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Arsene Wenger lays down the gauntlet to players – perform or be sold

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has laid down the gauntlet to his players – perform down the stretch or risk being sold.

It’s no secret that Wenger will be flush with cash to improve his side when the summer transfer window opens. And now, in a very non-Arsene move, the Frenchman is requesting his players prove to him why they shouldn’t be replaced.

“We have to analyse. What will decide our attitude, my attitude, is how we do now until the end of the season,” said Wenger. “We have had some blips that were not expected, Blackburn and Bradford, but overall I must say the attitude of the team has been great and when everyone is here (fit), then we have a strong team.

“What is important is to analyse where we can improve at the end of the season.”

Wenger’s warning shot is a motivational tactic wrapped in barbed wire. The gaffer is not exasperated with his squad. Quite the opposite, really, as the Frenchman was quick to note that his team deserves credit for shuttling themselves into Champions League contention after winning five of their last seven in the league. At the same time Wenger rarely throws around ultimatums – so don’t be surprised if the manager holds true to his word and brings down the axe this summer.

So what key players could be on the Arsenal hotseat?

Up front, the bullseye is squarely on the back of Gervinho (4 goals, 0 assists in 14 appearances). Since arriving in North London, the forward has shown remarkable athleticism but horrid technique. Golden opportunities are frequently squandered and half-chances routinely result in throw-ins. Yet somehow, Galatasaray are rumored to be interested in an $18.2 million move for the 25 year old, a move that most Goonahs would be delighted to see through and would provide the club a $1.8 million profit. Unless Gervinho steps up and answers Wenger’s call in a big way, it’ll be au revoire for the 25 year old.

In the midfield, Mikel Arteta (4 goals, 2 assists in 25 appearances) and Aaron Ramsey (0 goals, 2 assists in 27 appearances) are both very reliable but consistently underwhelming. In the center of the park, Arteta is neither a defensive maestro nor a playmaker. Similarly, Ramsey can get the job done in a number of midfield positions but fails to excel in any particular role. Both players could be key players at lower level Premier League clubs but if Arsenal wants to return to being a title-contending squad, Wenger needs to do away with the midfield vanilla.

Defensively, Laurent Koscielny (1 goal, 0 assists in 16 appearances) and Bacary Sagna (0 goals, 0 assists in 16 appearances) need to find a way into the squad to prove themselves. The former has shown glimpses of stardom but too often commits silly mistakes that cost his squad points. Sagna, on the other hand, is a quality full-back who any Arsenal fan would welcome keeping in the squad so long as his health improves and more importantly, he starts to show greater commitment to the club. One feels like Sagna could take or leave Arsenal. This is exactly the kind of blasé attitude that Wenger’s side needs to eradicate.  

Report: Chelsea making first waves in $88m Bernardo chase

MONACO - NOVEMBER 22:  Bernardo Silva of Monaco  during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Monaco FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC  at Louis II Stadium on November 22, 2016 in Monaco, .  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Monaco has slapped a massive price tag on Bernardo Silva, and The Times says that isn’t stopping Chelsea.

Antonio Conte is trying to land the 22-year-old Portuguese attacker according to the report, which says that the Blues are already chatting up the Ligue 1 outfit.

[ MORE: Wenger’s Sutton pitch worry ]

Silva has six goals and seven assists in France’s top flight this season, adding another three in the UEFA Champions League. He did not appear at EURO 2016 thanks to a hamstring injury, as Portugal won the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Chelsea is ready to spend $88 million on the right winger, who can also play in a attacking center mid role. From The Times:

Monaco would like to secure a minimum of €80m (£68.4m) for Bernardo, who is comfortable operating on either the left or right wing or as a number 10. With Barcelona, Real Madrid and both Manchester clubs also expressing their interest Monaco, who play Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday, believe a money-spinning auction may develop.

Transfer prices can be hard to predict, but is Silva the sort of talent that will tempt nine figures? We’ve been surprised before, and at his age it’s possible, but color us skeptical.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”