Arsenal brush aside Newcastle as Howe suffers first defeat

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring against Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, London, England, Nov. 27, 2021. (Reuters)
Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring against Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, London, England, Nov. 27, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 November 2021

Arsenal brush aside Newcastle as Howe suffers first defeat

Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli celebrates with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after scoring against Newcastle United, Emirates Stadium, London, England, Nov. 27, 2021. (Reuters)
  • Second half goals from Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli at the Emirates Stadium made it four wins for Arsenal from their last five league games
  • Eddie Howe was in charge of Newcastle in person for the first time after missing last weekend’s 3-3 draw against Brentford due to a positive COVID test

LONDON: The battle to find balance between attack and defence has been a five-year struggle on Tyneside — and is so far proving the impossible conundrum for Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe.

It was an issue first flagged up by now Everton boss Rafa Benitez under the ownership of Mike Ashley. It’s an argument so often referred to as the “short blanket.”

The concept is a simple one. Pull the short blanket up at one end, your feet are open to the elements at the other, and vice versa. With limited resources, it is tough to provide quality and consistency at both ends.

Steve Bruce, never as eloquent as Benitez, suffered from the same problems. And just 180 or so minutes into his tenure at Newcastle, Howe knows that issue firsthand.

A defensively disciplined display at the Emirates, much more so than at St James’ Park last week, saw the Magpies blunted in attack and ultimately beaten by two moments of real quality.

Second-half goals by Bukayo Saka and his replacement off the bench Gabriel Martinelli ensured United remained at the foot of the Premier League, without a win in 13 in the top flight and with the worst goals against column as well as just six points to show for their early season “efforts.”

Making his debut in the United dugout after a bout of Covid, Howe made three changes from the side that drew with Brentford seven days previously.

Out went Ciaran Clark, Jacob Murphy and Karl Darlow, with Emil Krafth, Ryan Fraser and Martin Dubravka returning to the starting XI.

United were open and expansive against the Bees, but it was more a case of disciplined and compact at the home of the Gunners, as Howe made some tactical tweaks to the side who looked defensively suspect last time out.

And it’s fair to say — for 45 minutes at least — it worked, as United largely frustrated the home side, keeping them at arm’s length.

United’s record against Arsenal home and away is by Premier League standards awful.

They’ve won just once in 20 outings, and have to go back to 2010 for a victory in the red half of North London.

And to get a result against a traditionally difficult foe you have to ride your luck, or hope for players to stand up in the key moments. Luckily, as mentioned previously, Howe decided to make the crucial call to bring back Slovak Dubravka, and United needed their reinstated No.1 to produce a number of crucial stops to keep things equal at the break.

His first stop was to palm away a curling Martin Odegaard free-kick, which skirted over the heads of the United wall. The second, as incredibly reactive as it was, was followed by a miss of biblical proportions by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Some excellent work by Saka down the Arsenal left opened things up for Emile Smith-Rowe, whose header was cleared by Dubravka, only to fall to Aubameyang. But with the goal at his mercy, the Gunners’ skipper clipped on to the United post.

While the hosts were the better side, this wasn’t one-way traffic, however. United had some chances of their own.

A Callum Wilson break down the right unleashed Fraser, whose cross deflected into the path of Jonjo Shelvey, but his 25-yard shot was excellently tipped on to the bar by the outstretched arm of goalkeeping man-of-the-moment Aaron Ramsdale.

It wasn’t until added time in the first-half that Arsenal began to up the ante — and it was this increased intensity that carried through into the opening exchanges of the second-half, which bore fruit on 55 minutes.

The tempo upped, Saka linked up with Albert Sambi Lokonga, then on to Smith-Rowe who found Saka again as he rolled off the back of Emil Krafth and guided the ball into the bottom corner from the angle on the left for 1-0.

As resolute as United had looked, it was no less than the hosts deserved.

Then came some controversy — but as typically has been the case this season for the Magpies, it went against the Premier League strugglers. In fact, within seconds they were two goals down and with yet another top flight mountain to climb.

A direct ball over the top for Wilson split the Arsenal backline and just as he appeared certain to pull the trigger in the area, the slightest of shoves from Nuno Tavares was enough to see the United striker lose his balance but not enough to convince the referee or the VAR officials of a foul.

Almost instantaneously, a direct ball at the other end saw the home side’s lead doubled.

A pin-point pass in behind by Takehiro Tomiyasu picked out the freshly introduced Martinelli, who, with his first touch, guided the ball past the helpless Dubravka.

And despite some light sparring at both ends, the Brazilian’s strike was enough to end this encounter as a contest, ensuring the gloom remains on Tyneside.

No one expected a result at Arsenal, a place United lose at on an annual basis, but results are exactly what the Magpies need. Their predicament at the foot of the table is starting to look a little desperate, despite the signs of improvement under Howe.

What the manager needs to work out is whether he is going to try and play his way out of the situation, or solidify a creaking defensive unit and do it the “boring” way.

At the moment, it feels like this is neither.

Fellow relegation battlers Norwich City and Burnley come to St James’ Park in the next seven days — and it is starting to feel like this week is make or break for Newcastle’s Premier League future.


Formula E reigning champion Nyck De Vries looking for repeat of Diriyah E-Prix season-opening victory

Formula E reigning champion Nyck De Vries looking for repeat of Diriyah E-Prix season-opening victory
Updated 21 January 2022

Formula E reigning champion Nyck De Vries looking for repeat of Diriyah E-Prix season-opening victory

Formula E reigning champion Nyck De Vries looking for repeat of Diriyah E-Prix season-opening victory
  • The 26-year-old Dutchman won the opening race in Riyadh last February before going on to claim overall victory in Season 7 of the all-electric championship

RIYADH: Dutch driver Nyck De Vries insists he is not fazed by the pressure of being the defending champion and is looking forward to his “favorite” race of the calendar in Saudi Arabia when the new season begins later this month.

The 26-year-old will line up for Mercedes in the eighth edition of the all-electric  championship, which will begin with the Diriyah E-Prix double-header in Riyadh on Jan. 28-29. The upcoming season will feature 16 rounds across 10 countries including the UK, Germany, the US and Italy.

De Vries — who won Season 7’s opening race at Diriyah last February — will be among 22 drivers who will be in action in the season-opener and while he is hoping to impress, he is fully aware of the strong competition he faces to replicate his title victory.

“There is always pressure and I’m always nervous and a little stressed on race days and sometimes have that different feeling because I do care and want to do well,” said De Vries. “Being the reigning champion doesn’t really change things as that was last year. Now, all of us begin equally and we have to prove ourselves again. So for me, I’m looking forward to the new season and performing better than I did in the past.”

De Vries has happy memories of racing in Saudi Arabia. In last year’s championship, he won the race, setting the platform to secure his first world ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, and admits competing under the lights will make the event even more special.

“Diriyah was good to me last year and it is my favorite event of the calendar because I do enjoy the layout,” he said. “It’s the fastest track on the calendar and doesn’t have any low-speed corners. It’s a great track and with it being a night race, it gives it an extra bit of touch and the organizers have made great use of the lighting to make it a cool race.

“There is not a huge difference compared to racing during the day, but during the night the emotions are all a bit greater. Everything looks a bit faster and intimidating and I think there’s a lot more emotion so I personally like the idea of a night race.”

The driver also outlined his ambition to continue racing in the championship, and the importance of participating regularly to become the best driver he can be.

He said: “I believe that it’s important to stay active and continue practicing your racing skills in different disciplines. When you are racing, there is always the different pressure to testing — so I am someone who would prefer to race than test as I believe testing is effective in certain stages of your career and will give you experience. However, it doesn’t put you in the situation where you get those unique, different feelings from racing. Hence, I want to be racing as much as possible and hope to continue racing in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship and endurance racing.”


End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations
Updated 21 January 2022

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations
  • Only a few weeks ago the newly crowned FIFA Arab Cup champions were chasing Italy’s world record of 37 unbeaten matches, but a disastrous campaign in Cameroon sees them head home after the group stages

Riyad Mahrez’s penalty against Ivory Coast in the final group game of the 2021 African Nations Cup on Thursday summed up Algeria’s campaign.

With his team 3-0 down in a game the 2019 victors needed to win, Algeria were handed an undeserved spot kick. The Manchester City star, who had been anonymous for much of the group stage, hit the post. And that was the end of one of the worst tournament defenses you will see for a long time — right up there with France’s shambolic effort at the 2002 World Cup.

That global jinx has come to the African Cup of Nations with the champions crashing and burning in the first round. It is barely believable that Algeria are out and even less so that the early exit was completely deserved. All of the continent kept waiting for the team to get going but it never happened. The likes of Manchester City, Milan, Napoli, West Ham United, Lyon and Villarreal will be surprised and delighted at getting their players back almost three weeks earlier than expected while everyone else is just surprised that the likes of Mahrez, Ismael Bennacer and Aissa Mandi, who play at the  top of the European club game, could not even inspire their team to finish third in a group containing Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast. 

Where to start? Well, in the beginning there was a team that arrived in Cameroon with a 34-game unbeaten run — just three short of Italy’s world record — and genuine ambitions of a second successive title. The second string had won the Arab Cup in December and coach Djamel Belmadi, who had been in place since August 2018, led the team to continental glory in 2019 and is hugely popular. 

The opening 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone, a team ranked 118 in the world, 78 places below Algeria, was a surprise but such things can happen in the first game. The Leone Stars defended as if their lives depended on it and the North Africans were guilty of missing chances with 18 attempts and two-thirds possession. Not to worry, there were two games to go and time to locate shooting boots. And not just that with four of the six best-performing third-placed teams in the group stage going through; there was surely little danger.

Then came a 1-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea ranked at 114 and making just a third appearance at the tournament. This was awful, without urgency or creativity, and there is a suspicion that star-studded Algeria seriously underestimated a national team representing a country of only 1.4 million. The champs could barely string a pass together and Mahrez, this season’s top scorer at Manchester City — a team thought by many to be the best in the world — was ineffective to the point of invisibility.

There was still another chance in the final game. Victory over Ivory Coast could even see Algeria finish top of the group. There was no danger of that as the champions were second best for most of the game. A lack of discipline, concentration and basic marking at the back allowed Ivory Coast to collect what was ultimately a comfortable win. At times, Algeria looked like they could get back in the game but never really had the conviction that they could do it. From the get-go, the body language was a concern and heads seemed to drop as soon as the first goal went in. Algeria were outworked and outfought.

Mahrez was the symbol and his performances, or lack of, came in for questions in the post-match inquest. Belmadi can be as combative as a coach as he was as a player for Marseille and Manchester City and hit back at journalists.

“Don’t go and point the finger at players who have given you so much happiness,” Belmadi said. “When things are not going well you start to point the finger at him or me. Did you want me to drop him to the bench? I didn’t change things. I left him in the team.”

For Belmadi, it is an unwelcome reminder of the 2015 Asian Cup. In Australia, he was in charge of Qatar and they arrived in good form and with high hopes. Then they lost all three games Down Under but this was worse as Algeria were the title-holders. In 2015, he didn’t last long as Qatar boss, but has enough credit in the bank to survive this time — however now it all comes down to the final World Cup qualification play-off in March.

“We will have to pick ourselves up, digest this, analyze it and lift our heads up. The World Cup awaits and we will need to do better,” Belmadi said.

The 2021 African Cup of Nations will forever be a painful memory for Algeria. It remains to be seen if it marks the start of a dark period or serves as a wake-up call and inspires the team to qualify for Qatar and then go on to show the world what they are made of. 

For now though, Algeria, who basked in the glory of their 2019 success, will have to deal with a very different feeling.

“This is something we have to swallow,” said Belmadi. “It is hard for us because we are not used to losing. It is a bitter taste. It is horrible.”


Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao

Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao
Updated 21 January 2022

Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao

Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao
  • Barca won the Copa del Rey last season and defending their title was probably their best chance of silverware this term

MADRID: Barcelona were dumped out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday as Ferran Torres’ first goal for the club failed to prevent a dramatic 3-2 defeat after extra-time by Athletic Bilbao.
Disappointment for Barca was compounded by the sight of a visibly upset Ansu Fati going off injured in the second half of normal time at San Mames.
Fati only returned earlier this month after two months out with a hamstring problem, having also come back in September following 10 months out with a knee injury.
Another spell on the sidelines for Fati would be a huge blow to Barca’s hopes of making La Liga’s top four. Pedri also asked to go off in extra-time.
Real Madrid needed an extra 30 minutes as well to defeat Elche 2-1, with Eden Hazard scoring the winner after Marcelo’s red card forced La Liga’s leaders to come from behind with 10 men.
Barca were hoping to join them in the last eight but instead it is Athletic who advance, joining Madrid, Real Sociedad, Mallorca, Rayo Vallecano, Cadiz, Valencia and Real Betis in Friday’s draw for the last eight.
Madrid will be firm favorites, particularly after Sevilla crashed out at the hands of Real Betis, who are now perhaps the greatest threat to Carlo Ancelotti’s side winning their first Copa del Rey since 2014, during Ancelotti’s first tenure as coach.
Barca won the Copa del Rey last season and defending their title was probably their best chance of silverware this term.
They are out of sight in La Liga and were beaten by Madrid in last week’s Spanish Super Cup, with the Europa League now their only realistic remaining route to a trophy.
Only 102 seconds had passed when Iker Muniain sent San Mames apoplectic by collecting Nico Williams’ cross at the back post, before turning and bending into the far corner.
But Barcelona were level in the 20th minute, and from a similar angle, as Torres shifted right, inside Oscar De Marcos, and whipped a stunning shot into the net.
Inaki Williams hit the bar with a long-range effort late on but the real drama was still to come. Athletic thought they had won it in the 86th minute when Inigo Martinez prodded in at the back post ahead of the sliding Gerard Pique.
Barcelona, though, found a way back in the 93rd, as Dani Alves bicycle-kicked Jordi Alba’s cross back into the area and Pedri’s hit on the stretch was too powerful for Julen Agirrezabala’s right hand.
Barca celebrated like it was the winner but there was extra-time to come and injuries. Fati went off and then Pedri asked to depart.
Then in the 103rd minute, a sliding Alba stopped Nico Williams’ cross with his right arm and after consulting the replay, Jose Munuera pointed to the spot. Ter Stegen dived right, Muniain shot left.


Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov

Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov
Updated 21 January 2022

Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov

Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov
  • Osaka, who won at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021, will simultaneously be playing Amanda Anisimova on the adjacent Margaret Court Arena
  • Nadal faces dangerous Russian 28th seed Karen Khachanov in the late match

MELBOURNE: Top seed Ashleigh Barty and defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka can set up a mouth-watering last-16 clash as the Australian Open reaches the third round on Friday, with Rafael Nadal also in action as he targets a 21st Slam title.
World number one Barty, who has been in dominant form in 2022, faces the experienced Italian 30th seed Camila Giorgi to begin the night session on Rod Laver Arena.
Osaka, who won at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021, will simultaneously be playing Amanda Anisimova on the adjacent Margaret Court Arena.
Nadal faces dangerous Russian 28th seed Karen Khachanov in the late match, with the Spaniard warning that his best is still to come as he works his way back to peak form after an injury-hit 2021.
Barty, chasing a first title at her home Slam, has barely broken sweat so far, dropping only three games in two matches.
The Wimbledon champion won the warm-up Adelaide International with a serve that was untouchable, and it has been flawless so far in Melbourne as well.
“Just continually trying to make it a weapon,” she said of her serve, which has not been broken for 48 straight games stretching over five matches.
“I’m not the biggest girl out there, but I know I’ve got a sound technique and I know if I can get my rhythm right and use it effectively, it can be a weapon.”
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka says she has been taking unlikely inspiration during the first Slam of the year from maverick Australian Nick Kyrgios and Brit Andy Murray, who tweeted that he was enjoying watching her.
“Definitely means a lot. For me it was a really cool moment,” she said of Murray’s message.
Nadal’s path to become the first man to win 21 Grand Slams — he is tied on 20 with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic who are both absent — could see him meet Olympic champion Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals.
But first he needs to despatch Khachanov — with the prospect of another Russian, last year’s semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, awaiting in the last 16.
“I think playing against Khachanov is going to be a big challenge,” said Nadal, who said he was not looking beyond Friday’s match.
“I never think that far. Just staying focused on my daily work, on what’s coming, and that’s it. One moment in time, that’s it.”
Third seed Zverev faces Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot out on “party court” John Cain Arena, while Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini takes on Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz in the men’s draw.
The women’s action on Rod Laver begins with Belarusian former two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka taking on Ukrainian 15th seed Elina Svitolina.
They will be followed by the French Open champion and fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic against Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko.


Ivory Coast send reigning champions Algeria crashing out of Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast send reigning champions Algeria crashing out of Cup of Nations
Updated 20 January 2022

Ivory Coast send reigning champions Algeria crashing out of Cup of Nations

Ivory Coast send reigning champions Algeria crashing out of Cup of Nations
  • Franck Kessie and Ibrahim Sangare scored in the first half for the Elephants in Douala
  • Riyad Mahrez hit the post with a second-half penalty before Sofiane Bendebka pulled one back for Algeria

DOUALA: The Ivory Coast crushed an abject Algeria 4-1 on Thursday with Nicolas Pepe among the scorers as the reigning champions crashed out of the Africa Cup of Nations in the group stage.
Franck Kessie and Ibrahim Sangare scored in the first half for the Elephants in Douala, while Pepe and Sebastien Haller added further goals after the break as the Ivory Coast secured top spot in Group E.
Riyad Mahrez hit the post with a second-half penalty before Sofiane Bendebka pulled one back for Algeria with their first goal since arriving in Cameroon, but by then it was too late.
It is the fifth time in the last six Cups of Nations that the reigning champions have failed to make the AFCON knockout phase, but there has arguably never been a worse title defense.
Djamel Belmadi’s side came to Cameroon on an unbeaten run stretching back over three years but they were held by Sierra Leone in their opening match and then lost to Equatorial Guinea to suffer a first defeat in 36 matches.
Algeria would have qualified for the last 16 with a win against an Ivory Coast side already guaranteed their place in the knockout rounds, but that never looked like a possibility.
Their demise was lapped up by the fans at the Japoma Stadium in Cameroon’s economic capital, with the 50,000-capacity ground filling up as the game went on.
By the time the match was over it looked like fans had taken up more seats than the 60 percent capacity limit imposed as part of coronavirus restrictions, and many invaded the pitch in chaotic scenes of celebration.
The Ivory Coast clearly had the backing of the crowd and they will stay in Douala for a heavyweight last-16 tie next week against Mohamed Salah’s Egypt in a repeat of the 2006 final won by the Pharaohs.
Equatorial Guinea go through in second place in Group E after defeating Sierra Leone 1-0 in Limbe thanks to a superb first-half strike from Pablo Ganet.
Kei Kamara missed a penalty for Sierra Leone as they go out while Equatorial Guinea will stay in Limbe for a last-16 tie against whoever wins Group F between Gambia, Tunisia and Mali.
The Ivorians had conceded a stoppage-time equalizer in their last game to draw 2-2 with Sierra Leone following a comical mistake by goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare.
He then learned of the death of his father later that night, but he kept his place in an Elephants team missing Premier League pair Eric Bailly and Wilfried Zaha due to fitness problems.
They went ahead midway through the first half at the end of a great move as Pepe cut the ball back for Kessie to finish low into the corner.
It was 2-0 six minutes before the interval as the unmarked Sangare headed in a Serge Aurier free-kick.
Algeria did not come out fighting after the restart and they might have fallen further behind before Pepe finished superbly in the 54th minute to make it 3-0.
Mahrez then hit the upright on the hour mark from a spot-kick awarded for a soft foul on Youcef Belaili.
They did get a first goal in over four hours of football when Aissa Mandi turned the ball back across goal for substitute Bendebka to score in the 73rd minute, before Haller headed home at the death to compound their misery.