Bernard providing the latest test for Arsenal’s new, theoretical transfer “might”

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It may seem like each day brings a new rumor about Arsenal’s potential — links that try to explain how Arsène Wenger will empty his uncharacteristically large war chest — but the big money rumors have focused on relatively few targets. Most of the summer, you heard Gonzalo Higuaín’s name connect to North London, but at the death, Napoli swooped for the Real Madrid star. Now Luis Suárez is the most prominent player connected with the Emirates, but that pursuit is starting to sound somewhat Higuaín-esque. Now momentum is building behind the pursuit of Atletico Mineiro midfielder Bernard, though that link entails the same basic question: When will Arsène Wenger spend?

The 20-year-old’s price is roughly half that of Suárez’s, but with the South American champions said to want just short of $34 million for Brazilian international, Wenger would still have to crush Arsenal’s record fee ($23 million) to lure Bernard from Belo Horizonte. With Atletico Mineiro able to hold out and other suitors willing to meet a lower price, Wenger is going to have to pay the going rate to get lure the winger to North London.

The extent to which Arsenal need Bernard isn’t exactly clear. While he is one of the best players in Brazil, will he have a great impacter than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would this year? In his first year in England, would he out-perform Lukas Podolski? Or perhaps Arsene Wenger envisions starting a line of three in attacking midfield of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott, in which case the bar to earn playing time would be even higher. If Wenger doesn’t think Bernard can come in and meet that standard, how does that affect how much his willingness to meet Atletico Mineiro’s demands?

All of which are perfectly reasonable considerations, and if some players end up leaving North London before the season starts (Cazorla, Podolski, Gervinho in the gossip pages), a crowded scene may yet clear out. Regardless, while many teams of Arsenal’s stature are now spending this type of money (if not more) to acquire Thiago Alcantara, Stevan Jovetic, Isco-esque pieces — players who may or may not be in their teams’ starting XIs next month — the Gunners continue to wade warily through the transfer market. Is there any point where Wenger will cease trying to trim the last couple of million off a price and start bolstering Arsenal’s squad?

Gooners hope there comes a point when these types of discussions become antiquated, when Arsenal finally brings in the type of players that will end all the doubt as to whether Arsene Wenger will actually spend money. But until that first big signing makes his way to the Emirates, it’s all speculation was to whether Arsenal’s approach will always leave the club susceptible to rival buyers swooping in, meeting sellers’ prices, and leaving the Gunners collecting out-of-contract talents and low-priced margins.

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.