Premier League Preview: Arsenal

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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.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.