Preview: Sunderland vs. Arsenal

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  • 72 – Mesut Ozil has the most assists over the last five season in Europe’s top five leagues
  • Sunderland have won just once in their last 19 games against Arsenal
  • Arsenal are looking to make it seven-straight away wins in the league

On Saturday at the Stadium of Light all eyes will be on one man: Mesut Ozil.

Arsenal’s new $60million midfielder will be at the center of everyone’s attention as the German international begins his Gunners career against Sunderland (Saturday, 10am ET, watch live on NBCSN and via NBC Sports Live Extra).

But Ozil aside, this is a huge game for Sunderland as Paolo Di Canio’s men have picked up just one point form their first three league games this campaign.

The Black Cats will not relish the thought of facing a fired up Ozil or an Arsenal side fresh from four-straight wins across all competitions but Di Canio’s side will be spurred on by a sell-out crowd in the North East. Last time out they suffered a demoralizing 3-1 defeat against newly-promoted Crystal Palace and Di Canio knows that despite adding 14 players over the summer his side must pick up points sooner rather than later.

U.S. national team striker Jozy Altidore is set to return after missing the loss to Palace with a hamstring injury and Altidore, 23, missed the USA’s win over Mexico due to yellow card accumulation. The star striker didn’t get to celebrate with his teammates in Columbus so maybe he can score a goal on Saturday to remind everyone just how good he really is?

Arsenal are fresh off the back of a confidence-boosting win over North London rivals Tottenham, with Olivier Giroud scoring the winner to seal his fourth goal in five games this season. The Frenchman is on fire.

For the Mackems Altidore or new loan signing Fabio Borini could partner Steven Fletcher up front as Sunderland go all-out for the win against Arsenal at home. For the visitors Ozil missed training on Friday but should be handed his debut, while fellow German international Per Mertesacker will miss out through illness.

What  they’re saying

Sunderland striker Steven Fletcher on Arsenal: “We don’t want to think about them too much because we know they’re a good side. Obviously they’ve brought in Ozil who is a good player but we need to concentrate on our performance rather than anything else. They’ve had a decent start but we’ve got a number of strikers which is good for us.”

Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s ambitious new future after signing Ozil: “They were questioning my desire to spend money, maybe the ambition as well because today the ambition is linked with the amount of money you spend. We are very ambitious, we went through a few years where we had less resources and there is no shame to say that because we have built a new stadium. Now we are back with the ambition as big as everybody else, if not bigger.”

Paolo Di Canio on Arsenal: “I can’t wait for us to play because I’m excited about it. I think the game will be 50-50. Arsenal will come to play and they will come forward but that means we will get the chance to attack ourselves and that’s exciting. I have had a feeling for a while that we will find it easier against the top teams to play the sort of football we want to. They will attack and we must defend well but we will get chances of our own to attack and we must make the most of them.”

Prediction

This is such a tough one to predict as Sunderland often up their game for the big occasion. But Arsenal look really solid and with the addition of Ozil giving everyone a lift I think the Gunners may just edge this game as a valiant effort from Di Canio’s Black Cats will seem them come up short. The Gunners’ extra class and cutting edge in the final third will be the difference as Santi Cazorla, Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Giroud, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere will wreck havoc.

Report: Real Madrid willing to let Cristiano Ronaldo leave

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It appears that Real Madrid are finally willing to let Cristiano Ronaldo leave the Santiago Bernabeu.

A report from Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague says that Real are now warming to the idea of selling Ronaldo and cashing in on the five-time World Player of the Year while they still can.

Ronaldo, 32, has scored just four goals this season in La Liga as Real, the reigning Spanish and European champions, languish in fourth place in the table.

Per the report, Ronaldo’s former club United are the frontrunners to re-sign him but there are certain complications which come with such a huge deal for one of the greatest players in world history.

First up: Real still want $120 million for a player who turns 33 in February. Yeah, not going to happen. Also, his salary of over $60 million per year, after tax, could be problematic.

Ronaldo has scored an amazing 422 goals in 418 game since joining Real from Man United in 2009 and he’s been instrumental in winning three UEFA Champions League titles in the Spanish capital. Still, with his numbers diminishing this season, a contract which runs out in 2021 and suggestions that he’s not at his physical peak anymore, this is a lot of money for United, or anyone else, to shell out.

Yes, Ronaldo’s name will see the club he plays for rake in cash in many other ways but if his levels continue to drop on the pitch then paying this much for him doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It’s clear that Ronaldo hasn’t been too happy for a while now and it is thought he wanted a new contract last summer but Real have yet to come up with the goods.

Seeing Ronaldo back at Old Trafford and managed by his old boss at Real, Jose Mourinho, seems like something out of a Hollywood movie. Until Real drop their asking price, Ronaldo heading back to Man United will remain a fantasy.

Mkhitaryan holds key in United’s deal for Sanchez

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This is getting very, very interesting. The late bid from Chelsea and Man City’s exit from the deal aside, there’s been another twist in this saga.

Manchester United’s move for Alexis Sanchez appeared to be getting closer to completion but the agent of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the suggested makeweight in the $48 million deal between United and Arsenal, has thrown a spanner in the works.

Mino Raiola has told The Times that United’s deal for Sanchez won’t go through unless his client agrees to join Arsenal.

“Manchester United is not going to sign Sanchez unless Mkhi agrees to join Arsenal.”Raiola said. “Sanchez is part of the Mkhi deal, not the other way around.”

Wow. Okay. He’s really doing this. Now, Mkhitaryan is a good player. You aren’t named the best player in the Bundesliga and signed by Man United if you’re not. But we all know the Armenian playmaker has struggled this season and for the opening half of the 2016-17 campaign after arriving from Borussia Dortmund.

His agent suggesting that Mkhitaryan is the main prize in this deal is obvious from his point of view as he protects the interest of his client, but the rest of the world knows Alexis is the man everyone wants in January.

It is said that Mkhitaryan (who was left out of United’s squad for the 3-0 win against Stoke on Monday due to the uncertainty around his future) would prefer a return to Dortmund but the Bundesliga giants aren’t said to be willing to pay his wages.

Arsenal were interested in Mkhitaryan in the summer of 2016 but he decided to join United instead, but it would appear that getting $48 million and Mkhitaryan for Sanchez, a player who has less than six months to run on his current contract, is a good deal for the Gunners.

Mkhitaryan holds the key to United’s Sanchez deal and it doesn’t seem like he’s in any rush to sort out his future. Could his delay hand Chelsea some time to try and sew up their own deal for Sanchez?

The transfer window shuts in just over two weeks. Tick-tock indeed.

Donovan joins Leon, ready to “win championships” in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Landon Donovan, the most accomplished player in American soccer history, is talking about winning championships with his new team in Mexico.

Donovan is returning from retirement for the second time in three years, this time with Club Leon. He was cheered loudly by hundreds of fans during a brief ceremony Monday, an unusual site not seen for Leon since Mexican great Rafael Marquez signed with Leon in 2014.

“I’m very excited, I did not expect that, it was amazing, now I just want to play and be on the field,” Donovan said in Spanish at a news conference. “It is Monday and very late and people are here. Now I need to talk to the coach to set a plan because it’s been over a year since my last professional game and I will need time, but I’m motivated, I want to win championships.”

The 35-year-old Donovan arrived in Mexico last week while rumors swirled about a possible comeback. He announced Friday night he was coming out of retirement to play in Mexico for the first time in his career.

“I don’t believe in walls, I always wanted to play in Mexico because I grew up in California playing with Mexicans since I was like 8 or 9 years old,” said Donovan, who’s the career scoring leader for the U.S. team and in the MLS.

Former U.S. players Marcelo Balboa and Eric Wynalda have played for Leon. Currently, William Yarbrough is the starting goalkeeper for a Leon team that has won seven league titles.

“I spoke with Marcelo Balboa about the city and also with Omar Gonzales (who plays for Pachuca) to know more about the country,” Donovan said. “I also spoke a lot with (former Puebla player) DaMarcus Beasley because I wanted to know as much as possible. I know that the league is different to the U.S. and to England, I think the style of play suits me, I used to play with Mexicans so my style is more Latino and I think I can be successful. That’s important for me”.

Leon reached the quarterfinals last season and will be a stronger side for the Clausura tournament after signing Giles Barnes (Orlando City), Emanuel Cecchini (Malaga) and now Donovan.

Despite not playing for nearly two years, Donovan has created a lot of expectation. The main sports networks in Mexico devoted plenty of air time to the move, and Donovan’s jersey sold out at the stadium before a game against Toluca on Saturday.

“I think it’s a good move, he’s a very skilled player, just remember how he used to made life difficult for us when he played for the U.S. team against Mexico,” said Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti, who briefly managed the Mexican team before the arrival of Juan Carlos Osorio.

Donovan returned to the LA Galaxy of MLS in September of 2016 following a 21-month retirement and appeared in nine games. He hasn’t played professionally since Nov. 6, 2016.

Donovan played in three World Cups: South Korea and Japan 2002, Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. He also played in six Gold Cups and won four titles. He scored 57 goals playing for the U.S. team and 145 in the MLS.

Donovan has done broadcast work since retiring and was rumored to be considering a run for U.S. Soccer Federation president. Donovan announced in November that he would not seek the position.

Landon Donovan unveiled by Club Leon

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Landon Donovan was unveiled to Club Leon fans at Estadio Leon on Monday night.

The former USMNT star and longtime LA Galaxy forward came out of retirement for the second time to sign with the Liga MX side this past weekend. Leon finished 7th in the Apertura table, losing to Tigres in the first round of the playoffs. They currently have a perfect six points through the first two Clausura matches, sitting second in the table with a +3 goal differential.

Fans were allowed into the stadium for free, and they packed the lower stand on one end, waving USA flags and holding large “L” and “D” cutouts, and the fans faced a massive board on the field that read “I DON’T BELIEVE IN WALLS.” Chants of “U-S-A” rang out through the stadium before the unveiling.

ESPN reporter Tom Marshall pointed out that the last time the club had such a large event to welcome a player, it was in January of 2013 when the club brought Mexico captain Rafa Marquez in from the New York Red Bulls.

Donovan will don the number 20 for Club Leon.