Premier League Preview: Arsenal

3 Comments

Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

The 2013-14 Premier League season will be a decisive one for Arsenal Football Club. The Gunners have long been associated as one of the title-contending clubs but that has been called into question of late following the club’s refusal to spend money on marquee signings. Can Arsene Wenger outwit his opponents and continue to employ his youth policy to success?

That issue was magnified last season when the Gunners drop in form saw them 7th in the table at the end of November, only to be saved by a late season run that landed them in fourth place. The Gunners caught some flack for celebrating their Champions League spot like it was a trophy but after a slow summer transfer market, some wonder whether Wenger’s men will be able to duplicate the feat this season.

If they fail to do so it will mark the first time in 17 years that Arsenal won’t be playing Champions League football. Perhaps even more concerning, it could mark the end to Arsene Wenger’s 17 year reign as manager.

Transfers In: F Yaya Sanogo (AJ Auxerre)

Transfers Out: M Chuks Aneke (Crewe) Loan; D Martin Angha  (Nuremberg); M Andrey Arshavin (Zenit St Petersburg); D Samir Bihmoutine (Released); F Joel Campbell  (Olympiakos) Loan; F Marouane Chamakh (Crystal Palace); GK Reice Charles-Cook (Bury);  M Francis Coquelin (Freiburg) Loan; M Denilson (Sao Paulo); D Johan Djourou (Hamburg) Loan; M Craig Eastmond (Colchester); M Kyle Ebecilio  (Twente); M Gervinho (Roma); D Sead Hajrovic (Released); M Conor Henderson (Released); GK Vito Mannone (Sunderland); D Jernade Meade (Swansea); D Ignasi Miquel (Leicester) Loan; D Elton Monteiro (Club Brugge); F Nigel Neita (Released); M Joshua Rees (Released); M Philip Roberts  (Falkirk); D Andre Santos (Flamengo); GK James Shea (Released); D Sebastien Squillaci (Bastia); M Sanchez Watt (Colchester); M Jordan Wynter (Bristol City).

source:  Key PlayerJack Wilshire (pictured). Wilshire is the engine that drives Arsenal and if the club is to succeed in 2013-14, he’ll need to stay healthy and play at his very best.

Wilshire spent 14 months on the sidelines through 2011-12 with ankle, foot and heel injuries that forced him to miss the 2012 European Championships. When he finally returned to the Gunners lineup in late October 2012, he took a few weeks to adapt before resuming his role as talisman for the club. His presence in the center of the park was the difference between Arsenal sitting in 7th place at the end of November and 4th by the end of December.

The midfielder stayed strong through the winter but was struck down with another ankle injury after the March 3rd North London derby. This time Wilshire would be sidelined for six weeks until returning to the squad for seven league matches, a run of form in which the club went unbeaten.

Injuries tend to follow Wilshire due to his rugged, fearless and passionate play. He is the epitome of consistency, a menace on defense and a shifty, deep lying playmaker on offense who many argue is one of the most complete footballers in the entire league. And with a firecracker of a personality and a creative brain to boot, there are few players who are more fun to watch.

That being said, Wilshire has yet to fulfill his full potential as a player. Not known as a goalscorer he must contribute more on the offense end as his 1 goal and six assists in 62 Premier League matches simply isn’t enough. Those numbers will be sure to go up if Wilshire can remain healthy and, even more so, if Wenger brings in a gritty holding player – in the mould of Patrick Vieira – to relieve some of the defensive pressure.

Manager: With the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger becomes the most tenured manager in the Barclays Premier League. Arriving in North London in 1996, Wenger brought fresh ideas on everything from tactics to diet. The overhaul caught Gunners supporters by surprise but two years later they were dancing in the streets when Arsenal claimed their first Premier League title.

Wenger pushed on with his philosophies and no one was questioning him when he brought home the club’s second title in 2002 and their third two years later. His penchant for developing young players rather than buying costly veterans was a model that not only succeeded in the board room but on the pitch as well.

Fast forward to the present and Arsenal is still the model for how to run a football club as a business. Unfortunately, the game has changed. Clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United continue to spend massive amounts in transfer fees for players who are proven world-class stars. Earlier this summer Arsenal promised to change its frugal ways but have yet to make a major signing despite advances for Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain.

Wenger believes that his young players “have a special bond and they are on the way upwards” but supporters are growing more and more suspicious. If the Gunners finish outside of the Top 4 this season, it could mark the last for Monsieur Wenger.

Outlook: Despite having yet to add a star signing this summer, Arsenal still have quality talent to compete. Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can be nightmares for opposing defenses while the defensive rotation of Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna boasted the second fewest goals conceded last season. If those key players stay healthy, the Gunners should be able to compete for a Top 4 finish. To reach the next level, however, Arsenal needs to break the bank and secure the services of a world-class striker.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

Photo by Lukas Schulze - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?