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Arsenal may want Simon Mignolet, but Paolo Di Canio’s prepared to fight for him

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In the wake of a run-in that left Sunderland fortunate to stay in the Premier League, manager Paolo Di Canio is promising big changes. The Black Cats may need “half-a-dozen” new signings this summer (really, an annual ritual around the Stadium of Light), though in order to keep that number from escalating, Di Canio’s going to have to hold on to the few solutions he has. That means keeping Steven Fletcher, retaining Stephane Sessegnon, and fighting off the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool for Sunderland’s true gem: goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

The 25-year-old Belgian was among the league’s best `keepers this season, facing the second-most shots in the league as he played every minute for the flounder Cats. Behind that barrage, Mignolet felt the downside of Martin O’Neill’s negative tactics, his ability tested not only with shots on goal but having cut out changes on endless balls sent into his area. Both aggressive off his line and posessing quick shot-stopping reflexes, Mignolet was given plenty of opportunity to shine behind a terrible team.

Unfortunately for Di Canio, it may be impossible to keep Mignolet now that clubs near the top of the table are in pursuit. No young Belgian heads to England to spend the rest of his career at Sunderland. Teams like the Black Cats provide a proving ground for foreign talent eager to work their way into the league’s seven high-profile teams. Once one comes knocking, it’s usually a matter of extracting full value.

Depending on how Liverpool feel about Pepe Reina, that my be difficult to extract from the Reds, as it’s unclear Brendan Rodgers is ready to let the Spaniard return to Barcelona. Arsenal, on the other hand, moved away from Wojciech Szczesny at year’s end, and while Arsène Wenger has typically imported younger goalkeepers, Mignolet makes sense if he’s looking for a new number one.

Able to speak five languages (Flemish, Dutch, German, French, and English), Mignolet will immediately be able to communicate with the bulk Arsenal’s defenders, and being a rare footballer with a four-year degree (politics, University of Leuven), Mignolet may be a natural fit for Wenger’s more erudite approach.

Add in the fact Arsenal won’t have to set any transfer records to bring the Belgian to The Emirates and everything lines up, though if Di Canio’s remarks to the Hartlepool Mail are to be taken at face value, Mignolet’s move would be a contentious one:

“It is clear that we have to bring in players over the summer – half-a-dozen, maybe more,” said Di Canio.

“We finished near the relegation zone and so it is obvious that we need to make changes to make sure that we are not in this situation next season.

“But at the same time we already have some quality players here, and I want them to stay.

“I want to build something here at Sunderland and take the club forward – that is my mission. So the last thing I want to do is to let any of our quality players leave.

“Simon is a top class goalkeeper,” he said. “He’s very important to us.”

For Di Canio, it would be better if he cashed in and reinvested the money. Sunderland needs some much at so many positions, getting a potential eight-digit (or, high seven-digit) sum for your goalkeeper has to be considered. With Irish international Kieran Westwood on the bench, the Cats have somebody who should be able to do a minimal job should a different replacement fail to head north.

For Arsenal, it’s just a matter of prioritization. If they do have a £70 million war chest, as has been speculated, how much of that do they want to allocate toward a goalkeeper? And are they willing to give up on Wojciech Szczesny?

Brazilian midfielder Fred has doping ban extended to club, out until June

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 19:  Fred of Donetsk goes for a header during the UEFA Champions League: Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between SK Rapid Vienna and FC Shakhtar Donetsk on August 19, 2015 in Vienna, Austria.  (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)
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Shakhtar Donetsk striker Fred, a regular for the Brazilian national team, has seen his CONMEBOL doping ban extended worldwide to all competitions.

A FIFA disciplinary committee announced that Fred’s suspension now covers “all types of matches, including domestic, international, friendly and official fixtures.”

The 22-year-old tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide during last summer’s Copa America, and has not played for the Brazilian national team since, having been banned for a year by CONMEBOL. He had been playing for his Ukranian club while FIFA was reviewing the case, making 12 appearances in league play and scoring two goals. He also played six times in the Champions League without scoring a goal.

The one-year ban is back-dated to Fred’s last international squad appearance, when he was on the bench for the Copa America quarterfinals on June 27 of last summer. That date will allow Fred to be eligible for the Rio Olympics, which start August 5.

Men In Blazers podcast: Irvine Welsh Pod Special

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog talks with “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh about his new novel “A Decent Ride,” unconventional career arc, and love for West Ham United/Hibernian.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?