Arsenal 2-1 Burnley

 Posted by at 1:06 AM
Jan 312016
Alexis Sanchez scored on his first start since November

Arsenal maintained hopes of winning the FA Cup for a third season in a row as Alexis Sanchez’s goal carried them past Burnley and into round five.

The Premier League side led when Calum Chambers superbly curled in from 18 yards with the outside of his foot.

Burnley hit back as Sam Vokes headed in Tendayi Darikwa’s cross and Andre Gray came close after the break, Alex Iwobi making a timely interception.

Sanchez – making his first start since November – finished coolly to win it.

The Chile international – who has made just one substitute appearance since suffering a hamstring injury – was lively throughout and turned in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross after Darikwa was dispossessed in midfield.

There can be no doubt the holders deserved a place in Sunday’s draw as they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and chances, though Burnley created a nervy finish.

The impressive Gray caught sight of goal late on but could not get meaningful power in his shot and as the visitors threw bodies forward, substitute Theo Walcott missed a glorious chance to add a third on the break as he failed to round Tom Heaton.

History beckons for Gunners

Arsenal’s match programme featured the FA Cup trophy on the front cover along with the words “To have and to hold”.

They move a step closer to emulating the Blackburn Rovers side of 1886 by winning a third FA Cup in a row, though this was far from vintage.

They made nine changes to the side beaten by Chelsea last weekend but still fired 23 shots at the Burnley goal as Arsene Wenger maintained his record of only losing to lower-league opposition once in 41 FA Cup ties.

Solid appearances from the likes of Chambers and Iwobi show he has a squad capable of maintaining a challenge in this competition but the anxious moments – particularly with the ball in the air in their box – will continue prompt some concern.

A solid debut

Mohamed Elneny saw more of the ball than any other player – with 100 touches – on his first outing since joining for £5m from Basel earlier this month.

His completion of 96% of his passes was impressive but as a deep midfielder, he often found himself with plenty of time on the ball, meaning there will be tougher tests to come.

Little of his work took place in either penalty area, a stark contrast to Sanchez.

The Chile international didn’t break stride to slam home his goal, created the opener for Chambers and looked lively throughout. His return could be crucial ahead of a key February when Arsenal play the likes of leaders Leicester, Barcelona and Manchester United.

Clarets going up?

Like Arsenal, Burnley sit third in their respective table and their offering at the Emirates shows they the grit needed to win promotion back to the top tier at the first time of asking.

Gray missed an early one-on-one chance and looked set to put his side 2-1 up after the re-start but for Iwobi’s last-ditch intervention.

His manager Sean Dyche was bold in making just two changes with a league fixture at Ipswich to come on Tuesday.

But the Clarets looked cohesive and more finishing of the quality Vokes displayed could have asked tough questions of the Premier League side.

They undoubtedly look capable of staying the pace in the second tier.

More to follow.

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Hibernian 2-1 St Johnstone

 Posted by at 12:52 AM
Jan 312016
McGinn (right) scored with a second-half shot

A John McGinn strike 16 minutes from time put Hibs into the League Cup final after a terrific tussle with St Johnstone at Tynecastle.

Hibs had taken the lead just before the half hour with a controversial penalty duly put away by Jason Cummings.

Tommy Wright’s team responded four minutes later when Joe Shaughnessy headed an equaliser.

McGinn’s low drive from distance settled the game and set up a meeting with either Celtic or Ross County.

It was lead the Edinburgh side deserved and maintained thanks to a fine late save by Mark Oxley from another Shaughnessy header.

This was a semi-final played out in biting cold, rain and occasional snow. For all that, it was an absorbing clash of Championship versus Premiership, of a Hibs side on a great run and a St Johnstone side who came into this on a poor run of no wins from their previous six games.

Hibs were without the injured Anthony Stokes – a minor back strain kept him out – but they went in front when Liam Henderson cut across Chris Millar, drawing a tentative challenge. There was contact, but how much contact was debatable.

Saints thought it was a minimal and protested vehemently when referee Steven McLean awarded the penalty. Cummings calmly rolled it in and Hibs were on their way.

Saints players were unhappy with the first-half penalty award

Their glee was brief, their advantage wiped out in quick order. When David Wotherspoon swung in a cross from the right, Shaughnessy angled a superb header into the top corner.

You could not say Hibs took control from there, but most of the clever football came from the Championship side and most of the big performers wore green instead of blue.

Across the midfield, the Edinburgh side were sharp and slick.

McGinn was excellent in an attacking sense and Dylan McGeouch was a rock behind them. Henderson played powerfully and Fraser Fyvie was decent also.

Saints have character, though. At the beginning of the second half they rattled Hibs’ crossbar from a Simon Lappin free-kick and never looked beaten even when McGinn rifled home to give Alan Stubbs’ team the lead again.

It was deserved, you have to say. Cummings and Chris Dagnall had gone close, as had Henderson. McGinn’s goal was coming and well-earned.

Hibs made more chances – Dagnall again, then McGinn’s delicious turn and run caused more trouble for the Saints defence.

The Perth side finished strongly, not decisively. Shaughnessy’s header was tipped away by Oxley, then an ineffective Michael O’Halloran drove over from a decent position.

Stubbs has worked wonders with this Hibs side since the dog days of relegation in 2014. Their world has turned since then.

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Can Pato revive career at Chelsea?

 Posted by at 4:58 PM
Jan 302016
Pato last made an appearance for Brazil in 2013

Alexandre Pato was once one of football’s most prized assets before the Brazil forward’s star waned and he became one of the sport’s unfulfilled talents.

The 26-year-old Corinthians player has now moved to Chelsea on loan until the end of the season – aiming to rise again.

Blues interim manager Guus Hiddink insists the move is not a “gamble”. Here, BBC Sport analyses whether the Dutchman is right.

Wasn’t Pato meant to be the next big thing?

The teenage Pato played with some Brazil legends at AC Milan, scoring 51 Serie A goals

Rumours were rife at the beginning of the 2008-09 season that Chelsea’s new Brazilian manager Luiz Felipe Scolari was doing everything in his power to convince an 18-year-old Pato to join him in west London.

The World Cup-winning coach had witnessed the teenager’s breakthrough in his homeland with Internacional, his goalscoring debut for Brazil, a one-in-two goal record during his first Serie A season and a call up to the squad for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

‘Big Phil’ was sure Pato would be an instant success at Stamford Bridge. The only fly in the ointment? AC Milan were not prepared to sell a striker set to dominate Europe’s scoring charts for the next decade and beyond.

With hindsight, the Rossoneri would regret not cashing in as they had done with Ukraine legend Andriy Shevchenko two years previously, as Pato’s promising career stalled dramatically at the San Siro.

What went wrong?

Alexandre Pato has suffered with injuries as his career tailed off at AC Milan

Pato was named Serie A Young Player of the Year at the end of the 2008-09 season after ending the campaign as AC Milan’s leading scorer. However, during the following season and while still a teenager, his body began showing the strain.

A series of muscle injuries, including pulled hamstrings, cost him a place in the Brazil squad for the 2010 World Cup – although admittedly the exclusion of Neymar – then at Santos – was the bigger story.

Even the Rossoneri’s famed Milan Lab struggled to get Pato fit for any length of time and when an £11.5m bid came in from Corinthians the Italian outfit decided to cut their losses.

The Sao Paulo club that gave the world Rivellino – who starred for Brazil on their way to World Cup glory in 1970 – was on a high after winning their first Copa Libertadores title in 2012 and following it up by beating Chelsea in the Club World Cup later that year.

Pato joined Corinthians in January 2013, but was out the door again within 12 months. His nadir being a failed panenka penalty (a slow chip down the centre of the goal) in a Copa do Brasil tie against Gremio, the fierce rivals of Pato’s first club Internacional, that was saved by Dida, his former AC Milan team-mate.

What has he been doing lately?

Pato won a silver medal at the London Olympics in 2012

Pato has spent the last two years on loan across the city at Sao Paulo FC, the initial deal taking the attacking midfielder Jadson, now in China with Tianjin Quanjian, in the opposite direction.

While the strike rate has dropped to a goal every three games, Pato has been able to avoid any serious setbacks with injuries during his time with the Tricolor.

The price tag – a joint record fee for a Brazilian club along with the £11.5m paid to Boca Juniors, also by Corinthians, for Carlos Tevez in 2005 – was continually used to undermine Pato’s efforts in his homeland.

Undoubtedly the Brazilian has lost some of his pace after his time on the treatment table and the fear factor for opposition defenders has waned, but a new-found mental resilience has kept Pato amongst the goals.

Even with partisan crowds forever on his back, the forward refused to shirk responsibility and was always looking to get a shot away.

Could this be a good deal for Chelsea?

Sao Paulo FC tried to make Pato’s move to their Morumbi stadium permanent but Corinthians were keen to recoup more of the £11.5m they paid for the player than their neighbours were willing to offer.

Chinese outfit Tianjin Quanjian met Corinthians’ valuation and offered the player a salary in the region of £10m a year.

Pato refused the move, much to the chagrin of the Corinthians board, but has since signed a contract extension with the Brazilian club.

The hope on both sides is that following a successful six-month stint with Chelsea a permanent move will be forthcoming that not only suits Corinthians but also the player’s ambitions.

The 26-year-old believes he has unfinished business in Europe and Chelsea welcome a striker out to prove a point.

Pato has received criticism in Brazil for not capitalising on his talents and not showing enough passion on the pitch.

For example, the traits his Chelsea team-mate Diego Costa demonstrates when tangling with opponents are lauded throughout South America.

Pato is a different animal, but the goal remains the same – prove the doubters wrong by sticking the ball in the back of the net again and again.

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