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.

Barcelona leaves Neymar out of ‘El Clasico’ v Real Madrid

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona has decided to leave Neymar out of the decisive “clasico” against Real Madrid because of the legal uncertainty over an appeal to overturn his suspension.

The club had taken all legal measures to try to clear the player for Sunday’s match at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, but ended up not including him in the squad because there had been no ruling on its latest appeal by Sunday morning.

Barcelona’s first appeal was rejected by the Spanish football federation last week, but the club was also trying to reverse the suspension through a local sports tribunal.

The club released a statement on Sunday criticizing the tribunal for not making a decision on the case in time for the match.

The tribunal said Saturday that while it had not yet had the opportunity to consider the appeal, that did not mean the striker was cleared to play.

Neymar was handed a two-game suspension for sarcastically applauding an assistant referee after being sent off in a 2-0 loss at Malaga on April 8.

The two-match ban was in addition to the one-game suspension he was automatically required to serve for the red card. The Brazilian had already sat out one match.

Two-time champion Barcelona also won’t have the injured Rafinha and Aleix Vidal, who have long-term injuries.

Madrid, seeking its first title since 2012, is expected to welcome the return of Gareth Bale, who had been sidelined because of a muscle injury.

Madrid enters Sunday’s game with a three-point lead over Barcelona. Madrid also has a game in hand.

MLS roundup: FCD win battle of unbeatens; POR rebound vs. VAN

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With seven MLS Saturday afternoons/evenings officially in the books, only 27 more to go…

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FC Dallas 1-0 Sporting Kansas City

The only two remaining unbeaten teams faced off in Frisco on Saturday, and only one came out still unblemished. FCD dominated in the two most important facets of the game — chances created, and goals.

Maynor Figueroa scored the game’s only goal, a 77th-minute header to put home Michael Barrios’ floated cross toward the back post. If not for the (increasingly typical) heroics of Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia (five saves), FCD would have already been 3-0 or 4-0 in front by that point. Sporting’s only shot on target didn’t arrive until the 47th minute, and it was far from a clear-cut chance, as Jimmy Medranda fired from the corner of the 18-yard box and hardly tested Jesse Gonzalez with the effort.

The win sees FCD move to six games unbeaten to start the season (three wins, three draws), while Sporting suffer their first defeat in seven games.


Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks bagged goals for Portland, who wasted little time in bouncing back from last weekend’s home defeat to Sporting. Nagbe’s goal, a stunner from outside the penalty area (WATCH HERE) opened the scoring in the 18th minute, and Mattocks made it 2-0 five minutes before halftime.

Fredy Montero scored his third goal in two games to bring Vancouver back to 2-1 just before the hour mark, but that’s as close as the visitors would get.

Diego Valeri was carried off the field in the 80th minute, which is the worst scare that Timbers fans could have possibly imagined, though the Argentine superstar told reporters after the game that he was feeling much better.


Real Salt Lake 1-3 Atlanta United

The honeymoon period is over for Mike Petke who, after back-to-back wins to open his tenure as RSL head coach, suffered his first defeat since taking over for Jeff Cassar five games into the season.

A series of comedic errors doomed RSL just about from the start, as Hector Villalba (9th minute) and Yamil Asad (46th), two of Atlanta’s South American starlets, put the visitors 2-0 ahead a minute into the first half — the latter was set up by Miguel Almiron, another of the young, South American attackers at Gerardo Martino’s disposal. Albert Rusnak pulled RSL back to 2-1 in the 69th minute, but it would remain that way until second-half stoppage time, when Brandon Vazquez beat Nick Rimando for a 3-1 clincher.


New York Red Bulls 2-0 Columbus Crew SC

Columbus’s defeat away to New York went from bad, to worse, to worst, in 39 minutes’ time on Saturday. Midfield revelation Artur went off with a nasty arm injury in the 6th minute, Alex Muyl put the home side 1-0 up in the 11th minute Daniel Royer made it 2-0 from the penalty spot in the 38th minute, and defensive revelation (and rookie) Alex Crognale went off injured immediately thereafter.


Houston Dynamo 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes

Wilmer Cabrera’s side will live and die by the form of his young attacking quartet this season. On Saturday, Erick Torres and Alberth Elis delivered the goals (read: goals) as Houston picked up a rather comfortable him win over San Jose.

Torres opened the scoring in the 9th minute, and though Elis didn’t double the advantage for another 63 minutes, the result was rarely, if ever, in doubt. San Jose managed just two shots on target (Houston had just three, for what it’s worth), as Adolfo Machado, Tyler Deric and Co. kept their first clean sheet of the season.


New England Revolution 2-2 D.C. United

In a battle of bottom-half Eastern Conference sides, New England and D.C. drew 2-2 after Lee Nguyen and a Sean Franklin own goal stalemated tallies from Jared Jeffrey and Sebastien Le Toux.

Ligue 1: Cavani, Di Maria score as PSG win to leapfrog Monaco

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PARIS (AP) Striker Edinson Cavani scored his 44th goal of the season and created the second goal as Paris Saint-Germain beat Montpellier 2-0 to go top of the French league on Saturday.

Cavani thumped home a cross from midfielder Blaise Matuidi in the first half, with winger Angel Di Maria involved in the buildup. It took Cavani’s career-best tally to 31 league goals and he thought he had another later in the half, but his powerful header was ruled out for offside.

Three minutes after the break, Cavani back-heeled to Di Maria, who curled in from just outside the penalty area for his fifth goal in five games.

Defending champion PSG is three points ahead of Monaco, which has led for most of the season.

Monaco has played two games less and can return to the top on goal difference by winning at Lyon on Sunday.

Both sides are doing well in Europe.

Monaco reached the Champions League semifinals and Lyon got through to the last four of the Europa League this week.

PSG has won eight straight games in all competitions to keep the pressure on Monaco. They meet each other on Wednesday in the French Cup semifinals. PSG then faces a tough away trip at third-place Nice next weekend as the hard-fought title race heats up.

“Monaco’s had a great season and you have to congratulate them,” PSG left back Maxwell said. “But we’re still in it.”

Bordeaux beat last-place Bastia 2-0 at home to move up to fourth spot, with striker Malcom getting the first goal.

But Lyon needs only a draw at home to Monaco to regain fourth spot.

After struggling for most of the season, Lorient is suddenly playing like a team near the top.

The Brittany-based side moved out of the relegation zone and up to 16th place after thrashing Metz 5-1 at home for a fourth win in five games. Midfielder Jimmy Cabot scored two and striker Benjamin Moukandjo grabbed his 13th goal of the season.

Elsewhere, striker Yacine Bammou scored both as Nantes beat struggling Caen 2-0.

Two goals from center forward Lois Diony helped Dijon beat Angers 3-2 at home; while Nicolas De Preville scored a brace as Lille beat Guingamp 3-0.

In Sunday’s other matches, Nice is away to Toulouse and Saint-Etienne hosts Rennes.

La Liga: Griezmann scores no. 25 in Atleti’s win to stay 3rd

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann kept Atletico Madrid focused on a strong finish to the Spanish league on Saturday despite its looming Champions League semifinal with Real Madrid.

Griezmann struck late in the second half at Espanyol to earn a 1-0 victory that kept Atletico in third place, three points ahead of Sevilla, and on course for a return to Europe’s top competition next season.

Atletico moved within four points of second-place Barcelona, which visits leader Real on Sunday trailing the pace-setter by three points. Real also has a game in hand as it tries to win the domestic title for the first time since 2012.

On Friday, Atletico and Real were drawn to face each other for a third time in four seasons in the Champions League. Real won the other two meetings in the finals of 2014 and 2016.

While Atletico has two league matches against Villarreal and at Las Palmas over the next week, its hopes for silverware rest squarely on their European clash with Madrid beginning on May 2 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“2017 is shaping up better than 2016,” Atletico manager Diego Simeone said. “We are defending well and finding the moments to win games. I am sure we could perhaps play better, but the team is winning. There is still a ways to go before the semifinals.”

At Espanyol, Simeone made only one change in his starting 11 from the team that drew at Leicester on Tuesday to advance in the Champions League on a 2-1 aggregate score.

His side, however, showed little signs of weariness against an Espanyol that won four straight at home.

Griezmann decided the contest in Barcelona dominated by both defenses in the 73rd minute when he used one touch of his left boot to volley home a rebound of a strike by Saul Niguez that came off a defender.

The goal was his team-leading 16th in the league and 25th overall.

“We knew we would have a difficult time against a team that is so good at home,” Griezmann said. “But we tried until the end and then held on.”

Cedric Bakambu scored twice, including the stoppage-time winner apparently with his hand, to ensure Villarreal strengthened its hold on fifth place and a Europa League berth.

Villarreal created several scoring opporunities but needed Bakambu to slot home the opener in the 68th.

Leganes was close to grabbing a late draw when Miguel Guerrero struck in the 90th, but Bakambu appeared to use his hand to redirect Jonathan Dos Santos’ cross into the net two minutes later.

The result left Leganes winless in seven matches and clinging to the final spot above the relegation zone.

“He scored with his hand,” Leganes goalkeeper Iago Herrerin said. “We are fighting for our lives. It was impossible not to see it.”

Villarreal coach Fran Escriba acknowledged Bakambu “touched the ball with his hand” after watching replays, but “I didn’t see it live.”

Sandro Ramirez continued his good scoring form, ensuring a third win in four rounds to dispel any relegation fears for Malaga. The former Barcelona forward has scored in all three of those victories.

Ramirez blasted in his own rebound from a free kick just minutes after Jose “Recio” Garcia headed the hosts in front in the 36th.

Before he scored, Ramirez’s powerful free kick struck Valencia’s Ezequiel Garay in the head, leaving him visibly groggy as he remained on the turf. The defender underwent tests at a hospital that indicated mild head trauma. He was released from the hospital soon after the tests.

Last-place Osasuna couldn’t have done much more to crush its fans’ spirits than go up by two goals only to concede twice in the final 11 minutes.

The draw left Sporting also in the drop zone at four points from Leganes and safety with five rounds left.