Arsenal back in control of Premier League title race

Arsenal back in control of Premier League title race
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Updated 08 April 2024
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Arsenal back in control of Premier League title race

Arsenal back in control of Premier League title race
  • All three clubs have seven matches remaining, with each of their run-ins sprinkled with what appears to be home bankers and tough road trips

LONDON: Mikel Arteta had just seen his Arsenal team come up painfully short in their Premier League title race with Manchester City and he couldn’t hide his anguish.

“I know we’re not at that level,” a crestfallen Arteta said last May, “but we have to find a way.”

Well, Arsenal’s upgraded class of 2024 are finding a way.

They are there again, leading the Premier League with seven games left — just like last season. And once again, City are on Arsenal’s shoulder, waiting to pounce.

Will this year be different?

The math is simple: Save for an unlikely huge swing in goal difference, Arsenal can capture the league for the first time since 2004 by winning their last seven games.

In a remarkably tight title race, Arsenal are tied for points with Liverpool but have a superior goal difference of 9 over Jurgen Klopp’s team. City are a point back in third.

All three clubs have seven matches remaining, with each of their run-ins sprinkled with what appears to be home bankers and tough road trips.

Arsenal are in the driving seat, though, and are mounting an increasingly convincing case.

Unlike last season, when Arteta’s players stumbled — some say froze — late in the campaign with just two wins in its last nine games as injuries took their toll, they look to be growing in strength this time.

Here’s a deeper look at the facts and figures around Arsenal’s latest title challenge and what might be the defining features of the next six weeks.

Statistics

The numbers suggest Arsenal are ready to take this final step. Unbeaten in the league in 11 matches in 2024, the team have scored 38 goals and conceded just four goals in that spell — better than anyone else in both aspects. In the season as a whole, Arsenal have scored a league-high 75 goals and let in a league-low 24 goals. Arsenal have the most reliable defense in the league, as shown by shutting out City home and away this season.

Squad strength

Declan Rice is the obvious upgrade in Arsenal’s squad, with the England midfielder’s $138 million fee proving to be value for money. Much of Arsenal’s defensive strength is down to the protection the back line gets from Rice in front of it and also from Jorginho, who has established himself as a regular in the second half of the season. Kai Havertz was a more contentious offseason signing but is confounding his critics, having scored in five in Arsenal’s last seven league games. Most notable were the late winners home and away against Brentford. Arsenal have also coped fine without its other big summer signing, Jurrien Tumber, who has missed pretty much the whole season because of injury. Jakob Kiwior, an unheralded January 2023 recruit, has filled in well at left back in recent months.

Lessons learned

Arteta was accused by many pundits of being too emotional on the sidelines last season and letting that seep into his team in those pressure-filled last few months. He’s still active on the touchline, for sure, but he is proving to be a calmer figure as the intensity builds. The same can be said of
his team. 

Arteta appears to have followed the playbook of City manager Pep Guardiola in pacing the campaign much more effectively. Arsenal controls games better, making them less frenetic. Arteta has not been afraid to rest players, when last season he might have overplayed the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli and saw their late-season displays tail off. By playing Kiwior, Arteta has also started to deploy a back four entirely composed of center backs — like Guardiola did at times last season to great effect.

EUROPE

The biggest concern for Arsenal might be its continued involvement in the Champions League, with a two-legged quarterfinal meeting with Bayern Munich coming up over the next two weeks. If Arsenal advances, it would play either City or Real Madrid in the semifinals. In that case, the Gunners would not have a free midweek until the last week of the season — and they aren’t used to such a fixture pileup. That would be the ultimate test of Arteta’s credentials and his squad depth.

SAKA’S FITNESS

The fitness of Bukayo Saka, Arsenal’s key attacker, is a concern. The right winger pulled out of the recent England squad because of a muscle injury, didn’t play at all against Luton last midweek and didn’t last the full game against either City (78 minutes) or Brighton (64 minutes). Arteta has said Saka is suffering from “niggles” and “kicks” and is clearly treating his prized asset with caution. He’ll need him over the next few weeks, though.

FIXTURES

Away from its extremely difficult Champions League schedule, Arsenal might also have the toughest run-in of the three Premier League title challengers. Away games against Manchester United — away to whom Liverpool has just stumbled twice — and north London rival Tottenham stand out, as does next weekend’s match against fifth-place Aston Villa, which comes between the double-header against Bayern. Negotiating a trip to Wolverhampton, which beat City at home this season, and then a home match against a mercurial Chelsea team in the space of four days after the second leg against Bayern could also be a test for Arteta.


SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif
Updated 21 July 2024
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SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif

SAFF launches first edition of Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif
  • Top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions are featuring in the tournament
  • The competition will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees who have been selected from SAFF Referees’ Academy

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has launched the first edition of the Regional Under-13 Championship in Taif, running from July 18–30.

Currently in its third day, the 12-day tournament features 14 regional teams, showcasing top talents from academies across 14 cities, provinces, and regions.

The 14 regional teams competing in the championship are from Al-Ahsa, Jazan, Najran, Jouf, Hail, Al-Qassim, the Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Asir, Madinah, Makkah, Hafar Al-Batin, and Tabuk.

SAFF’s Technical Director Nasser Larguet said: “The championship represents the result of the significant work supported by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and the outcome is the creation of the Regional Under-13 League. Clear goals and strategic plans have been set to discover and support young talents.”

Additionally, the tournament will provide valuable experience for young up-and-coming referees, who have been selected from the SAFF Referees’ Academy, further contributing to the development of skilled officials in the sport.

Manuel Navarro, president of the SAFF Referees Committee, said: “The Regional Under-13 Championship is an opportunity to develop promising referees, especially since it will witness the participation of 32 young referees. The committee aims to increase their refereeing hours and enhance their experience.”

This tournament is a significant part of SAFF’s strategy to scout and develop over 4,000 young talents by 2025, supporting the growth and future of Saudi football.


Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
Updated 20 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
  • The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage
  • The kit’s new design represents the architectural style “Rawashin”

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad FC has unveiled its kit for the 2024/25 season in collaboration with Nike.

Al-Ittihad presented its distinctive new kit in photo sessions in the center of historic Jeddah, among its alleys and ancient buildings, in cooperation with Al-Balad Development Company, the club’s official sponsor.

The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage, which fans have loved and celebrated for 97 years.

The kit’s new design represents the architectural style, “Rawashin,” the prominent traditional wooden panels used to cover windows and external openings at the old houses of Jeddah — considered an icon of the city’s heritage.

Domingos De Oliveira, CEO of Al-Ittihad Club, described the new kit as a symbol of the club’s history: “We worked closely with Nike in order to ensure access to the best that can be presented in the new kit, while preserving the established values of the basic kit, which represents a unique identity, after maintaining it for nearly a century.

“In the new kit, we worked to blend the heritage of Al-Ittihad Club with the history of the region from which it started, with a modern spirit that creates innovation in order to emerge with a product that reflects the club’s vision of starting from the base of its great history toward more glory and development in the current era and the future.

“Attention was paid to all the details in terms of the degree of color and their overlapping in the dividing line between them in the same way that the wooden columns in the Rawashin buildings of Jeddah are intertwined.”

For the first time, the home kit will be presented in three categories — the official home kit, which the players will wear, the stadium category, and the fans category.


Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row
Updated 20 July 2024
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Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

Argentina apologizes to France in football-chant row

BUENOS AIRES: Buenos Aires apologized to France after Argentina’s vice president called the European country “colonialist” and its people “hypocrites” in an argument over alleged racist chants by Argentine footballers.
President Javier Milei’s office said Friday it had sent a senior official to the French embassy to explain that Victoria Villarruel’s angry statement on social media was made in her personal capacity.
FIFA has announced an investigation into the chants sung by Argentina players, including Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez, 23, after they won the Copa America.
The chants were heard on a live video posted on social media by Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Fernandez has apologized, but Chelsea have launched an internal disciplinary procedure against him. The French Football Federation (FFF) has complained to FIFA.
On Wednesday, Villarruel expressed support for Fernandez on X, saying: “No colonialist country is going to intimidate us because of a stadium chant nor for speaking truths that they do not want to admit. Enough with feigned outrage, hypocrites.”
The diplomatic incident came just days before Milei is due to travel to Paris to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.
“Diplomatic relations with France are intact,” presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said Friday.
Argentina’s under secretary for sports, Julio Garro, was dismissed from his post this week after saying captain Lionel Messi and the Argentine Football Association should apologize for the chants.


Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game

Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game
Updated 17 July 2024
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Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game

Costa Rica keeps USA to 0-0 draw in Olympic sendoff game

WASHINGTON: Costa Rica played the United States women’s national team to a goal-less draw on Tuesday in the Americans’ sendoff match before departing for the Paris Olympics.

US captain Lindsey Horan told a crowd of nearly 19,000 spectators they were undaunted about their chances in France despite the draw.

“We wish we would have gotten the win,” she said. “But we’re going to go out and do our thing at the Olympics. This team is amazing. We’re going to represent this country so well and we’ll do everything possible to being back a gold medal.”

Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermudez and a swarming defensive effort frustrated a patient US squad to earn the Ticas a draw after losses in their first 17 matches against the Americans.

The US women outshot Costa Rica 26-2, forcing 12 saves from Bermudez and taking all 16 corners in the match.

“It takes a lot of patience to play against a low block. Costa Rica did it really well,” US midfielder Sophia Smith said. “It was definitely challenging for us but it was a good test because we’re going to face that in the Olympics.

“I know we can create chances. We created I don’t know how many chances tonight. It’s getting one in the back of the net, no matter how that looks. That will come.”

While it was a disappointment against a defensive-minded squad for new coach Emma Hayes and her US team, it showed the Americans what they need to do before they start to play for gold next week in France.

“That was a big message from Emma at the end of the game — don’t be frustrated,” Smith said. “We wanted a result from this but these games are preparation for something bigger.

“We need to peak when we need to peak and that’s at the start of the Olympics. We’re calm about it. We’re not frustrated. We trust the process. We know things will go our way when we need them to.”

The American women begin Olympic Group B play on July 25 against Zambia at Nice and also face Germany and Australia in group matches at Marseille.

“I think it’s going to be amazing,” Smith said. “I’m so excited to be going with this group. I’m excited to get the ball rolling in France. This group has a lot of potential and good things in store.”

The United States have won four Olympic women’s football titles — in 1996 on home soil and three in a row in 2004, 2008 and 2012.

US midfielder Rose Lavelle, who helped win the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, was a late scratch from the match due to leg tightness. Korbin Albert replaced her in the US starting lineup.

The Americans have three wins and a draw without surrendering a goal under England’s Hayes.

“I think we’ve made good, nice progress,” Hayes said. “When you take over a team and you’ve got to implement quite a lot, they have adapted to those ideas really well.

“We’re going into the Olympics with an idea of what we look to do most of our moments but now we’re starting to add some adaptations.”

Smith and Mallory Swanson were each denied on early chances by Bermudez while Trinity Rodman was offside on another US opportunity.

Bermudez and Rodman collided as the keeper denied Horan in the 24th minute. Bermudez also grabbed a Horan header in the 40th minute and thwarted Smith shortly before halftime.

Bermudez batted away a Smith chance in the 49th minute and deflected Horan’s kick in the 50th to keep Las Ticas level.

Horan found the net in the 55th minute only for the offside flag to be raised.

Bermudez deflected away a Rodman centering pass in extra time and Horan nodded a header over the crossbar in the final seconds.


Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos

Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos
Updated 17 July 2024
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Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos

Hard Rock Stadium hits back at CONMEBOL after Copa final chaos

MIAMI:  Hard Rock Stadium defended the security measures in place for Sunday’s Copa America final after CONMEBOL accused the venue of ignoring advice that might have prevented the chaotic incidents that held up the game.

The showpiece final between Colombia and Argentina at the Miami venue was delayed by 82 minutes as overwhelmed security struggled to get fans inside after ticketless fans rushed the entry points.

CONMEBOL, the governing body for football in South America, suggested that local organizers had failed to follow suggested procedures such as setting up an outer perimeter to screen ticketless fans.

“We regret that the acts of violence produced by malicious people have tarnished a final that was ready to be a great celebration of sport,” CONMEBOL said in their statement, adding that CONMEBOL “was subject to the decisions made by the Hard Rock Stadium authorities, according to the contractual responsibilities established for security operations.”

Stadium officials said Tuesday that security measures were jointly decided by the venue, CONMEBOL and local law enforcement.

“Hard Rock Stadium has safely hosted hundreds of world-class events in its 37-year history, including Super Bowls, major international soccer matches, Formula 1, NFL and college football, headline concert tours and other global events,” management of the venue said in a statement.

“In each of those, security was a joint effort among the organizer, local law enforcement agencies and the venue.

“As we’ve previously said, Hard Rock Stadium worked collaboratively with CONMEBOL, CONCACAF and local law enforcement agencies on security both leading up to and during the Copa America tournament.

“The agencies met regularly, including daily security briefings throughout the month-long tournament. Hard Rock Stadium implemented, and in many cases exceeded, CONMEBOL’s security recommendations throughout the tournament and the Final.”

The disturbing scenes before the final, won 1-0 by Argentina, immediately raised concerns for the 2026 World Cup which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Local police, overwhelmed by the situation despite the presence of 800 officers, said they detained 27 people and ejected 55 others from the venue.

It wasn’t the only concerning security incident during the tournament.

On Wednesday, Uruguay players were involved in a brawl with Colombian fans in the stands after their 1-0 semifinal defeat in Charlotte, North Carolina.