Arsenal’s frustrating season and their newfound grit

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It’s been quite a season for the Arsenal.

Widely recognized for their free-flowing, ooh là là style of play, the trials and tribulations of the 2012-13 season has forced the Gunners to grow into a grittier, more-hardened side.

The media ramped up their witch-hunt for Arsene Wenger this season, seeking to crucify him for everything from player selection to transfer targets to club finances. It all came to a boil before the second-leg of the Champions League quarter-finals at Bayern Munich when the Frenchman showed his towering frustration by sarcastically explaining to the media, “we want to lose tomorrow’s game so you can all be happy.”

It was an uncomfortable moment for all involved and one that could have tipped either way. Fortunately, it tipped in Wenger’s favor when his words ignited an impassioned fortitude  among the players resulting in a 2-0 victory over the Bavarian giants.

It was a moment that should not be undervalued, especially after the demolition that Barcelona suffered at the same venue this past Tuesday. The return leg at Bayern was a hand that Arsenal could easily have folded, opting instead to put out a second-string squad to provide youth products with experience and veterans with a respite before a furious conclusion to the Premier League season.

But Wenger refused, his players responded and the Gunners gave Bayern hell. It will be interesting to see if in next week’s semi-final second leg Barcelona are made of the same ilk.

It’s been an equally trying year for the players.

Arsenal’s center-back situation has been the source of constant drama and question marks as Thomas Vermaelen looks a shell of his former self and Laurent Koscielny continues his high-highs and low-lows. Per Mertersacker has been solid for the Gunners but always looks one step away from crumbling and hardly feels like the rock around which to build a back four.

In the midfield, Jack Wilshire was named to the short-list for PFA’s Young Player of the Year but the Gunners’ puppet-master has struggled with an ankle injury and currently looks a shadow of his former self.

After six months of hinting he wanted out of North London, Theo Walcott put an end to the drama by re-signing yet his on-field inconsistency remains a stress point for Arsenal supporters. When he’s on, he’s the most dangerous winger in English football. But when he’s off, he’s merely a boy who picked up football after a lifetime of athletics.

The list goes on as Gervinho leads the league in shots that go out for throw-ins, Bacary Sagna defends with his body in England and his mind in France, and Lukasz Fabianski and Wojciech Szczesny have both had their moments but neither has stepped up to the forefront of Premier League goal-keeping.

A huge source of this season’s stress arose from the sale of Robin van Persie to United. It wasn’t that Arsenal could have done something to convince him to stay at the Emirates – the striker’s mind was made up. But he absolutely should not have been sold to a club in the Premier League. Even if it meant accepting 5M less for his transfer, the Dutchman should have been sent to Italy or Germany where his heroics may have been seen but not felt.

Selling van Persie to United and watching him score hat-tricks to confirm league titles was like getting dumped by the prom queen and spending the entire summer watching her make-out with your best friend. And what are Arsenal supporters left with? Olivier Giroud. A talented player in his own right but hardly the rebound that will make your ex lover jealous.

Point being, Arsenal have endured immense growth this season, albeit different growth from previous years. They have acquired a much-needed chip on their shoulder, and rightfully so. They back down from fewer challenges and are now more more likely to grind out points for the sake of merely grinding out points. The change in personnel has also compelled the club to become more resourceful in where they find goals.

If Arsenal are to compete for next year’s Premier League title the club has to show a willingness to financially compete with United, City and Chelsea. They also need to tailor the majority of their signings to players who are proven stars rather than high-upside talent. With this kind of ambition, combined with this season’s mental advancements and the high quality of football for which Arsenal is so famous, the Gunners may soon return to the top of English football.

Latest on Ronaldo: PSG offer readied for Perez meeting

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Cristiano Ronaldo will meet with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez at the conclusion of the Confederations Cup, according to reports, at which point a pair of cut-and-dried options could be on the table.

Paris, or the status quo.

Marca reports that Ronaldo will bring a “money no object” offer from Paris Saint-Germain into the meeting, although the same outlet says Perez will know exactly what’s coming due to an understanding between the two big money clubs.

[ MORE: Juve confirms Alves release ]

The 32-year-old Ronaldo remains in fine form at the Confederations Cup, with Portugal’s unbeaten run continuing in Russia. If Portugal is upset by New Zealand in its group stage finale on June 24, it would still stand a good chance of proceeding to the knockout rounds depending on the Mexico-Russia result.

That means the Perez-Ronaldo meeting wouldn’t occur until after July 2, which is when the Final and third-place playoff are scheduled in Russia.

In the meantime, Real manager Zinedine Zidane is said to be cutting his vacation short to meet with Perez regarding not just Ronaldo’s future but the club’s pursuit of Kylian Mbappe (which is a bit over-dramatic given the above news. Feels like a phone call could get the job done).

MLS Snapshot: Minnesota edges Timbers; D.C. tops Atlanta… again

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The game in 100 words (or less): Abu Danladi scored the game-winner on Wednesday night but the rookie striker had about as interesting a six-minute run of play as anyone you’ll see this season. The Minnesota forward notched second goal of the year after the hour mark before being sent off minutes later for a nasty encounter with Sebastian Blanco, who was also dismissed. It was a back-and-forth affair all night, with both sides having their chance to land a punch or two but Adrian Heath’s team moves off the bottom of the Western Conference with their win.

Three four five moments that mattered

7′ — Okugo own goal hands Minnesota lead — Good things happen when you get crosses into dangerous areas, and this was a prime example.

37′ — Valeri buries from the PK spot — It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Diego Valeri doesn’t convert this honestly…

47′ — Ramirez continues to be a goalscoring machine — Yeah, that’s right. Nine goals on the year now for Christian Ramirez. Looks like this guy is going to be just fine in MLS.

50′ — Another own goal… — Francisco Calvo is the unfortunate recipient of this own goal, but again, dangerous crosses pay off.

Man of the match: 

Goalscorers: Amobi Okugo (OG – 7′), Diego Valeri (PK – 37′), Christian Ramirez (47′), Francisco Calvo (OG- 50′), Abu Danladi (64′)


The game in 100 words (or less): For all the things that have gone wrong for D.C. United this season, Ben Olson’s side has actually played well against Atlanta United. That continued again on Wednesday night as D.C. picked up its fifth win of the season behind goals from Luciano Acosta and Patrick Nyarko. Atlanta went ahead inside the opening 20 minutes when Yamil Asad set up Julian Gressel, who tapped home for the visitors. From there, Atlanta had a tough time of it capitalizing on their chances.

Three moments that mattered

17′ — Visitors leave D.C. in the dust for the opener — They make this look so easy… By the way, that’s nine assists on the season for Yamil Asad, who leads the league in that category.

23′ — Acosta equalizes for D.C. — Really sloppy play out of the back from the visitors, and Luciano Acosta made Atlanta pay with his fourth goal of the season.

60′ — Slow to react, Nyarko makes Atlanta pay — That’s some volley from Patrick Nyarko, but where’s the defending from Tyrone Mears? 2-1 D.C.

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Man of the match: Patrick Nyarko

Goalscorers: Julian Gressel (17′), Luciano Acosta (23′), Patrick Nyarko (60′)

Juventus confirms Dani Alves will be released, opens path to Man City

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Pep Guardiola could be one step closer to reuniting with one of his former pupils at Barcelona, and the Manchester City manager has Juventus to thank for that.

[ MORE: Bayern says clubs “risk FIFA punishment” for pursuing Lewandowski ]

The reigning Serie A champions confirmed on Wednesday that the club will release outside back Dani Alves, clearing the veteran defender’s path to join Man City this summer or another club.

“We’re not talking about a breakdown in the relationship, it’s motivation that is fundamental for players,” said Juventus chief executive Beppe Marotta.

“Alves has realised he has a desire to try a new experience, so we’re trying to reach a mutual termination of his contract and we wish him good luck.

“There’s certainly sadness because of what’s been said, but I can confirm there’s been no breakdown in our relationship.”

Alves signed a two-year contract with Juve last summer after previously playing for Barcelona since 2008, however, the winners of six consecutive Italian titles are willing to let the Brazilian walk away without acquiring a transfer fee.

Man City appears to be the preferred destination for Alves, who turned 34 in May.

PL champions Chelsea have also been linked to Alves’ services, but it’s more likely that the right back will reconnect with Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

Bayern says clubs “risk FIFA punishment” for approaching Lewandowski

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Two Premier League giants are reportedly in the market for Robert Lewandowski, however, his current club isn’t having any of it.

[ MORE: Mexico tops New Zealand behind comeback second-half effort ]

Bayern Munich has threatened repercussions from FIFA after Chelsea and Manchester United reportedly made contact with Lewandowski’s camp recently over a possible move to England.

[ MORE: Ronaldo goal lifts Portugal past Russia ]

The 28-year-old goalscorer is said to be displeasured with the Bundesliga champions after having a falling out with manager Carlo Ancelotti towards the end of the 2016/17 season.

Despite the alleged uncertainty between player and manager though, Bayern has no intentions of allowing their prized striker to leave.

Below is the statement released by Bayern to Sky Deutschland on Wednesday amid the speculation.

“Robert Lewandowski is under contract at Bayern and only recently renewed his deal until 2021. Bayern Munich waste no thought on a Lewandowski move.

“There are no talks with other clubs, and there won’t be any. If other clubs negotiate with players who are under long-term contracts, they risk FIFA punishment. The agent also confirmed to us that he has not held any contract talks.”

While Bayern would clearly be losing a key asset if Lewandowski were to exit this summer, Chelsea and United are two clubs certainly in the market for a striker.

The reigning PL champions are expected to cut ties with Diego Costa in the lead up to the 2017/18 campaign after the Spaniard showed a text message exchange with manager Antonio Conte displaying the Italian’s disinterest in bringing back the striker.

Meanwhile, United released Zlatan Ibrahimovic after this past season following a devastating ACL injury that he suffered in April.