Arsène Wenger jumped because he feared push from Arsenal board

Arsène Wenger took the seismic decision to walk away from Arsenal on his own terms because he was mindful of the very real threat that he would be sacked at the end of the season.

The club’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, and other directors had grown increasingly concerned by the team’s dismal Premier League performance and the huge number of fans who have chosen to stay away from home matches in recent weeks.

The Guardian understands the club began a drive to cold call Red Members of their supporter scheme on Wednesday to offer season tickets for 2018-19 in the face of record numbers of non-renewals. Red Members are below Gold and Silver members in terms of priority.

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Wenger had routinely said he would fulfil the remaining year on his contract but the wagons have circled for some time. The chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, has made a series of appointments on the technical side as part of his “catalyst for change” agenda – most notably those of the head of football relations, Raúl Sanllehí, and the head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat.

The impression has been that Gazidis was putting a succession plan into place while Wenger was in the building.

Wenger has felt the pressure from board level, although there was a sense of shock among the squad when he informed them before a community event and a training session on Friday morning that he would step down from what he has referred to as his life’s work at the end of the season.

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Steven Pienaar sees Football Welcomes as great way to bring people together

Steven Pienaar retired from football at the start of March but that did not stop him from lacing up his boots again last week. Like the final days of his illustrious career, however, it did not quite go exactly to plan. “I actually joined in for a bit of five-a-side,” he says. “It was OK – the kids were happy because I lost twice but maybe tomorrow we can get some revenge.”

The South African, who made more than 200 appearances for Everton in two spells, was back on Merseyside in his new role as club ambassador to take part in a weekly coaching session for refugees and asylum seekers. Part of Everton in the Community’s efforts to provide support for some of Liverpool’s most deprived people, Pienaar knows all about battling against the odds.

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Born in the township of Westbury in Johannesburg during the apartheid years, the 36-year-old’s career took him to Ajax as a teenager and also encompassed spells with Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham and Sunderland.

Now, with a record number of 60 clubs from across the country set to take part in Amnesty UK’s second Football Welcomes initiative this weekend after the success of last year’s inaugural event, Pienaar is hoping schemes like Everton’s can continue to improve the assimilation process.

“We are working with kids from different parts of the world and trying to give them an opportunity to learn English,” he says. “Football is a special sport which brings people together – whatever problems you are having in your life they all seem to go away when you get on to the pitch. I was born in apartheid South Africa and I know how sport, including football, can help to bring people together and break down barriers. I’ve been in that situation and I’ve always wanted to get involved with the community.”

Started in 2015, it is estimated 140 young people from 25 countries including Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia have already benefited from Everton’s community project. Similar initiatives such as Middlesbrough’s Club Together scheme have sprung up around the country as Britain’s football clubs attempt to help ease the transition to a new country.

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On Saturday, 12 Premier League clubs including Arsenal, Everton, Tottenham, Crystal Palace and West Ham will be among those showing their support and solidarity with refugees through a variety of activities and events.

“It’s wonderful to see even more clubs laying aside their rivalries this weekend and coming together to say refugees are welcome here,” says Naomi Westland, Amnesty UK’s Football Welcomes manager. “At a time when politics is often dominated by hate-filled and divisive rhetoric, this shows that there is another story to be told. Football clubs are at the heart of their communities and have a vital role to play in helping people who have fled conflict and persecution settle in to a new country and culture.”

Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, Victor Moses of Chelsea, Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Manchester City women’s striker Nadia Nadim are among a number of players currently employed by English clubs who were once refugees. They are following in the footsteps of six children who escaped the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s who became professionals, including Norwich’s Antonio and José Gallego. More than 80 years on, the Championship club is hosting Norfolk Welcomes – Football Welcomes, with children from 61 local schools sending questions to the club’s Bosnia and Herzegovina international Mario Vrancic, whose family escaped the Balkan war in the 1990s. “It was clear the war in Bosnia was coming and we had to leave to find safety,” he recalled this week. “My entire family went to different countries. The hardest thing was leaving my grandparents behind and trying to start a new life in a new country.”

A number of other initiatives down the football pyramid will also be taking place, including tournaments run by refugee teams in Chichester, Plymouth, Manchester and Leeds, with Women’s Super League sides Durham, Reading, Sunderland and Tottenham all offering free tickets for their matches.

Pienaar, who played just four matches for Bidvest Wits in his homeland before being forced to retire due to mounting injury problems, now plans to move into coaching after this summer’s World Cup. He is grateful to be a part of Everton’s community work after not having the chance to bid farewell when he left the club in 2016. “In my last season I was fighting with a lot of injuries and I knew my contract was coming to an end,” he says. “I just wanted to go out on the field just to say goodbye. I was disappointed but it’s in the past and we just have to move on. To get the chance to come back and do something like this with Everton is fantastic.”

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Manchester United’s “professional” 2-0 win at Bournemouth proved the players want to feature in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Tottenham, according to manager Jose Mourinho.

Manchester United’s “professional” 2-0 win at Bournemouth proved the players want to feature in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with Tottenham, according to manager Jose Mourinho.

Mourinho made seven changes to his side as United bounced back from Sunday’s surprise home defeat by bottom club West Brom.

Chris Smalling and substitute Romelu Lukaku scored in either half at the Vitality Stadium to give United a four-point lead over third-place Liverpool in the table, with four games remaining.

Mourinho had described this match as an opportunity for players to secure a place in the team to face Spurs in a competition which represents United’s final chance of winning a trophy this season.

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He said Lukaku, Antonio Valencia, who was rested, and Nemanja Matic would return to the startling line-up at Wembley, while others had given him plenty to think about.

“I will not play this XI but all of them told me they want to play,” said Mourinho.

“This win was based on good attitude, professionalism and a determination to win an important match for us because now it’s difficult to not finish in the top four.”

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This was the reaction Mourinho demanded after the deflating result against West Brom, which confirmed neighbours Manchester City as champions.

With the title gone and patience running thin, Luke Shaw, Marouane Fellaini and Matteo Darmian were among those recalled while goalkeeper David de Gea, who captained the side, Smalling, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba were the only survivors from the weekend.

This was far from vintage United yet it was an improvement on the performance against West Brom, which Mourinho described as “complicated”.

In contrast to Sunday, Pogba was solid, if unspectacular, while Herrera’s defence-splitting ball for Lingard to tee up Smalling to slide in for the opener was the pass of the night.

Lingard has a healthy goalscoring record at Wembley and his energetic performance against Bournemouth might earn him a starting place against Spurs.

United’s 49th competitive game of the season had an end-of-season feel about it but their goals were well crafted and the points hard earned.

Lukaku’s finish, eight minutes after replacing Lingard, came after a driving run and pass by Pogba.

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Brighton edged closer to Premier League safety with a hard-earned point against a much-changed Tottenham side.

Harry Kane’s 26th league goal of the season, following Gaetan Bong’s error, put Spurs in sight of an 11th away win.

But Brighton were behind for just two minutes, Pascal Gross levelling with an excellent penalty after Serge Aurier had caught Jose Izquierdo.

The Seagulls are without a win in six games but are eight points above the relegation zone with four games left.

Spurs almost won it through an own goal when Shane Duffy deflected Christian Eriksen’s cross a fraction wide.

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Bundesliga players called back to pitch for penalty in half-time amid VAR chaos

Mainz’s Bundesliga match against Freiburg could be set for a place in the record books after the home side scored just under seven minutes into half-time – and after the players had been allowed to leave the pitch.

In the dying seconds of the first half Cheap England 2018 World Cup Men football shirt, Mainz had an appeal for handball turned down by the referee Guido Winkmann, with the scores still at 0-0. Winkmann then blew for the break, allowing the players to go in for half-time – only for the VAR official to give the handball and award a penalty.

Following a delay of almost five minutes, Freiburg’s players had to be summoned from the dressing room after it was ruled that Daniel Brosinski’s cross had been handled by Marc-Oliver Kempf. Six minutes and 44 seconds after the first 45 minutes were up, Pablo de Blasis stroked home the spot kick to put his side a goal up and to allow both teams to head back off the pitch for half-time again.

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Man City win Premier League as Man Utd lose to West Brom

Manchester City won the Premier League title as Manchester United’s shock 1-0 home defeat by West Brom confirmed their rivals as championsCheap Bayern Munchen Football Shirt .

Second-place United are now 16 points behind Pep Guardiola’s side with only five games left to play.

It is City’s third title in seven seasons and a fifth top-flight crown – their first under the Spaniard in his second campaign in charge.

They have dominated the title race, scoring 93 goals and losing just twice.

The Premier League title is the 24th trophy of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss’ managerial career.

The 47-year-old has previously won league titles in Spain and Germany, as well as two Champions Leagues with Barca.

Since Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan took ownership of the club in 2008, City have won seven trophies, adding an FA Cup, two League Cups and an FA Community Shield to their league titles.

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Antonio Conte: Chelsea staff and players must share blame for poor season

Antonio Conte admitted he has made mistakes this season but should Chelsea fail to catch the top four, the responsibility for an error-strewn campaign would also involve his players and the club’s hierarchy.

The ailing champions go into their game at Southampton on Saturday 10 points behind Liverpool and Tottenham, and with only three league wins secured from their 11 top-flight fixtures since the turn of the year. They have won only once since late October – against Manchester United on Bonfire night – when confronting a side then in the top half of the table, with form having dipped alarmingly.

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That has prompted tensions within the set-up and fuelled the belief Conte will depart Stamford Bridge in the summer. “It’s difficult now to explain the reasons why we’re struggling in this way this season,” Conte said. “There are many reasons. But now’s not the place or moment to speak about this. The only thing we can do is try to finish in the best possible way. For sure, we made a lot of mistakes this season. When I talk about a lot of mistakes, I involve me, my staff, the players and the club. For sure, we must reflect at the end of the season.

“If we don’t qualify for the Champions League, it means we have to divide the fault, also with the players. We must be ready to share the responsibility. I’m the first to take my responsibility. Then there is the club. Then there is the players. In football, but in every job, it’s right to be in this way. We must be frustrated. Me, my staff, the players and the club, for this season. You start the season with great expectations. Instead we have struggled a lot, for many reasons.”

Asked to elaborate on what mistakes he had made, Conte added: “When you have this type of season you have to share this responsibility, not only the boss. I’m the coach of this team. I’m the first person to take my responsibility. But, for sure, I’m not alone. Now is not the right moment to discuss this. For us, the most important thing is to be focused on the present. Then there is the club who, for sure, are working for the future.

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“Everyone has to find in himself the right desire, the right will to fight. There are six games to go and we have a semi-final in the FA Cup. A possibility then to play in the final for the second year in a row. I know my players. I trust them. I like to think that everyone is giving everything of themselves.”

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Chelsea fear massive cost of missing out on Champions League

harrowing home defeat by Tottenham on Sunday left Chelsea eight points adrift of the Champions League qualification places with seven matches to play. Although the meagre consolation of the Europa League awaits, next season would be the second in three spent outside Europe’s premier club competition. So what could be the ramifications?

Finances will take a hit
Failure to qualify for the Champions League will affect income, even with the sums generated through Premier League media rights. The club’s most recent financial figures, covering a 2016-17 campaign spent out of Europe altogether, serve as a gauge. They show revenues rose by £32m, yet that was less than half the increase recorded by Manchester United (£82m), Arsenal (£72m) and Manchester City (£66m), who were competing in the Champions League. Match-day incomes fell 6% to £66m and, although the Europa League awaits, those games will not attract the same glitz, glamour or gates. A club who made £193m between 2012 and 2017 from playing in Europe will inevitably suffer another downturn.

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More pertinently perhaps, so will the club’s reputation
In October Chelsea’s commercial director, Chris Townsend, targeted doubling revenues to more than £650m over the next seven to 10 years “to be a top-four or -five club in Europe [by revenues], rather than ranked eighth”. The aim was to increase the number of sponsors from 12 to between 30 and 35 premium brands, plans considered highly ambitious in a market where clubs such as Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid boast a significant head start. It would, according to Townsend, “allow Chelsea to invest more in players”. Yet will prospective sponsors find Chelsea as attractive without the Champions League? At a time when Roman Abramovich is hoping to push through a £1bn redevelopment of Stamford Bridge, a scheme likely to require significant outside investment, the suspicion that Chelsea have regressed into a club who flit in and out of Europe’s elite competition would be damaging.

Will the pursuit of a new head coach be affected?
The chances of Antonio Conte remaining next season were remote even if the team achieved a top‑four finish, given his relationship with the hierarchy has long since fractured beyond repair. The Italian was plucked from his national association by a club apparently on their knees but the worry remains that the recruitment of an elite successor may be hampered without Champions League football. Certainly any faint hopes of luring Mauricio Pochettino across the capital would have to be abandoned. Luis Enrique might not be overly concerned at life outside the European elite in the short term but his contract at the Camp Nou in his previous position is understood to have been worth far more than Conte’s £9.5m a season. Thomas Tuchel is apparently not under consideration, though other young coaches may come into the hierarchy’s thinking. A club who go through two-season managerial cycles may have to sell a long-term project to prospective candidates.

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There will be an impact on retaining key players and the current staff
Chelsea retained their best players after the trauma of 2015-16 but, two years down the line, concerns centre on their Belgians. Thibaut Courtois enters the last 12 months of his contract in July and, although talks are scheduled to resume in the summer, a goalkeeper consistently linked with a return to Spain may not be quite as keen to re-sign if the immediate future comes without the perk of Champions League football. Eden Hazard’s deal does not expire until 2020, with Chelsea apparently willing to offer him the most lucrative terms in their history, but he seems intent on waiting to see if Real Madrid’s long-standing interest crystallises into a firm offer.

Squad strengthening may be harder
Chelsea thrived in the summer of 2016, prising N’Golo Kanté from Leicester, with David Luiz and Marcos Alonso also added, so they have strengthened without the Champions League factor in the recent past. Theirs is a relatively young setup and hardly in need of a radical overhaul, which is just as well because recruitment would be a challenge. They have spent relatively heavily in recent windows, for all Conte’s complaints, albeit with money recouped for players such as Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic. The problem has arguably been the reluctance to secure stellar arrivals – Conte was after established pedigree – and the size of the revamp instigated in each window, with so many ins and outs. The senior squad hardly feels significantly deeper than it did two years ago. This will be a shorter summer window, crammed largely into the post‑World Cup period, which will bring its own complications to be confronted at present without a technical director. Marina Granovskaia has held informal talks with prospective candidates to replace Michael Emenalo but the club do not appear certain quite what the role will entail. Whether that lack of clarity proves a hindrance remains to be seen.

Portugal 0-3 Netherlands: Virgil van Dijk scores as Dutch cruise to win

“They had four chances and scored three times, they deserved their victory,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos. “Two years ago, before the Euros, we lost at home against Bulgaria. I don’t think we have lost confidence, I still believe in these players for the future.”

The Netherlands, who lost 1-0 to England in Amsterdam on Friday, opened the scoring in the 11th minute as Depay grabbed the first goal of the Koeman era by turning home from inside the box.

That strike came against the run of play as Portugal had dominated the early stages against an unusual 5-3-2 formation deployed by the Dutch.

Ronaldo was left incensed after his appeals for a penalty were waved away, despite replays appearing to show him kick the ground when attempting to shoot.

But the Netherlands doubled their lead just after the half-hour mark as Ryan Babel headed in Matthijs de Ligt’s driven cross from close range.

The goal continued the Besiktas winger’s return to form, having only been recalled to the Dutch squad last year after a six-year absence.

Sweden thrashed Luxembourg to maintain their hopes of automatic World

Sweden, second in the group, hold a three-point lead and a goal difference that is better by 12 goals over the Dutch, who they meet on Tuesday.

The Dutch won 3-1 in Belarus, while France beat Bulgaria 1-0 to maintain their one-point lead over Sweden.

France will qualify as group winners if they beat Belarus on Tuesday.

Sweden can take advantage if France drop points, otherwise they are likely to have to settle for a place in the play-offs.

Marcus Berg scored four times for Sweden as Luxembourg, who drew 0-0 with France in September, were embarrassed.

The Netherlands, runners-up in 2010 and third in 2014, also failed to qualify for the 2016 European Championships.

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