Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen has been shocked by calls for Arsene Wenger’s head and insists he remains the right man for the job. Press Association While a place in the Gunners’ history books is assured, pressure is mounting on the Frenchman as, barring a miracle, the north Londoners’ trophyless spell will stretch to an eighth successive season. Saturday’s FA Cup exit to Blackburn was compounded by a 3-1 home defeat to Bayern Munich in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie. With the league title already beyond them, large portions of Arsenal’s support base have called for Wenger to leave – something captain Vermaelen cannot understand. And the defender said: “Of course we’re behind him. He’s done a lot for this club. He still does a lot of hard work with us. He is the right man for the job.” He added: “We have to show it on the pitch as well. At the moment the results are not good. But we will work hard with him to get the results back.” Asked if he was shocked by the fact Wenger’s future is being question, Vermaelen added: “Yeah, I am actually. Everyone in football looks too short term. They don’t look at the long term, and he’s done a lot for this club. “It doesn’t mean that because it’s not going well at the moment we don’t stand behind him. You have to look at the long term. He is the right man for this club and we are all behind him.” That said, Vermaelen can also understand growing supporter unrest as Arsenal’s struggles continue. “Sometimes, as a player, you are frustrated as well,” he said. “If you lose you get frustrated but it’s not the right thing to act on, we have to stick together, work hard. We need each other. “They [the fans] must not forget that we need them because they belong to the team and to the club. “We must stand behind each other, that’s the only thing we can do.”
United probably should have killed the game off long before the final whistle, but they did enough to extend their lead at the top of the table, for a few hours at least, to 18 points, the perfect preparation for Monday night’s FA Cup quarter-final replay at Chelsea. Sir Alex Ferguson did not even include Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney in his 18 with Monday’s trip to Stamford Bridge looming large, but his side eased their way through the first half without ever having to find top gear. There were 12 minutes gone when full-back Alex Buttner embarked upon a determined run which took him past both Craig Gardner and Bardsley and deep into the penalty area, where Mignolet managed to block his close-range effort – but he could do nothing about the chain of events which led to the opening goal with 27 minutes gone. Van Persie picked up possession on the left side of the penalty area, but found himself confronted by Bardsley. The striker patiently worked himself into a position to shoot, but when he unleashed his drive, it flew off Bardsley’s boot on to Bramble’s knee and inside the far post. The home side returned after the break knowing they had to go for broke if they were to get anything out of the game, but United retained possession at will with the movement of Shinji Kagawa and Van Persie, and Michael Carrick’s composure simply too much for their hosts, who were seeing too little of the ball to bring wide men Adam Johnson and James McClean into play. However, the former Manchester City winger finally got the bit between his teeth with 59 minutes gone when he burst into the penalty area. His cross was blocked, but Bardsley latched on to the loose ball, only to fire harmlessly over the top. Van Persie should have made sure deep into injury-time after Ashley Young had evaded Bramble’s lunge and squared, but Mignolet made a remarkable stop to deny him. The luckless defender unwittingly turned Robin van Persie’s 27th-minute shot past keeper Simon Mignolet after it had also clipped Phil Bardsley on its way to goal. The Black Cats were barely in the game before the break, but buoyed by United’s failure to build upon their lead, rallied after it without ever testing keeper David de Gea as they extended their run without a league win to eight games in front of a crowd of 43,760. Titus Bramble’s unfortunate own goal allowed Manchester United to tighten their stranglehold on the Barclays Premier League title as they recorded a narrow 1-0 victory at Sunderland. Press Association
Sweden’s David Lingmerth was the surprise leader of the £6.1million Players Championship when play was suspended due to darkness during the third round at Sawgrass. Press Association At 12 under par he was two ahead of Stenson – who had played 16 holes – and the final pairing of Garcia and Woods, who were on the 15th. The clubhouse target had been set at nine under several hours earlier by veteran Jeff Maggert, the 49-year-old completing a 66 just before the initial stoppage, with England’s David Lynn a shot behind after a second consecutive 68. It had been hoped that the pairing of Garcia and Woods would provide some fireworks on the course, but the biggest talking point of the day looked to have cemented the somewhat cool relationship between the pair. After a regulation par at the first to maintain his one-shot overnight lead, Garcia had found the middle of the second fairway while Woods pulled his tee shot into the trees. Garcia then sliced his second shot wildly into trouble and instantly looked round accusingly as if he had been disturbed by some noise from the gallery. And speaking during the weather delay, the Spaniard told NBC: “Well, obviously Tiger was on the left and it was my shot to hit. He moved all of the crowd that he needed to move, I waited for that. “I wouldn’t say that he didn’t see that I was ready, but you do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit and right as I was in the top of the backswing, I think he must have pulled like a five-wood or a three-wood and obviously everybody started screaming. So that didn’t help very much. But it was unfortunate because – I mean I might have hit it there if nothing happens, you never know – but if I hit a good shot there and maybe make birdie, it gets my day started in a bit of a different way.” Garcia ended up making a bogey six to a birdie four from Woods on the second, but the world number one’s lead proved brief as he three-putted the par-three third. Woods then had to scramble to save par on the fourth and sixth and failed to find any further birdies as he struggled to adapt to the speed of the greens. Told about Garcia’s comments, Woods told reporters it was “not real surprising he’s complaining about something”. And in response to that, Garcia said: “That’s fine. At least I’m true to myself. I know what I’m doing. He can do whatever he wants.” A delay of almost two hours due to the threat of lightning meant play could not be completed on schedule, with Lingmerth left to sleep on a two-shot lead over Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson, with a daunting tee shot on the 18th to come on Sunday morning. The 25-year-old had been on the verge of contention throughout the day, but vaulted to the top of the leaderboard with an eagle on the 16th and birdie on the 17th, the latter coming after the siren had sounded to indicate the end of play.
“We also need to get that support from midfield because from the goal-scoring point of view we haven’t had a couple of players who have got into double figures, which gives you that opportunity to get the victories.” Brooking has urged joint chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan to give manager Sam Allardyce free rein having given him a new two-year contract earlier this month. “The Davids have recognised the experience Sam has in this league and it’s important this coming year that he does what he wants to do,” he said. “If you look at the track record the two Davids have got, they have been pretty consistent with giving opportunities to managers when they are leading a club. “Sam led the club to bounce back with promotion and we got the win on the final day of this season to finish 10th.” The Hammers have yet to make Andy Carroll’s loan deal from Liverpool permanent after he impressed last season, while a second striker in Carlton Cole has been allowed to leave. Brooking, who scored 102 goals in 647 appearances for West Ham, also insists a greater goal-scoring threat is needed in midfield. “Andy Carroll has done well but nobody knows what is going to happen with Andy. Carlton Cole’s contract is up, so the attacking area is an issue,” he told West Ham TV. West Ham great Sir Trevor Brooking is concerned by the lack of firepower at Upton Park. Press Association
Press Association The pursuit of wantaway striker Suarez looked to have stalled following a second improved bid of £40million plus £1, which had been intended to trigger a clause that would allow them to discuss terms with the Uruguayan. On Thursday, Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre insisted the Anfield club had no intentions of selling their key man, who joined up with Brendan Rodgers’ squad on the tour of Australia. Wenger, though, on Friday indicated Arsenal remained hopeful of eventually negotiating an “amicable” deal before the end of the summer transfer window. “We are working very hard to strengthen our squad, not only on the case you name (Suarez), but on other different cases,” he said. “I always try to make the decision I feel is right for the club. That doesn’t mean I always manage to do it, but I work with that conscience. “If you say we are under pressure to spend money then yes we are, but I feel more under pressure to spend the money in the right way. That is what I will try to do.” Wenger refused to be drawn on any details of the Suarez negotiations, but there was no suggestion Arsenal were about to drop their pursuit. “I don’t want to speak about Suarez, because that is between Liverpool and Arsenal. We will completely respect what Liverpool wants to do. We want to (sign the player) if it is feasible in an amicable way,” Wenger said. Suarez is currently serving a domestic 10-game ban imposed by the Football Association for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic at the end of last season, and had previously received a suspension and £40,000 fine for racially abusing Manchester United left-back Patrice Evra in December 2011. Wenger maintained that should the striker become an Arsenal player, his future behaviour would be paramount. “The values that are very important for this club have to be respected by every player, no matter where he comes from. That will be with every potential signing,” he said. Wenger has made one new acquisition with a free transfer of France Under-20 forward Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre, who along with Santi Cazorla, the Spain midfielder now back after extra time off following the Confederations Cup, would both get some game-time this weekend, with Sunday’s friendly against Galatasaray. “We have signed Sanogo, he has not made the headlines. Why? Because he is not £50m to £100million, but I am quite confident he will make them soon on the pitch, and that for me is the most important,” the Arsenal boss said. Defender Nacho Monreal is set to return to training on Monday, while club captain Thomas Vermaelen continues his rehabilitation from a stress fracture in his back which is expected to take around six more weeks. The Gunners head into this weekend’s Emirates Cup – which kicks off against Napoli later on Saturday afternoon – without a marquee summer signing, despite chief executive Ivan Gazidis having talked up the club’s new “financial firepower” at the end of last season. Argentinian international Gonzalo Higuain had been high on Wenger’s wanted list, but as the Gunners failed to push through a £30million deal, the forward opted to join Rafael Benitez at Napoli instead. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger accepts he is under pressure to spend big this summer, but will only do so for the right player – which could yet be Luis Suarez.
Noel King has been appointed the Republic of Ireland’s interim senior manager, the Football Association of Ireland has confirmed. The developments were confirmed in a statement released by the FAI on Monday night. It said: “The FAI’s Board of Management met this evening to review the work it has been doing on the senior men’s team managerial appointment and to progress the next steps in the appointment process. “After considering the views of people within the game and taking soundings from its constituent members, the Board tonight decided that the next steps should include a comprehensive assessment of the market. “It was agreed at the meeting that former international Ray Houghton, who was involved in the last managerial appointment process and Ruud Dokter, the FAI’s newly-appointed High Performance Director, should carry out this on-going assessment and report for the Board. “The Board of Management also decided that it will appoint its current Under-21s head coach, Noel King, as interim senior manager. Ruud Dokter will provide additional support.” Ireland face Germany in Cologne and Kazakhstan in Dublin in their final two World Cup qualifiers next month knowing that their chances of making it to Brazil next summer are purely mathematical. King’s assistant Harry McCue will take charge of the Under-21s’ qualification double-header against Romania, which is also scheduled for next month. Trapattoni’s five-and-a-half-year reign came to an end last month after defeats by Sweden and Austria left them in fourth place in Group C. The current Under-21s boss has been asked to take over as the FAI board continues to consider its options as it looks for a replacement for Giovanni Trapattoni. King’s appointment was announced after a board meeting on Monday evening, at which it was also agreed that former international Ray Houghton, who was involved in the last managerial appointment process, and Ruud Dokter, the FAI’s newly-appointed high performance director should carry out a comprehensive assessment of the managerial market in an attempt to identify the best man for the job on a permanent basis. Former Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill was swiftly installed as the bookmakers’ favourite to replace the 74-year-old Italian even before it emerged that he was the FAI’s number one target, although with businessman Denis O’Brien ready to continue his financial support, there is no appetite to rush the process of finding a replacement for Trapattoni. The statement continued: “The Board of Management resolved that it will take the appropriate time to appoint the best person to manage Ireland for the Euro 2016 campaign, which starts in September next year. “They also wished Noel King and Harry McCue well in their interim roles. “Noel has an excellent track record with the Association and is well respected throughout the game. “He has worked first hand with many current senior players during their time at Under-21 level, including Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick.” Press Association
Martinez dismissed suggestions Gibson, who had played only 96 minutes for his club this season because of another knee problem, had been overworked on international duty. The midfielder played all of the 3-0 defeat to Germany on Friday, his first competitive 90 minutes since the final game of last season, and was 37 minutes into the Kazakhstan match when the injury occurred. “If it has been in the 80th minute then you can go down to detail and see if fatigue played a part in it,” said Martinez. “He looked really free in his movement and I thought the partnership he showed with (Everton team-mate) James McCarthy in the game was really exciting for everyone. “When you watch it is so unfortunate the knee couldn’t react any other way, so clearly it is one of those unexpected moments that you can’t do anything about. “I expected the worst and thought it would be a very difficult injury to overcome but now we are very positive and know Darron will be fully fit and recovered and will come back a stronger footballer at the end of it.” On the impact Gibson’s loss will have on the squad Martinez added: “You don’t want to lose players and in pre-season I felt Darron was magnificent. “He brings something we haven’t’ got in the squad; his understanding on the ball and the way he was starting that partnership with James McCarthy was going to be important. “But it is no good to look back, we are just looking forward and we want to see Darron fully fit as quickly as possible.” The Ireland international was carried off on a stretcher in the first half of Tuesday’s match against Kazakhstan and less than 24 hours later the club announced he would have to have an operation on his knee. However, Martinez insists the 25-year-old’s season is not over and he hopes the midfielder, who has been troubled by a number of injuries over the last 12 months, can return stronger. Everton manager Roberto Martinez remains positive midfielder Darron Gibson can return this season despite rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament on international duty. “It was a real disappointment on Tuesday night,” said the Spaniard. “I was watching the game and straight away you could see it was an innocuous incident and that is normally when you pick up really bad injuries. “I was really fearful of expecting the worst but with the scans on Wednesday we are very positive now. “It is an ACL but the whole structure of the knee is perfectly fine and it is going to be straightforward surgery. “I’m looking forward to seeing him back hopefully this season and that in a way was good, positive news taking into consideration what it could have been. “The ACL is ruptured but his knee reacted really well and nothing else was damaged – in those sort of actions you normally get more than one structure damaged and some of those are very difficult to repair. “You can imagine it is really disappointing to lose Darron for whatever space of time but we are all very positive that when he comes back he will come back stronger. “We will use this period to get Darron working on other aspects of his fitness and making sure his knee is going to be perfectly repaired and ready for whenever he is back.” Press Association
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has dismissed suggestions goalkeeper Joe Hart could be loaned out in January. Pellegrini was speaking at a press conference to preview the game against Plzen, which will be their penultimate fixture of group stage. The pressure is now off with City having already secured their place in the knockout rounds but Pellegrini wants to finish the section with a flourish. If results go their way, they could still supplant reigning champions Bayern at the top of Group D. Pellegrini said: “I think it is very important to win the group. “It is not the most important thing, the most important thing is to qualify, but it is very important to play well also. “The most important thing is to win and then we will see what happens.” Captain Vincent Kompany trained with the squad ahead of the game but is not yet ready to return to action after a thigh injury. Pellegrini said: “Vincent started this week on some work with the whole squad. I think next week he could play.” Pellegrini said: “There is a lot of news about six or seven goalkeepers that we want to buy but it is not true. “There is no chance that Joe Hart could go out of this squad in January.” Hart has not played for City since a late error proved costly in City’s loss to Chelsea on October 27. He has been told he will return as Czech minnows Viktoria Plzen visit the Etihad Stadium in the Champions League on Wednesday night but Pellegrini has given no assurances about his long-term prospects. Costel Pantilimon has done little wrong since taking Hart’s place and could be back in goal for Sunday’s clash with Swansea in the Barclays Premier League. Pellegrini said: “I think that is a question for next Saturday. “When we start the next game of the Premier League we will talk about who will start playing. “The important thing for Joe is that he will play tomorrow and we hope he will have a very good performance.” Pellegrini has also played down speculation he might look to sign a new keeper during the mid-season transfer window. Hart, the current England first choice, recently lost his place in the City side after a series of inconsistent displays and has sat out their last five games. Press Association
Press Association It was a huge effort from Ulster, who were forced to play most of the game with 14 men after losing Tom Court to a red card – their second sending-off in three home games after Jared Payne’s dismissal against Saracens last month – early in the first half. Leinster, though, were down to 13 men at one point in the opening period after Rob Kearney and Rhys Ruddock were shown yellow by English referee Luke Pearce. Even though Leinster were back to full strength at the end of the half, Ulster still held out and the half ended with the visitors leading 9-8. Leinster had the first scoring opportunity of the second half but Madigan put another long-range effort wide after 44 minutes and then he was wide again two minutes later with a much more straightforward effort. Ulster again conceded a kickable penalty but this time Madigan went for the corner and the net result was more heroic defending from Ulster as Dave Kearney was tackled into touch when a try looked certain. Still, the visitors did manage to score when Madigan landed his fourth penalty on 52 minutes to take their lead to 12-8. The home side, though, then came back again with Jackson’s second penalty narrowing Leinster’s lead to a single point again after 56 minutes. But after Tommy Bowe knocked on the restart, Leinster attacked down the right channel and Brian O’Driscoll drew two defenders before off-loading inside to Jennings, who scored at the posts, allowing Madigan to convert and put the visitors 19-11 in front. Typically, though, Ulster responded and, after replacement Darren Cave’s clean break, they won a penalty near the sticks and Jackson slotted the kick to take his side back within bonus-point territory. It didn’t last, though, and after conceding another scrum penalty, Leinster replacement Jimmy Gopperth nailed his first penalty to put his side 22-14 ahead with 11 minutes remaining. The see-saw nature of the scoring continued and after Leo Cullen was penalised, Jackson closed the gap to five points which then became two with his fifth successful penalty in the 77th minute. Table-toppers Leinster were made to fight tooth and nail for a 22-20 success which puts them on the verge of securing a home semi-final, while Ulster’s losing bonus point brought them a guaranteed place in the play-offs which could actually see the sides clash again. Shane Jennings scored Leinster’s only try of the night in the second half while Ian Madigan kicked four penalties and a conversion – though he missed three kicks at goal – while replacement Jimmy Gopperth nailed a penalty. Man of the match Paddy Jackson scored all Ulster’s points, on the night the new Ravenhill was officially opened, with five penalties and a try on an emotional occasion as skipper Johann Muller and Court played their last games at the ground. Madigan opened the evening’s scoring with a fifth-minute penalty after Ulster’s scrum was demolished on their own put-in and the Leinster out-half then added a second after 11 minutes. Shortly after Paddy Jackson put the restart out on the full, Madigan had a third shot at goal from long range but hit the attempt wide – then came Court’s red card. But with their backs to the wall, it was Ulster who scored next after Jackson charged down a Madigan chip to score in the corner with Leinster then being reduced to 14 after Rob Kearney’s high tackle on the Ulster out-half as he crossed the line. Jackson failed to land the difficult conversion from his 23rd-minute score, but Ulster, against the odds, were right back in the game and their cause was further helped when Ruddock was shown yellow three minutes later after Jackson was taken out in the air. It was Leinster, now down to 13 men, who found themselves on the back foot and though they survived an attacking five-metre scrum from Ulster, they were pinged just after the half-hour at the breakdown and Jackson kicked the home side into the lead at 8-6. Their lead did not last, though, as Madigan kicked Leinster back into a single-point lead with his 35th-minute penalty just as Rob Kearney arrived back to bring the visitors back to 14 men on the park.
As Ulster dictated early on, Pienaar put Tommy Bowe through a gap and Iain Henderson had to be hauled down five metres short before Jackson gave the visitors a deserved advantage. Leinster got a psychological edge from a scrum penalty, but they were left to rue two crooked lineouts and a kick out on the full from their latest centurion Eoin Reddan. The Kearney brothers combined to offer the first glimpse of Leinster’s attacking class, Dave weaving his way over halfway and fellow winger McFadden added further momentum to the eye-catching counter. Again, though, errors stopped Leinster in their tracks and a slashing midfield break from Gopperth also came to nothing as Ulster forced a turnover. Leinster then coughed up possession for a third time in the visitors’ 22, Cian Healy knocking on after a decent lineout maul. D’Arcy saw yellow for a late tackle on his Ireland colleague Bowe six minutes before the break, allowing Ulster to dominate up to the half-time whistle. Snappy passing released Jared Payne and Craig Gilroy to take Ulster back into the Leinster 22 and Jackson punished a Reddan offside with the last kick of the half. The second period burst into life with strong carries from Trimble and Healy, D’Arcy’s return briefly steadying the Leinster ship as the jinking Gilroy grew in influence. There was concern for O’Driscoll who was left prone after an awkward tackle on Henderson. The record Irish caps holder received a rapturous reception as he was replaced by Madigan. A frustrating night for Leinster’s centre duo continued as D’Arcy came in from an offside position and Jackson mopped up with the three points. However, the Ulster out-half had to hobble off soon after with James McKinney – the match winner against Munster – coming on. The complexion of the game seemed to change as man of the match Madigan broke the line and Leinster drew a 58th-minute penalty which Gopperth drove through the uprights. Back came Ulster, McFadden having to scramble back to rescue the situation after Gopperth was charged down by Pienaar. But Leinster’s strong bench, which included the fit-again Sean O’Brien, swung the momentum back in their favour as Gopperth’s second penalty made it a three-point game. The excellent Gilroy almost put Roger Wilson over in the left corner and Pienaar was chopped down in sight of the try-line as Ulster responded in determined fashion. The knocks kept coming as a knee injury sidelined Dave Kearney, forcing Leinster to bring reserve scrum-half Luke McGrath onto the wing. Despite the disruption, Matt O’Connor’s men managed to turn the screw as Madigan was fed to burst in between McKinney and Payne and score the only try of the night. Gopperth nailed the important conversion from the left, leaving Ulster four points adrift. Best and company threw the kitchen sink at the home side in the dying minutes, Payne being held up just short and two lineout mauls were also thwarted as Leinster’s superior defence just about won out in the end. Madigan, who replaced a groggy Brian O’Driscoll for the closing half-hour, unlocked the visitors’ defence with an O’Driscoll-esque break to put Leinster in front for the first time. Jimmy Gopperth converted and Leinster’s defiant defence held the Ulstermen at bay in a frantic finish, with the 13-9 result keeping alive O’Driscoll’s dreams of a fourth PRO12 title. The comeback win ensured that the retiring O’Driscoll – a league winner in 2001, 2008 and 2013 – will have his career swansong when Leinster host Glasgow Warriors in the May 31 final. His long-time centre partner Gordon D’Arcy ended the first half in the sin-bin, with Ulster full value for their 6-0 interval lead thanks to two Paddy Jackson penalties. Out-of-sorts Leinster fell further behind following a third Jackson kick, but they came to the fore in the closing stages despite losing backs O’Driscoll, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney in an attritional derby clash. Ulster played the better rugby for the first hour, however they did not have the points to show for it and their attempts to win silverware for retiring captain Johann Muller fell short. Leinster have been Ulster’s knockout nemeses in recent seasons, defeating their provincial rivals in league and Heineken Cup finals and now two league semi-finals (2011 and 2014). Incredibly, it will be Leinster’s fifth straight league final appearance as they bid to become the first team to successfully retain the trophy. The RDS will host the decider for the fourth time in five seasons. Ulster were the last team to beat Leinster in league fare at the RDS in March 2013, and they made the return trip in buoyant mood after their second-string team claimed Munster’s scalp last weekend. Mark Anscombe welcomed back key men Rory Best and Ruan Pienaar into a much-changed side, the latter pulling a long-range penalty wide in the fourth minute. Ian Madigan emerged as the match-winner for Leinster as his 72nd-minute try decided Saturday evening’s attritional RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final against Ulster at the RDS. Press Association