Football: Gunners have ‘hell of a lot of work to do’

LONDON • Riding high until two weeks ago, Arsenal’s season has taken a sudden downturn that has thrown the focus firmly on the club’s plans for the January transfer window.

Before the visit to Southampton on Dec 16, the Gunners had gone 22 games without losing and it seemed like the trajectory of Unai Emery’s side was undeniably on the up.

The defeat at St Mary’s has, however, triggered a downturn with just one win in five games, including Saturday’s humiliating 5-1 defeat at Premier League leaders Liverpool. Arsenal now sit five points off the top four and anything less than three points in the home league meeting with Fulham today will further undermine the club’s hopes of reclaiming a place in the Champions League.

Pundits have already written off their chances, with former Gunner Martin Keown claiming there was “a hell of a lot of work to do”.

He told BT Sport: “Arsenal are in the beginning of their (project).”

Injuries have not helped with defenders Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi all doubts for the Emirates clash, while auxiliary wing-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles and out-of-favour midfielder Mesut Ozil are also uncertainties.

However, goalkeeper Bernd Leno declined to use their growing casualty list – which includes long-term absentees Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck – as an excuse following the mauling at Anfield, urging his teammates to show their mettle against the Cottagers. The opposition are on a three-game unbeaten run.

“I don’t think that was the difference,” the German said. “We as a team made too many mistakes. We have enough quality, even when somebody is injured.

“Injuries were not the problem. We have to look forward because we have another important game on Tuesday.

“It’s the first game of the year and on Tuesday, we want to beat Fulham at home. We need to win.”

Defender Stephan Lichtsteiner also vowed that the team would “never give up” on their bid to finish among the Champions League places, saying: “We’ll aim for that. Until the end we’ll work, we’ll believe… It’s a challenge and one we need to accept.”

But burly Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who ended a six-game drought to sink Huddersfield at the weekend, will surely relish the challenge of pitting his wits against a makeshift and vulnerable Gunners backline that has already let in 30 league goals – five more than at the same point last term.

The Serb, who has scored eight league goals this season, has been their star player and he felt his winner “gives us confidence before facing Arsenal”.

The coming weeks, starting with Fulham, will go a long way towards shaping the remainder of Arsenal’s season.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ARSENAL V FULHAM

Singtel TV Ch102 StarHub Ch227, 11pm

Patrick McCaw Joins Cavs On Two-Year, Non-Guaranteed Contract

Patrick McCaw officially joined the Cleveland Cavaliers after the Golden State Warriors declined to match the Cavs’ two-year, $6 million offer sheet.

The 23-year-old McCaw’s contract is non-guaranteed, meaning that the Cavs have until January 7th to decide whether they want to keep him on the roster and pay a pro-rated $1.7 million for the rest of the season. The second-year of the deal is also non-guaranteed.

McCaw cannot get traded this season once his contract becomes guaranteed after January 7th.

McCaw averaged 4 points and 1.7 rebounds last season for the Warriors.

The signing also keeps the Warriors’ 15th roster spot open. 

Federer relishes clash with Williams in Perth

PERTH • Tennis royalty Roger Federer and Serena Williams, with 43 Grand Slam singles titles between them, will welcome the new year on opposite sides of the net at the mixed-team Hopman Cup.

Federer leads Switzerland in defence of the Cup he won alongside Belinda Bencic earlier this year.

The American Williams is back for the first time since winning the Australian Open last year. She partners world No. 39 Frances Tiafoe in her fifth Cup appearance.

Federer said the mixed-doubles tie against Williams on Tuesday, Jan 1, was a once-in-a-lifetime match-up he was looking forward to.

“We’ll probably play it down a little bit and say it’s not that big of a deal for us, it’s just another tennis match, but it really isn’t because it’s probably going to happen once and never again,” said the world No. 3.

The 20-time Major winner has spent the off-season training hard ahead of the defence of his Australian Open title, which starts on Jan 14, and revealed he was happy with his fitness levels.

The 37-year-old, who has gone on to lift the opening Grand Slam of the year for the past two seasons after starting in Perth, added: “The last three or four weeks have been very intense. I’m very excited and motivated for this next season.”

Serena played an exhibition match against sister Venus in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, losing 4-6, 6-3, 10-8 at the Mubadala Championships.

The Hopman Cup will be her first competitive event since her meltdown in the US Open final against eventual winner Naomi Osaka.

She chose not to talk about that infamous rant at umpire Carlos Ramos, instead saying she was looking forward to win an eighth crown at Melbourne Park, which would put her equal with Australian Margaret Court on 24 Slams.

She said: “I feel like I’m pretty fit. I haven’t played with Frances in mixed doubles before, but have watched him from afar this year. He has a very bright future and I’m looking forward to being on court with him, it will be a lot of fun.”

Her 20-year-old partner is considered one of the sport’s up-and-coming stars, having landed his first ATP singles title at the Delray Beach Open in February.

He said: “I’m extremely nervous to play with Serena, a complete legend. But I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Completing Group B are Greece (Stefanos Tsitsipas/Maria Sakkari) and Britain (Cameron Norrie/Katie Boulter).

Losing finalists Germany (Alexander Zverev/Angelique Kerber) are in Group A with France (Lucas Pouille/Alize Cornet), Australia (Matt Ebden/Ashleigh Barty), and Spain (Garbine Muguruza/David Ferrer).

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HOPMAN CUP

Britain v Greece: Singtel TV Ch115 StarHub Ch209, 9.45am. Australia v France: 5.15pm

Allegri reportedly eyeing Man United hot seat

LONDON • Massimiliano Allegri wants to be considered for the Manchester United manager’s job when it becomes available at the end of the season.

Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager, remains United’s first choice but other candidates, including the Juventus coach, have not been ruled out.

United are committed to conducting what club officials have called a “thorough and extensive” recruitment process to determine who should succeed caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Allegri, 51, led Juventus to four successive Serie A titles and took the Italian club to the Champions League final in 2015 and 2017.

The Times of London reported that he is understood to have been taking English lessons and would like to work in the Premier League. The Italian is particularly keen on taking the job at Old Trafford, which is vacant after the sacking of Jose Mourinho earlier this month.

Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid manager, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Solskjaer, meanwhile, has claimed comprehensive victories over Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town in his first two matches in charge, but it is understood that the chances of the Molde manager being given the job full time are slim.

SPEED MERCHANT

The speed is his strength. I’m going to work on his finishing. He just has to calm down a bit. He has a good shot from outside the box. Within the box he must work to keep calm.

OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER , caretaker manager of Manchester United, on his striker Marcus Rashford.

The Norwegian club have insisted that the former United striker will return to his role in May.

Striker Marcus Rashford has played well in Solskjaer’s first two league games, scoring the first goal of his reign against Cardiff and nearly setting up Diogo Dalot for a goal against Huddersfield.

Still, Solskjaer believes that Rashford can improve and, having scored 126 goals for the club himself, intends to give some advice to the 21-year-old on how he can become more ruthless.

“The speed is his strength. I’m going to work on his finishing. He just has to calm down a bit,” Solskjaer told Norwegian broadcaster TV2.

“He has a good shot from outside the box. Within the box he must work to keep calm and just aim to put the ball past the goalkeeper.”

The 45-year-old is also expecting a far tougher challenge when United host Bournemouth in the league tomorrow and when they travel to Newcastle on Wednesday.

“With all due respect to Huddersfield, the two battles against Bournemouth and Newcastle will be more difficult,” he said.

Paul Pogba, who had a turbulent relationship with Mourinho, has found a new lease of life under Solskjaer with two assists and two goals in his last two starts.

“He’s very important for us and when he plays at his best, he can make the difference in every game,” midfielder Nemanja Matic said of his teammate.

“He played very well against Huddersfield but I think that he can do even more. Slowly, game by game he can improve. It was very important for him to score some goals.”

THE TIMES, LONDON

MAN UNITED V BOURNEMOUTH

Singtel TV Ch102 StarHub Ch227, Monday, 12.30am

Football: Jose Mourinho’s highs and lows at Manchester United

MANCHESTER – Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has left the club with immediate effect following a dismal start to the season, the Premier League side announced on Tuesday (Dec 18).

United have made their worst start to a league season in 28 years and were beaten 3-1 by arch-rivals Liverpoool on Sunday in what was Mourinho’s final match in charge of the club.

Here’s a summary of his two-and-a-half year spell at Old Trafford.

May 27, 2016: Appointed as Manchester United manager, replacing Louis van Gaal.

Aug 7, 2016: Wins first silverware at United with a 2-1 victory over Premier League champions Leicester City in the Community Shield at Wembley, with new signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring the winner.

Sept 11, 2016: Defeat by old foe Pep Guardiola in the pair’s first derby clash in England as Manchester City win 2-1 at Old Trafford.

Oct 23, 2016: A 4-0 thrashing at the hands of former club Chelsea on his return to Stamford Bridge.

Oct 29, 2016: Sent to the stands at half-time for protesting against a decision against his side in a 0-0 home draw against Burnley.

Feb 26, 2017: Ibrahimovic scores twice as the Red Devils beat Southampton 3-2 to lift the League Cup – Mourinho becomes the first United manager to win silverware in his debut season at the club.

May 21, 2017: Ends Premier League season with home win against Crystal Palace as United finish sixth, 24 points behind champions Chelsea.

May 24, 2017: Guides United to the Europa League title with a 2-0 victory over Ajax in Stockholm.

Aug 8, 2017: 2-1 defeat by former club Real Madrid in the Uefa Super Cup, new signing Romelu Lukaku scores the consolation goal.

Oct 21, 2017: A 13-match unbeaten run across all competitions to start the season ends with a 2-1 loss at newly-promoted Huddersfield.

Dec 20, 2017: A 2-1 quarter-final defeat at Championship side Bristol City ends United’s hopes of retaining the League Cup.

Jan 26, 2018: Signs a new contract to remain as United boss until 2020, with the option of a further year.

March 13, 2018: Sevilla knock United out of the Champions League at the round-of-16 stage, winning 2-1 at Old Trafford after a goalless first leg in Spain.

April 7, 2018: Paul Pogba scores twice and Chris Smalling gets the winner as United come from two goals behind to win 3-2 at Manchester City and prevent Guardiola’s side securing the Premier League title in the derby.

May 12, 2018: Rui Faria announces he will quit as Mourinho’s assistant at the end of the season, the pair having worked together at various clubs since 2002.

May 19, 2018: FA Cup final defeat by Chelsea as Eden Hazard’s penalty secures a 1-0 win for the Blues.

Aug 27, 2018: Defeat at Brighton in the second game of the season is followed up by a 3-0 loss at home to Tottenham – the worst home defeat of Mourinho’s career.

Sept 29, 2018: A five-match unbeaten run in all competitions was abruptly ended with a 3-1 defeat by West Ham at the London Stadium.

Nov 11, 2018: Three straight wins, including an incredible 2-1 comeback victory at Juventus, looked to put Mourinho’s side back in form but they fell to a 3-1 derby defeat at Manchester City to pile the pressure back on the Portugese manager.

Dec 16, 2018: A last-gasp 1-0 win at home to Young Boys saw United qualify for the Champions League knockout stages and gave Mourinho a stay of execution, but a final matchday loss at Valencia was followed by a heavy 3-1 reverse to Liverpool at Anfield cranked up the pressure.

Dec 18, 2018: Just two days after their first defeat in nine league matches against their north-west rivals, Manchester United announced the Portuguese was sacked by the club on Tuesday morning.