In the lead up to Arsenal’s Europa League fixture Mikel Arteta had used his pre-match press conference to talk about injury risks to players because of a punishing schedule. His remarks were pointed in their criticism of the Premier League for turning its back on the five substitution rule for the season and therefore forcing managers into rotating their players heavily in Europe. "We're going to have some really bad news with players that we are not respecting,” Arteta said. "It's not a coincidence, the percentage rate of muscular injuries. Intensity is not going to go down, the level of demands, the quality….”
Based on last night’s evidence, where Arsenal beat FK Molde 4-1, Arteta has a bigger headache. His reserve players are perhaps better than the regulars in sticky situations when the stakes run high. And their quality and desire is higher and more intense when push comes to shove.
Arteta made nine changes to the starting XI that beat Manchester United over the weekend, giving the youngsters Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Eddie Nketiah a go from the start. Justifiably then in the early stages — after a glaring miss by Nketiah — they struggled, going down in the 22nd minute to a Martin Ellingsen wonder strike from 30 yards.
The game could have drifted away from them there, and did for large parts, but the labour and verve of youth ensured they came away with the points.
Willock in particular was sparkling, driving forward from midfield — in a manner few Arsenal players have seemed capable of in recent times — to force two own goals from the visitors before getting one off his own in the 88th minute. It leaves Arsenal comfortable at the top of their group with three wins, even if the results aren’t really demonstrative of how difficult it has been.
In the other high profile fixture, Turkish midfielder Yusuf Yazici single-handedly brought AC Milan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic down to earth scoring all the three goals in Lille’s 3-0 demolition at the San Siro.
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The game was another case of a reserve player seizing his opportunity to shine. Yazici is yet to start in Ligue 1 this season, and yesterday he was in hot form, scoring a penalty in the 21st minute, before completing his hat trick with two goals in the space of three minutes (55’, 58’).
Incredibly, this is Yazici's second Europa League hat-trick of the season. He scored another in Lille's 4-1 win over Sparta Prague in the opening round of fixtures, taking his European tally to six.
The win puts the French club, who are unbeaten this season, a point ahead of Milan in Group H. The Italians, seven time European champions, lost for the first time since restart of the games post Covid-19 lockdown.
"I thought we could be more dangerous, but against such a fast team once we went 2-0 behind the game got complicated. They punished us for every mistake," Milan coach Stefano Pioli said after his side's 24-match unbeaten run came to an end.
Pirlo Calls Juve Stars Selfish
Juventus beat Ferencváros 4-1 in Budapest, Hungary, to all but ensure progress from their UEFA Champions League group, most likely as the No. 2 side behind Barcelona. However, the big win away from home failed to impress coach Andrea Pirlo, who felt the stars in the side should have acted less selfishly and more decisively.
Of course, Pirlo did not mention any specifics or the names but there is speculation that his comments may have been about star striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I am satisfied with the result, but we could have done much better in terms of the game,” Pirlo told Sky Sports after the match. The result moved them up to second spot in Group G with six points, behind Barca, who have nine.
“We made many superficial mistakes… it was important to get a result, but obviously we need to improve,” he added. I am someone who talks a lot with the players, then they go on the pitch and the choices are theirs. But it is important that these choices are right: we need to be less selfish and close games earlier.”
Pirlo’s comments are probably indicative of much more underlying issues at the club than something specific to the match in Budapest.
There have been reports in Italian football circles about how the Portuguese star seems less inclined to embrace the Italian way. He prefers to talk in Spanish — a fact that has made many Italians and footballers upset.
A day before the match, retired Juve defender Pasquale Bruno had criticised Ronaldo for showing no interest in Italy. Bruno had even called Ronaldo “ignorant” on the Italian football show Tiki Taka.
"He is ignorant,” Bruno, 58, had said. "He has been in Italy for two years and has not yet learned to speak our language. He uses Spanish to express himself. He has no respect for his team-mates or for the Italians. He makes himself loved by everyone."
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On Wednesday, Ronaldo did not score. Alvaro Morata stepped onto the plate instead, scoring a brace and quickly backed the Portuguese superstar, hitting back at the critics, though: "I don't have to say who Cristiano is and what he does,” he said. "He is always available, he makes himself loved by everyone, he is in the group.He is our most important player and we hope he will always take us to the next level."
Pirlo’s statement comes a day after Bruno’s. The issue here has many layers, from the classic Spain vs Italy fight, to team dynamics and power game.
It remains to be seen which side the club management would tilt to if at all the issue escalates to such an extent that they are forced to side with either Ronaldo or Pirlo. The call is between money and big business, and Italian ideals in the team ranks. Ronaldo is big money, no doubt while Italian legend, Pirlo, might be the long-term footballing light the side from Turin needs.
Premier League to Scrap PPV Plan
The Premier League’s pay-per-view (PPV) plan for broadcast is likely to be ditched after the matches this weekend.
The PPV model, which was introduced for the games that followed the October international break, was charging fans £14.95 for the matches not picked for television broadcast in the UK. The move drew immediate flak from fans who protested by opting to give the money to charitable causes such as food banks instead of paying the broadcasters.
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The league will most probably go back to the model which was in place at the start of the current season, where all matches were screened by one of the broadcast partners.
The current model coincided with the indefinite postponement of the return of fans to the stadiums. The country has entered its second national lockdown until at least December 2. And with cases rising, it is unlikely the government will allow fans entry into the venues for matches. The PPV model would have amounted to taking advantage of the situation.
FIFPro Concerned Over ACL Venue Shift
The global players’ union, FIFPro, has expressed concern over a “lack of consultation” by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in their decision to complete the eastern zone of the Asian Champions League (ACL) in Qatar due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After the tournament’s suspension in March, the western zone matches were completed in Doha. The AFC then decided to also move the remaining eastern zone matches to the Gulf nation to be played from November 18 to December 13.
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Despite stringent bio-security measures, a string of players contracted the novel coronavirus in Doha, with defending champions Al Hilal axed from the competition after they were only able to muster 11 players for their final group fixture.
“FIFPro is disappointed and concerned by the lack of consultation of professional footballers in the scheduling of the AFC Champions League in Qatar and the planning of Covid-19 protocols,” the players body said in a statement.
FIFPro said it had not received any information about the outbreak of the virus in the tournament’s bio-secure bubble either and added that several players due to compete in Qatar had expressed concerns to their unions about travelling during the pandemic and having to face a two-week quarantine period upon their return home.
“These matters have implications for their mental and physical health as well as their participation in domestic leagues.”
In response, the AFC said the decision was made after it received no expression of interest from the eastern zone clubs and member associations to host matches in the region.
Persepolis’ Alekasir's Ban Upheld
Persepolis’ striker Issa Alekasir’s appeal against a six-month ban has been rejected by the AFC. It means the 30-year-old Iranian will not be available for next month’s ACL final.
Alekasir was handed a six-month ban by the AFC for a “discriminatory gesture” just hours before he was due to lead his club Persepolis into the semifinals of the ACL last month.
The offence in question was a slant-eyed gesture he made to television cameras in his side’s 2-0 win over Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor in the ACL quarter-finals in Qatar. The punishment also carried with it a $10,000 fine.
The AFC announced that the request to overturn the punishment had been dismissed and that their appeal committee “upheld the sanction imposed in the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Committee decision in full”.
Persepolis secured their place in the final beating Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr in a penalty shootout. Alekasir, who had scored four times in the three games in the competition was suspended for that fixture too.
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