Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
Email Jon to talk about soccer.
Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Eric Perkins and Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. He usually writes our guide to the weekend in English soccer on Fridays, but sometimes we forget to post it until Saturdays. Dana?
Welcome back to Nuclear Wessel, where we never riot after semi-final victories* and always save our cellys for when the trophy is secured.
*I’m such a fraud for taking a shot. I would have been leading the charge if it happened a few years ago -- and I don’t even like Gopher hockey.
Exciting times ahead this weekend. Arsenal have a chance to make a cup final. Everton have a chance to leapfrog Arsenal for fourth. Liverpool and City are basically playing for a title. And the only team from England left in the Champions League is just desperately trying to rack up points and hoping the two top dogs slip up. Enough horseplay! Let's do this thing!
No. 1: Arsenal vs Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup semifinals
When: Saturday at 11:07AM on Fox Sports 2 (Seriously)*
Last year: I don’t know the last time these two met in the FA Cup and that seems like something that would be more trouble than it’s worth to look up. I'll just take an educated guess: 1873 and Arsenal lost 9-0.
What a weird, weird weekend for Arsenal. They have the opportunity to make an FA Cup Final and come one step closer to ending their 8 year, 10 month and 20 day trophy drought (state courtesy of http://www.sincearsenallastwonatrophy.co.uk/ bookmark it).
*How Arsenal is it that their big match at Wembley is only on Fox Sports 2? A channel very few people get and even fewer get it in HD.
But, no good thing can happen to Arsenal lately without the other shoe ready to drop. Everton can leapfrog them for the fourth and final Champions League spot by beating soon-to-be-relegated Sunderland.
It is almost inevitable, isn’t it? Arsenal will finally put some silverware in the new Emirates trophy cabinet but will end up in Europa next year. And then what does this all mean for Arsene Wenger? Is he out if he delivers a trophy but not Champions League? Is he out if they qualify for Champions League but fail to win the softest last four in the FA Cup in years? These are strange times in North London. Leading the league and winning their Champions League group seem like accomplishments from so, so long ago.
Of course, they could win Saturday, Everton could dump points, and the Gunners could run the table in a very soft final five matches and finally grab some glory. But have they done anything the last month (or the last few years, for that matter) that make you think that is at all realistic?
But honestly, I hope it all works out*. I am actually starting to feel bad for Arsenal fans**. It would be good to finally see them win a trophy***.
* I don’t.
** I’m not.
*** It wouldn’t.
No. 2: Liverpool vs Manchester City at Anfield
When: Sunday at 7:37AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: A fun 2-2 draw the last time out at Anfield between these two. Liverpool took the lead twice and City found two equalizers. Hopefully there will be more fireworks this time out.
Well, lookee what we got here! About as close as you can get to a title match in the Premier League as you can get. Either team can control their own destiny, with four matches to go for Liverpool, and six to go for Manchester City. It’s that simple. Win on Sunday and take care of business the rest of the way and you’ll be lifting a trophy and having a parade on double-decker buses.
A draw means this crazy season will likely continue all the way up until the final day. And Chelsea will be given new life (assuming they win against Swansea). City got a big boost with the news Sergio Aguero will make his return at Anfield after being out a month with a hamstring injury. That is massive news not only for Sunday but for City’s run-up the rest of the way.
Although Anfield has been a fortress for Liverpool this season, that hasn’t been the case against City in their last five visits. The big club from Manchester (Ha! See what I did there?) has only lost one of their last five at Liverpool. Everyone is expecting this one to be an absolute goal-fest, and I hope they’re right. This one has potential to be an absolute classic. Matches of this magnitude this late in the season don’t come around very often. Set the alarm and get to the pub.
No. 3: Swansea at vs Chelsea at Liberty Stadium
When: Sunday at 10:07 on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Chelsea let all three points slip away last season at Swansea by allowing an 88th minute equalizer to end the match 1-1. Victor Moses got the goal for the Blues.
Too bad they can’t flip these Sunday matches around and have Chelsea/Swansea go first before the big showdown at Anfield. Such is life.
Chelsea are obviously feeling pretty good about themselves after the comeback against Paris-St. Germain midweek. I won’t gush too much about it, I promise, but it was one of those moments where you realize why you love sports so much in the first place.
But as great as that day was, Chelsea only have themselves to blame for their current league predicament. Three of their last five matches, they beat Spurs, Arsenal and Stoke by a combined 13-0. The other two matches in that stretch they lost to Crystal Palace and Aston Villa by a combined score of 2-0. If Chelsea get even three points from that stretch and they are still in the conversation.
But coulda-woulda-shoulda aside, Chelsea are on the outside looking in of the title picture. They will need help to get back in the mix. Also, I don’t think anybody would blame them if they had their sights set squarely on their Champions League semi-final clash with Atletico Madrid and the Trophy With Big Ears. Regardless of what happens, this season has to be considered a success for Chelsea and Jose Mourinho. Top four with a shot at the title and last four in Champions League with a puncher’s chance of winning the big one. Remember, Jose has done this much without a proper striker. Imagine what happens if he gets one over the summer?
Alright, that’ll do it for this week. I hope you all are as excited as I am for this weekend’s slate. Just a few weeks left before we say goodbye to the Premier League and turn our attention to a little event called the World Cup. Great time to love the beautiful game. Enjoy it.
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