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Maple Leafs hire Mike Babcock for reported 8 years, $50 million – ESPN

Maple Leafs hire Mike Babcock for reported 8 years, $50 million
Mike Babcock has made his decision: He is headed to Toronto. The Toronto Maple Leafs announced the hiring of Babcock on Wednesday afternoon, ending months of speculation as to where the veteran coach would land. Babcock will be introduced at a …
Holland: 'Mixed emotions' as Babcock picks Maple LeafsDetroit Free Press
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Report: Sabres 'livid' over last days of Mike Babcock hiring
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Twitter Reacts as Sunderland Secure Premier League Safety with Draw at Arsenal

Wednesday evening’s Premier League entertainment had great significance at both ends of the table: Hosts Arsenal needed only a draw to virtually guarantee group-stage entry to next season’s Champions League, while Sunderland needed the same result to steer clear of relegation…

Despite the relatively meaningful occasion, it was clear that the Emirates was not at capacity when the game kicked off…

As the first 15 minutes progressed with chances for both sides, the absence of Francis Coquelin—who had been replaced by Jack Wilshere—was a concern for Gunners fans…

As the half-hour mark approached, there was also plenty of consternation surrounding Olivier Giroud, who was putting in another unconvincing performance…

Throughout the first half, Sunderland‘s Adam Johnson was trending, mainly due to the fact that he was playing a few days after appearing in court to face child sex charges. Most of the “banter” circulating on Twitter is not fit to reproduce here, but many questioned whether he should be allowed to play…

Wilshere also trended through the first half, but reviews of his return to action were somewhat mixed…

Half-time arrived without any goals, a circumstance that suited both sides…

One of the main forms of entertainment from the game appeared to be the positioning of Lee Cattermole’s shorts…

As the second half progressed at a similar tempo, a common criticism was levelled at the home side…

As the hour mark approached, Arsenal had several good chances to take the lead, but they were denied by fantastic saves from Costel Pantilimon. The Premier League’s tallest player was showered with praise…

The Gunners continued to apply pressure in the final third, but to no avail. The Black Cats won plaudits for their tenacious defending…

There was plenty of action at each end, but a game that was always destined to be a draw ended up with honours even at 0-0. Both sets of supporters were content, but those form the north-east were utterly elated…

Arsenal vs. Sunderland: Score, Grades and Reaction from Premier League

Sunderland will be playing Premier League football once again next season, as a determined 0-0 draw against Arsenal at the Emirates on Wednesday steered them four points clear of the bottom three with one game remaining.

The visitors came with unashamed defensive intent, frustrating their illustrious opponents for long spells. But Steven Fletcher spurned three golden chances in the second half to nick it for the visitors; the closest Arsenal came was when Billy Jones headed on to his own crossbar after the break.

Coming into this game, momentum had been drained from Arsenal’s season. After three games without a win, the stunning form showcased throughout the majority of 2015 ended; as such, the state of malaise the Emirates was in for this one was emblematic of an end-of-season encounter.

The same couldn’t quite be said for Sunderland. The Black Cats needed a point to preserve their Premier League status for next season, and it was clear from the off they were going to do their utmost to cling on to it.

From their standpoint, the match quickly fell into an ideal pattern. Stoppages for injuries disrupted the Gunners’ flow, and although Arsenal are a team rife with attacking talent, the Black Cats were pretty comfortable. In fact, Costel Pantilimon was only called into major action on one occasion, smothering the ball at the feet of Jack Wilshere.

As we can see here courtesy of Squawka Football, the Black Cats were restricting the space for the Gunners’ quality attacking options to operate in:

Subsequently, the first half always seemed destined to end in a stalemate, and as the referee blew the whistle for half-time, there were very few clear-cut chances for either side to reflect on.

As noted at the end of the first period, a blunt Arsenal attack is something the Emirates faithful are becoming uncomfortably acquainted with:

However, after the break, it was Sunderland who became the better of the two sides. Fletcher—introduced at half-time—and Patrick van Aanholt both spurned brilliant opportunities inside the first five minutes of the half, prompting a cacophony of derision from the Emirates faithful.

But with the visitors showing a little more intent, the pitch did begin to open up for the Gunners. Hector Bellerin—who was Arsenal’s best player on the night—whipped in a perfect ball for Olivier Giroud to get on the end of, but a fine Pantilimon stop thwarted him. The ‘keeper did the same to Kieran Gibbs a couple of minutes later.  

As we can see here courtesy of Match Zone, the Spanish full-back was enjoying a storming game:

Chances continued to come for both sides. A stunning block from Sebastian Coates thwarted Alexis Sanchez, and from the ensuing counter-attack, Fletcher was one-on-one with David Ospina, but his dinked finish drifted just wide.

The Sunderland No. 9 then missed another huge opportunity midway through the second period, skewing Van Aanholt’s drilled cross over the bar from close range. It was looking like a night to forget for the Scottish international forward, as noted by BBC Sport’s Phil McNulty:

The introduction of Theo Walcott seemed to give the Gunners a lift, and he went close after being put through by Aaron Ramsey. Immediately after, Sunderland were very nearly the architects of their own downfall, as Jones inadvertently headed the ball towards his own goal, but it crashed off the woodwork.

Although they’d showcased renewed ambition in the second period, with the finishing line in sight, Sunderland sagged deeper and deeper. Pantilimon was on hand again to deny Walcott as the visitors began to feel the physical effects of such an arduous contest, but they clung on heroically to bag a vital point, sending their travelling army into raptures.

As we can see here courtesy of Daniel Storey of Football365, it clearly meant a lot to interim manager Dick Advocaat, too:

The result means that Sunderland are safe for another season, and once again the club has had to call upon a new manager late on in the campaign to galvanise the group. Things were bleak when Advocaat took over, but the cohesion he’s drilled into this side in recent weeks has been the foundation upon which they’ve constructed their survival.

As for Arsenal, the end of the campaign has been a major disappointment. When Giroud doesn’t fire, this team really struggles for a ruthless edge in front of goal, and it’ll be intriguing to see if Arsene Wenger thinks it’s an area he needs to address in the transfer window this summer.


Relevant Grades

Hector Bellerin: B

You had to feel a little sorry for Jermain Defoe, who was deployed on the left flank and tasked with dealing with Bellerin. The full-back roared past his marker time after time, fizzed in some devilish crosses and was on hand often to snuff out Sunderland’s counter-attacks. 


Mesut Ozil: C

Against packed defences like this Sunderland one, Mesut Ozil is the kind of player Arsenal would be looking towards to conjure a piece of ingenuity. But the German international was on the fringes throughout, and when he did pick up the ball in pockets of space, the Black Cats’ tenacious defensive work quickly shut him down.


Lee Cattermole: A

The midfielder isn’t one of the most popular players in the league, but Lee Cattermole was magnificent for Sunderland in this encounter. Faced with an array of magnificent creative midfield players, the Englishman had to be impeccable in his defensive duties; he delivered a talismanic performance.


Post-Match Reaction

Wenger spoke with Sky Sports (h/t BBC Sport) after the game. The Frenchman claimed fatigue was a big factor in his side failing to break down Sunderland:

We couldn’t score and Sunderland defended well which is understandable because they knew they could be safe tonight. We tried and tried.

We gave a lot on Sunday to come back and you could see that the legs were not completely there tonight. At least we didn’t concede and we got an important point.

We have some time to prepare and recover for the FA Cup final and I think we will do that.

Advocaat also spoke to Sky Sports (h/t BBC Sport). He expressed his delight at how the Sunderland players had performed and revealed he will make a decision on his long-term future soon:

Arsenal had the possession but you know if you keep trying you get your chances. In the second half we had chances and we had to score.

Arsenal were the better side but the organisation was unbelievably good. The emotion was so high. We only lost one in the last six and that is why they deserve to stay in.

Our defence was great. An unbelievable feeling we did it by ourselves. The players gave everything to stay up. It is a beautiful stadium, facilities are great, but last couple of years not always lucky with things we have done. The players started believing.

I will give an answer next week on my future.