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Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool: Three talking points from the Emirates Stadium

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Arsenal scored three goals in just 388 second-half seconds but Roberto Firmino’s strike earnt Liverpool a deserved point in a pulsating encounter at the Emirates Stadium on Friday evening.

The Gunners struggled to assert themselves during the first-half and Liverpool took an early lead when Philippe Coutinho’s deft header – his first headed Premier League goal – lifted over Petr Cech.

Jurgen Klopp’s side had numerous chances to double their lead before the break, with Cech denying Mohamed Salah’s shot when clean through before Sadio Mane’s acrobatic effort flew over the crossbar with the net gaping, but Salah made no mistake to slot into the far corner after 52 minutes.

This merely sparked a remarkable passage of play though, and Arsenal hit back straight away when Alexis Sanchez ghosted in at the far-post to reduce the deficit with the hosts’ opening shot on target.

Three minutes later and the scores were level, with Granit Xhaka’s fierce strike from 25-yards only being parried into his own net by Simon Mignolet, before Mesut Ozil capped off an astonishing period of play when he latched onto Alexandre Lacazette’s deft back-heel and clipped over Mignolet.

The game wasn’t done there though, and it was Liverpool who had the last say when Roberto Firmino’s powerful effort could only be parried up into the air and into the net from Cech’s dive.

Both teams pushed late on but neither could muster a dramatic winner, and the result sees Liverpool remain in fourth in the Premier League. Arsenal stay in fifth, a point behind the Reds.

Premier League’s festive schedule kicks off with a bang

And that’s why we all love football.

There may be an awful lot of top-flight action to come over the next few weeks but there won’t be many – if any – matches that come close to providing the entertainment and drama from last night.

At 2-0 Liverpool were cruising against an insipid and uninspiring Arsenal, and it seemed that it was nothing more than a question of how many goals Jurgen Klopp’s team would score at the Emirates.

But in the space of 388 seconds the whole evening was turned on its head and football fans across the country were left with mouths wide open as Mesut Ozil provided a scarcely believable third goal in so little time.

There was always likely to be another twist though and Roberto Firmino’s strike earnt the visitors a deserved point on balance of play – although neither manager will be happy to leave without a win.

For Arsene Wenger, he had seen his side turn things around in the blink of an eye and with both momentum and the home crowd on his side he would have expected his side to see the game out.

But likewise, Jurgen Klopp oversaw his side spurn chance after chance in the first-half before they fell apart after the break. Although from suddenly being 3-2 down he will no doubt take the point.

It was a game that did little to prove either side’s top four credentials but, for the footballing neutral, it was the perfect way to whet the appetite for all of the football to come over Christmas.

Klopp’s defensive issues continue to hamper progress

So much has been said this season about the frightening options that Liverpool have in attack with the likes of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and sudden sensation Mohamed Salah.

The quartet have led Liverpool to 41 Premier League goals this season – only second to runaway leaders Manchester City – all of a sudden adding a clinical end product to some quite blistering counter-attacking football, and true to form the latter three all found the back of the net on Friday.

Yet it doesn’t matter how many goals Jurgen Klopp’s side can manage to score at one end of the pitch if they can’t hold onto a lead, and the same old problems surfaced once again for the German.

It’s become common knowledge that Liverpool are harbouring an unbalanced team, with their defence nowhere near the required quality for a team that have ambitions of winning the league.

But the way in which they capitulated in those 388 seconds was a new low and the visitors simply crumbled under the pressure from Arsenal, who found the net with their first three shots on target.

Joe Gomez allowed Alexis Sanchez to nip in front of him to immediately reduce the deficit after Liverpool’s second and it sparked a period of what can only be called frantic defending, with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet putting the icing on the cake by making a complete hash for the second.

Granit Xhaka’s shot, despite being powerful, was straight at the Belgian international and his attempt to push the ball away with just one fist went horribly wrong and ended up behind him.

Compare this to David de Gea’s showing against the Gunners merely a fortnight ago and the need for a top-class goalkeeper is evident, and Klopp needs to start his recruitment right from the back.

Until he sorts his back five out, it’s hard to see Liverpool sustaining a challenge on those above them.

Arsenal’s squad is in need of a major overhaul

Whilst all of the talk from Friday’s thrilling encounter will revolve around a simply astounding five-minute spell of football, it will do little more than paper over the glaring cracks over in north London.

Their miraculous burst undeniably showed character when it seemed for all the world that they were down and out following Mohamed Salah’s second goal but, aside from that unruly passage of football, the hosts struggled to get a foothold in the game and were outplayed by a smart Liverpool.

The Gunners had clearly learnt from their mistakes against Manchester United a fortnight ago when they were two goals down inside the opening ten minutes but their tactic of sitting deeper only invited pressure, and they were happy to allow the away team to have the lion’s share of possession.

With the so-called ‘Fab Four’ at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal this was always going to be a recipe for disaster, and the Reds should have been out of sight by half-time after spurning two great chances.

Part of that was down to poor individual performances on the home side’s behalf though, and the match merely showed just how many deadwood players currently reside in Arsene Wenger’s squad.

Both Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech – two great servants in the Premier League – are well past their best, with both having their worst games in an Arsenal shirt for a while, whilst the likes of Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi are nowhere near the calibre of player required for a top-four side that posses higher ambitions.

Signing Alexandre Lacazette for a club-record deal during the summer was met with a great reception from Arsenal fans, showing signs that the club is going in the right direction, but the frank reality is that far more investment is needed until the Gunners can be considered title challengers once again.

There were positives to take however, namely in the way that their 20-year-old academy product Ainsley Maitland-Niles stood up and dealt with the unstoppable threats of both Salah and Coutinho.

The duo may have found the net, and Arsenal may have conceded three, but the youngster wasn’t the one to blame and for someone so inexperienced he kept a calm and composed head throughout.

It was a game that will live long in the memory for years to come but more pressing matters are at hand for Wenger now, and he needs to create a long-term blueprint for his side or face years of mediocrity.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @willypearson.

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Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Emirates

Rob Meech

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Arsenal
Photo: Reuters

A barnstorming first-half performance against Crystal Palace saw Arsenal record their first victory of 2018. Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all scored in the opening 22 minutes to stun Crystal Palace. Arsenal could not add to their tally as the visitors stemmed the bleeding and replied with a late consolation through Luka Milivojevic.

This was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, whose ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League have taken a blow in recent weeks. Palace meanwhile, have been in impressive form since Roy Hodgson took charge, but this defeat has checked their progress. Here are three talking points from the Emirates…

Mesut Ozil steps up in Alexis Sanchez’s absence

With Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United rumoured to be nearing completion, this was a chance for Arsenal supporters to see how the team might shape up without him. Sanchez was excluded from the side that lost to Bournemouth last weekend, but his absence was hardly felt here.

That might have had something to do with the return of Mesut Ozil from injury. The Germany international was influential throughout, particularly in partnership with the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere. Ozil is sometimes accused of drifting in and out of games against top-quality opposition, but when he is given licence to express himself without defensive responsibility, there are few better players to watch in the Premier League.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, Ozil showed Gunners fans that there can be life after Sanchez. It should not be forgotten that Ozil is another Arsenal player in the final six months of his contract. Tying him down to a new deal must be a priority for the club.

A reality check for lacklustre Palace

After losing their first seven Premier League matches – without scoring a goal in the process – relegation seemed nailed on for Palace. The appointment of Hodgson was largely derided, but the former England boss has had a remarkable impact in a relatively short space of time at Selhurst Park.

Survival is by no means guaranteed, but such has been their upturn in form that it is hard to imagine the Eagles being sucked back into trouble. It says a lot about their progress that many thought an upset might have been on the cards. Palace, however, were left shell-shocked after Arsenal’s four-goal burst.

When the Gunners click, they can be irresistible. Palace fans need not be too alarmed, even if their defending was lax. In fact, they should be heartened that their players did not capitulate in the second period, with the game effectively over. Although Milivojevic’s goal was too, little too late, it was just reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Lacazette issues a timely reminder 

With a 3-0 advantage after just 13 minutes, Arsenal were in cruise control. But it was Lacazette’s goal, rounding off a superb team move to make it 4-0, that would have provided the biggest cheer. After hitting the ground running following his big-money transfer from Lyon last summer, the 26-year-old had endured a goal drought that stretched all the way back to December 2.

With questions being asked about his form, amid speculation that Arsenal are set to launch a raid for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a timely reminder that Lacazette has plenty to offer. His overall record of nine Premier League goals from 24 appearances is more than respectable for a newcomer to the English game.

Lacazette will hope that his goal against Palace can be the catalyst for another scoring run. Without Sanchez, the burden rests more heavily on the France international and if a move for Aubameyang does not materialise, he will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

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Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career

Rob Meech

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Theo Walcott

It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.

Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.

In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.

Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.

Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.

Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.

The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.

Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.

After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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