Arsenal 2-1 Cardiff: Gunners stumble past Bluebirds
LONDON -- They used to speak about "The Arsenal Way" at the Emirates Stadium, boasting about style of play without actually needing to describe it. For 20 years, Arsenal would intently play positive, possession-based football, taking the game to the opposition without worrying about tactical plans.
Until the final years of his reign as manager, Arsene Wenger, made no attempt to mention the other side in his pregame team talks and would rarely change system, either during games or between them. As a result, Arsenal often produced spectacular football against weaker sides, only for tactical naivety to cost them against fellow title challengers.
The reign of Unai Emery, though, is evidently very different. Wenger's successor has no obvious default tactical plan and, what is more, has changed formation almost every week in this, his first season in charge.
For the impressive 2-0 victory over Chelsea on Jan. 19, Emery selected a diamond midfield that worked excellently. It was deployed primarily to disrupt Jorginho's passing, but Arsenal's offensive play was fluent enough that it seemed a template for future games.
However, Emery moved to 4-3-3 for the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United, before Tuesday's 2-1 win vs. Cardiff saw the diamond used from the outset switch to 4-2-3-1 for the second half when defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny was replaced by winger Alex Iwobi.
"In the first half, if one team deserved to score, it was them. In the dressing room we spoke about that, and the first half result [0-0] was a good result for us because we had conceded chances to them. But in the second half we had the opportunity to change this situation, but it's not easy because they were playing one-versus-one across the pitch, and it's not easy to find space, but Cardiff tired, and with patience we were able to score."
Emery has made, by a distance, the most half-time substitutions in the Premier League and, while he introduced himself to Arsenal fans as a lover of possession play and attacking football, he is a more studious, analytical coach who considers the opposition's strengths as much as those of his own side.
That becomes a problem against a team like Cardiff. Neil Warnock's side are not the worst in the Premier League, but they are the least ambitious in terms of strategic approach. They average the lowest possession share and the lowest pass completion rate in the league and their main source of chances is set pieces.
Indeed, Cardiff's leading assister this season is Sean Morrison, a centre-back who specialises in near-post flick-ons. He was absent at The Emirates, as it happens, but his impact is a microcosm of Cardiff's style: They largely let opponents dominate open play, then try to win dead-ball situations.
Despite that, though, Arsenal were still unable to impose themselves in the first half. They had two elegant playmakers in midfield: The diminutive Lucas Torreira, who played to the right, and Mesut Ozil, occupying his preferred No. 10 role. However, though both provided flashes of excitement when exchanging a give-and-go with a teammate, they found themselves without an obvious pass in the final third and lost possession.
Torreira seems to be suffering a loss of form, which is hardly unusual for technical players who often are exhausted in their first Premier League season by the schedule around Christmas and New Year.
Ozil, meanwhile, is in a peculiar situation: Omitted one week, the side can be built around him the next. Moreover, he does not have any obvious relationship with Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
It was goalless at half-time, a familiar pattern from Arsenal's season; in the "first-half league table," they are 16th. After the break, though, they are behind only Liverpool and Emery's change at the break meant his best partnership -- Iwobi and Sead Kolasinac -- could take the game to Cardiff.
In the opening stages of the 4-1 win over Fulham on New Year's Day, the pair completely dominated down the left; after Kolasinac dribbled forward and played in Iwobi, he chipped into the box for Granit Xhaka's opener. At West Ham, they also carried Arsenal's main threat, forcing Manuel Pellegrini to adapt his team's shape.
Just past the hour mark on Tuesday, Iwobi received possession in his customary inside-left position and played the ball on to the eternally overlapping Kolasinac, who pushed forward for a cut-back only to be clumsily fouled by Bruno Manga. It was a clear penalty and one that Aubameyang converted with a low shot down the middle.
That Iwobi and Kolasinac work so well together is somewhat inconvenient, because there is a good chance neither would get into Arsenal's first-choice XI. Nacho Monreal is a better left-back than Kolasinac defensively, while Iwobi is talented but lacks the class of Ozil or Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Lacazette sealed the victory seven minutes from time. Collecting the ball wide on the right, he was initially sent to the floor by Sol Bamba's tackle, but picked himself up and drove toward goal before striking a powerful low shot that goalkeeper Neil Etheridge could only help into the far corner.
Cardiff substitute Nathaniel Mendez-Liang curled in a fine effort to reduce the deficit, but it was too late to launch a comeback. The hosts saw out the game, having been relatively comfortable in the second half after looking entirely average before the break. That, it seems, is the new "Arsenal Way."
LONDON -- Callum Hudson-Odoi should show respect to Chelsea's academy by being more patient with his development at Stamford Bridge, according to Maurizio Sarri.
Chelsea rejected an official transfer request submitted by Hudson-Odoi on Monday, informing the 18-year-old that he will not be allowed to move to Bayern Munich for £35 million in the January window.
Sources told ESPN FC that Hudson-Odoi has no intention of extending his current Chelsea contract -- which expires in June 2020 -- and sees his long-term future at Bayern, but Sarri believes the winger should respect those at Cobham who helped him get to this point.
"Callum is 18," Sarri said. "He has to respect the club, the academy, everything. He has time. If you are one of the best young players in Europe, maybe the academy helped you. So you have to respect this.
"Of course, he's a very great player. He will become one of the best in Europe also in another team, but he has to respect the work of the academy coaches, I think."
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Chelsea now appear set for a summer of uncertainty around two of their wingers, with Hudson-Odoi courted by Bayern and superstar Eden Hazard weighing up the possibility of leaving to join Real Madrid.
"The situation of Eden is different," Sarri insisted. "Eden is 28. If he wants to go, I think he has to go. Of course, I hope the opposite. I hope he wants to stay here with us and improve. He has the potential to be the best player in Europe a the moment.
"Sometimes he's happy with something less. It's my job to improve him and put him in a position to do his best. Sometimes I have to say something in the pressroom on that. It's normal. It's my job. But I was really very happy with the last performance [against Tottenham]."
Bayern are expected to revive their interest in signing Hudson-Odoi in the summer, when he will enter the final year of his current contract. Sarri, however, is adamant that the 18-year-old is in a better position to fulfil his potential if he remains at Stamford Bridge.
"Because here, I think, it's his home," Sarri said. "We will be patient with him because he's a boy from the academy. I don't know if, at another club, people would be patient with him after five or six matches. It's very difficult to go to another country and adapt immediately or play very well immediately.
"That's a difficult situation. It's better for him to try and improve here. But that's my opinion. I may not be right."
MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester United scored twice in the final three minutes to earn a 2-2 draw with Burnley at Old Trafford. The result ended a run of eight straight wins under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but United remain unbeaten under the Norwegian despite Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood putting Burnley 2-0 up in the second half.
Paul Pogba scored a penalty on 87 minutes to pull a goal back before Victor Lindelof got his first for the club two minutes into injury time to earn a point after substitute Alexis Sanchez had seen his header expertly saved by Tom Heaton.
It denied Burnley a first win at Old Trafford since 1962 and Sean Dyche's side still went away with a precious point in their battle against relegation.
The fight back. The only thing missing from Solskjaer's United CV was a "Fergie Time" comeback and, thanks to Pogba and Lindelof, he got it. He will still be disappointed at going 2-0 down at home, just as United did against Burnley last season, but the atmosphere at the end made it feel like a point gained rather than two dropped.
It was only Andreas Pereira's third start since August but the Brazilian international could not make the most of the chance. Competition for the places in midfield will be reduced once Marouane Fellaini completes his move to the Chinese Super League but Pereira may be forced to wait for another go.
Manager rating (out of 10)
5 -- Solskjaer gambled by picking Pereira in midfield and switching Marcus Rashford -- in form up front -- to the left so Romelu Lukaku could start as the striker, but the moves didn't pay off. It was the first time the Norwegian has got his team selection wrong and Burnley took advantage. United looked much better when Rashford played through the middle.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 6 -- The Spaniard got away with one mistake when he palmed a looping ball back towards Ashley Barnes. Did well to stop a fierce drive from Dwight McNeil.
DF Ashley Young, 8 -- With Burnley defending the corners of their penalty area he had plenty of space to get forward. Put in a lot of good crosses, especially in the second half, and set up Lindelof's equaliser.
DF Luke Shaw, 7 -- Fantastic cross on the volley to set up the first chance of the night for Marcus Rashford and didn't do much wrong defensively.
DF Phil Jones, 6 -- Back in the team after being rested at Arsenal. Booed throughout by the Burnley fans because of his connection to Blackburn. Did well to deny Barnes a clear chance in the first half.
DF Victor Lindelof, 7 -- Caught out for Burnley's second goal, first by playing Chris Wood onside and then by letting Ashley Westwood's cross loop over his head. That said, he got the vital late equaliser.
MF Nemanja Matic, 8 -- Could have got out quicker to stop Westwood setting up Wood's goal but otherwise had a good game. Passing was positive and got forward to add to the numbers around the box.
MF Andreas Pereira, 5 -- A surprise choice in midfield after being handed his first Premier League start since Aug. 19. Robbed by Jack Cork in midfield in the build-up to Barnes' goal and was substituted shortly after.
MF Paul Pogba, 7 -- Tried everything to unlock Burnley's stubborn defence and scored a well-taken penalty to get United back in it at 2-1. It was the Frenchman's 11th of the season, making this his best return in front of goal.
FW Juan Mata, 7 -- Given a chance with Anthony Martial out injured. Started on the right but was more influential in the second half when he was moved inside after Pereira went off.
FW Marcus Rashford, 7 -- Started on the left to accommodate Lukaku up front. Had a great chance inside the first 10 minutes but poked his finish wide. Still United's most lively forward.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 6 -- Received his first league start since Jose Mourinho's last game in charge. Set up Rashford's chance in the first half but never looked sharp enough to take on Burnley by himself.
FW Jesse Lingard (for Andreas Pereira, 62), 7 -- Won the late penalty.
FW Alexis Sanchez (for Romelu Lukaku, 67), 7 -- Only denied a goal by Heaton's save.
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, England -- Manchester City's title hopes suffered a major blow with a shock 2-1 defeat at Newcastle United. Sergio Aguero put the Premier League champions ahead after just 24 seconds but a Salomon Rondon goal and Matt Ritchie penalty stunned the visitors.
City's imposing midfield trio of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Fernandinho started together for just the second time this season -- and the first in the Premier League. Bernardo Silva has been one of the champions' most impressive players but the three that started against Newcastle were the fulcrum of the side that set a record-breaking title pace last season.
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City's title hopes are hanging by a thread after another shock defeat to a bottom-half of the table side. Guardiola's side will fall seven points behind Liverpool Jurgen Klopp's side if Liverpool win on Wednesday night against Leicester. What's strange is that City's title challenge has been thrown off course by seemingly inferior sides when they have coped so well against their top-six rivals but the champions were lethargic and sloppy, lacking the killer instinct of their record-breaking title season.
5 -- Pep Guardiola didn't make any changes at half-time when City needed refreshing after a lackadaisical first half. He always wants his side to push forward to get goals but they caused the home side few problems after their first-minute tally. Riyad Mahrez will have been champing at the bit to make a difference but stayed on the bench.
GK Ederson, 6 -- Couldn't keep out Rondon's bouncing overhead kick and Ritchie's fierce penalty slid underneath him.
DF Kyle Walker, 6 -- Solid defensively but didn't get forward as much as he normally does.
DF John Stones, 6 -- Had a tough time against the physicality of Rondon, who grabbed the equaliser.
DF Aymeric Laporte, 5 -- His passing game wasn't quite what it usually is. He gave the ball away on a couple of occasions and put Fernandinho in trouble for the penalty.
DF Danilo, 5 -- Has settled well at left-back but had his toughest night in a while and was caught out of position on a couple of occasions.
MF Fernandinho, 6 -- Strong performance until he was caught in possession horribly in the box before giving away a penalty.
MF Kevin De Bruyne, 7 -- All over the pitch, unlocking the Newcastle defence. A clever free kick should have led to a second for Aguero, but instead referee Paul Tierney booked him for taking it too quickly.
MF David Silva, 7 -- Unlucky not to score with a header that was blocked on the line. Kept City ticking over but a couple of times his touch was unusually heavy.
FW Raheem Sterling, 5 -- Found it tough against tough-tackling Ritchie, who also forced him to defend and caused problems with his crossing.
FW Sergio Aguero, 7 -- Loves facing Newcastle and took just 24 seconds to get his latest goal taking his record to 15 goals in 13 games vs. the Magpies. Worked hard, winning a couple of tackles in his own half.
FW Leroy Sane, 6 -- Lively going forward and could have had a couple of assists on another night.
MF Bernardo Silva, 6 -- Unable to change the tempo of the game.
FW Gabriel Jesus, N/R -- Couldn't find a way through.
MF Ilkay Gundogan N/R -- Little impact.