This football pitch in the Lofeten Islands, Norway
This football pitch in the Lofeten Islands, Norway
Tottenham ensured they remained just four points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, and confirmed they would finish above arch-rivals Arsenal for the first time since 1994-95, with an impressive north London derby win at White Hart Lane. Chelsea’s 3-0 victory at Everton put the pressure on Spurs – but they responded in style with a ninth successive league win to continue their best sequence since October 1960, when they won 13 games in a row. The match was decided with two goals in just over a minute, Dele Alli scoring his 21st goal for Spurs this season with a close-range finish in the 55th minute before Harry Kane netted from the spot after he was fouled by Gabriel. Arsenal, whose top-four hopes are in serious jeopardy as they remain six points behind fourth-placed Manchester City with a game in hand, were only spared a heavy defeat in the last derby at this stadium in its current incarnation by a magnificent display from keeper Petr Cech.
Spurs might have been forgiven for entering this game with an air of resignation after Chelsea restored their lead – albeit temporarily – to seven points with victory at Everton. It took them 45 minutes to perhaps clear their heads, although they had the best chances of the first half through Alli’s header and Christian Eriksen’s side-foot effort against the bar, before they demonstrated the quality and development that has characterised their season. Manager Mauricio Pochettino clearly reminded his players of what might still be at stake at half-time, and they emerged at full throttle and maximum physicality to overpower Arsenal and win the game with that quick-fire one-two. Pochettino looks to be establishing the platform for a golden future at White Hart Lane, while Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger is trying desperately to recreate the glories of the past. Pochettino has a young, powerful, talented team with a strong English foundation, while Wenger presides over an Arsenal group that is a pale shadow of those of even recent vintage that may not even offer the traditional place in the Champions League to console him.
The Gunners look flimsy and lacking in presence, and if Wenger stays at Emirates Stadium, which looks likely, he faces a formidable rebuilding task. The irony, of course, is Arsenal are the club in north London with the chance of tangible success after reaching the FA Cup final – a task beyond Spurs as they lost to Chelsea in the semi-finals. Spurs and Arsenal moved to add power and stability to their midfield in the summer with the signings of Victor Wanyama and Granit Xhaka respectively. There is no question who got the better deal. Wanyama, an £11m buy from Southampton, stamped his presence all over midfield here with his imposing frame and ball-winning ability. Xhaka, in contrast, was little more than a liability with his poor challenges and wayward distribution, again looking well short of the quality expected from a player bought for in the region of £30m.
Arsenal already have their first transfer of the next season wrapped up as Bosnian international Sead Kolasinac has completed a medical and agreed to a free transfer to the Emirates at the end of the current season. Kolasinac will arrive at Arsenal this summer – and that will spell the end of the road for either Kieran Gibbs or Nacho Monreal at the Emirates. The Bosnia international, 23, is set to join on a free transfer from Schalke 04 in a move that will be the first of major re-structuring exercise.
Boss Arsene Wenger fully intends to stay put and oversee the re-vamp which will see the club listen to offers for both regular first-choice left-backs. Wenger has been delighted with the promise shown by former non-leaguer Cohen Bramall and the former Hednesford Town defender will become Kolasinac’s understudy. The import of Kolasinac means that Gibbs, 27, is the most likely to leave as he has just 12 months remaining on his current deal. The former England international has played second fiddle to Monreal for most of this season. And although Monreal is contracted to Arsenal until 2019, Wenger will also listen to offers for the Spaniard who will be 33 by the time his agreement with the club expires.
Kolasinac has made 21 appearances in the German top flight this season, scoring three goals and assisting five in the process. Although primarily a left-back, the Bosnia-Herzegovina international can also play at centre-half or as a defensive midfielder. Tottenham and and Serie A big guns AC Milan and Juventus have also been vying for his signature.
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’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. 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. Arsenal have reached their 20th FA Cup final, a competition record. Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal’s top scorer in games at Wembley, with four goals – he overtook Marc Overmars and Ian Wright on three. 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).
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.
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. 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 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.
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 2007-0 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).
Crystal Palace continued their recent revival to boost their Premier League survival hopes and leave Arsenal struggling to maintain their run of top-four finishes under Arsene Wenger. Palace led through Andros Townsend’s close-range finish, doubling their lead when Yohan Cabaye’s shot looped in. Luka Milivojevic clinched victory with a firm, low penalty as Palace moved six points clear of the relegation zone. Sixth-placed Arsenal did not manage a shot on target in a poor second half. Some travelling Gunners fans again called for manager Wenger, who has led Arsenal to top-four finishes in each of his previous 20 seasons at the helm, to leave the club.The Frenchman’s side are seven points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City with eight games remaining.
The manner of Arsenal’s performance – disorganised, devoid of attacking ideas and lacking fight – will increase the scrutiny on Wenger yet again. The 67-year-old has already faced protests from some supporters urging him to leave, with more calls clearly audible – along with the barracking of his players in the latter stages – at Selhurst Park. Wenger’s contract expires at the end of the season and the club has offered him a new two-year deal, although he is still to announce whether he intends to carry on. Arsenal had 72% possession against Palace but that mattered for little as the hosts broke quickly on the counter-attack, exploiting space down the flanks and taking their chances clinically. The Gunners looked defensively vulnerable whenever Palace went forward, lacking leadership without injured captain Laurent Koscielny.
And when the visitors did attack, Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey was only required to make saves from Mohamed Elneny and Alexis Sanchez. After the break, Hennessey did not even face a shot on target as Arsenal suffered a fourth straight away defeat for the first time under Wenger. “Palace wanted it more. You could sense that from the kick-off,” Theo Walcott, Arsenal’s stand-in captain, said. While Wenger has never led Arsenal to a finish outside the top four, opposite number Sam Allardyce has a proud record of not being relegated from the top flight. On this evidence, Allardyce looks much likelier to maintain his achievement than his long-time adversary. The former England manager, who has previously kept up Bolton, Blackburn, Newcastle and Sunderland, took a while to improve Palace’s fortunes after replacing Alan Pardew in December, but the Eagles are starting to reap the rewards of his methods when it matters.
Palace had too much pace, power and passion for a lifeless Gunners side. Although Arsenal dominated possession in the first half, Palace had the better chances and deservedly led when Townsend drilled in Wilfried Zaha’s cross from the right. Arsene Wenger has suffered four consecutive away Premier League defeats for the first time as Arsenal manager. This is Arsenal’s worst away Premier League run since April 1995 (also four defeats in a row) when they were managed by Stewart Houston. Wenger lost for the first time against Palace in 12 top-flight matches. Arsenal conceded three goals in four consecutive away league games for the first time since September 1929.
Arsenal boosted their Champions League hopes with a deserved victory over West Ham, who remain in relegation trouble after a fifth consecutive Premier League defeat. After a quiet first half, Mesut Ozil, on his 150th appearance for the Gunners, fired home from the edge of the box after being gifted possession by Jose Fonte. And the German, after playing a one-two with Alexis Sanchez, crossed for Theo Walcott – captain for the day in the absence of the injured Laurent Koscielny – to turn home from eight yards out. Olivier Giroud curled in a fantastic third after being picked out by fellow substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Gunners are now up to fifth in the table, only four points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, with a game in hand on Pep Guardiola’s side.
West Ham are five points above the bottom three, although it could have been a lot worse had Swansea not collapsed late on to lose 3-1 to Tottenham. The Gunners had only won one and drawn another in their past six Premier League games, to leave their hopes of Champions League qualification – having reached the last 17 tournaments – in real jeopardy. There were more protests against long-serving manager Arsene Wenger – with some Gunners fans not taking their seats until the 13th minute. It has been 13 years since they last won the league. But it did not distract the team too much, admittedly against opposition in even worse form than themselves. Arsenal had the best of the first half, but it was after the break they took control of the game. Hammers keeper Darren Randolph was unhappy with Ozil’s opener as he felt Sanchez was offside and blocking his view, but referee Martin Atkinson did not care for his appeals.
The two Gunners stars both linked up to set up Walcott’s second, and then Giroud scored the game’s outstanding goal to clinch the match. The French striker, who replaced Danny Welbeck, has scored more Premier League goals as a substitute than anyone else this season – five. Arsenal should have had a penalty in injury time when Sam Byram brought down Nacho Monreal. The Gunners had to play their third-choice keeper, Emiliano Martinez, after injuries to Petr Cech and David Ospina. But the 24-year-old, on his first Premier League appearance since 2014, only had to make two saves in the game. Arsenal became the first Premier League side to score 100 goals in all competitions this season (currently 101).Theo Walcott has scored more Premier League goals against West Ham than he has against any other side (six).
Slaven Bilic’s side have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their past 12 away Premier League games. Arsenal have won both Premier League games against West Ham in a season on 10 occasions – more than they have against any other side. No player has made more errors leading to a goal than Darren Randolph this season (three, level with Simon Francis and John Stones). Mesut Ozil has scored and assisted in the same Premier League game for the second time this season, with the other game being the reverse fixture against the Hammers. Olivier Giroud has scored more Premier League goals as a substitute than any other player this season (five). Emiliano Martinez has kept a clean sheet in three of the four Premier League games he’s started for Arsenal.
Arsenal showed signs of recovery from their recent dismal run of form as they twice fought back from behind to draw with Manchester City at Emirates Stadium. The Gunners had lost four out of their previous five Premier League games, and faced City against uncertainty surrounding manager Arsene Wenger’s future, with more protests staged before kick-off. Arsenal got off to the worst possible start when Leroy Sane put City ahead after only five minutes, running on to Kevin de Bruyne’s routine pass to round David Ospina and score. Theo Walcott capped a spell of Arsenal pressure to scramble home an equaliser five minutes before the break – but they were on terms for only two minutes before Sergio Aguero’s powerful finish put City back in front.
Arsenal lost Laurent Koscielny to injury at half-time and it was his central defensive partner Shkodran Mustafi who rose above City’s defence from a corner to restore parity after 53 minutes. Aguero missed two good chances for City and manager Pep Guardiola was furious that a late handball appeal against Nacho Monreal was ignored, leaving his side in fourth and Arsenal in sixth place in the table – seven points of the top-four pace. Two banners were held aloft at the final whistle – and both summed up the confusion currently surrounding Arsenal and manager Wenger. One read “Forever In Your Debt – One Arsene Wenger” and the other carried the slogan “All Good Things Must Come To An End.” There were renewed protests from a noisy, but relatively small, group of Arsenal fans before kick-off to illustrate the pressure on Arsenal’s manager but there were precious few signs of discontent inside the stadium.
The smart money remains on Wenger extending a stay as manager that stretches back to October 1996 – but this result and performance did little either way to clear the muddied waters around this part of north London. Wenger insists his decision is made while Arsenal’s board say the next move will be mutual – so a draw almost summed up what seems to be the current inertia among the decision-makers. If Arsenal had won, it would certainly have made any announcement more palatable, while a loss would have made it a harder sell. As it is, a draw means the uncertainty goes on. Arsenal needed to show signs of fight and resilience after a desperate sequence of four defeats in their previous five Premier League games – and they certainly showed that, if not huge quality. The Gunners twice fought back from behind in a performance that was centred on determination rather than the dazzling football of old, but Wenger can at least take some comfort from that small mercy.
Arsenal’s wafer-thin confidence was exposed by the manner in which they defended for both City goals, opened up too easily by De Bruyne’s routine pass for Sane’s opener and losing concentration and shape far too easily to concede a second to Aguero two minutes after Walcott’s equaliser. They still display very obvious defensive faults and the Achilles injury to Koscielny, the most reliable member of their rearguard, could prove to be a significant setback in the run-in. This is a frail Arsenal side, reduced in self-belief by that recent poor run, but avoiding defeat here may just build some momentum as they chase a place in the Premier League’s top four.
Arsenal suffered a fourth defeat in five league games as Craig Dawson’s double helped West Brom inflict a major blow to the Gunners’ hopes of a top-four finish. Dawson capitalised on some awful defending from the Gunners to head both of his goals from corners – the first to give the Baggies the lead, the second to seal their win. Arsenal had initially rallied after falling behind, levelling through Alexis Sanchez’s close-range finish – the Chilean forward’s 18th league goal of the season. However, they fell behind again 10 minutes into the second half when substitute Hal Robson-Kanu rolled the ball home with only his second touch after coming on. Arsenal, who lost goalkeeper Petr Cech to injury, were outfought and unable to rally a second time, their challenge wilting soon after Danny Welbeck’s header from a corner struck the crossbar.
It was an eventful encounter, both on the pitch and above it as two planes pulling banners – one pro-Arsene Wenger and the other against the Arsenal boss – made circles around The Hawthorns. It was the anti-Wenger camp who were most present and vocal by the end, though, holding aloft banners declaring ‘Enough is enough’ and booing their beleaguered manager’s decision to substitute Sanchez, who had picked up a knock. After the game, Wenger said that he would announce “very soon” whether he will remain at the club after reaching a decision on his future. The current facts are these – Arsenal trail fourth place by five points (albeit with a game in hand). They must arrest a run that has seen them win just one of their last five league games if they are to continue their proud record of finishing in the top four in each of Wenger’s 20 seasons at the club so far. After claiming a top-two finish in every season between 1997-98 and 2004-05, Arsenal have often flirted with fifth or worse since, but this is looking increasingly likely to be the campaign when they drop below the division’s premier quartet.
There is also a growing feeling this is likely to be Wenger’s last as manager. A two-year contract extension remains on the table but with fan protests growing in size and volume, rumours of players wanting away from the club and form deteriorating, there may be no appetite for it to be signed, by either manager or club. This result felt like a new low. Wenger is used to seeing his side outfought and beaten at the home of teams managed by Tony Pulis – he has only managed one win in eight such encounters – but the lack of chances they created from almost 77% possession and the speed with which they fell apart after Robson-Kanu’s goal, lays bare a side with dwindling belief and backbone. They rallied efficiently after falling behind, but this also speaks to their over-reliance on Sanchez, whose movement made the goal and who remained their only real creative spark, despite the heavy-handed treatment dealt out to him by the home side. Their vulnerability at the back is alarming. They knew about West Brom’s threat from corners – the Baggies have now scored 14 from them this season – but yet they were unable to prevent Dawson twice getting his head to the ball first in the box to score.
Robson-Kanu’s goal was equally damning as Ospina proved an inadequate replacement for Cech, sliding out to meet a chipped ball over the top and gifting the striker his finish. West Brom have never managed more than 49 top-flight points. Prior to Saturday they had not managed to beat a top-seven team this season. Having rectified the latter, they now look on course to better the former. They came into this game having lost their last two games and from the off it was clear they were not prepared to entertain the prospect of suffering three successive defeats for the first time this campaign. But for Cech, they could have been ahead before Dawson broke the deadlock, with the Gunners keeper tipping away Darren Fletcher’s goalbound drive. When they were pegged back by Sanchez, their belief held, as did their faith in Pulis’ game plan, which also stretched to superbly-timed substitutions. It helps, of course, when you are so lethal from set-pieces and your opponent so incapable of defending them.
Non-league Lincoln City’s astonishing run in the FA Cup came to an end as Arsenal remain on course for a 13th title by reaching the semi-finals. Lincoln, 88 places below their Premier League opponents, held their own for much of the first half and even went close to scoring when Petr Cech saved Nathan Arnold’s curled effort. However, Theo Walcott’s deflected strike gave the Gunners the lead on the stroke of half-time and Olivier Giroud put the hosts in control with a clinical strike just after the break. Lincoln’s dreams of a fight back were dashed when Luke Waterfall scored an own goal, turning in Kieran Gibbs’ cross. Alexis Sanchez added a brilliant fourth, expertly placing the ball beyond Lincoln goalkeeper Paul Farman’s reach, before Aaron Ramsey completed the win when he tapped in from Sanchez’s cross.
It was ultimately a routine victory for Arsenal and perhaps eased some of the pressure on Arsene Wenger, who is bidding for his seventh FA Cup triumph as Gunners boss. A protest was held before the game by around 200 fans urging the club to not give the 67-year-old a new contract when his current deal expires this summer. Lincoln have undoubtedly been the story of this season’s FA Cup. They came through eight games, beating Premier League Burnley and Championship high fliers Brighton along the way to become the first non-league side to reach the quarter-finals of the competition in 103 years. Against an Arsenal side that had reached the semi-finals 28 times previous, few would normally have given Lincoln a chance. But a run of just two wins in their last seven games, coupled with the discontent felt by some Arsenal fans towards Arsene Wenger, gave the minnows reason to believe an upset could be achievable. The club’s fans clearly felt that to be the case as they travelled in huge numbers to the Emirates, and for large periods of the first half their voices were the only ones that could be heard.
Arsenal could still finish the season with silverware, but success in the FA Cup is no longer enough for a sizeable number of Gunners fans. They are out of the Champions League and a top-four finish is far from guaranteed as they currently sit fifth, two points behind Liverpool. Those fans who feel Wenger has taken the side as far as they can go made their feelings known before the game with a protest – their second in a week after around 200 supporters expressed their frustration before the Champions League last-16 second leg tie with Bayern Munich on Tuesday. But there was support for Wenger inside the ground as some fans held ‘In Wenger we trust’ banners, while on the pitch his players stepped up after a slow start. Mesut Ozil was particularly influential after his 27th minute introduction and Sanchez, whose long-term future at the Emirates is reportedly in doubt, impressed with a fine goal and an assist.
Ten-man Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage for the seventh successive season following a second-half capitulation against Bayern Munich. A debated decision in the 53rd minute shattered any hopes of the Gunners becoming the first side in Champions League history to overturn a four-goal deficit, having also lost the first leg in Germany 5-1. They led through Theo Walcott’s stunning 20th-minute goal, before Bayern were awarded a penalty that also resulted in the sending off of defender Laurent Koscielny. The France centre-back was initially shown a yellow card by referee Anastasios Sidiropoulos for his foul on Robert Lewandowski inside the area – but it was upgraded to a red once he decided Koscielny made no attempt to win the ball. Gunners boss Arsene Wenger looked perplexed by the sudden change of heart by the official. Lewandowski placed his spot-kick beyond the reach of David Ospina to give Bayern a 6-2 aggregate lead and effectively kill off the tie.
The home side then folded as Bayern scored four goals in 17 minutes. Arjen Robben robbed Alexis Sanchez of the ball and beat Ospina, before Douglas Costa made it 3-1 with a stunning solo goal. Fellow midfielder Arturo Vidal grabbed a late double, first with an impudent chip before slotting in from Costa’s square pass. If this was to be Wenger’s final outing in the Champions League with Arsenal then what an embarrassing final act. Few expected the Gunners to perform a miracle, but they did at least expect to take the fight to the German giants. Aside from the goal, Walcott also went close when Manuel Neuer saved his effort and Olivier Giroud hit the base of the post with a header. Walcott was also denied a penalty after it appeared that Xabi Alonso had fouled him. But Bayern rarely looked stretched and bided their time before punishing an error-strewn second-half display by the home side. Some might debate whether Koscielny deserved a straight red but, under new laws regarding penalties, the referee was right to amend his initial decision to award the defender a yellow. The Gunners’ similarly folded when the Frenchman came off injured in the first leg with the scores 1-1.
Arsenal’s initial target of scoring four goals would have still taken the contest into extra time. Any chance of that happening ended when Robben nipped in to take the ball away from the feet of Sanchez, who was inexplicably trying to play the ball on the edge of his own area. The team lost heart thereafter and allowed Costa to run 50 yards before the Brazilian cut inside and curled in a brilliant 20-yard strike. Vidal’s double came late and in quick succession. First an error by Shkodran Mustafi was punished with a cheeky dink, before the Chile midfielder tapped in Costa’s pass. The final whistle could not come soon enough for Wenger and his team. While Bayern carried out their own protest against ticket prices by throwing toilet rolls on to the pitch, the main attention was on the ‘Wenger Out’ demonstration before kick-off. A large gathering of fans made it known outside the ground that they did not want the Frenchman in charge of the club. Wenger has yet to decide whether to accept the contract extension or leave the club he has managed since 1996. This week’s saga surrounding Sanchez, the protests and finally now this heavy defeat might have brought the 67-year-old closer to making up his mind.
Liverpool secured a vital advantage over Arsenal in the battle for a place in the Premier League’s top four with a well-deserved win at Anfield. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger gambled by leaving Alexis Sanchez – his leading scorer with 17 Premier League goals – on the bench but the ploy failed miserably as Liverpool took control by the break. Roberto Firmino’s far-post finish put Liverpool ahead after nine minutes and Sadio Mane confirmed their superiority with an emphatic strike just before half-time. Sanchez, predictably, emerged as a substitute at the start of the second half and set up a goal for Danny Welbeck that gave Arsenal hope but Georginio Wijnaldum struck on the break deep into injury-time to seal Liverpool’s win. Liverpool are now up to third, level with Manchester City on 52 points – but Arsenal are now in fifth trailing that pair by two points.
Arsenal and Arsene Wenger had so much riding on this game – a meeting where they knew defeat would leave them outside the Premier League’s top four. It made his decision to leave his most dangerous attacker Sanchez on the bench totally inexplicable, Wenger’s tactical ploy backfiring badly as Liverpool assumed control in those crucial first 45 minutes. Brave or desperate? Or a touch of both? Either way it was consigned to the dustbin at the interval. Wenger preferred the physicality and aerial threat of Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck but Arsenal’s failure to arrive in any attacking positions in the first half totally negated any impact he hoped they would have. The folly of Wenger’s selection was further exposed by the manner in which Sanchez transformed Arsenal’s approach when he emerged as a substitute, setting up Welbeck’s goal – although the Chilean’s energy levels dried up as the half went on. Wenger’s decisions will come under the closest scrutiny as speculation continues about his future, and if Arsenal miss out on the Champions League failed moves like this will understandably be portrayed in an unflattering light.
Sanchez’s demeanour at the final whistle told the tale. As Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrated with his backroom team, he offered the briefest of gestures to Arsenal’s fans before going straight down the tunnel. Arsenal haven’t won any of their last 11 Premier League away games against the other teams currently in the top six (W0 D5 L6). The Gunners find themselves outside the Premier League top four at the end of a day for the first time since 13 January. Alexis Sanchez has been directly involved in a league-high 26 goals in his 26 Premier League games this season, scoring 17 and assisting nine. Arsenal welcome Bayern Munich to the Emirates for the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie on Tuesday, 7 March with a 5-1 deficit to turn around.
Arsenal’s Champions League hopes lie in tatters at the last-16 stage yet again following a first-leg battering at Bayern Munich. The Gunners, who have been eliminated in the first knockout round of the competition in each of the last six seasons, twice by Bayern, not only conceded five goals but over 75% possession in Germany. Their challenge lasted until the break thanks to Alexis Sanchez, who followed up his own missed penalty to equalise after Arjen Robben’s superbly-struck 25-yard opener. But after Arsenal lost Laurent Koscielny to injury early in the second half, Bayern ran riot during a 10-minute period in which Robert Lewandowski headed home before Thiago Alcantara scored twice. Substitute Thomas Muller rubbed salt in the wounds with a late fifth.
It leaves Arsenal with a near impossible task in the second leg and heaps more pressure on manager Arsene Wenger, who now only has the FA Cup as a realistic source of silverware in what will go down as another failed season. There must have been a feeling of deflated dread for Arsenal when they were drawn to face Bayern in the first knockout round of this season’s Champions League. For the first time in five seasons, the Gunners claimed top spot in their group (ahead of PSG, who made this achievement even more impressive with their demolition of Barcelona on Tuesday) but nonetheless they were drawn against the Germans – their last-16 conquerors in both 2012-13 and 2013-14. Their fears were fully realised on a chastening night in Munich, which further highlighted just how far behind Europe’s leading lights they have fallen and how little progress has been made since their visit here last season, which also ended in a 5-1 hammering.
The optimism Arsenal had accrued from their encouraging pre-break efforts were dashed in a 15-minute period early in the second half, that began with Koscielny – their best defender – limping from the field and ended with Thiago putting the tie beyond them. Four minutes after Gabriel had replaced his captain at the back, Bayern reclaimed the lead as Lewandowski rose high above compatriot Shkodran Mustafi to meet Philipp Lahm’s excellent cross and head home his 31st goal in 34 games for club and country this season. The Pole then turned provider for Thiago, backheeling the ball into his path for a simple finish before the Spaniard quickly added his second courtesy of a shot that deflected in off Xhaka’s boot. Only some lax finishing, the woodwork (from a deflected Lewandowski shot) and a superb David Ospina save to tip over Javi Martinez’s header from a corner prevented further goals before late substitute Muller scored with essentially his first contribution, collecting from Thiago before sidefooting home. Muller’s late goal surely represented the final nail in the Gunners’ coffin and leaves Wenger now facing an uncomfortable, undesirable truth – that his side’s season boils down to an FA Cup game on a plastic pitch in Sutton.
Alexis Sanchez scored twice as title-chasing Arsenal beat relegation-threatened Hull in controversial circumstances in the Premier League. The hosts had been on top when the ball came off forward Sanchez’s hand and ended up in the net on 34 minutes. He added a penalty in injury-time which was awarded after Sam Clucas was sent off for handball from Lucas Perez’s header. In between, Hector Bellerin and Sanchez both failed to hit the target and Mesut Ozil volleyed over the crossbar for Arsenal. Striker Oumar Niasse had Hull’s best chances – his header and low strike forced Petr Cech into sharp saves – while Adama Diomande nodded over late on.
Arsenal had been pressing for the opener before Sanchez’s intervention. The visitors failed to clear Kieran Gibbs’ low shot and as the ball ricocheted off goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic on the ground it bounced off the Chilean’s hand and into the net. On this occasion, Sanchez did not look like he purposefully pushed the ball into the net and he had little time to move out of the way after the ball came off Jakupovic. After consultation with his assistant, referee Mark Clattenburg awarded the goal, but prior to that in the first half, Theo Walcott had a shot blocked by the hand of Clucas inside the area, for which no penalty was given. After the game, Hull defender Andrew Robertson told Sky Sports that Clattenburg had apologised to the Hull players after half-time. Robertson added: “The ref told us he didn’t give it because he wasn’t 100% sure. Not many referees can admit they’re wrong, so it’s good when he does, though it doesn’t make things better.”
Chasing the game in the second half, Hull’s Lazar Markovic was running onto a long punt forward deep in the Arsenal half. The Serb was barged down by Gibbs, who was the last defender, and had the on-loan Liverpool man not been infringed, he would have had a clear run through on goal from 30 yards. Clattenburg spotted the incident and presented a yellow card. Gibbs said after the game: “I took a chance with the challenge on Markovic. The ref said the ball was going away from goal.” When asked if Gibbs should have been sent off, Hull boss Marco Silva said: “Yes. It is true. Markovic go to the goal.” With Hull pushing for an equaliser, they were hit on the counter by the home side. Jakupovic came sprinting off his line as Sanchez went round him and picked out Perez at the back post, but the Spaniard’s goal-bound header was kept out by Clucas’ arm on the line. Clucas was given a red card for the incident. Sanchez stepped up to take the penalty, drilling a low finish into the net, which was his seventh goal against Hull in just four games. It was also his 17th top-flight strike this season, making him the league’s leading marksman.
Arsenal had lost back-to-back league games against Watford and Chelsea to leave their title challenge in disarray. But the win moves them up to third in the table, nine points behind leaders Chelsea. For Hull, it was an unlucky defeat, having come close to scoring in both halves, but they have now failed to find the net in 12 of their 25 games – more than any other side. Despite the defeat, Tigers supporters will be buoyed by the impact made by new manager Silva as his side look well-equipped for a battle to stay in the top-flight, yet they remain in the relegation zone by a single point. Arsenal travel to Bayern Munich for the Champions League last-16 first leg fixture on Wednesday (kick-off 19:45 GMT), while Hull host Burnley in the Premier League next Saturday.
Chelsea tightened their grip on the Premier League title race and delivered a blow to Arsenal’s aspiraions with a convincing victory at Stamford Bridge. Manager Arsene Wenger, watching from the stands as he served the third of a four-match touchline ban, was hoping Arsenal could respond to Tuesday’s shock home defeat by Watford – but Chelsea exerted their authority to leave the Gunners 12 points behind the leaders. Marcos Alonso gave Chelsea the lead after 13 minutes, heading home after Diego Costa’s header came back off the bar. Arsenal were unhappy with Alonso’s challenge on Hector Bellerin that saw the defender take a heavy blow to the head which forced his substitution, but referee Martin Atkinson saw nothing wrong. Eden Hazard made the decisive contribution with a magnificent solo goal eight minutes after half-time, leaving a trail of Arsenal players in his wake in a run from the halfway line before beating Petr Cech.
The goalkeeper’s poor clearance gifted substitute Cesc Fabregas Chelsea’s third, five minutes from time, and Olivier Giroud’s late goal barely counted as consolation for Arsenal. The visitors had chances but saw Thibaut Courtois save well from Gabriel, Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck. Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League was 12 points at the conclusion of this victory – and to underscore the scale of their improvement, it is worth going back to the first meeting between these clubs at Arsenal in September. Their 3-0 loss to the Gunners left Chelsea in eighth place and eight points behind then-leaders Manchester City after six games. This proved to be a watershed moment for the Blues and manager Antonio Conte. In the intervening 18 games after Conte switched to his preferred three-man central defensive system, they have won 16 league games, lost at Spurs and drawn at Liverpool. It has been a powerhouse run that has effectively brought a 20-point swing in the title race. Chelsea once more looked the model of efficiency, although they conceded more chances than Conte would have liked, with N’Golo Kante a tireless midfield influence.
The Italian wanted to make amends for that heavy loss at Emirates Stadium and he had the players and system to do it in style. And when they have individuals who can produce game-defining moments like Hazard, it is almost impossible to see any way they will leave the door far enough ajar for any of their pursuers to squeeze through. Conte’s celebration after Hazard’s goal showed how much the win meant to him. Arsenal’s loss here at Stamford Bridge caps a dreadful week for the Gunners and manager Wenger – watching from the stands as their title hopes were surely snuffed out for another year. First they were knocked off course by that defeat by Watford and here they were beaten by a Chelsea side that looked like everything Arsenal did not. Strong, streetwise, ruthless and confident. Wenger’s side were limp in the opening phases, not even getting a touch in the Chelsea penalty area for 35 minutes and when chances did come along they were squandered. Wenger can make all the usual positive noises but this was, ultimately, an emphatic beating and barring a dramatic and unforeseen turn of events, the wait for their first title since the year of “The Invincibles” in 2003-04 will go on. A single banner saying “Enough Is Enough. Time To Go” was held aloft in the Arsenal end – but it was almost a token gesture of defiance, rather like Giroud’s late goal.
Theo Walcott struck a hat-trick and Danny Welbeck marked his first start since May 2016 with two goals and an outstanding individual performance as Arsenal thrashed Southampton to reach the FA Cup fifth round. In a tie played out between two much-changed line-ups, Arsenal ruthlessly outclassed Southampton as Claude Puel’s side came crashing down to earth after reaching the EFL Cup final with victory at Liverpool on Wednesday. Welback, back in the starting line-up after that lengthy absence following knee surgery, put Arsenal in control with two cool finishes inside the first 22 minutes then set up Arsenal’s third for Walcott before half-time. The Gunners, with manager Arsene Wenger watching from the stands as he starts a four-match touchline ban, heaped further misery on Southampton after the break, sending on Alexis Sanchez as substitute to create two comfortable finishes for Saints product Walcott.
This was Welbeck’s first start since May 2016 but there was not the slightest sign of rustiness as he settled to his task as if he had never been away. Welbeck’s end product has occasionally drawn criticism but it was as smooth as silk here, taking Lucas Perez’s pass to loft a clever finish over Southampton’s stand-in keeper Harry Lewis for his first, drawing Wenger out of his seat in the stand in delight. He was at it again seven minutes later, bringing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s floated pass under his spell before showing composure once more to beat Lewis. Welbeck then showed his awareness and value as a team player to cross for Walcott to react before any Southampton defender for a simple close-range strike for Arsenal’s third. Welbeck is due a run of good fortune with injuries and he demonstrated here that he brings tireless effort and work-rate to Arsenal’s team as well as a goal threat. If he can finally put a run of games together after his long absence, he will be a key asset for Wenger. Wenger wisely withdrew him after 64 minutes with the game safe, to a fully deserved standing ovation from the travelling fans. There was a mood of celebration around St Mary’s as supporters arrived for this FA Cup fourth-round tie – and rightly so after the outstanding victory over two legs against Liverpool sent them into the EFL Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley on 26 February.
Saints’ boss Puel pointed clearly to his priorities with 10 changes from the team that won at Anfield, only defender Jack Stephens keeping his place in the starting line-up. And how it showed as Southampton played like strangers to be ripped apart by Arsenal. The party mood was deflated but Saints fans were in forgiving mood, with even the smattering of boos at half-time and at the end sounding very half-hearted, as if this team selection and Anfield hangover was to be expected. Wenger watched this emphatic Arsenal display from the comfort of a seat in the stand at St Mary’s. He was serving the first game in a four-match touchline suspension after accepting a Football Association charge of misconduct for verbally abusing and pushing fourth official Anthony Taylor in the win against Burnley at Emirates Stadium.
Wenger, who was also fined £25,000, barely had a moment of discomfort as his right-hand man Steve Bould took charge on the touchline. There is no doubt the Gunners’ boss would have preferred to be in his usual position on the touchline – but he was able to sit back and relax as Arsenal cruised into the FA Cup Fifth round. Theo Walcott scored his fifth Arsenal hat-trick and was the first Arsenal player since Nicklas Bendtner against Leyton Orient in March 2011 to score an FA Cup hat-trick. Welbeck scored and assisted in the same game for the first time since September 2014 against Aston Villa. Arsenal won an away game by five clear goals for the first time since August 2009 against Everton (6-1). The Saints recorded their heaviest home FA Cup defeat since February 1910, when they lost 5-0 to Manchester City. This was Southampton’s joint-heaviest defeat at the St Mary’s Stadium, equalling their 6-1 loss to Liverpool in the League Cup last season. Lucas Perez has been involved in eight goals in eight starts for Arsenal in all competitions (five goals, three assists) and assisted Welbeck’s first goal in this game. Southampton have conceded twice or more in eight of their past nine FA Cup matches against top-flight opponents, doing so in each of their past five. Walcott has scored seven goals in his past four away FA Cup matches. Alexis Sanchez has had a hand in 11 goals in 10 FA Cup games for Arsenal (five goals, six assists). Walcott was the first player to score an FA Cup hat-trick against the Saints since Paul Rideout did so for Tranmere in February 2001, in their famous 4-3 victory.
Alexis Sanchez scored a 98th-minute penalty as 10-man Arsenal recovered from conceding in injury time to claim a thrilling win over Burnley at Emirates Stadium. The Gunners’ title chances appeared to have been derailed as substitute Francis Coquelin fouled Ashley Barnes in the 93rd minute and Andre Gray converted from the spot to level after Shkodran Mustafi’s header had finally broken Burnley’s resistance. But, after Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was sent to the stands for protesting referee Jon Moss’ decision, Ben Mee was then penalised for a high foot on Laurent Koscielny in the Burnley area, and Sanchez deceived Clarets keeper Tom Heaton with a Panenka-style penalty.
The hosts had dominated for most of the game until Granit Xhaka’s second dismissal of the season for a reckless two-footed lunge on Steven Defour, from which Burnley profited, only for Sanchez to claim all three points in impudent fashion. Arsenal’s fifth consecutive league victory at home lifts them above Liverpool and Tottenham, who both dropped points on Saturday, but they remain eight points behind leaders Chelsea, who beat Hull 2-0 on Sunday. The result also means Burnley’s dismal away record this season continues, with Sean Dyche’s side having collected only one point from a possible 30 on the road. Heading into the seven minutes of added time, it appeared Arsenal had done enough to repel Burnley despite going down to 10 men, only for Coquelin to make a rash tackle on Barnes, with Moss showing no hesitation in awarding the penalty. Wenger protested and was sent to the stands but it was a clear trip and Gray converted, despite Petr Cech getting a firm hand on his shot.
Burnley boss Dyche was similarly aggrieved moments later as Moss penalised Mee for a high foot on Koscielny, who appeared to be offside when the free-kick was flighted in to the back post, but once that was missed, a penalty was a fair result for the challenge. Sanchez, who had earlier curled two efforts narrowly over either side of the interval, had one last moment of panache left, coolly chipping his effort straight down the middle as Heaton dived to his right, securing a vital win. An entertaining, if slightly routine, game had its complexion changed on 65 minutes when Xhaka’s needless challenge on Defour saw him sent off by referee Moss after consultation with the linesman. The 24-year-old’s dismissal was his fifth in the league since the start of last season – more than any other player in Europe’s top five divisions – and his second of this campaign, having also been sent off by Moss against Swansea in October. His ninth red card in three seasons could have an adverse effect on Arsenal’s title hopes with the midfielder now banned for the next four matches, including a crucial Premier League match at Chelsea on 4 February. Prior to his reckless tackle, Xhaka displayed his impressive range of passing, releasing the likes of Mesut Ozil and Sanchez from deep and showing why he will be missed.
Xhaka’s red also sparked an ill-disciplined end to the game for Arsenal, with Mustafi booked for dissent and Wenger also sent off for a futile protest against Burnley’s penalty, for which he later apologised. “I didn’t see any penalty from outside but I should have shut up and I apologise, even if I was frustrated,” said the Arsenal boss once tensions had cooled. Sanchez’s late winner provided a sickening end note for Dyche – who was taking charge of his 200th Burnley game – after he had appeared to get his tactics just right for long periods of the game. Despite not electing to use a five-man midfield to try and match Arsenal, his side were disciplined in staying behind the ball to force the hosts into attempting increasingly elaborate ways of opening them up, while the pace of Gray kept Mustafi and Koscielny honest on the break. The nature of Arsenal’s opener will therefore irk Dyche, as Mustafi was easily able to free himself of the Burnley defence’s attention to apply a simple finish to Ozil’s corner, with no-one stationed on the back post. With Arsenal down to 10 men, Dyche sent on Joey Barton and Sam Vokes and though Cech was rarely called into action, they applied enough pressure to induce a mistake as Gray scored the equaliser Burnley perhaps deserved.
Arsenal returned to the top four with a handsome victory at Swansea City, consigning Paul Clement to a demoralising defeat in his first Premier League game in charge of the hosts. Having initially been frustrated by their opponents, the Gunners led at half-time thanks to Olivier Giroud’s powerful, close-range finish. Alex Iwobi’s strike looped in via a big deflection off Jack Cork to double their advantage, and Kyle Naughton scored a second Swansea own goal when he turned another Iwobi shot into his own net. Alexis Sanchez completed the rout to lift Arsenal up to third in the table, while Hull’s win over Bournemouth means Swansea return to the bottom of the table. Despite some encouraging signs early in the game, this was a stark reminder to former Bayern Munich assistant manager Clement of the enormous task he faces to steer the Swans to safety.
By contrast, the ruthless nature of Arsenal’s display – particularly in an extremely one-sided second half – will surely give Arsene Wenger renewed hope of mounting a serious title challenge. The Gunners’ bid for a first title since 2004 had stuttered lately, largely due to an away record of one point from their past three Premier League matches on the road. Although they started slowly against the high-pressing Swans, the visitors settled thanks to a goal from an increasingly reliable source. Giroud started this game with 12 goals from his past 17 shots on target, and the France striker was clinical with his first effort on this occasion, seizing on Mesut Ozil’s blocked header and firing the ball into the roof of the net from six yards. Arsenal took control from that point and a period of concerted pressure early in the second half saw the floodgates open.
There was an element of luck about the second and third goals, but they were no more than the Gunners deserved for their dominance of possession and inventive use of it around the Swansea penalty area. The irrepressible Sanchez finally got in on the act after 73 minutes, volleying in from close range to score his 21st goal in 32 Premier League appearances. Arsenal have scored 27 goals away from home in the Premier League this season, at least five more than any other side. The Gunners have scored four or more goals in four away Premier League games this season, their most in a single campaign since 2002-03. Giroud has scored in each of his past nine starts, netting 11 goals in total. Sanchez has been involved in more goals (21) than any other Premier League player this season (14 goals, seven assists).