Preview: Fulham vs. Arsenal

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  • Arsène Wenger is under pressure after no progress in the transfer market
  • A 3-0 midweek win at Fenerbahçe all but assured Arsenal’s spot in Champions League group stage
  • Fulham has lost its last four league matches at Craven Cottage

Talk about two teams that started the season off on different notes. Fulham and Arsenal come into their match on Saturday (7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) after vastly different results in their first fixtures and sharply contrasting buzz among fans and media.

Fulham defeated Sunderland 1-0 away from home, while 10-man Arsenal crumbled to Aston Villa, 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium after Laurent Koscielny picked up two yellow cards, despite going up a goal in the first six minutes. Manager Arsène Wenger has come under a lot of scrutiny for failing to make any big summer signings, with many pointing to the result as proof of necessary change.

The home side will likely need another good defensive performance to come up with a similar result against the Gunners as it got against Sunderland. Center back Brede Hangeland (pictured) led the line for the Whites, clearing 11 balls and making three interceptions to lead all defenders in both categories.

This fixture last season was a low-scoring affair, as Arsenal big man Per Mertesacker scored the only goal of the game to lead Arsenal to a 1-0 win. With Arsenal’s attack looking largely tame against Villa — although three different players scored in midweek against Fenerbahçe in the Champions League — scoring goals at Craven Cottage has become an interesting challenge in recent visits for the North Londoners.

Fulham will be without goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and left back Kieran Richardson, injured in the opening-day win, making its task of defending more difficult.

What they’re saying

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on his transfer policy: “I would just like to reiterate to you that in the last 16 years, we have been very successful with transfers. If you look at the players we have, they are top quality, and you should never forget that. It is not always to think what is outside is better than what you have. What is important as well is to rate what you have, and our fans have to understand that as well. It’s hard, but I can understand the impatience.”

Fulham forward Darren Bent on his loan signing: “I’m not just hungry to play football again. I’m absolutely starving. I’m ready to get going. Hopefully for the next game, I’ll get a piece of the action. I’ve missed on a couple of major competitions with England, but I just hope this is my year. I need to get back to playing regularly, scoring goals for Fulham, and that’s my priority. That’s what I do best.”

Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey on the difficult start to the season: “It wasn’t the ideal start to the Premier League, but we bounced back [against Fenerbahçe]. … I’m feeling really confident at the moment. I’ve overcome my injury now, I feel, and after a couple of difficult seasons, I’m very happy, and hopefully, it will continue.”

Prediction

Even with all the turmoil at Arsenal, the team seems a bit too strong for Fulham. Forward Olivier Giroud provided the only goal against Villa last week, and he added another against Fenerbahçe, making him Arsenal’s go-to attacking player at the moment. With the right service, he should be able to bag another against Fulham and lead his team to victory.

LVG would only return to club football to get at Man Utd

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Leave it to The Daily Mirror to find that last bit of juice when it comes to Manchester United and former manager Louis Van Gaal.

Well, probably the last bit.

The Dutch manager said he does not expect to return to club football, unless one of the big boys in the Premier League offered him the chance to take a run at United. The Red Devils, of course, fired him shortly after an FA Cup title in order to hire Jose Mourinho.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

From The Mirror, quoting LVG at a Sunday night function in Rotterdam.

“I will probably not manage a club anymore,” Van Gaal said. “I would make one exception: If a big English club comes for me, than I would do it. Because then I can get the chance to get one over on Manchester United.’’

Could you see him getting a run at any of the Top Four contenders, even on a caretaker basis? Could Liverpool come calling if they tired of Jurgen Klopp one season, or might Arsenal or even Everton need a stopgap (should the Toffees spending come good)?

Suspended Villar says Spain in danger of missing World Cup

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The suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, who is under investigation for corruption, tried Monday to stoke up fears that the country could be kicked out of the World Cup because of government interference.

Angel Maria Villar, who is free on bail, spoke at a news conference in Madrid and again denied any wrongdoing. He also blamed the government for meddling in the federation’s affairs by suspending him.

“This government is putting Spain’s participation in the World Cup at risk,” the 67-year-old Villar said in his first news conference since being arrested in July along with his son, Gorka Villar, and two other officials.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

“The risk is serious,” Villar said. “The only party responsible for Spain not going to the World Cup will be the Spanish government.”

Villar spoke three days after FIFA said it was concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation and that it would soon send a delegation to analyze the situation. FIFA made no mention of a possible suspension of the federation, which could keep Spain out of next year’s World Cup in Russia or even knock Real Madrid and Barcelona out of the Champions League.

Villar, who has spent time behind bars to impede the possible destruction of evidence, and the other three officials are being investigated for alleged improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar resigned his vice presidencies of both FIFA and UEFA following his arrest. But he tried to stay on as the head of Spanish federation, a post he held for three decades.

His refusal to listen to pleas for him to step down led the Spanish government to suspend him from the post for one year pending the outcome of the investigation. Court documents allege that besides misappropriated funds, Villar is suspected of corrupting several regional federations by offering favors in exchange for votes.

Villar fired back at the government, saying his suspension had broken FIFA rules since it represented interference in the federation’s management.

“It’s easy to see that the source of concern was my arbitrary and unjustified removal from the presidency of the federation and for not respecting the presumption of innocence,” Villar said, adding that other teams are ready to take Spain’s place at the World Cup.

“Be careful. There are other powerful countries that didn’t qualify like Italy that are waiting to pounce and take our place,” Villar said.

Spain, which won the World Cup in 2010, is considered to be among the favorites for next year’s tournament.

Blanc: I turned down USMNT talks

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U.S. Soccer has not been inactive when it comes to the USMNT coaching search, despite its uncertainty with an impending presidential election.

Le Parisien has an interview with Laurent Blanc in which the ex-Bordeaux, France, and Paris Saint-Germain boss says he was approached by the United States Soccer Federation, but was not interested in the gig.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

Blanc said an international job would have to touch his roots, and he’s most certainly not American. The tall 52-year-old had a glittering playing career with Saint-Etienne, Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Manchester United amongst other stops.

More important, it shows that Sunil Gulati and his men have to some degree moved forward with keeping their imprint on the national team.

That’s a little worrying on any team: A hierarchy that may not be around much longer may be working to fill a position arguably more important than its own. It’d be nice to have them commit to not hiring anyone until after February’s election.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Swansea City

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  • Everton leads all-time 15W-9D-3L
  • BUT Swans unbeaten in 7 vs. Toffees
  • Toffees go ninth with win
  • Swans four back of safety

Everton hopes its up-turn in form can end three seasons of futility against visiting Swansea City when the two sides meet at Goodison Park on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Gylfi Sigurdsson gets a chance to face his former club for the first time, while longtime Swans man Ashley Williams may also feature for Sam Allardyce.

Swansea has no time to focus on the past, as Paul Clement‘s men sit deep in the drop zone. The last place Swans are four points shy of safety.

What they’re saying

Everton’s Ashley Williams on facing his former club (again)“The game is a little bit more important to me, I would be lying I said it wasn’t. You always want to play against your old teams and it’s a fixture you always look for.  I have been looking forward to this one and it will be nice to see old faces and old friends. It is a game we want to win and to keep a clean sheet in, especially at home, in order to keep our momentum going.”

Swansea City’s Roque Mesa on the match“This is a massive game for us. We need to pick up points because we are bottom and we need to improve our position. Everton have a new manager and their players have done very well under him – you can see their confidence has grown since he joined. But we did well against West Brom and picked up three points, which was very important. Then we faced Manchester City and they proved too good for us. They are the best team in the league, and unfortunately, we couldn’t match them on the night.”

Prediction

Swans need to move past that Man City loss and build on a 1-0 win over West Brom a few days previous. That may not be possible at Goodison, and the Welsh side would be thrilled to escape with a draw. It seems unlikely. Everton 2-1.