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.  

Sanchez, Mkhitaryan transfer still up in the air

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The player-swap/trade/transfer between Arsenal and Manchester United still appears to be heading towards completion, but it was further delayed Friday.

Multiple reports in England state that while Alexis Sanchez seems set to move to Manchester United, Henrik Mkhitaryan has yet to agree to move the other way, as talks between the player’s agent and Arsenal continue. Mkhitaryan was seen training at Manchester United’s practice facility on Friday, and because the latest delay, both players would be unable to debut for their new teams this weekend after missing the Premier League registration deadline.

[MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks]

Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace Manchester United travels to Burnley, both on Saturday at 10 a.m. (Watch Arsenal live on CNBC, Manchester United live on NBCSN, and both live on NBCSports.com)

The London Evening Standard reports that Mkhitaryan would command a $242,000-per-week salary but that as of Friday morning he had yet to undergo a medical for the transfer. Arsenal reportedly still wants a transfer fee included for Sanchez, while Manchester United would prefer to just swap the two players.

It’s also looking as if that won’t be Arsenal’s only business in the transfer market. While it seemed like a far-fetched rumor at first, the links between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Arsenal have only grown stronger in the past few days, and the Gabon international appears to be in the Gunners sights. It appears that Bordeaux’s young striker Malcolm is now off the table.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.