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.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.