ACF Fiorentina v AC Chievo Verona - Serie A

Arsenal and the ‘top club’ tag


Are Arsenal a ‘top club’? Fiorentina’s Luca Toni certainly doesn’t think so.

With team-mate Stevan Jovetic’s admission earlier this week that he would be tempted to leave Viola for a move to Arsenal, the 35 year old Toni (yes, the behemoth striker is still playing) decided to throw around his veteran weight by recommending Jovetic only leave for a “top club.”

While expressing his desire to see Jovetic stay at Fiorentina, Toni said that if the Montenegrin striker is to leave the club, it should be for the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea. The former Bayern Munich player said: “I tell him to think carefully before leaving Florence, as there is an important project here. If he has to leave, then make it for a real top club. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United fit that bill, but Arsenal are not better than Fiorentina.”

There’s little doubt that Toni’s words will trigger the ire of Gunners supporters but does the Italian striker make a point? A look back at Arsenal’s finishes over the last three years suggests that he does.

Arsenal currently sits 5th in the table on 50 points, four points behind Tottenham and a Champions League qualifying spot, five points behind 3rd placed Chelsea, nine points behind 2nd placed City and 24 points behind table-toppers United. Last season the North London club finished 3rd, only to be out-done by City and United. And in 2010-11 the Gunners finished 4th in the table behind United, Chelsea and City. These facts, combined with the failure to win a trophy during that time, means that Toni raises a good point – United, City and Chelsea are all clubs that, within the last few years, ‘top’ Arsenal. We’ll come back to this topic in a little bit.

But what about Toni’s assertion that Fiorentina is on par with Arsene Wenger’s side?

Fiorentina are currently 4th in the table on 51 points, three points behind AC Milan and a spot in the Champions League. The Florence side trails 2nd placed Napoli by five points and top-of-the-table Juventus by 14 points. Last season, however, was a different story for Fiorentina, who stumbled to finish 13th in the Serie A table. Their prior campaign wasn’t much better, finishing 9th in the league.

So while Fiorentina and Arsenal may be enjoying nearly identical seasons, it’s hard to see how the two clubs can be considered to be on the same level. Apart from the current campaign, Fiorentina has struggled to consistently finish in the top half of the Serie A. They also haven’t qualified for Europe since the 2008-09 season and haven’t won a trophy since the 2000-01 Coppa Italia. Arsenal, on the other hand, have qualified for Champions League every season since 1998-99. And, since the turn of the millenium they’ve also won two Premier League titles (2001-02, 2003-04), three FA Cups (2002, 2003, 2005) and two Community Shields (2002, 2004).

Sorry, Luca, but the numbers speak for themselves. Arsenal are ‘better’ than Fiorentina.

Which brings us back to the original question – are Arsenal still a ‘top club’? For my money – and I am an Evertonian, not a Goonah – the answer is ‘yes’.

Merely because United, City and Chelsea have all had better runs of late doesn’t mean Arsenal should be stripped of the ‘top club’ label. Granted, they are nearing 8 years without a trophy but the Gunners are consistently one of the top clubs in the league and in Europe – putting them head and shoulders above clubs like Fiorentina.

Whether Arsenal have any interest in bringing Stevan Jovetic into the fold, and whether the 23 year old would be able to make an impact at the Emirates, however, are questions for another day.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. The manager guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
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The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).

Report: USWNT star Holiday has brain tumor removed

Costa Rica v United Staes: Final - 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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World Cup champion Lauren Holiday has had a brain tumor removed, one month after giving birth.

Holiday’s husband, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans, announced that his pregnant wife was diagnosed with an operable tumor in September, and Lauren Holiday has publicly thanked fans for support while requesting prayers.

[ MORE: UCL Final in United States? ]

The Holidays welcomed their first child earlier this month, and Jrue left the Pelicans preseason to help his wife.

The BBC added this tidbit:

Unbelievably as a three-year-old, she had open-heart surgery to repair a defect and went on to become one of the world’s most respected football players.

Get well soon, Lauren.

WATCH: FC Dallas rocket goal sends Guatemalan rainwater flying off net

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Carlos Lizarazo #22 of FC Dallas looks on during the second half of an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Carlos Lizarazo’s ridiculous rocket shook rain off the net in an aesthetically pleasing CONCACAF Champions League goal on Thursday.

The Cruz Azul loanee struck a vicious shot for FC Dallas’ fifth goal, which boosted out of the No. 8 seed for the quarterfinals after a 5-2 win at Suchitepéquez in Guatemala.

[ MORE: PST talks with FCD’s Hedges, Zimmerman ]

Lizarazo, 25, had two goals in 10 appearances for FCD heading into the game, with both coming in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.