Wenger talks down title chances

5 November 2012 09:48

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has all but written off the club’s hopes of winning the Premier League this season.

Wenger has admitted that the Gunners are struggling to compete after suffering their worst start to a campaign under his tenure.

The defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford at the weekend saw the Gunners remain sixth, a full nine points off the top with barely a quarter of the season gone.

Wenger said the lead they’ve already given their rivals may be too much for them to claw back as the season progresses.

“We’re very far behind now,” Wenger told reporters.

“At the moment you cannot say that (we are good enough to challenge the top three), because we are far away.

“But that’s what we have to show, and that’s what the target is at the end of the season. We’ve played away at United, City, Liverpool and Stoke – so we’ve many difficult away games.

“But we were poor defensively here. There’s no obvious reason for that, apart from the fact we didn’t start well and United have quality up front.

“They score goals against everybody and they are better than us. It’s as simple as that.

“Away to Manchester City we drew 1-1, a good result, and didn’t suffer by comparison.

“Here, I just think we were not on full cylinders and looked much more vulnerable ¬≠defensively than we did at the start of the season.”

The loss to Sir Alex Ferguson’s side also saw the returning Jack Wilshere sent off for two bookable offences and Wenger has confessed that he thought about subbing the 20-year-old before his dismissal, even though he disagreed with the eventual decision.

“It was very harsh. To me it looked a regular challenge,” Wenger told the club’s official website.

“Yes, of course (I thought about replacing Wilshere). But we were in a position where we had to attack and I had no offensive central midfielders on the bench as well.

“I thought I would leave him a bit longer and (the red card) looked harsh from the bench.”

Champions League Group D preview: Dortmund primed to qualify

5 November 2012 08:29

Borussia Dortmund could clinch a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League on Tuesday with a win at Real Madrid.

The German champions have been as entertaining as any side in the competition this season and were good value for their 2-1 win over the Spanish champions at home in the last round of Group D games.

And despite their struggles in the Bundesliga, Jurgen Klopp’s side can all but knock out English champions Manchester City and Ajax from the ‘group of death’ if they can return home with three points from the Bernabeu.

Dortmund’s medical staff are hurriedly constructing a mask to protect a broken nose captain Sebastian Kehl’s suffered in the side’s goalless draw with Stuttgart on Saturday while Jose Mourinho’s Real could have Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira back in the squad.

The side warmed up for Tuesday’s clash with Dortmund with a 4-0 win over Real Zaragoza in La Liga and Mourinho expects at least Alonso to come back into the starting side.

Khedira is less likely to play and missed the Zaragoza clash having strained his leg almost a fortnight ago against Dortmund.

Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City need a win to keep any feint hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages alive and the Italian has stressed the need for more goals after a string of sub-par performances.

Dortmund lead the group with seven points, Real Madrid are on six, Ajax are on three while City have had a horror European campaign to date and hold up the group with one point.

City were poor and utterly outclassed in a 3-1 defeat to Ajax in Amsterdam in the last round of fixtures and will now need a small miracle to advance.

With three games to go, another loss at the Etihad Stadium to Ajax could mean an early exit for Mancini’s tottering side if Real or Dortmund manage to pick up all three points.

City may well be without England internationals James Milner and Joleon Lescott and were easily held at bay by West Ham in a goalless draw at Upton Park on Saturday – the first match in seven months the Premier League champions had failed to score.

Champions League Group C preview: Malaga set to cement knockout spot

5 November 2012 07:54

Malaga will face their sternest test of the Champions League season so far when they travel to Italy to take on AC Milan on Tuesday.

The Spanish side are yet to concede a goal in what is their first season in the competition and lead Group C by five points after going undefeated in their opening three games.

A win at the San Siro will ensure Manuel Pellegrini’s side progress to the knockout round in what would be a huge boost to the financially-stricken club.

Winger Joaquin was the hero in the corresponding fixture on matchday three, scoring a second half winner after missing an early penalty to hand his side a 1-0 win.

However, Malaga will go into the game off the back of their first loss in five matches after they were beaten at home 2-1 by Rayo Vallecano in the La Liga on the weekend in a result which saw them concede third spot to Real Madrid.

AC Milan have endured a less than impressive start to their Euro campaign with Massimo Allegri’s men stuck on four points from three games.

After an opening day draw with Anderlecht and a 3-2 win over Zenit St Petersburg, Milan were defeated at Malaga.

Domestically, Milan are languishing in 11th place on the Serie A table, 14 points behind leaders Juventus. But an emphatic 5-1 win over Chievo on Saturday will give Milan hope they can turn their season around and they will go into the tie full of confidence.

Meanwhile, third-placed Zenit St Petersburg will travel to Anderlecht without star striker Hulk after the former Porto man sustained a thigh injury in his side’s 2-1 win over Rostov on Friday.

26-year-old Hulk, who was bought for 60 million euros in the summer, is a pivotal part of Zenit’s attack and will be sorely missed by Igor Korneev’s side.

Zenit are one point behind AC Milan and will be hoping to win without their record signing to ensure they give themselves the best chance of moving out of the group stage.

They face an Anderlecht side who have not won a Champions League home game since 2003 and simply must win in order to keep their slim chances of progression alive.

The Belgian champions are currently second on the Pro League table and come into the tie after two significant victories over Gent and Mechelen in their past two league games.

However, John van den Brom’s men are yet to record a win in this year’s Champions League, with a 0-0 draw with AC Milan on matchday one providing them with their only point so far.

The Belgian side, who have yet to score in the Champions League this season, will have to be at their best to get anything out of the game.

Owen slams ref for Coloccini red

5 November 2012 07:49

Veteran Michael Owen believes referee Anthony Taylor was wrong to show Fabricio Coloccini a red card during Newcastle’s draw with Liverpool.

The Magpies were the first on the scoresheet when Yohan Cabaye netted on 43 minutes, but the away side were pegged back thanks to a brilliant equaliser from Luis Suarez midway through the second-half.

A controversial red card for Coloccini on 84 minutes, however, transformed the finely balanced tie into a backs-to-the-wall job for Alan Pardew’s men, and former Liverpool favourite Owen was quick to voice his opinions on the decision.

“Not having that at all. (Coloccini) didn’t touch him and to say there was intent is laughable,” the 32-year-old Stoke striker wrote on Twitter.

“Let me tell you, he kicks a moving ball a thousand times a day and doesn’t miss it once. If he wanted to connect with a standing leg then he wouldn’t have missed.

“He pulls out at the last minute and doesn’t touch him. Not having that’s a red at all.”

MLS wrap: Dynamo, San Jose net first-leg advantages

5 November 2012 05:57

Houston and San Jose registered victories in the first legs of their MLS semi-finals on Sunday.

Adam Moffat and Will Bruin scored for the Houston Dynamo in their 2-0 victory over Eastern Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City at home, while the San Jose Earthquakes left it late to register a 1-0 win in Los Angeles over the Galaxy.

In Houston, Moffat gave Dynamo the lead in the 18th minute with a stunning blast from just outside the box, powering past keeper Jimmy Nielsen.

The Dynamo doubled their lead in the 78th minute when Bruin got a feed from Calen Carr in the centre of the box and blasted the ball into the net.

It was Bruin’s third goal of the post-season and took him top of the playoff scoring chart.

Despite having the edge in possession, Sporting couldn’t break past a stingy Houston defence.

Peter Vermes’ side could at least be happy with the fact that the result wasn’t at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park and it will try to overturn a two-goal deficit in the second leg on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, at the Home Depot Center, San Jose had Victor Bernardez to thank for their late victory over the Galaxy.

Bernardez took a lengthy run up on a free kick from 35 yards out and crushed the ball through the wall to score the winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

The chances in the opening half came mostly from the Galaxy, aside from a second minute Chris Wondolowski shot.

In the early going, David Beckham floated a free kick toward the net from the left flank.

Robbie Keane connected but the ball skidded off the top of his head and zipped a few feet wide.

At the end of the half, Los Angeles created two chances down the left wing.

First Landon Donovan pulled the ball back behind Keane’s run and in stoppage time Todd Dunivant’s cross sizzled a few inches above Mike Magee’s head.

Several second-half substitutions, including the rare withdrawal of Beckham, helped spark the game.

The best Galaxy chance of the match came five minutes from time.

Magee scooted the ball to Donovan, who passed back to Keane.

The Irishman blasted from just outside the box, and the entire goal frame shuddered when the ball hit the crossbar.

Then, deep into stoppage time, Bernardez bobbed up to win it for his side.