- Brighton v Arsenal game on Saturday is postponed
- Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi also tests positive
- Premier League to hold emergency meeting on Friday
Premier League clubs are preparing for the football season to be suspended after the Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday night and their match on Saturday against Brighton was postponed.
Arsenal confirmed their first team squad and coaches would now self-isolate, and they would be unable to play some fixtures on the scheduled dates. In the early hours of Friday, Chelsea announced their players are self-isolating after Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive.
Meanwhile, having earlier declared that the weekend’s top-flight games would go ahead as planned, the Premier League has called an emergency meeting with its clubs on Friday regarding future fixtures this season.
One club executive told the Guardian they expected the season to be suspended for several weeks in the light of the Arteta news, and didn’t rule out the possibility of the whole season being voided.
On Thursday it was also reported that the Manchester City defender, Benjamin Mendy, is self-isolating after a member of his family fell ill, and three Leicester players have also undergone tests for Covid-19 after experiencing symptoms.
As things stand, the Premier League is the only major top-flight league in Europe not to shut down or close its doors because of the coronavirus. The top divisions in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United States have all been suspended amid the outbreak, while the German Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 are holding matches behind closed doors.
Fixtures in the Scottish Premiership also appear set to be postponed after this weekend’s Old Firm clash between Rangers and Celtic, following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned from Monday.
Earlier, English football had been told to carry on as normal after the government’s medical experts insisted that their remained a very low probability of someone with Covid-19 infecting a large number of people in a stadium. However, the Arteta news quickly made that advice appear complacent.
Earlier, English football had been told to carry on as normal after the government’s medical experts insisted that their remained a very low probability of someone with Covid-19 infecting a large number of people in a stadium. However, the Arteta news quickly made that advice appear complacent.Advertisement
The scale of the problem for global sport due to the rapid spread of the virus was once again illustrated in a fast-moving 24 hours as:
- European football’s governing body, Uefa, moved closer towards postponing the 2020 European Championships, the final of which is due to be held at Wembley, until 2021. Uefa officials will discuss the future of the tournament next week.
- Real Madrid’s Champions League match against Manchester City next Tuesday was delayed after a basketball player from the Madrid team, which shares the same training facility, tested positive for the virus.
- This weekend’s Formula One season-opening Australian GP in Melbournewas called off after a staff member from the McLaren team tested positive for Covid-19.
- President Trump called for the Tokyo Olympic Games in July to be postponed for a year.
- Men’s tennis was shut down for six weeks, with the prestigious Miami Open and Monte Carlo tournaments cancelled.
- The Pro-14 rugby tournament for clubs from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy and South Africa was suspended until further notice.
- Irish racing was told that it must be held behind closed doors until 27 March.
- In the US, major league basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer were all suspended, with the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournaments cancelled.
This summer’s European Championships were already expected to be the most complicated ever staged, because 12 stadiums in 12 different countries were being used, starting in Rome on 12 June and ending on 12 July with the final at Wembley. But the spread of the coronavirus has now put its future in doubt. Delaying Euro 2020 could free up space in the calendar for the European leagues to finish their seasons this summer.
The Euro 2021 women’s tournament in England is not due to start until 11 July, so one plan being discussed is for the men’s competition to take place beforehand. A final decision will come when Uefa meets with representatives from the clubs, leagues and the players’ union Fifpro on Tuesday.
Insiders have also told the Guardian that “everything will be on the table” at the meeting – including drastic plans to make the rest of this season’s Champions League and Europa League ties into one-legged games staged in neutral venues.Advertisement
Uefa confirmed the talks were “in the light of the ongoing developments in the spread of Covid-19 across Europe and the changing analysis of the World Health Organisation.”Play Video2:16 Coronavirus and football: how players, fans and managers have been reacting – video report
The International Olympic Committee has insisted that it is still full steam ahead for the Olympics in Japan in July despite calls from Trump for a postponement until 2021.
At a briefing at the White House, Trump said: “I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place,” he said. “If you cancel it, do it a year later. That’s a better alternative rather than having it with no crowd.”
But the IOC said it remained “absolutely in line with our Japanese hosts” in its commitment to deliver a safe Olympic Games this year.
In the cricket, England’s tour of Sri Lanka was continuing. But a spokesperson for the ECB said “this is a highly evolving situation and circumstances are changing rapidly, sometimes several times a day”.
Unai Emery has been sacked as manager of Arsenal.
The Spaniard oversaw a disastrous run of form that saw his side go seven games without a win for the first time since 1992.
Touted to be the messiah the Gunners wanted, Emery, 48, was appointed in the summer of 2018 following the departure of Arsene Wenger.
He guided the Gunners to fifth in his debut campaign, one point adrift of Spurs, before losing 4-1 to Chelsea in the Europa League final.
His side also went 22 games unbeaten combined with a run of 11 straight defeats.
However, the past weeks have been disappointing and the final straw was the Europa League defeat at home to Frankfurt.
Arsenal on their website said Emery and his coaching team have been told to leave.
Speaking on behalf of the Arsenal board and owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, Josh Kroenke said: “Our most sincere thanks go to Unai and his colleagues who were unrelenting in their efforts to get the club back to competing at the level we all expect and demand. We wish Unai and his team nothing but future success.”
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The club said the decision has been taken due to results and performances not being at the level required.
Arsenal have asked Freddie Ljungberg to take responsibility for the first team as interim head coach adding that they have full confidence in Freddie to take the club forward.
Already a couple of names have been brandished to take over at the London club.
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo remains favourite to take the role with Mikel Arteta also in the running.
Former Juventus boss Max Allegri remains on the shortlist while the club could make a stunning approach for ex-Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Arsène Wenger has gone, Unai Emery is in charge and it is time for a new dawn to begin. It could be bumpy at the start and fans have no option but to trust in the new man.
Sports writers’ predicted position: 5th (NB: this is not necessarily Jacob Steinberg’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 6th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 20-1
The first thing to make clear is that the man charged with reviving Arsenal is not the Spanish equivalent of David Moyes. The second is that for any comparison with Manchester United’s struggle to adapt to life after Sir Alex Ferguson to hold, Arsène Wenger would have had to leave his successor a title-winning team, rather than one that failed to win an away game in 2018 until the final day of last season.
If Unai Emery’s task is daunting, it is only because the previous boss was well past his glorious peak. Whereas United’s travails since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 have exposed their structural failings, the unfortunate truth is that decay had taken hold at Arsenal long before the announcement of Wenger’s departure on 20 April. The folly of telling the Wenger Out brigade to be careful what they wished for whenever dissatisfaction rose had become impossible to ignore.
How, after all, did it make sense for Arsenal to turn a blind eye to Wenger’s decline simply because United hired Moyes? It was a disingenuous argument, a counterproductive way of thinking and a waste of time. As long as the status quo remained in place, there was no way for Arsenal to make real progress.
The price of inertia is that the squad Wenger left behind was the worst of his 22-year reign, which at least means that Emery can start with expectations at a realistic level. Arsenal missed out on Champions League qualification again last season and they will have to re-establish themselves in the top four before thinking about winning their first title since 2004.
That explains why there was little grumbling when Wenger left with a year remaining on his contract. It will be strange not to see the Frenchman in the dugout when Manchester City visit the Emirates on the opening weekend but the time had come for Arsenal to innovate – and it is telling that Emery’s title is head coach, with Raúl Sanllehí and Sven Mislintat placed in charge of transfers. This project is Ivan Gazidis’s baby. The club’s chief executive, who was linked with a move to Milan last week, finds himself in a strong position in north London, having found a manager willing to work under his structure.
Crucially, Arsenal have had a while to adjust. Emery was in place less than a fortnight after Wenger’s final game, allowing the Spaniard a full summer to work with his new squad, and it will be fascinating to see if the 46-year-old is capable of invigorating a team who have been crying out for more direction. Vague tactics have led to Arsenal becoming flimsy, immature and prone to collapse at the first sign of trouble.
While it might have been braver for them to press ahead with their early interest in Mikel Arteta, who has received quite the education as part of Pep Guardiola’s entourage at City, it is worth keeping in mind that the 36-year-old would have been learning on the job. Could Arsenal afford a gamble when they have already fallen so far behind their rivals? Not when Emery was regarded as the safer choice.
Perhaps that does not reflect too well on Arsenal. They have gone for experience but they have not appointed a sure thing. Emery is not a genius like Guardiola, a forceful personality like Jürgen Klopp or a ruthless winner like José Mourinho. He has won more than Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino and Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri, true, but even his achievement of leading Paris Saint-Germain to a domestic treble last season comes with the caveat that he lost the title to Monaco in his first season in France and made no impression in the Champions League.
Equally, however, PSG’s financial advantage can magnify their setbacks. Perhaps it was the wrong fit for Emery. His reputation as a demanding football obsessive might have stopped him from connecting with PSG’s egotists but it has helped him flourish in less suffocating environments. The experience of achieving three consecutive Europa League triumphs at Sevilla should prove helpful as Arsenal prepare for another Thursday-Sunday schedule.
Above all, Arsenal have turned to a coach who will work relentlessly on his players’ weaknesses, which should benefit stagnating youngsters such as Héctor Bellerín, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Alex Iwobi. There will be more intensity and Emery, who seems likely to favour a 4-2-3-1 system, has spoken about shifting the emphasis from dominating possession to showing remorseless hunger off the ball.
A new Arsenal are gradually starting to take form. There has been no major clear-out yet – Jack Wilshere has moved to West Ham after being told his opportunities would be limited and Santi Cazorla has returned to Villarreal in search of a fresh start – but the tweaks Emery has made so far show where he wants to improve.
That, however, is that as far as new signings are concerned. Funds are limited, meaning that Arsenal have required a focused approach, and Emery could find himself itching to replace a few members of his squad soon.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette could form a potent partnership in attack, Aaron Ramsey offers goals and energy from midfield and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Konstantinos Mavropanos showed promise last season. However, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Özil are not as consistent as their equivalents elsewhere, Danny Welbeck has struggled to stay fit, Granit Xhaka can be rash in central midfield, Shkodran Mustafi has toiled at centre-back, Laurent Koscielny is injured and Sead Kolasinac and Nacho Monreal are unconvincing options at left-back. There are holes to fill and a lack of quality depth.
Framed in that way, Emery has his work cut out and it remains to be seen if Arsenal have made up enough ground on their rivals. These, ultimately, are uncertain times in north London and it will only take a couple of bad results for people to start questioning the wisdom of parting with Wenger. But there is no going back, no room for doubt or panic, even if it is painful at first. In Ivan, Raúl, Sven and Unai they have to trust. They have no other option.
His spellbinding peak is too long ago for anyone to still be in denial but as the Frenchman heads to the Arsenal exit it is time to cherish his best years.
The saddest thing, perhaps, is that of all the thousands upon thousands of words that have been devoted to Arsène Wenger over the last couple of days, it is difficult to recall a single sentence arguing that this is all threatening to be one big mistake and that, contrary to what you might have heard, it isn’t the right time for him to go.
It was difficult, however, not to appreciate the cartoon in Saturday’s edition of L’Equipe showing two Arsenal supporters debating the issue and the impression it left about how strangely unsettling it is to imagine somebody new in Wenger’s touchline seat next season. One of the supporters has a can of spray paint in his hand and has scrawled the words “Wenger Come back!” in red capital letters on a brick wall. “Was it not you who was screaming: ‘Wenger Out’?” his companion asks. “Yes,” says the fan responsible for the graffiti, “but, like Brexit, I’m afraid I will regret it.”
Touché! And, yes, it is perfectly feasible that the Wenger Out fraternity might end up looking slightly foolish if the handover doesn’t go smoothly, as they often don’t, and Arsenal find the process of change far more challenging than the people who have campaigned for this moment might have anticipated.
At the same time, let’s not labour that point too much when Arsenal, 14 years since their last championship, are 33 points off the top of the Premier League and – if you need any more evidence of their loss of nerve and touch – the only team in English football’s four professional divisions not to register a single point from their away fixtures since the turn of the year. Managers, like players, can have spells of good, bad and indifferent form, but it would be generous, to say the least, to depict Wenger’s decline as a blip when it has gone on longer than he would probably wish to remember.
These are not the moments, perhaps, to be going back over Wenger’s flaws but it probably says everything that Sir Alex Ferguson, formerly the Arsenal manager’s bete noire, now describes himself as pleased to hear the news, on the basis his “friend” can get a proper send‑off.
Pleased? Even ignoring, for one moment, the rivalry that once existed between the two men, Ferguson holds a senior position in the League Managers Association and that is not usually the word that would be applied when a member of the profession, with more than half his contract still to run, has decided to cut himself free on a go‑before‑you’re-pushed basis. What Ferguson means is that it spares Wenger avoid any more unpleasantness from the supporters who have been lobbying for the Frenchman’s removal. Except, of course, Ferguson started warming to Wenger only when he stopped having to worry about him, as the manager of Manchester United, a decade or so ago. Ferguson called a ceasefire, on his own terms, when Wenger stopped winning leagues and settled for FA Cups. On reflection, Arsenal’s crowd could be forgiven for preferring the days when the two men were bonded by mutual antipathy.
Instead, Arsenal have finished, on average, 13 points off the top over the previous 10 seasons and whoever replaces Wenger will quickly come to realise there is no point having an obsession with attacking perfection if it is with a core of players who do not deserve to see their names on the back of Arsenal shirts. The new manager will inherit a squad that has become weak and vulnerable and, however it is dressed up, it is difficult to shake the feeling that Wenger’s resignation speech was written in the knowledge that the people at the top had made up their minds. Much better to announce it this way, you might think, than for Arsenal’s highest-ranking executives to prove they were not in a state of denial, after all.
The important detail is that this is the one decision where nobody, it appears, can say Wenger has got it wrong. That, in turn, should dramatically lift the mood when Arsenal play West Ham inside the Emirates, hitherto a cauldron of doom, on Sunday. It is time, undoubtedly, for a rapprochement. It is time for the vast expanses of empty seats to start filling again and for the people who have drifted away – through staleness, anger, apathy, call it what you will – to make their way back. And perhaps it is time, as that cartoon in L’Equipeindicates, for some of Wenger’s more vehement critics to take stock of the last 22 years and remind themselves that the good far outweighs the bad.
When Wenger was introduced as Arsenal’s manager on 22 September 1996 it was a rubbish-processing plant, rather than a gleaming 60,000-seat stadium, off Hornsey Road. It was the year Take That split and the Spice Girls formed. Diana and Charles divorced, Major League Soccer was in its first season, Peter Andre was No 1 in the charts and something called eBay had just been launched if you could understand how to get the screech of dial-up internet. The London Evening Standard will probably never be allowed to forget its “Arsene Who?” billboards but, in fairness, there were a lot of people asking that question. “I’ve got to play for a Frenchman? You have to be joking,” was Tony Adams’s first reaction, give or take a few missing expletives.
Nick Hornby, the author and Arsenal fan, recalls the moment in Jasper Rees’s book Wenger: The Making of a Legend. “When Bruce Rioch was sacked, one of the papers had three or four names,” Hornby remembers. “It was Venables, Cruyff and then, at the end, Arsène Wenger. I remember thinking as a fan: ‘I bet it’s fucking Arsène Wenger … trust Arsenal to appoint the one you haven’t heard of.”
The most prescient words came from Gabriel Vistotsky, a French subscriber to The Gooner, in a letter published by the fanzine a few weeks later. “Arsène Wenger is among the best coaches in the business, high above either George Graham or Bruce Rioch,” he wrote. “It is a risky appointment but if he succeeds Arsenal (and English football in general) will be better off because of him.” Yet the press were sceptical. The Sunday Mirror chided David Dein, Arsenal’s vice-chairman, for “persuading us that the lanky M’sieur Wenger, despite sounding like Rory Bremner auditioning for ’Allo ’Allo, is ‘ow you say fantastique!”, and not everyone writing in the temporarily renamed Le Gooner was getting carried away, either. The editorial noted: “No matter how many videos he has watched, or telephone conversations he has had with Stewart Houston, nothing will have prepared him for the combined talents of David Hillier, Eddie McGoldrick and Steve Morrow.”
Well, he didn’t do too badly. Two decades on, Wenger’s legacy will be as solid as the stadium he helped to design. He won the Double in his first full season and repeated the trick a few years later. His seven FA Cups alone are as many as Chelsea and Liverpool have won in their entire histories. Walk up the stairs at Arsenal’s training ground and the framed collection of letters in one long row – “WWWWDDWWWDWWWDDWDWWDWWWWWWWWWDWDWDDDWW” – is a reminder of the 2003-04 Invincibles season. Thirty-eight games: 26 “Ws”, 12 “Ds” and not a single “L” in sight.
Arsenal’s unbeaten run eventually stretched to 49 games and it could be an awfully long time before another team threatens that record. The previous best, set by Nottingham Forest at the 42-game mark, lasted a quarter of a century. “Arsenal are nothing short of incredible,” Brian Clough said. “They could have been nearly as good as us.” Yet that was just Cloughie having a bit of fun when, deep down, he will have known that managerial greatness is not exclusively reserved for those who win European Cups. “Arsenal,” he added, “caress a football the way I dreamed of caressing Marilyn Monroe.”
That, in a nutshell, is how history will remember Wenger’s teams, rather than the fact that he never sustained that thrilling early momentum or the many occasions when we saw his less attractive traits – the man who hated to lose, the man whose insistence on old‑fashioned Arsenal values quickly disintegrated if things did not go his way.
Wenger’s transformational work changed the team that attracted routine cries of “Boring, boring Arsenal” into the most watchable side in the country. More than that, he managed to assemble a group of players who did not just play with artistic merit but were also tough as teak. His team were filled with so many six-footers that Sam Allardyce, then the manager of Bolton Wanderers, said his own players found it intimidating when the two sides lined up in the tunnel.
At some unspecified point, Wenger lost some of the underlying philosophies that had made his teams so special. But in his peak years he knew the value of a parsimonious defence. He understood his team could not pass the ball, cherish it, treat it like a friend, unless they had combative players such as Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit who could win it first and he knew that the best forwards, such as Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, had to mix their prodigious skills with competitive courage. Arsenal, at their best, were spellbinding.
The game I always remember – and it isn’t easy, over 22 years, to pick out one – came at Elland Road in September 2002, at a time when Leeds were regarded as one of the top teams in the country. Leeds had finished fourth and fifth in the previous two seasons, as well as reaching a Champions League semi-final, but they took an almighty chasing that day. Arsenal won 4-1 and their performance was so thrillingly superior it did not feel outlandish afterwards to find Wenger making comparisons with the great Real Madrid, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Ajax and Liverpool sides that had shaped his thinking. His own team, he said, had a bit of everything. “Danger everywhere, tremendous spirit, a privilege to watch,” he said. “Total football.” On that form, he was asked, would Arsenal beat Brazil, the five-times World Cup winners? “It is difficult to say,” Wenger said. “If you can organise it I can guarantee it will be a sellout.”
As it turned out, we never got around to arranging that game and, judging by Arsenal’s deterioration in the following years, let’s just say it is probably not an idea he might want to entertain with the current side. Back then, however, the thought did occur that it might have been the most beautifully constructed club side I could remember in English football. I hesitate to say that when I have watched in awe some of the more formidable Liverpool sides. I grew up with Clough’s precious magic and I had a ringside seat during Ferguson’s years of trophy-collecting for Manchester United – football, bloody hell, and all that. But Arsenal, playing at the point of maximum expression, would have held their own against anyone and, aesthetically, Wenger was right. It was our privilege.
Arsene Wenger says Arsenal have “taken the time to grieve” after their League Cup pummelling by Manchester City and are ready to face the pressure of a Europa League quarterfinal against CSKA Moscow.
The Gunners are sixth in the Premier League, a huge 13 points off fourth-placed arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Only the top four sides in the Premier League qualify for the Champions League, which means Arsenal’s only realistic route back into European club football’s elite competition is by winning the second-string Europa League. It is also the only trophy they can lift this season.
Thursday sees the north London giants host CSKA in the first leg of their last-eight clash.
Veteran Arsenal manager Wenger, speaking to reporters at the club’s London Colney training ground, is well aware of what is at stake.
“There is some extra pressure on us to do extremely well in this competition,” he said. “That’s part of being where we are. I must say we have to see it in a way that it’s an opportunity we want to take.”
Arsenal have won their past four games since the disappointment of two 3-0 defeats by English champions-elect Manchester City in the League Cup final and the league followed by a shock 2-1 league loss to Brighton.
“We were very disappointed with our results against City,” said Wenger. “It takes time to grieve and to recover. But because the mentality in the team is very good, strong and healthy we’re recovered.
“I think always you judge a team by the way they come out of a crisis. On that front I believe that is very positive on our side.”
Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal since 1996 but has yet to win any European silverware with the club, although they were beaten on penalties in the 2000 Uefa Cup final, the forerunner of the Europa League, and lost to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.
Wenger has a fully fit squad, with France international Alexandre Lacazette available following knee surgery.
Lacazette came off the bench to score in last weekend’s win over Stoke and could enter the fray straight from the kick-off.
“Lacazette is ready to start, yes,” said Wenger. “I have not decided if he will start or not yet, but he’s available and ready to start.”
Wenger refused to reveal whether he would keep faith with David Ospina, who has been Arsenal’s first-choice Europa League goalkeeper, or go with Petr Cech, fit again following a minor groin problem.
SOURCE: This Day
- Arsenal manager surprised at reaction to Carabao Cup final defeat
- Wenger has one year left on his contract but faces summer review
Arsène Wenger has made it clear he has no intention of walking away from his Arsenal contract at the end of the season. The manager is under renewed pressure following Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final and morale in the dressing room is at a low ebb.
The players held a meeting after Tuesday’s training session – the first one after the Wembley debacle – in which senior members of the squad voiced their frustrations and urged everyone to pull together. They host City in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night.
Wenger has long been the focal point for supporter angst and the single biggest issue at the club now concerns whether he will continue into next season and so fulfil his two-year deal. The Frenchman, 68, is both annoyed and exasperated at the very question. He has never failed to honour a managerial contract in his long career and he has no plans to break the habit.
Wenger accepted he remained an employee of the club’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, and he could only do so much to control his destiny. But the inference from him was he would leave only if Kroenke were to sack him.
“I have been here for 21 years and I always respected my contract, so I am quite amazed that you ask me the question,” Wenger said. “In life, I look at what people do, not at what they say. What I did in my life was that [honour contracts], so I am quite amazed that you ask me the question.
“If you want me not to be here, that’s a different problem. You ask me [about] my commitment and my attitude is dictated by what I did in my life, not by what I say in a press conference.
“In life, you focus on the quality of your job. How well you commit, how hard you work and you try to master what you can master. What is above you … You will not decide your future in your newspapers and I am exactly like you. I am an employee and I give my best for my club that I love.”
Wenger brought up the jobs he had turned down during his Arsenal tenure to reinforce his loyalty and commitment. He has previously indicated he said no to Real Madrid and Paris St-Germain, among others. “I turned the whole world down to respect my contracts,” Wenger said. “So I am still amazed that I still have to answer these types of questions.”
He faces an in-house review at the end of the season and the club has an eye on replacements should it be decided he has to go. His best chance of salvaging the season – and Champions League qualification – would appear to lie in the Europa League, where Arsenal play Milan in the last 16. They are 27 points behind the league leaders, City, and 10 behind the division’s fourth-placed team, Tottenham.
“My position is my position,” Wenger said, brushing aside the question of the end-of-season review. “Honestly, that’s the last worry I have at the moment. My worry is to focus, to get the team ready for tomorrow’s game. I don’t ask you if your position is reviewed at the end of the season.
“Does it stop you to sleep that my position is uncertain or would not be certain or is certain? No. What is interesting in football is the performances of football, the game you will see on Thursday night. All the rest may make headlines but it is not really interesting.”
For the umpteenth time, Wenger called for perspective after a damaging defeat. He reminded his audience Arsenal had not lost to a team at “the bottom of the league in division five”, rather one that was dominating English football. It was plain he felt the reaction was overblown.
“I am quite amazed it is such an earthquake that we have lost a final,” Wenger said. “It means we have got our fans used to going to Wembley and winning. But nobody can guarantee that.”
Wenger stood his ground in the face of the criticism, which was led by Gary Neville on Sky Sports, who described Arsenal as “spineless” and questioned why some of their players were walking and not tracking back.
“You find in every single game, on both sides, moments where a player doesn’t track,” Wenger said. “You have to analyse why. Has he made two runs before to go in behind and was exhausted, or did he not track because he didn’t want to? Of course, the players gave me everything.”
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK
Alex Iwobi impressed in Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Crystal Palace in the Premier League and was amongst the best players on the Emirates Stadium turf.
The Gunners doubled their lead when Monreal laid off a low cross for Iwobi who had the simplest of tasks in picking his spot from close range in the tenth minute.
In the Arsenal player ratings by Football.London, the Nigeria international was awarded eight marks out of ten, the third highest score behind Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil and Nacho Monreal, who both got nine.
“Really good performance. He was direct, looked confident and caused Palace plenty of problems. Scored a goal and was unlucky not to get another,” wrote Charles Watt on the Super Eagle.
Iwobi was criticized for his performances earlier this season, but has shown fine form in his last two matches.
Yesterday’s tie against The Eagles was his 80th appearance for Arsenal in all competitions since debuting in 2015.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has agreed a new two-year contract, extending his 21-year reign at the club.
Wenger and club owner Stan Kroenke met on Monday to determine the Frenchman’s future, with the decision relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.
Arsenal are planning to make an official announcement on Wednesday.
The Gunners were fifth in the Premier League this season, the first time they have finished outside the top four since the Frenchman joined in 1996.
They finished 18 points behind champions Chelsea, but beat the Blues 2-1 to win the FA Cup at Wembley on Saturday.
Feast and then famine
Wenger led the Gunners to three Premier League titles and four FA Cups in his first nine seasons in charge.
In 2003-04, he became the first manager since 1888-89 to lead a team through an entire top-flight season unbeaten.
But after winning the 2005 FA Cup, they had to wait another nine years – or 3,283 days – for their next silverware. It came as they beat Hull City to win the 2014 FA Cup, before winning the trophy again the following year.
Some Gunners fans turned on the 67-year-old Frenchman as a result of their league performances and they lost 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16 in March.
They finished the league season with five successive victories, but it was not enough to carry them above Liverpool to take the fourth and final Champions League spot.
Wenger told BBC’s Football Focus on Saturday the criticism he has faced this season is “a disgrace” he will “never forget”.
Anti-Wenger banners were held aloft by Gunners fans in the closing stages of a 3-1 defeat at West Brom on 18 March, while in the first half two planes towed banners over the ground – one criticising the manager and the other supporting him.
After that loss, Wenger said he had made a decision on his future which he would announce “very soon”.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, meanwhile, described Wenger as “one of the best managers in history”.
Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal all face a possible play-off to determine qualification for next season’s Champions League.
The three clubs, occupying third to fifth place in the Premier League, are separated by three points going into Sunday’s final round of games.
But their goal difference, and goals scored, are similar enough to raise the realistic prospect of two teams finishing joint third or fourth with identical records – necessitating a one-off play-off match.
The top three teams qualify directly for the Champions League group stage, with the fourth-placed side entering at the preceding play-off round, while the fifth-placed side will enter the Europa League.
How do they stand at the moment?
|Goals for||Goals against||Goal difference||Points||Final game|
|Man City||75||39||+36||75||Watford (a)|
Premier League rules state: “If at the end of the season either the league champions or the clubs to be relegated or the question of qualification for other competitions cannot be determined because two or more clubs are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, the clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding league matches on neutral grounds, the format, venue and timing of which shall be determined by the board.”
Last season, there was a chance that Liverpool and West Ham could have finished with identical records with a Europa League place at stake.
So, how could it all happen?
Manchester City v Liverpool: A play-off for third place
This would require a high-scoring draw for City at Watford, while Liverpool give relegated Middlesbrough a thumping at Anfield.
For instance, a 3-3 draw for City and a 3-0 win for Liverpool would produce this scenario, with the teams tied for third place (and that Champions League group stage place):
|Goals for||Goals against||Goal difference||Points|
The sides would also be locked together with identical records if City drew 4-4 and Liverpool won 4-1, and so on.
However, Arsenal cannot affect this scenario – even by winning, they could finish no higher than fifth.
Manchester City v Arsenal: Doomsday scenario for City?
By contrast, a heavy defeat for City raises the spectre of finishing level on points with Arsenal.
If City were to lose 4-0 at Vicarage Road, and Arsenal to sneak home 1-0 against Everton, the sides would finish like this:
|Goals for||Goals against||Goal difference||Points|
The same permutation would be reached if City lost 5-1 and Arsenal won 2-1 – you get the picture.
What makes this scenario even more complicated is that it could produce a third/fourth place play-off if Liverpool fail to beat Middlesbrough – or a fourth/fifth place play-off if the Reds win at Anfield.
Arsenal v Liverpool: Champions League on the line
The final scenario – and possibly the most plausible of the three – would leave Liverpool and Arsenal fighting for fourth place on the most perilous of knife-edges since they battled for the title on the final day of the 1988-89 season.
If Arsenal draw 1-1 with Everton and Liverpool lose 2-0 to Middlesbrough, this is how they would finish tied for fourth:
|Goals for||Goals against||Goal difference||Points|
Other combinations of results which would leave the sides level would be a 2-2 Arsenal draw coupled with a 3-1 Liverpool defeat, or a 3-3 Arsenal draw if goal-shy Boro win 4-2 at Anfield, and so on.
The good news for Manchester City fans is that under this third scenario, they would finish third, whatever their result at Watford, and clinch that cherished Champions League group stage place.
Alexis Sanchez’s scrambled extra-time winner secured Arsenal an FA Cup final date with Chelsea – and ensured Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will end a season without a trophy for the first time in his coaching career.
Sanchez settled a contentious semi-final 11 minutes into the extra period after Manchester City failed to clear Mesut Ozil’s free-kick.
Arsenal showed great resilience to come from behind – and eased the pressure on manager Arsene Wenger – after Sergio Aguero raced clear of Nacho Monreal to put City ahead in the 62nd minute.
Monreal made amends with the equaliser 11 minutes later as he drilled in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross at the far post – but City were left nursing a serious sense of injustice after this disappointing defeat.
They had a goal wrongly ruled out in the first half when Leroy Sane’s cross was adjudged to have gone out before Aguero and Raheem Sterling combined to turn it into the net, while Yaya Toure and Fernandinho hit the woodwork after the break.
It left Arsenal victorious and Wenger aiming for a record seventh FA Cup triumph.
Wenger gets his statement of intent
Wenger’s future – and the lack of clarity surrounding it – has only been brought into sharper focus by Arsenal’s recent fall outside the Champions League places.
The manager needed a statement, as did his team, to ease the growing disquiet among Arsenal fans at the prospect that he will extend his stay as manager.
Arsenal’s Wembley win against Manchester City will not ease the concerns in the minds of the doubters but he can point to the victory, and the manner in which it was achieved, as evidence that he could yet be the man to take the club forward.
Victory in the final on 27 May would strengthen his and Arsenal’s case for continuity, but for now there was much for the Frenchman and his players to treasure about this triumph.
Wenger persisted with an unfamiliar three-man defensive system comprising youngster Rob Holding, Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny and set up his team to deliver an uncharacteristically stubborn performance.
Arsenal rode their luck at times – but Wenger will take that all day.
Wenger’s players have been accused of not playing for him in recent months. No such accusation could be levelled here as they dug deep for victory.
The Gunners’ embattled manager pumped his fists towards the skies at the final whistle and beamed with delight – he may yet achieve glory amid the worst discontent of his reign.
Were Manchester City robbed?
Manchester City will argue long and hard that their chances of reaching the final were sabotaged by a first-half decision that saw a good goal ruled out.
Referee’s assistant Steve Child judged that Sane’s cross had gone behind before Aguero turned it back at the far post and then Sterling made sure. Replays suggested the ball had not gone out and City were the victims of an injustice.
City will also feel Lady Luck deserted them as they lost playmaker David Silva to injury early on and saw those efforts from Toure and Fernandinho hit the woodwork.
In the final reckoning, they must also accept the brutal truth that once more they enjoyed superiority in possession and territory but could not find the ruthless touch.
Guardiola faces a big challenge
Guardiola, arguably football’s most celebrated coach, was brought to Manchester City to lift them to another level – and on that basis his first season without a trophy in a glittering managerial career will be regarded by many as a failure.
He has found it more difficult than he may have imagined after the seamless successes of his years in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
|Stick or twist?|
|Manchester City named an unchanged line-up under Pep Guardiola for the first time, in what was his 50th game in charge.|
|The three players who have started the most often are David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne – 38 times each.|
|Another three players have started just once for Guardiola – Joe Hart, Tosin Adarabioyo and Angelino.|
He must now address the problems that have undermined City this season, particularly uncertainty over the goalkeeper position, where his decision to replace Joe Hart with Claudio Bravo has been unsuccessful, and also sort out an uncertain and ageing defence.
Guardiola’s main priority now is securing a top-four place and getting into the Champions League, starting with Thursday’s derby against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium.
Failure to achieve that objective is unthinkable.
Man of the match – Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain (Arsenal)
Perfect 20 for Arsenal – the key match stats
- Arsenal have reached their 20th FA Cup final, a competition record.
- This was Manchester City’s first FA Cup semi-final defeat since 1932, also against Arsenal – the Citizens had won eight consecutively before this defeat.
- Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal’s top scorer in games at Wembley, with four goals – he overtook Marc Overmars and Ian Wright on three.
- Sanchez has now been involved in more goals than any other Premier League player in all competitions this season (38, 24 goals and 14 assists).
- Sergio Aguero has scored 12 goals in his past 12 matches for Manchester City in all competitions.
- It was Aguero’s second goal at Wembley, having netted for City against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final in April 2013.
- Nacho Monreal’s last two goals for Arsenal have come in the FA Cup, both against Manchester clubs (having scored against Manchester United in March 2015).
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has six assists in his past 10 FA Cup starts for Arsenal. In all competitions this season, only Mesut Ozil (10) and Alexis Sanchez (14) have more assists than Oxlade-Chamberlain (nine).
Manchester City return to Premier League action with a home derby against neighbours United on Thursday. Arsenal are at home to Leicester in the league on Wednesday.
Arsenal kept alive their hopes of finishing in the top four of the Premier League with a narrow victory at second-bottom Middlesbrough.
A dull opening was brought to life when Alexis Sanchez’s superb free-kick gave Arsenal the lead just before the break.
Middlesbrough responded soon after the restart when Alvaro Negredo volleyed in Stewart Downing’s pinpoint cross.
However, Mesut Ozil secured the much-needed three points for Arsenal with a first-time strike at the near post.
The win – only Arsenal’s third in their past nine league games – moves the Gunners up to sixth, seven points behind fourth-place Manchester City and with a game in hand.
Middlesbrough remain deep in relegation trouble, six points from safety.
Wenger springs a three-man surprise
The Gunners have not lost five successive away games in the league since 1984 and manager Arsene Wenger took significant measures to avoid that happening against Boro by playing a three-man defence for the first time since 1997.
Rob Holding, Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel were the centre-backs at the Riverside Stadium but struggled with the change in system as Middlesbrough looked lively in the early stages but lacked the quality in the final third to exploit the gaps in Arsenal’s defence.
“I felt it added a bit more stability on the long balls,” Wenger said after the game when explaining his tactical switch. “We faced a direct game and we have been punished a bit on that. It gave the opponents more of the ball but against Crystal Palace we had 70% possession but lost.”
Middlesbrough have scored the fewest amount of Premier League goals at home all season – just 12 prior to Arsenal’s visit – and with the quality of Sanchez and Ozil in attack the visitors were always capable of snatching a lead. That proved to be the case when they scored from only their second shot on target just before the break, Sanchez expertly steering a free-kick over a packed wall and into the far corner.
Arsenal’s lack of experience playing 3-4-3 was evident early in the second half when Downing charged away down an exposed right flank on the counter before providing the perfect ball for Negredo to poke in his ninth of the season.
The game opened up after that but Ozil’s goal midway through the second half ensured Arsenal escaped with the points. It was a welcome win for under-pressure Wenger but not quite the sign of a return to form. Holding, Koscielny and Gabriel failed to make a single tackle in the first 60 minutes and stronger sides than Middlesbrough will not be as forgiving.
Sanchez smiling again
Sanchez has cut a frustrated figure at times this season, with reportssuggesting he is keen to leave the Gunners in the summer.
However, his celebrations after Arsenal’s goals on Monday did not look like those of an unhappy player.
He hugged and high-fived his team-mates and was seen smiling broadly at the final whistle, celebrating with the fans.
It is unlikely to be enough to convince Arsenal fans he will stay at the club, but it will no doubt have been pleasing for Wenger.
Is there hope for Middlesbrough?
Middlesbrough are the only side in English league football not to have won a league game during 2017 and that awful run of form has put them perilously close to an immediate return to the Championship.
Performances have improved since Steve Agnew replaced Aitor Karanka on a caretaker basis last month and this display was perhaps their best so far under the Englishman.
But wins are needed and needed quickly. Five wins and a draw from their final six games would take them to 40 points – generally perceived as the minimum to avoid relegation – but with games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool still to come they need to significantly improve in the final third to have a chance of pulling off an unlikely escape.
Man of the match – Alexis Sanchez
What they said
Middlesbrough caretaker boss Steve Agnew: “We are bitterly disappointed with the result but the players gave everything they had. We couldn’t ask more of them.
“We played on the front foot, put them under pressure. I felt we might get the second goal after Negredo scored.
“The ball just wouldn’t drop in the box for us. We put them under tremendous pressure.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: “We responded well. I think it was not perfect but the commitment and focus was there. At 1-1 we found a response and managed to win.
“It was a big test, Middlesbrough gave everything. It’s one of their last chances to stay in the league.
“It [the top four] is mathematically still alive. We knew we needed to win. Now we have a little break with the FA Cup and then we come back again to the league.”
Sanchez to outdo Adebayor? The stats
- Arsenal picked up only their second win in their past nine away league games (D1 L6), though both victories came against teams currently in the relegation zone (Swansea were beaten 4-0 on 14 January).
- Alexis Sanchez has scored more away goals in the Premier League this season than any other player (13).
- Indeed, only Emmanuel Adebayor (14 in 2007-08) has scored more away goals in a single Premier League campaign for Arsenal than Sanchez this season.
- Middlesbrough are winless in 15 league games – their longest such run in the division.
- Only Thierry Henry (12) has scored more direct free-kick goals in the Premier League for Arsenal than Sanchez (five, level with Robin van Persie).
- Mesut Ozil has scored in two of his past three league games for Arsenal, the same number he’d scored in in his previous 16.
- Ozil also made four tackles, his joint-most in a Premier League game (last doing so against Man City in December 2015).
- Arsenal’s opener was their 3,000th away goal in English league football (now 3,001) – the second side to reach that figure (Manchester United, 3226).
Middlesbrough continue their search for a first league win of the year on Saturday when they travel to Bournemouth (15:00 BST). Arsenal, meanwhile, now switch their focus to the FA Cup. They face Manchester City in the semi-final on Sunday (15:00).
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/BBC
- Germany defender expected to travel to London on Friday for medical
- Purchase of Lucas Pérez will take club’s spending close to £100m mark
Arsenal have agreed to pay £35m to sign Valencia’s Shkodran Mustafi, with the purchase of the Germany defender and Deportivo la Coruña striker Lucas Pérez set to take the north London club’s spending in the summer transfer window close to the £100m mark.
Arsène Wenger has been under pressure to strengthen his defensive options after long-term injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel, with Mustafi identified as the Frenchman’s No1 target weeks ago.
Having initially bid around £20m for the 24-year-old, who was on Everton’s books as a teenager before moving to Sampdoria in 2012, Valencia were insistent that he was not for sale. However, negotiations have continued since then and an agreement was finally reached on Thursday, with Mustafi set for a medical before the weekend having agreed personal terms with the club.
The news will come as a huge relief for Arsenal supporters after a poor start to the season that has seen them pick up just a solitary point from their opening two Premier League fixtures.
Mustafi looks set to be joined in north London by Lucas, who scored 17 goals last season and opened his account for this season with the winner against Elbar last Friday. The 27-year-old, who was also wanted by Everton, has a buyout clause of around £17m and is also expected to travel to London on Friday to complete his move.
Arsenal have already spent £35m on Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka and outlayed around £9m combined on defender Rob Holding, forward Takuma Asano and midfielder Kelechi Nwakali.
Find all the latest football transfers on our dedicated page.
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Guardian UK/Premium Sports
Whenever Arsène Wenger is asked how Calum Chambers ended up at Arsenal, he simply shrugs his shoulders, shuffles his feet, claims he doesn’t know and attempts to direct his interrogator’s gaze towards Rob Holding.
Isn’t Holding just the cutest? But so he never has to play Chambers in central defence again, or remind people that he parted with actual cash money for the former Southampton starlet, Wenger is on the lookout for a new centre-back.
Problem is, however, Valencia aren’t willing to play ball and let Arsenal have Shkodran Mustafi in exchange for a signed Igors Stepanovs sticker, a used copy of Gilles Grimandi’s autobiography, a Yaya Sanogo figurine, a Marouane Chamakh wig and Gunnersaurus’s phone number. What a deal! The Mill would snap Wenger’s hand off. But Valencia have other ideas – they’d prefer £50m instead. Curses! Have they no shame? Apparently not.
Nor do West Bromwich Albion. They’re after £25m for Jonny Evans and all this greediness means that Arsenal will have to look elsewhere. So now they’re eyeing Monaco’s Congolese defender, Marcel Tisserand, whose prospective move to Espanyol might just be on the rocks once he discovers that there’s an opportunity to see Aaron Ramsey’s new haircut first hand.
In other defensive news, Plain Old John Terry could be about to become England’s Brave John Terry again. The Chelsea captain could be a part of Mr Big Sam’s first squad despite showing his age last season. Meanwhile he could be joined at Stamford Bridge by Torino’s Nikola Maksimovic.
Speaking of players who definitely aren’t past it, meanwhile, what’s the latest with Wayne Rooney? Apparently Major League Soccer bosses are willing to throw “big dollars” at the striker in an attempt to lure him to America, which won’t seem like such a bad offer once José Mourinho begins to faze Wazziesta out of the Manchester United side, a process that is expected to begin in a couple of months.
West Ham United have also turned up in Manchester in search of a new striker. They’re locked in talks with Manchester City over a potential loan move forWilfried Bony. But if they can’t get Big Wilf, they’ll go for Simone Zaza, who’s been moved out the picture at Juventus by Gonzalo Shipperley. The Hammers are also considering a swoop for Daryl Janmaat, although they face competition from Watford for the Newcastle United right-back.
Up in Merseyside, Liverpool could allow Mahmadou Sakho to leave on loan, while Everton are battling Porto for the Valencia centre-back Aymen Abdennour.
Ronald Koeman’s side are also in talks with Deportivo La Coruña striker Lucas Pérez Martínez, but they reckon that Joe “Ha Ha” Hart is too expensive. Happy now, Pep?
Here are the main summer transfer news and rumours about Arsenal fore you as gathered and compiled by BloomgistSports
1. Barcelona star Arda Turan to Arsenal?
According to Marca Barcelona are ready to sell the former Atletico Madrid star Arda. And Mirror notes that Arsenal are one of the teams who have been linked with a move for the 29-year-old, who costs about £23million
2. Arsenal could sign two Inter players.
Sky Italia. reports that Arsenal are hopeful that they can land Jeison Murillo this summer.
The defender with £15million price is believed to be one of Arsenal’s priorities in this summer.
Arsenal target Mauro Icardi has also been put up for sale.
His wife disclosed: “From what I can see, Inter have put Icardi up for sale. There are many clubs interested. We will evaluate the situation with all due respect for everyone. Mauro would be very sad to leave Inter, but we’ve understood the club’s economic situation and evidently they cannot hold Icardi back.”
3. Juventus confirmed Sanchez bid rejected
The Italian giants have disclosed that Arsenal have rejected their £34million bid for Alexis Sanchez.
Giuseppe Marotta, the Juve sporting director, said : “Sanchez is a great player, but Arsenal do not want to give him up. We informed the Gunners, who asked for £34m – surely a reasonable fee. However, when we responded to this request, Arsenal told us they will not sell the player.”
4. There are reports that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger could be employed as a replacement for Roy Hodgson who resigned moments after the Three Lions crashed out of the ongoing European Championships.
However, Wenger said: “Could I manage England, why not? I would never rule that out, but I am happy and focused in club football. England is my second country. I was absolutely on my knees when England went out against Iceland. I couldn’t believe it.”
He added: “But when you watched the game you could sense, after 60 minutes, that the worst could happen. Did they panic or were they tired? I don’t know, but England couldn’t find an answer to what Iceland posed.”