Lukas Podolski of Arsenal scores against Wigan Athletic during their English Premier League soccer match at the Emirates Stadium in London

Lukas Podolski targets top of the league with Arsenal

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While Goonahs everywhere try to avoid clawing their eyes out while waiting for their club to finalize a deal for Gonzalo Higuain, Arsenal winger Lukas Podolski noted his ambitions for the club in the upcoming season.

“The hope is that this season Arsenal will be at the top of the league,” Podolski said with an air of confidence.

That notion, Podolski explained, was due to one of the major advantages of playing in the Barclay’s Premier League. “English football, thankfully, is not like Spain where you only have two teams – Barcelona and Real Madrid – who fight at the top,” he said.

“In the Premier League, you have five, six, even seven top, top teams. It’s very difficult but I know that Arsenal are one of those top teams who will be involved,” the 28 year old said.

The German international also talked up Arsenal’s chances at claiming the title due to the top three clubs all having replaced their managers in the off-season.  “A few of the other teams all have new managers,” Podolski stated. “But they will be strong and equally, Arsenal will be strong.”

The issue for Arsenal is that, while they have managed to hold on to coach Arsene Wenger, their only signing has been the free transfer of Yaya Sonogo from Ligue 2 side AJ Auxere. Meanwhile, City and Chelsea have already announced two significant signings each.

City, now led by Manuel Pellegrini, have already finalized deals for Shakhtar Donetsk center midfielder Fernandinho (£35.2 million [$48.4m]) and Sevilla winger Jesus Navas (£17.6 million [$26.2m]). As for Chelsea, in addition to bringing in Jose Mourinho for his second stint as manager, they have signed Bayer Leverkusen forward Andre Schurrle (£19.4 million [$28.9m]) and Vitesse Arnhem center midfielder Marco van Ginkel (£8.3 million [$12.4m]).

If the Gunners are going to improve on last year’s fourth place finish, one thing they need to do is improve their ranks up top. And for weeks now they have been on the verge of making that happen, closing in on signing Higuain from Real Madrid.

At this point, however, the protracted move is largely seen as a formality. For Podolski, the Higuain move represents a challenge to his place in the starting squad. But the German appears unfazed by the situation.

“It’s always good when good players come in. I don’t worry about a specific player,” Podolski said. “I’m strong enough and I have qualities. And when good players come in, I’ll play with good players.”

Helping Podolski maintain his spot is the fact that many players experience growing pains upon first joining the Premier League. For Podolski, his move from Cologne last summer saw some initial bumps but the forward eventually made a fantastic impact on the North London club, notching 16 goals and 9 assists in all competitions.




“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.