EPL Preview: Wigan Athletic at Arsenal

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This is it.

The whole season comes down to this one game.

Win and the fight continues for one last game. Lose, or even tie, and Wigan’s great escape becomes impossible (almost).

For the last three EPL seasons, Wigan Athletic have defied the odds and fought back late in campaigns to secure their status amongst England’s elite.

But their task this afternoon seems daunting. A trip to the Emirates Stadium in London is their date with destiny. But they face an Arsenal side who are chasing Champions League qualification and desperately need a win.

So, Wigan need to emulate their incredible display in Saturday’s shock FA Cup final win against Manchester City — which coincidentally occurred just a few miles away from the Emirates at Wembley Stadium in North London — to have any chance of securing a vital three points against the Gunners.

The history books do not favor a win for the Latics. They have lost 9 of their 10 trips to Arsenal, but the only victory did come last season, as Wigan won 2-1 in April 2012 and stayed up. A good omen?

However Arsenal are in sensational form of late, winning six of their last eight and drawing the other two. They are the form team in the league and have won all five fixtures against the current bottom three this season.

And if it is goals you are after, then the Emirate Stadium is the place to be. 65 goals have been scored there this season, more than any other EPL venue. How about this stat, Wigan are the only team to have picked up more points away (18) than at home (17) this season.

We are in for a cracker this afternoon, with EPL survival and Champions League places on the line. Fans of Wigan and Arsenal might not have many nails left by the end of the game. But either way, we will be closer to finding out the fate of both clubs. Another cup final, of sorts, will kick off in North London this afternoon. Miss it at your peril.

What they’re saying…

Arsenal

Arsene Wenger: “Both teams have to go for it, it’s a huge game for both of us. We have been very consistent, we’ve been on a remarkable run and our destiny is in our hands. Two months ago our destiny was not in our own hands. Today it is. So let’s finish the job.”

Mikel Arteta: “I think we have to forget a little bit the external part of what the game means and just focus on the good things and the things that we did right on the pitch. When you’re thinking about other things, you can’t really focus on what you’re doing. For Wigan it’s going to be a tough game mentally as well. You want to try to get the positive energy out of it, not to get yourself restricted and play with a bit of fear. That’s the wrong way.”

Wigan Athletic

Roberto Martinez: “We need to take into this game that feeling of immense pride from Saturday’s achievement at Wembley Stadium. Winning the cup will take the club onto a completely different level in terms of how we are perceived from the outside and will give us good focus for the final two games in the league. We achieved what we did at The Emirates last season in pretty much the same way we did what we did against Manchester City at the weekend, so it’s good to have some close reference before Tuesday’s game. We have to show immense levels of concentration and discipline in defence, as well as strength and confidence in attack. That will lead to a complete performance, which would seem impossible if we hadn’t done what we did last weekend, so we’re capable of repeating it again.”

Prediction: My head has to rule my heart. As much as I’d like to see Wigan win and keep their survival bid going until the final day of the season, I think winning at the Emirates is just too big of a task. Arsenal have been in great form over the past few months and need a win to climb one point clear of North London rivals Spurs for the final UCL spot, and keep their destiny in their own hands. Even with Olivier Giroud suspended, the Gunners have too much firepower for Wigan’s defense. A 3-1 win for Arsenal will send Wigan down.

Barcelona president warns PSG over FFP

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Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is warning Paris Saint-Germain that even if they try to sign Neymar, they would condemn themselves to UEFA sanctions.

With PSG heavily linked to the Brazilian superstar, rumors suggest the French club is hoping to activate Neymar’s monstrous release clause set at $258 million.

However, that could have serious consequences, warns Bartomeu. “These clauses are impossible to activate if you want to comply with Financial Fair Play,” the Barcelona president told the Associated Press. “If someone doesn’t want to comply, then of course it can be activated.”

The Spaniard assured fans that Neymar is a critical part of Barcelona’s success.

“He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him,” Bartomeu said. “He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident [with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez].”

The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract extension last October that runs through the summer of 2021. Club vice-president Jordi Mestre also said he was “200 per cent” sure Neymar would stay with Barcelona.

Bruce Arena must change tactics to win Gold Cup

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If last night’s 2-0 “win” over El Salvador proved anything to USMNT fans, it’s that Bruce Arena has plenty of work to do if the United States is to seriously challenge for the 2017 Gold Cup title.

Lowly El Salvador has beaten one CONCACAF opponent in its last 10 tries. That victory came over Curaçao. Nevertheless, the United States struggled to deal with the Central American nation, as El Salvador sported multiple stretches of good pressure, and the U.S. back line was unbelievably lucky to come out with a clean sheet they did not deserve.

Given the performance, Bruce Arena has only one option going forward. With the B Team he’s put together on the current 23-man roster, the USMNT manager cannot stick to his usual 4-4-2 formation. He must adapt.

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With a significantly worse defensive line than the U.S. is used to, Michael Bradley is unable to play by himself in a central defensive midfield role as he did against El Salvador. With just Bradley and Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the pitch, the United States sported a gaping hole down the center, begging their quarterfinal opponent to counter up the gut, which they did to great effect.

Arena knew the U.S. strength was down the flanks, and that’s where he chose to attack. You can see by the halftime touch map that the United States chose to move the ball up the edge, particularly the left with Justin Morrow and Gyasi Zardes.

Arena knew his midfield was thin, and attacked accordingly. Nevertheless, defensively it failed to hold up. Without the more superior John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, and DeAndre Yedlin behind them, a midfield pair of Bradley and Nagbe just isn’t enough to cut down the counter-attack.

So what is Bruce Arena to do? Change his tactics; it’s the only option. Instead of his favored 4-4-2, he must change to a 4-2-3-1. While that cuts down on room for more attacking players, it allows Bradley to partner with Kellyn Acosta in the midfield hole. In front of the pair can either be Clint Dempsey or Darlington Nagbe in the ACM role depending how Arena plans to attack. That leaves Jozy Altidore alone up front, and while that’s less than ideal for a striker who plays better with a partner, it’s the necessary sacrifice that must be made so the U.S. midfield isn’t carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the better attacking teams left in the Gold Cup.

Bruce Arena’s preferred tactics may work with better players on the first-choice USMNT roster, but with a significantly downgraded selection at his disposal, especially along the defensive line, the United States coach must adjust his tactics against Costa Rica and likely Mexico to even have a chance.

Villar appears before judge after arrest in corruption probe

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MADRID (AP) The president of the Spanish Football Federation, his son, and two other officials will appear before a judge on Thursday, two days after being arrested in an anti-corruption probe.

Federation president Angel Maria Villar, his son Gorka Villar, Juan Padron, the federation vice president of economic affairs who is also president of the Tenerife federation, and Ramon Hernandez, the Tenerife secretary, were arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil on Tuesday.

National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz will question the four, who are accused of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and falsifying documents as part of an inquiry into the finances of the federations.

Judge Pedraz will also decide on Thursday whether the suspects remain in custody, a spokesman for the National Court told The Associated Press. The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in line with court policy.

Angel Maria Villar has been president of the Spanish federation for three decades. He is also the senior vice president of FIFA and a vice president of UEFA.

Police said on Tuesday they suspect the elder Villar of having arranged matches for Spain that led to business deals benefiting his son, a sports lawyer who has worked for CONMEBOL under three presidents who were all implicated in corruption cases.

Angel Maria Villar has spent the last two nights in a Guardia Civil jail on the outskirts of Madrid, not far from the Spanish federation offices which were raided by police on Tuesday along with private properties and regional federation offices.

AP writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this story.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Aurier to Man United; Wilshere to West Ham

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The Independent is reporting that Manchester United is set to make a move for Serge Aurier with a deal for Monaco’s Fabinho taking too long to finalize.

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Aurier, 24, is a powerful defender who can play at right back or center back and he has excelled for Paris Saint-Germain in recent seasons despite issues off the field as he was fond guilty of assaulting a police officer in Paris and was also suspended by PSG for allegedly mocking teammate Angel di Maria and then manager Laurent Blanc in a periscope session.

The Ivory Coast international is said to be available for $31 million, with PSG and Real Madrid in the running for Fabinho as his price is now said to have rocketed to past $51.9 million.

Jose Mourinho has been speaking about the spiraling costs for “good players” and not “big players” as said he may now have to settle for three new signings than the four he targeted at the start of the summer. With Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof coming in for over $135 million combined, United were said to have been agonizingly close with a deal for winger Ivan Perisic and a move for Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic is also said to still be a possibility.

Quick, strong and an all-out defender, Aurier is a solid Mourinho player. Antonio Valencia had a fine 2016-17 season but he will soon be 32 years old, so United have to look for other options at right back with both Matteo Darmian and Timothy Fosu-Mensah not doing enough to usurp Valencia last season.

All in all, this seems like a sensible solution rather than breaking the back for Fabinho who can play at both right back and as a holding midfielder.


The Daily Star claim that Arsenal have told West Ham United they’ll have to pay $28 million for Jack Wilshere and insert a buy-back clause in any deal.

Wilshere, 25, spent last season on loan at Bournemouth and although he impressed in spells he ended the season with yet another injury after suffering a left leg fracture against Tottenham Hotspur in April.

The academy product has 12 months left on his current contract and his future at Arsenal remains uncertain with Serie A side Sampdoria also said to be interested in his services, but is now the time for Wilshere to move on permanently?

Once the greatest hope of the English national team, Wilshere’s career has been ravaged by injuries and although Arsene Wenger rates him highly (hence the buy-back clause report) the Gunners have Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mohamed Elneny in central midfield.

With Arsenal having a Europa League campaign this season perhaps Wilshere will get plenty more games with the Gunners under his belt to try and impress, but surely he wants to be playing week in, week out in the Premier League.

His England teammate Joe Hart just signed for West Ham and with the Hammers’ rivalry with Arsenal not as intense as other London neighbors Spurs and Chelsea, this deal may work. If not permanently then on a season-long loan, but Wenger was very specific about Wilshere joining Bournemouth for the style of soccer Eddie Howe‘s men play. Under Slaven Bilic West Ham aren’t a free-flowing side but at this point Wilshere’s options in the PL seem limited.

The next 12 months are critical in shaping the rest of his career. We’ve said that many times before, but it feels like now or never for the talented central midfielder.