to the Emirates Stadium presents the Gunners with an opportunity to bounce back after successive defeats to Everton and Manchester City that have undermined their claim to be genuine challengers this season.

It wasn’t simply the defeats, but the manner of the losses in games when Wenger’s side led on both occasions only to be overwhelmed by their opponents’ greater strength.

The performances led to accusations that, despite a promising start to the season in both the Premier League and the Champions League, Arsenal remain flawed and incapable of pulling off the right result when it mattered most.

Bearing the brunt of that criticism was Mesut Ozil, the playmaker whose contribution had been praised during the opening months of the campaign before the Germany international produced two sub-par performances.

Wenger, though, is happy with the 28-year-old World Cup winner’s contribution — although Ozil is yet to commit himself to a new contract — and insists the explanation for his team’s dip lies elsewhere.

“I don’t give Mesut any leeway when the team doesn’t have possession,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.

“He has to do his job like everybody else and usually he does it well.

“His main strength is of course when we have the ball and he suffers more when we don’t have it.

“At City, he suffered more than others because we didn’t have enough of the ball. Unfortunately, if you want to have the ball, you have to win it back.

“He is a guy who works much harder than people think and his body language goes a bit against him sometimes.

“We are a team who win the ball back high up the pitch very well, which means he and Alexis Sanchez do their part of the job very well.

“We have to respond. Mesut Ozil is an important player, a big player, and the big players always respond to criticism on the pitch.”

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is expected to miss out after picking up an injury at City and Welsh international midfielder Aaron Ramsey faces a fitness test regarding a hamstring problem.

West Brom head for the Emirates Stadium with boss Tony Pulis happy with his team’s form despite a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United last weekend.

Pulis’s men have lost just twice in their last seven games but the Welshman is already looking at potential reinforcements in the January transfer window.

“I know where we are at the moment and we’re bobbing along okay,” said Pulis, who could be without key midfielder James Morrison who has had a bout of flu.

“What we’ve got to do is try to improve it this (transfer) window if we can and keep it going and hopefully every window from that point onwards we will get those one or two quality players that we need all the time.”

Pulis, who launched a bid this week for Manchester United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin, has urged players unable to get into the starting XI at bigger clubs to consider joining the Baggies for regular football.

“This is a very good club to be at, it’s an opportunity to come here and play,” he said.

“Jonny Evans is one example of someone who couldn’t get into (Manchester) United’s team, now he’s been talked of in terms of Arsenal and Liverpool, the press are talking about him being one of their targets.

“It gives them the opportunity to play and that for me is what it’s all about.”

Sniping Mourinho says United’s luck will change

November 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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His team had been sucker-punched by Arsenal, but Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho could not resist one last dig at his opposite number Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal

“Finally, I lost against Arsene,” Mourinho declared as he left the Old Trafford press conference room following a 1-1 draw he said felt “like a defeat”.

“Finally, I lost against Arsenal.”

Saturday’s result in fact extended Mourinho’s unbeaten run against Wenger’s Arsenal to 12 league games, but that was of little consolation after a contest United dominated.

Juan Mata gave them a deserved 69th-minute lead, but with a minute to go, substitute Olivier Giroud headed in an equaliser with Arsenal’s first effort on target.

It has become a recurring theme for United, who have drawn three consecutive home games in the league for the first time since April 1992.

Maddeningly, in those three games — a 0-0 stalemate with Burnley and 1-1 draws against Stoke City and Arsenal — they have had a total of 74 attempts at goal to their opponents’ 19.

United remain sixth in the table, six points below fourth-place Arsenal and eight points behind Jurgen Klopp’s leaders Liverpool.

Mourinho, though, believes it is only misfortune that is keeping his team from the Champions League places.

“At this moment, we all know internally we are the unlucky team in the Premier League,” said Mourinho, who was missing injured centre-backs Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly and the suspended Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“We just focus on Burnley, Stoke and Arsenal — nine points, easily. If we have six points more, we are top four and close to the top of the league.

“We have a lot of work to do, we know that. We have lots of kids that are mistake-prone. We also know we have some amazing players that turn 33, 34.

“We know that other teams are prepared with much different conditions.

“How long is Mr Wenger with this team? How long is Mauricio (Pochettino) with Tottenham? How long is Klopp with his team?

“Chelsea and Liverpool don’t play in Europe. They have one week to work, to rest, to prepare.

“If you remember what Brendan Rodgers did with Liverpool two seasons ago, also in a season where Liverpool didn’t have Europe, they’re in a privileged position to improve their teams.

“The level and experience of Man City. We are in a very difficult Premier League. I know, the players know, the board knows, the owners know. By the reaction of the Man United fans, they know.

“We are very confident. We are very, very, very happy with our work and better results will arrive, for sure.”

Mourinho stopped short of naming names, but the “mistake-prone” comment was a reference to Marcus Rashford, left for dead by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the build-up to Arsenal’s equaliser.

Wenger praised Arsenal’s “never-give-up attitude”, but he could not explain why it took them until the 89th minute to threaten David de Gea’s goal.

“Had we a mental block here because for a while it didn’t go well for us?” Wenger said to reporters.

“Was it fatigue or a mental switch-on problem after the international break? Some players came back late on Thursday and we travelled on Friday morning and played on Saturday morning.

“It’s short, but I don’t think it’s an explanation. I felt that Man United defended very well as well.”

The game’s main point of contention arrived in the 35th minute, when Antonio Valencia nutmegged Nacho Monreal and then went down as the Arsenal left-back threw his arm across him.

Referee Andre Marriner waved United’s appeals away and although he made his anger clear on the touchline, Mourinho refused to criticise the official after the game.

“My view was it was not a penalty,” Wenger said.

“You will not be surprised by that. Mourinho’s view is that it was a penalty and you will not be surprised by that.”

Rooney in a fix as Arsenal gun for Man United

November 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Damaged and derided, Wayne Rooney embodies Manchester United’s delicate current predicament as they prepare for Arsenal’s visit to Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday.

Rooney

Rooney has been splashed across Britain’s newspapers this week after photographs emerged of him looking the worse for wear during a post-wedding party at the England team hotel last weekend.

The incident has prompted an apology from the player himself, news of an investigation by the Football Association and the unlikely backing of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

Fortunately for Rooney, manager Jose Mourinho’s anger over the matter is said to have been directed at the FA, for allowing the striker to go off the rails, rather than him.

But the 31-year-old is nonetheless expected to start on the bench against Arsenal, having been forced to withdraw from international duty with a minor knee injury.

Rooney found himself in the spotlight even before his late-night antics at the luxury Grove Hotel in Watford, north of England, last weekend.

Dropped by first Mourinho and then interim England manager Gareth Southgate, Rooneymanaged to force his way back into the starting XI for both club and country.

His last United display, in their 3-1 win at Swansea City prior to the international break, was one of his best in recent memory as he created a pair of goals for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

But an injury sustained in England’s 3-0 win over Scotland forced him out of Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Spain and he now looks likely to find himself back in the increasingly familiar setting of the bench.

Rooney has made a habit of tormenting Arsenal over the years, scoring 14 goals against them — a figure bettered only by his tally against Aston Villa (15).

As a swaggering 16-year-old with Everton, he scored his first ever Premier League goal against Arsenal in 2002 and they were also the victims for his first United league goal and 100th league goal overall.

But with Rooney sidelined and Ibrahimovic suspended, the teenage terror gunning for the Gunners this time around is expected to be Marcus Rashford.

The 19-year-old striker scored twice on his Premier League debut to inspire United to a 3-2 win over Arsenal in February and the London club’s manager Arsene Wenger has not forgotten.

“The man who killed us last year was Marcus Rashford,” said Wenger, whose side have not lost away in the league since that game.

“He took us completely by surprise.”

Although Arsenal won 2-1 at United in the FA Cup in March 2015, they have not won a league game there since September 2006, while Wenger has never overcome Mourinho in the league in 11 attempts.

But although the historical omens would appear to favour United, the form and the momentum belong to Arsenal.

Whereas United have won just two of their last eight league games, Arsenal have won seven of their last nine, drawing the other two.

Wenger’s men will provisionally go top if they prevail, which would leave United — sixth in the table ahead of the weekend’s fixtures — a yawning nine points off the pace.

But midfielder Michael Carrick said this week: “We still feel we’re well in touch.

“I know people are looking at it and saying we’re drifting and we’re not right at the top, but we still feel there’s more to come and we’ve got a great chance of being up there.”

Mourinho’s preparations have not been helped by selection issues that could deprive him of four frontline defenders.

Centre-backs Chris Smalling (foot) and Eric Bailly (knee) are definitely out, while there are doubts over full-backs Antonio Valencia (broken arm) and Luke Shaw (leg).

Arsenal will be without flying right-back Hector Bellerin (ankle) and his Spanish compatriot Santi Cazorla (Achilles).

Alexis Sanchez, meanwhile, faces a fitness test on his hamstring and is not due to return from international duty with Chile until Friday.

Spurs hope Kane can supply derby spark

November 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Buoyed by the return of Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur will look to arrest their current slump and improve their dismal record at the Emirates Stadium in Sunday’s derby against Arsenal.

Kane

Though they remain the last unbeaten team in the Premier League, Tottenham have gone six games without victory in all competitions since their stunning 2-0 defeat of Manchester City a month ago.

Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen left them in third place in their Champions League group and manager Mauricio Pochettino concedes preparation for the 179th North London derby has not been ideal.

“It’s true that we are not in a positive situation,” said the Argentine, whose side are fifth in the table ahead of the weekend’s fixtures, three points below second-place Arsenal.

“In the six games after Manchester City we have struggled to win games — four draws and two defeats. We are very conscious about that. We need to work hard and try more than before.

“We are in a difficult moment, but in football you always need to be ready to change the dynamic and we have a very good opportunity on Sunday to go to the Emirates and try to win the game.”

Pochettino is yet to lose a league game against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, winning one and drawing three of their four encounters, although he did taste defeat against him in last season’s League Cup.

Spurs have won just once at Arsenal since May 1993 — a 3-2 success in November 2010 — but will draw encouragement from Kane’s return to fitness after seven weeks out with an ankle ligament injury.

The 23-year-old England striker has scored four goals in his three league games against Arsenal and although he is understandably short of match fitness, Pochettino says he could start.

In Kane’s absence, Spurs have scored only three goals in their last six games and have not scored from open play in the last five.

Midfielder Mousa Dembele faces a late fitness test on a foot problem, but centre-back Toby Alderweireld (leg) and winger Erik Lamela (hip) are definitely out and Moussa Sissoko is suspended.

Arsenal go into the game carrying momentum, Wenger’s side having won 10 of their last 11 matches in all competitions.

They came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Ludogorets Razgrad in the Champions League on Tuesday, when Mesut Ozil’s sumptuous 87th-minute winner took Arsenal into the last 16 for the 17th season running.

Spurs have not finished above Arsenal since 1995, having been pipped to second place behind Leicester City by their rivals on last season’s final day.

But Wenger was reluctant to entertain suggestions his side have any kind of mental hold over their foes from the other end of the Seven Sisters Road.

“At the moment I’m more focused on the fact that this is more than a derby,” said the Arsenal manager, whose team trail leaders Manchester City on goal difference.

“It’s an important game for us because it’s a big home game and we have an opportunity to show that we have an interesting role to play in this Premier League, and that we can win these kinds of games too.”

Winger Theo Walcott is expected to overcome a hamstring problem to start, while midfielder Granit Xhaka returns after a three-game domestic ban.

But Wenger has doubts over Santi Cazorla (Achilles), Nacho Monreal (muscular), Hector Bellerin (knock) and Kieran Gibbs (shoulder).

Olivier Giroud, meanwhile, is putting pressure on Alexis Sanchez for the lone striker’s role, having scored three times in his last two appearances.

There has been just one 0-0 draw in the last 43 meetings between the teams and the omens for goals are good.

The last time Arsenal and Tottenham met at midday was in November 2004, when an 81st-minute Robert Pires strike was enough to give Wenger’s men a dizzying 5-4 victory at White Hart Lane.

Arsenal can last pace in title race, says Wenger

October 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal are finally equipped to last the pace in the Premier League title race.

Arsenal

Wenger’s side have struggled to match the financial muscle and strength in depth of the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City in recent years.

But the Gunners appear in much better shape to slug it out with their title rivals this season after reeling off seven successive wins in all competitions.

Arsenal have enjoyed similar hot streaks before fading in the past, but boss Wenger, speaking ahead of Saturday’s home clash with Middlesbrough, sees a more steely side to his squad this time.

“Before the season everybody would say that it could be a very tight, interesting championship,” said Wenger, whose side are behind leaders City on goal difference.

“After the first two or three games people felt that City would run away with it, or Man United would after they won their first three games as well.

“But I believe we are all in the same pack and it’s down to being consistent and trying to focus game after game. From Man City to United to Chelsea, everybody has a chance.

“We are consistent at the moment and I feel there is more to come out from our team.”

City, still smarting from Wednesday’s 4-0 Champions League loss away to manager Pep Guardiola’s former club Barcelona, are not in action again until Sunday when they face Southampton at Eastlands.

Should Arsenal and Tottenham both slip up, City could still yield top spot to Liverpool if the Merseysiders, currently two points off the summit following their goalless draw with Manchester United, beat West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on Saturday.

Tottenham face a potentially tricky trip to south coast side Bournemouth, who’ve won plaudits for the quality of their football under young English manager Eddie Howe.

Guardiola is also known for the courage of his football convictions and he insisted those would not change after he saw Lionel Messi, once his star player, score a hat-trick against City on Wednesday.

To make matters worse, City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, himself a former Barca player, was sent off for saving Luis Suarez’s effort when outside his area after gifting the ball to the Uruguayan striker as he tried to follow Guardiola’s call to play out from the back.

Guardiola won his first 10 games as City manager but the club have now gone four games without a victory, a 3-3 draw at Celtic followed by a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham before they squandered two penalties in a 1-1 draw against Everton last Saturday.

“Starting in Glasgow, own goals in White Hart Lane (against Tottenham), missing penalties, we give a lot for the opponents,” Guardiola said.

Southampton, by contrast, were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Inter Milan in the Europa League on Thursday after manager Claude Puel made several changes to the side that beat Burnley 3-1.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho returns to former club Chelsea on Sunday, fresh from guiding the Red Devils to a 4-1 Europa League win over Fenerbahce — a match in which world record signing Paul Pogba scored twice and veteran striker Wayne Rooney started after three successive club games as a substitute.

Chelsea will look to carry on from their 3-0 win over faltering Premier League champions Leicester.

Despite their domestic problems, Leicester maintained their perfect record in the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Copenhagen on Tuesday and face Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Wenger ‘ideal’ for England, but not now: Pires

October 6, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger would be an “ideal” manager for England but should remain with Arsenal beyond the end of this season, the club’s former star Robert Pires told AFP on Wednesday.

Arsenal

Wenger, who recently celebrated his 20th anniversary as Arsenal manager, will be out of contract at the end of the current campaign.

The Frenchman, 66, has been linked with the England manager’s job following Sam Allardyce’s departure and has said that it might appeal one day, but Pires hopes Wenger will stay at the Emirates Stadium a little longer.

“The English are thinking about it because they think he’d be the ideal person,” Pires, who spent six years with Wenger at Arsenal, told AFP at the Leaders Sport Business Summit in London.

“If they choose Arsene Wenger, knowing he’s a good coach, that he speaks very good English and has a good image, he’d be the ideal man.

“I know Arsene a bit. He loves his club and his club is Arsenal. He’s built lots of things with this club.

“I know he’s getting near the end of his contract. I don’t know what will happen, but for me, the best thing would be for him to continue with Arsenal.

“I think he’ll stay, even if England are fluttering their eyelashes at him. It’s just my opinion, but (I think he will stay) because he loves being on the pitch every day.”

Allardyce left his post just 67 days into the job after he was caught up in a newspaper sting.

He has been replaced on an interim basis by England Under-21s coach Gareth Southgate, who takes charge of the senior side for the first time against Malta on Saturday.

Pires was speaking at a press conference to mark the launch of a new six-a-side tournament between former international players called “Star Sixes”.

The event, featuring ex-players including Pires, Steven Gerrard, Carles Puyol, Michael Ballack, Deco and Jay Jay Okocha, will take place for the first time at London’s O2 Arena in July 2017.

Wenger stays coy over Arsenal future

October 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger’s 20th anniversary celebrations climax with a trip to Burnley on Sunday, but there are still questions over his future with Arsenal beyond the current campaign.

Arsenal

Wenger is out of contract at the end of the season and the Gunners boss has refused to rule out the possibility of taking charge of England in the future following Sam Allardyce’s sudden departure from that role this week.

With Gareth Southgate appointed as England’s caretaker coach for the next four matches, there remains an opening the Frenchman could fill when his contract expires at the end of the season.

“Right now my priority is to do well here,” Wenger said when asked about the England situation.

“This has always been my club and if I am free one day, why not? I’m focused on my job right now.”

Wenger is aware it would be difficult to leave after such a long and successful spell in north London, which has included three Premier League titles and six FA Cups.

“I believe that this club is brave and that’s one of the good values of the club and we have shown through the years that we can have a good togetherness at the club and that is always the quality that came out through good and bad moments,” he said.

“I think I have one quality which is a passion for the game, and another quality is that I always have the desire to be better tomorrow than I was yesterday.

“If I look back, the way I manage today is not the same as it was five, 10, or 20 years ago. How long can I do? I don’t know.

“I rule nothing out because I want to work and I want to do well. I accept that it can finish tomorrow as well.

“It’s a love story and you always expect a love story to last forever, but it can always stop suddenly.”

Arsenal travel to Burnley looking for a fifth straight victory and Wenger believes they can maintain the momentum from commanding victories over Chelsea and Basel this week.

“We have to go into the game with the same commitment, the same focus that we had in recent games,” he said.

“The danger from Burnley comes from the fact that they are very efficient in some aspects of their game, they are very well organised defensively.

“They don’t concede many goals at home and they’ve shown that against Liverpool and Watford.

“They’re very dangerous on set-pieces and counter-attacks as well, so we have to prepare well.”

Wenger has not escaped criticism from some Arsenal supporters in recent years after failing to win another Premier League title since 2004.

But Burnley manager Sean Dyche believes Wenger’s standing should be beyond debate.

Dyche, who will be looking to guide the Clarets to a first win over Arsenal since 1974, said: “As ever they do get people questioning them, but they look a good group to me.

“They’ve got pace and clever movement, they’re very good players. Arsene for me is one of the top managers without a shadow of a doubt. The way he puts a team together, the style, the manner.

“As a manager of course we all understand fan mentality and the thirst and desire to win.

“From a manager’s point of view you have to scratch your head to wonder why he’s questioned at times.”

Burnley, unbeaten at home in three games since the opening day of the season, are likely to be unchanged from their 2-0 win over Watford on Monday, with striker Andre Gray going into the second game of his four-match suspension.

Dazzling Arsenal raise Wenger’s England stock

September 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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If he really wants the once-again vacant England job Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal players provided the Frenchman the perfect showreel in a classy 2-0 defeat of FC Basel to move joint top of Champions League Group A on Wednesday.

Theo Walcott

Sam Allardyce’s self-inflicted demise after only 67-days in charge of the national team has inevitably given voice to those who say the FA should turn to Wenger — an almost de-facto Englishman after 20 years in charge of Arsenal.

Arsenal’s vibrant display against a club that has got the better of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the competition in recent years will strengthen their calls.

Theo Walcott, discarded by Allardyce’s predecessor Roy Hodgson for the woeful Euro 2016 campaign, scored twice before the break as the hosts tore Basel apart.

Walcott combined superbly with Alexis Sanchez for both goals — the first a header from the Chilean’s cross after six minutes and the second a precise shot after a slick one-two with the south American wizard left Basel’s defence standing.

Had it not been for Basel keeper Tomas Vaclik, a rampant Arsenal could have been six up before halftime.

A pre-match poll on the BBC’s website had 66 percent of voters agreeing that Wenger should lead England out of the mess created by Allardyce’s downfall after he was secretly filmed making inappropriate comments in a Daily Telegraph sting.

Wenger said he had been surprised by the chain of events but declined to offer any clues as to what the future may hold once his current Arsenal contract runs out next year.

“I am 100 percent focussed on Arsenal until the end of the season and my priority will always be to this club,” Wenger said. “Nothing will change that.”

Wenger was also coy on whether the in-form Walcott deserved to be part of England’s starting lineup for their next World Cup qualifier against Malta this month.

“When you see the way he played tonight it’s hard to ignore him, but I will leave that to Gareth (Southgate),” smiled Wenger, referring to England’s stand-in manager.

He was more lucid on his side’s form.

“The only regret was that we did not score enough tonight considering what we created. Overall, some excellent football,” Wenger said. “The first half was top quality.”

They have now gone eight matches unbeaten since losing to Liverpool on the opening day of the season and against Basel continued where they left off in a 3-0 rout of Chelsea at the weekend courtesy of another first-half onslaught.

Walcott and Sanchez were irresistible but Arsenal’s threat came from all angles with Mesut Ozil tormenting and full backs Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin marauding forward.

Swiss Granit Xhaka, formerly of Basel, overshadowed his brother Taulant who, like his team mates, could not stem the flow of Arsenal attacks.

Vaclik denied Sanchez with an outstretched arm after he had been played in by Ozil while Bellerin and Alex Iwobi also should have extended the lead.

Basel threatened a couple of times after the break with Birkir Bjarnason, one of Iceland’s Euro 2016 heroes, curling a shot that Arsenal keeper David Ospina clawed over the bar.

Chelsea take pole position, Arsenal end winless run

August 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Chelsea swept to the top of the Premier League with a 3-0 victory over Burnley, while Arsenal won 3-1 at Watford to ease the pressure on Arsene Wenger on Saturday.

CHelsea

After a dismal title defence last season, Chelsea look revitalised under new manager Antonio Conte and the Italian was able to celebrate his third successive win after the most emphatic display of his brief reign.

So disappointing last term, Eden Hazard has made a vibrant start to the new campaign and the Belgium midfielder put Chelsea ahead with a superb run and clinical finish from the edge of the penalty area in the ninth minute at Stamford Bridge.

Willian was back for Chelsea after recovering from a calf injury and the Brazil winger doubled their lead in the 41st minute before Nigeria’s Victor Moses came off the bench to net the hosts’ third in the 89th minute.

“It was a good performance. We have started very well this season but we must know we can improve,” Conte said.

“Eden Hazard must be this decisive in every game and I’m pleased because I saw it today.”

At Vicarage Road, Arsenal’s first victory of the season, after losing to Liverpool and drawing with Leicester, should silence Wenger’s critics at least temporarily.

Failing to win their first two matches while struggling to make an impact in the transfer market had prompted some Arsenal fans to turn on Wenger again after many protested against him last season.

But there were no complaints as Arsenal took the lead in the ninth minute when Santi Cazorla stroked home a penalty after Nordin Amrabat elbowed Alexis Sanchez.

Chile forward Sanchez increased Arsenal’s advantage five minutes before half-time with a deft touch over Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.

Mesut Ozil was making his first start of the season after being rested following Euro 2016 and Arsenal’s German playmaker made up for lost time with a headed goal in first-half stoppage time.

Watford’s Roberto Pereyra reduced the deficit in the 57th minute, but the Hornets remain winless.

“I believe we shot ourselves in the foot in the first game and were under huge pressure,” Wenger said.

“Today we had a good solid performance but at the moment we are not completely there physically and you could see that in second half.”

Leicester City finally secured the first win of their title defence with a 2-1 success against Swansea City at the King Power Stadium.

Claudio Ranieri’s side took the lead in the 32nd minute when Jamie Vardy finished off a typically efficient counter-attack from the champions and captain Wes Morgan lashed in the second in the 52nd minute.

Riyad Mahrez wasted a chance to make it three when the winger’s penalty was saved by Lukasz Fabianski and there was more frustration for Leicester when goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel came off injured.

But Leroy Fer’s 80th-minute goal for Swansea came too late to rescue a point for the visitors.

Danny Rose’s 72nd-minute equaliser earned Tottenham Hotspur a 1-1 draw with Liverpool at White Hart Lane.

James Milner gave Liverpool a deserved lead with a penalty in the 43rd minute after Roberto Firmino went down under the slightest contact by Erik Lamela.

But a sustained spell of second-half pressure climaxed when the unmarked Rose drilled home to preserve Tottenham’s unbeaten record.

“It’s not easy when you play a team that are perfect on the counter-attack and you need to take risks. The draw is a fair result,” Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino said.

Everton climbed to second place with a 1-0 win against Stoke City at Goodison Park.

Ronald Koeman’s team enjoyed a stroke of luck in the 51st minute when Leighton Baines’ penalty — awarded for a foul on Ashley Williams — was pushed onto a post by Shay Given, only for the ball to rebound off the Stoke goalkeeper’s head into the net for an own goal.

Southampton rescued a dramatic 1-1 draw against Sunderland as Jay Rodriguez’s 85th-minute strike crept past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to cancel out Jermain Defoe’s 80th-minute penalty at St Mary’s.

Scott Dann’s late leveller gave Crystal Palace a 1-1 draw against fellow strugglers Bournemouth at Selhurst Park.

Josh King fired Bournemouth in an 11th-minute lead before former Liverpool striker Christian Benteke won a penalty on his Palace debut.

Artur Boruc saved Yohan Cabaye’s spot-kick, but Palace defender Dann spared his team-mate’s blushes with an equaliser three minutes into second-half stoppage time.

Arsenal struggles leave Wenger in spotlight

May 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger again found his future was the focus of attention ahead of Arsenal’s final game of the season against Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Arsene

 

At the Gunners’ last home game, some supporters staged a protest urging Wenger to quit and two weeks on, the Arsenal manager’s contract was again at issue, with the Frenchman insisting he would not consider extending his current deal until it is due to expire at the end of next season.

Wenger admitted he would see how next term pans out before deciding on his next move and the same no doubt applies to the club, although the 66-year-old enjoys strong backing from the board.

A repeat of this season’s frustration will leave Wenger in a similar position, but it is a measure of the consistency he has brought to the club that a likely third place finish in the Premier League is viewed as a disappointment.

They could even finish second if Tottenham lose at Newcastle and Arsenal beat bottom club Villa.

But the main difference this season is the widely held belief this was the best chance Arsenal had of winning the title in years.

“It was a strange season. We’ve finished the season disappointed because we felt we had the chance to win the championship,” Wenger said.

“Of course we are frustrated but Leicester have had consistent results and the rest of the division have had ups and downs.

“Everybody else can be frustrated but Leicester only lost three games this season. Nobody else had the same consistency.

“Is it down to the fact that Leicester were a surprise package? Is it down to the fact that they only played one competition?

“Certainly there’s some explanation there, but if you only analyse the technical numbers, there’s no rationale.

“That’s why you have to say they have been absolutely remarkable and you have to congratulate them.”

The possibility of finishing behind bitter rivals Tottenham for the first time in Wenger’s 20-year tenure also hurts.

“We want to finish as high as possible and, if possible, in front of Spurs,” Wenger added.

“We want to finish second, because Leicester are now champions, so we will fight until the end.

“If we are not second, then hopefully we will finish third, but ideally we want to finish in front of Spurs.”

Arsenal will be without England forward Danny Welbeck, who has been ruled out for nine months after picking up a knee injury at Manchester City last weekend.

Aston Villa will look to end their dismal season with just their fourth victory in the league, with their fate of relegation having been sealed mathematically almost a month ago.

Their players will depart for their holidays after the final whistle at the Emirates Stadium, not knowing who will own the club or who will manage the team into next season.

But caretaker boss Eric Black has ordered the players not to repeat the mistakes of this campaign in their future careers.

“The only discussions I have had with them is ‘try to ensure that you’re never part of anything like this again’,” he said.

“Don’t allow any standards to drop and don’t drop to other people’s standards.

“I know it’s a team sport but you’ve got to be single-minded to have the best career you can possibly have in football and that was the only advice I gave them.

“It’s about personal pride and your career so they have to learn from what’s happened and don’t allow it to ever happen again.

“I think Aston Villa will come again, I really do. I am confident we will see a very strong Aston Villa next year and very soon they will be back in the Premier League.”

Wenger concerned over top four place

March 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger concedes Arsenal’s dismal form means there is a chance they will crash out of the Premier League’s top four unless results improve quickly.

Wenger

Wenger’s side have been eliminated from the Champions League and FA Cup in the last week and are on a run of one win in eight games in all competitions.

They travel to Goodison Park to face Everton on Saturday and, if results go against them, the Gunners could be 14 points adrift of leaders Leicester.

The worst-case scenario for Arsenal boss Wenger would be wins for both Manchester City and West Ham, which could see the north Londoners drop out of the top four altogether.

Wenger has never finished outside the top four in his 20-year reign, but the Frenchman admits it is a real possibility this time and he is keeping a close eye on the chasing pack.

“Yes of course. It’s very tight. The Premier League is far from over but we have to look behind us because things can change very quickly,” Wenger said.

“We want to move forward, but I’m conscious that our position is not secure.

“We have to take care of our own destiny and that’s by producing the performances we expect from ourselves.

“We are in a position where we hope for the best. I agree that a negative result (at Everton) would be very bad for us.”

Leicester have been warned that their fairytale challenge for the Premier League crown could be shattered by title wreckers Crystal Palace.

With only eight matches remaining, Claudio Ranieri’s side are on the brink of arguably the most unexpected title triumph in English football history after establishing a five-point lead over second placed Tottenham.

The unheralded Foxes have defied all expectations to remain at the top of the table while their supposed superior rivals have struggled to keep pace.

But Palace manager Alan Pardew believes that wobble could come at Selhurst Park this weekend as the hosts aim to reprise their role as notorious party crashers.

In May 2014, Palace famously ruined Liverpool’s bid for a first English title since 1990 when they fought back from three goals down to draw 3-3 at Selhurst Park in a result that effectively gifted the trophy to Manchester City.

Then last April, Pardew’s men defeated City 2-1 in south London to all but end their hopes of overhauling eventual champions Chelsea.

“Human instinct is when you’re trying to achieve something magnificent like Leicester are, you’re going to start worrying and doubting,” Pardew said.

“It’s been almost the perfect season for them but it doesn’t always come all the way through, that perfect run. Maybe their blips are still to come

“It has been a banana skin, this place, in the past and it’s typical of Crystal Palace. Our history is littered with upsets against the odds.”

If Leicester can extend their lead, it will put pressure on Tottenham, chasing a first title since 1961, to beat Bournemouth at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Tottenham bowed out of the Europa League against Borussia Dortmund on Thursday but, with the last 16 tie effectively decided in the first leg, boss Mauricio Pochettino was able to rest Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele to keep them fresh.

Manchester City would love to pile on the misery for Louis van Gaal when troubled Manchester United visit Eastlands.

Van Gaal saw his United side eliminated from the Europa League by bitter rivals Liverpool in midweek and a defeat in the Manchester derby would be a major blow to their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.

United are currently four points behind fourth placed City, with fifth placed West Ham also in the hunt as they travel to Chelsea.

Rafael Benitez will take charge of his first home match as Newcastle boss against hated neighbours Sunderland, who have won the last six Tyne-Wear derbies.

Benitez’s second bottom side are only one point behind Sunderland in 17th and a first victory over the Black Cats in nine attempts dating back to 2011 would improve thir prospects of avoiding relegation.

Wenger defiant as ‘joke’ Arsenal condemned by pundits

February 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsene Wenger remained defiant on Sunday after Arsenal’s 3-2 capitulation at Manchester United prompted much criticism, with one distinguished former international suggesting their performance bordered on “a joke”.

Football Soccer - Manchester United v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Old Trafford - 28/2/16Arsenal manager Arsene WengerAction Images via Reuters / Jason CairnduffLivepic

As the London club’s ability to make the most of their best chance in years to win the Premier League was called into question, manager Wenger was adamant his team had the character to bounce back in the next two games.

After being outplayed at home by Barcelona in the Champions League in midweek and then losing ground to second-placed Tottenham Hotspur with their defeat at United, former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness, now a trenchant TV analyst, led the shrill chorus of criticism.

“Arsenal today bordered on being a joke,” the former Scotland hardman said on Sky Sports. “It was tailor-made for a proper team to come here and really do a number on a very under-strength Man United. And they didn’t.

“I’ll stand on my head if they prove me wrong and go and win this league because that was totally unacceptable.”

Arsenal succumbed to two goals from 18-year-old Premier League debutant Marcus Rashford, who scored twice on his Europa League bow three days earlier, while United also blooded Tim Fosu-Mensah, 18, and James Weir, 20, as substitutes.

Having failed to glean a point against United’s kids, Wenger’s men must now beat Swansea City on Wednesday to restore confidence before a crucial derby at Spurs, their neighbours and fiercest rivals for more than 100 years, on Saturday.

“We lost three points but we have to show we are up for the fight and give absolutely everything in our next game,” said Wenger. “Things can change quickly only if you keep going and keep believing.

“Why is it difficult to stay positive? We can show on Wednesday night that we have great character and mental response and that’s what we want to do.

“I couldn’t question our commitment or desire at all.”

Others did, however. Not just Souness but also Thierry Henry, the Frenchman who has a claim on being Arsenal’s greatest player.

“That wasn’t the performance of a team that wants to be champions,” Henry said on Sky.

“They didn’t reassure me about anything.”

Arsenal don’t have Chelsea block, says Wenger

January 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger dismissed suggestions that his side have a mental block regarding London rivals Chelsea following a 1-0 home defeat that carried an air of deja vu.

Wenger

Arsenal were bidding to return to the top of the Premier League table in Sunday’s game, but they were left in third place after Per Mertesacker was sent off and Diego Costa scored to give Chelsea a clinical 1-0 victory.

Arsenal have not beaten Chelsea in nine league games and have not scored against them in the league in nine hours and 32 minutes, but Wenger said that Mertesacker’s 18th-minute dismissal, for a last-man foul on Costa, meant it impossible to compare the game with previous fixtures.

“I think today (Sunday) was a special game. We played with 10 men, we were 1-0 down straight away. Normally you lose a game like that 3-0 or 4-0,” he told reporters at the Emirates Stadium.

“When you have to chase the game, (there’s) nothing more dangerous than being down to 10 men. Overall we come out with a lot of regret because we feel we couldn’t play with our team.

“And looking at Chelsea today, I think there was a lot of room to beat them if we had played with 11 players.”

Mertesacker was shown a straight red card for felling Costa after he had latched onto a through-ball from Willian.

The Chelsea striker immediately made his side’s numerical advantage count by converting Branislav Ivanovic’s cross with a near-post volley in the 23rd minute.

Costa had goaded Gabriel into kicking out at him in September’s reverse fixture, earning the Arsenal centre-back a red card, and Wenger told a TV interviewer: “He has got two (Arsenal) players sent off this season.”

Addressing the print media shortly after, the Arsenal manager backtracked, saying that he had only been stating “facts”, but maintained that referee Mark Clattenburg’s decision had been “harsh”.

Chelsea’s interim manager Guus Hiddink said that Mertesacker’s lunge had merited “a red card without any discussion”.

Wenger reacted to Mertesacker’s dismissal by sending Gabriel on for striker Olivier Giroud, which drew a chorus of boos from the home supporters.

But he was unrepentant, saying: “Do you want to make a poll for every decision to see who does what? I make the decision and for me it was a normal decision.”

While Arsenal were left three points below leaders Leicester City, Chelsea put seven points between themselves and the bottom three to ease any worst-case-scenario relegation fears that their fans may be harbouring.

The champions, unbeaten in seven league games since Jose Mourinho’s dismissal, remain 14 points below the top four, but captain John Terry said that Champions League qualification was still “doable”.

“If the captain says yes, then we’ll follow the captain! You always follow the captain,” Hiddink said in response.

“It’s a gap. If you see the results in the Premier League, you see how competitive all the teams are, whether you’re down at the bottom or high in the ranking.

“All teams can beat all teams. With this gap, it’s difficult to go into fourth position, but when the captain is saying that, I will follow my captain.”

Hiddink also revealed that Costa, withdrawn in the 68th minute, would undergo tests on a knee injury.

“I don’t know if it’s slight or more severe, but we’ll check on it,” said the Dutchman. “It was a little bit on the knee.”

Arsenal host second-tier Burnley in the FA Cup at the weekend before resuming their title challenge at home to Southampton on February 2 and Wenger said that time was on his team’s side.

“There is a long way to go,” said the Frenchman, who welcomed Alexis Sanchez back after two months out with a hamstring injury.

“What we take from today is that we are disappointed, but have a lot of positives from our attitude and spirit.”

Wenger optimistic over Ozil return

January 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hopes playmaker Mesut Ozil will be fit to face Chelsea after the German was forced to miss Sunday’s goalless draw at Stoke with a foot injury.

Ozil

Ozil is well clear at the top of the Premier League’s ‘assists’ charts with 16, compared to nine for his nearest challenger, Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne.

And Wenger hopes the 27-year-old will overcome the injury in order to face the struggling Premier League champions at the Emirates Stadium next weekend after conceding he was missed during a stalemate in the Potteries.

“There is no team in the world that wouldn’t miss Ozil,” Wenger said. “We are used to having him there. If we had Mesut, it would have been a different game (against Stoke).

“Ozil has an inflammation of the foot. On Saturday morning he was not very well and he was already not 100 percent at Liverpool,” the veteran French boss added.

“I decided to leave him out but I think he should be back for next Sunday.”

Ozil’s absence left Arsenal labouring at the Britannia Stadium, where they managed just three shots on target and found Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland equal to them.

A point was enough to take the north London club back to the top of the table as they edged clear of Leicester City on goal difference, but it was another afternoon of frustration in the Potteries for Wenger

His side have now failed to win at Stoke’s home in six attempts — a sequence that dates back to February 2010.

And he provoked a pointed response from Stoke manager Mark Hughes by claiming the home team had been “physical” and “direct”.

“Overall it was a battle — an old fashioned Stoke battle because they made the game very physical,” said Wenger.

“The crowd was up for it, the players were up for it. They went for a very direct game and we had to show a physical response, solidarity, fighting spirit, togetherness, which we did.”

But a clearly annoyed Hughes responded: “I’ve just heard Arsene say he was a bit surprised that we went direct.

“I’m not quite sure what game he’s been watching.

“I don’t think there was a yellow card. I don’t know why the physical aspect of the game has to be mentioned.

“I thought it was a good football game with both teams trying to play and win a key Premier League game.”

Arsenal’s last victory at the Britannia Stadium was a 3-1 success that became infamous for the sickening broken leg suffered by Gunners midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who was again singled out for some unsavoury abuse by Potters fans during his 250th Arsenal appearance.

The bad blood from the injury and Ramsey’s refusal to accept Ryan Shawcross’s apology for the challenge that caused it remains for Stoke fans, who taunted Ramsey throughout Sunday’s match with boos and a chant about the damage caused to his leg.

Wenger said: “I have no influence on it and I don’t know what generally you should do about it.

“When people get together, sometimes they forget their individual responsibility.

“Maybe when you go home and watch it on television you are less proud.

“I focus on the game. I shut my ears — I think that’s best way to deal with it.”

A draw kept Stoke seventh in the table and Hughes hopes to have record signing Xherdan Shaqiri back from a hamstring injury in time for Saturday’s trip to Leicester.

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