Manchester City title favorites, Arsenal surging – View from the Booth, with Arlo White

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When watching soccer on TV, have you ever sat there and wondered what the man behind the microphone really thinks?

Maybe this will go someway to helping with that.

In the latest edition of “View from the Booth” NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White talks about Tottenham vs. Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal’s title credentials and much more Premier League news.

(MORE: View from the Booth Archive)

You can hear Arlo calling live games this weekend on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and watch every single game available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra,

Let’s get to it.

Are you still in shock after Manchester City comprehensively dismantled Manchester United? And do you think Manuel Pellegrini’s side can sustain that level of play throughout the season?

The thought crossed my mind after 50 minutes, when Samir Nasri put City 4-0 up, that we might see the sort of seismic, once in a generation result that Manchester United achieved themselves in thrashing Arsenal 8-2 a couple of seasons ago. City were tearing United apart and had achieved a level of performance beyond anything we’ve seen in the Premier League so far this season. To United’s (and Wayne Rooney’s) great credit, they displayed defiance in the face of humiliation and great pride in playing for such a successful and significant club. In addition however, Yaya Toure took a bit of a breather in the center of the park after his hitherto awesome display, which did let United off the hook.

Vincent Kompany was incredible. An absolute rock at the back. Did you see his lung busting run into the United penalty area before Navas crossed for Nasri’s goal? It distracted me on the call, and clearly upset the United defense. It was an incredible display of desire and athleticism, and it was a finger in the eye to the convention of center backs knowing their place.

source: Reuters
Can Manuel Pellegrini bring Premier League success to the Etihad?

I could reel off a list of City names who excelled, but to Kompany and Toure I would add Aguero, Kolorov, Navas and Negredo as those having stupendous games.

Can they keep it up? They won’t play like that every week that’s for sure. I have a theory that teams who carry a genuine threat in wide areas (pace, guile, touchline hugging wingers) have a wonderful chance of success this season, as the trend seems to be to play more narrow in the attacking third of the pitch, which is clogging up the space. City have width (Navas is fantastic) and that is part of the reason they have to be favorites to regain their Premier League title this season.

With Arsenal now winning eight on the bounce in all competitions since that opening day loss to Aston Villa, are they the title favorites? That vibe has started to gather momentum in the past few days, but do you expect that game at Swansea to be their biggest test yet?

No, I think City are favorites, but Arsenal are in the mix for sure. Whilst prepping to call the Swansea v Arsenal match, I was reminded of just how much attacking talent Arsene Wenger has at his disposal in his midfield alone. Mesut Ozil is world class. Aaron Ramsey has scored 7 goals in 7 matches this season, and not only that, he is second in the Premier League in touches (behind Yaya Toure) and equal first in tackles (with Lucas of Liverpool). Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta will see Premier League action again soon. Jack Wilshere will be the best English midfielder of his generation. Tomas Rosicky it still a talent. Then there’s the injured duo of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

However, it’s a different story up front.  Olivier Giroud has produced the goods so far, but there has been recent talk of a knee problem.  If he succumbs to that issue, another injury, or just a simple barren run of form, then the Gunners are in a spot of bother. Niklas Bendtner played his first Arsenal match for 767 days at West Brom on Wednesday in the League Cup. In Niklas Bendtner’s mind, Niklas Bendtner is the greatest player that ever walked the planet, so let’s see if his talent can eventually break the shackles of the reality that he’s been decent, full of promise, but ultimately disappointing so far. Arsenal might need him.

The big game this weekend is of course Tottenham vs. Chelsea early on Saturday. Will this match act as a measuring stick to see if both teams can challenge for the title, like they think they can? 

source: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho vs. Andre Villas-Boas… who will come out on top?

I’ve seen more of Chelsea (3 games) so far this season, than I’ve seen of Spurs (0 games). Chelsea’s squad is packed with talent, but it is taking time for Jose Mourinho to mold them into the team he wants, and the process is producing as much selection controversy as it is Premier League points. I cannot wait to see if Juan Mata features in this game. He had a good run out at Swindon in the League Cup, but it’s the Premier League that matters, so is Jose ready to give him another go? We shall see. It’s an issue that is beginning to dominate the agenda with Chelsea, and not in a positive way.

Mourinho has his ‘anointed one’ in Oscar. The young Brazilian responded very well to his elevation with a good performance against Fulham. He was always keen to receive the ball and also worked hard when Chelsea didn’t have it. I thought Fernando Torres looked lively and confident when he came on in that match. I wonder if he is about to embark on a decent run of goals?

Look at Spurs. Bale has gone but they have won 8 of their 9 matches so far this season, scoring 22 goals and conceding just 1. But that ‘1’ was a crucial goal to give away. It was scored by Olivier Giroud and it won the North London derby for Arsenal. Can Spurs win the big one? History suggests not, they’ve only beaten Chelsea three times in 42 Premier League encounters, but this is the time for them.

Their squad is packed with talent.  Soldado, Paulinho, Lamela, Eriksen etc have added a different dimension to the club. If they can beat Chelsea, and look convincing in doing so, it’ll set tongues wagging that perhaps they might be involved in the title race down the stretch.

Are you sad to see Paolo Di Canio exit the Premier League? Do you think he was given a fair crack of the whip? And who would you like to see replace him? 

I wouldn’t say that I’m sad and I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m surprised. We spoke to Jozy Altidore before the season started and when I asked him about Di Canio’s methods he replied “Err, it’s different.” Jozy was extremely diplomatic, but I read between the lines that Di Canio’s idiosyncratic methods might lead to trouble ahead.

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Paolo Di Canio’s departure wasn’t a huge surprise. What now for Sunderland?

His reaction after the final whistle at the Hawthorns was simply bizarre. It was his Phil Brown moment. I just didn’t understand what he was trying to achieve. Was he thanking the fans for their support? If so, why didn’t he approach them closer? Was his posture defiant or actually quite aggressive? If it was intended to placate a disgruntled away end it failed catastrophically. Sunderland came out of the game with more concern about their form and more evidence that their manager was a loose cannon, so they acted.

Do you remember last year when Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins lost their jobs at Reading and Southampton at relatively early stages of the season?  There was uproar. In contrast, the sacking of Di Canio just 5 games into the season was greeted with a collective and knowing nod that said we all expected it.

After going through Roy Keane, Ricky Sbragia, Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill and now Paolo Di Canio since the start of the 2008/09 season, Sunderland need a period of stability.  Their next appointment is absolutely vital.

What about Martin Jol at Fulham, he must be worried? It is ridiculously early to talk about sackings, but the Cottagers have looked pretty woeful in recent weeks. Is there now too much pressure to start the season well, what with the even bigger financial incentives?

There is pressure that’s for sure. We’ve already seen one ‘MJ’ removed from Craven Cottage this week, but thankfully for Jol, it was the Michael Jackson statue from outside the stadium.

It’s far too early to really assess Fulham this season. They were beaten at home by Arsenal, who we now know are a terrific side this year. They’ve also traveled to Chelsea and lost. I wonder what could have been if Darren Bent had scored with that great first half chance?

But, where there is Berbatov and Bent, Parker and Sidwell, Hangeland and Riether, there is hope.

Fulham have a crucial run of 4 games now, after which, we’ll know more about their prospects this season. They face Cardiff at home this weekend, and follow that with Stoke (H), Crystal Palace (A) and Southampton (A). Those are all teams that the Cottagers will be competing with, so they must gather a decent haul of points.

Finally, what are you really looking forward to this weekend?

For me, it’s the game at the Liberty Stadium between Swansea and Arsenal on Saturday afternoon (12:30pm ET).  I can’t wait to call this one on NBC with Graeme Le Saux. The last time we were in South Wales we were treated to a terrific match between the Swans and Liverpool that’ll be forever known as the ‘Shelvey game’. This game could be even better.

source: Getty Images
Michu and Swansea are back in form, can they beat Arsenal on Saturday?

Swansea are so impressive.  Michu has started scoring goals again and they seem to have a batch of wonderfully inter changeable Spaniards! I really liked Pozuelo when he came on against Liverpool. But I also liked Pablo Hernandez when he came on against Manchester United on opening day.

Swansea have had a busy run of games. They followed the Liverpool match on a Monday night with a game in Valencia on Thursday, then they were in London on Sunday to face Palace, before a midweek trip to Birmingham in the League Cup. They will be happy to be at home (where they are due a win in the Premier League), and Michael Laudrup has rotated the squad very effectively.

This is a massive test for both sides, but it’s got all the purest ingredients to satisfy the appetites of neutral fans who like purposeful passing Football. Don’t miss it!

Enjoy the Premier League weekend everybody…

Bobby Wood looks forward to working with Arena, praises Klinsmann

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A back injury kept Bobby Wood from United States men’s national team camp, but the Hamburg striker has been feeling good about the side’s World Cup fortunes since before the big win over Honduras.

Speaking with Hamburg’s team magazine, Wood gave a sprawling interview on his career and time with the national team. Wood praised Arena for scouting in Germany, saying the USMNT boss is a quiet coach who has his own style of playing, one that will prod the Yanks into the World Cup.

[ MORE: Complete USMNT-Panama preview ]

But the 24-year-old Hawaii-born striker saved his fondest words for ex-coach Jurgen Klinsmann, essentially calling him a career-saver. From HSV live (translated from German):

He’s very important to me. I believe if Jürgen had not been U.S. coach, then I might have stopped playing football or would have played somewhere in the fourth league.

That is why I am very, very grateful to him. At that time I was in a deep hole – it was real heavy. … He has believed in my quality. We are still in contact, he texts me.

Wood was a part-time player for 1860 Munich when Klinsmann first called him up to the national team side, and now he’s a Bundesliga striker who will be in demand if the club is relegated. Wood has also been mentioned as a target for Premier League clubs.

That’s a pretty good career jump. Klinsmann may have failed to deliver much of what he promised to the national team, but talent mining was done quite well.

USMNT-Panama preview: World Cup calm at stake

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Still wounded from the first two matches of the Hex but buoyed by its demolition of Honduras, the United States men’s national team faces an inspired Panama on Tuesday night in Panama City.

The Yanks arose from the ashes of losses to Mexico and Costa Rica to bury Honduras 6-0 Friday behind a Clint Dempsey hat trick and a goal and two assists from Christian Pulisic.

A win on Tuesday in Panama gives the U.S. something that can only soothe the nerves ahead of two summer qualifiers and the Gold Cup: Top Three status in the Hex (as is always expected).

Now the resurgent Americans face a Panama side which sits above them on the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table, having narrowed the gap on a Los Canaleros side who itself has narrowed its sights on a USMNT which burned them nearly four years ago.

[ USMNT-HONDURAS: Player ratings | Three things ]

Panama looked set to earn an interconfederation playoff berth with a 2-1 lead over the already-advanced U.S. when Graham “San” Zusi and Aron Johannsson led a shocking comeback at the Estadio Rommel Fernández to give Mexico the Hex’s fourth-place.

Los Canaleros shot out of the Hex gates with a win at Honduras and a 0-0 draw at home against Mexico, but fell 1-0 at Trinidad and Tobago on Friday thanks to Minnesota United star Kevin Molino.

Now licking its wounds while eyeing revenge, Panama will hope its pair of draws with the U.S. at the 2015 Gold Cup are the start they need to pick up a first home World Cup qualifying win over the States. Panama won the third-place match over the USMNT via shootout at the that tournament.

Boss Hernán Darío Gómez is no stranger to international battles having led Ecuador, Colombia, and Guatemala. He deployed a 4-5-1 against T&T, and could opt for that again but has usually used either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2 with two holding mids against deeper sides than the Soca Warriors.

The former has worked better, and the personnel sometimes serves as a surprise. Last time out, in a 0-0 draw against Mexico, Gomez kept Anibal Godoy and Luis Tejada on the bench in what looks like a 4-2-2-2 at times.

[ MORE: Making sense out of the 6-0 win ]

Bruce Arena faces his own issues. In addition to the absences of Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson, the USMNT lost Sebastian Lletget and John Brooks in the win over Honduras.

Lletget’s absence is quickly remedied by either Alejandro Bedoya or, more likely, Jermaine Jones, but Brooks is a bigger problem. The Hertha Berlin man cleaned up several messes made by Omar Gonzalez, the ex-LA Galaxy man who — for better or worse — may not have shaken Arena’s confidence thanks to their long relationship.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Geoff Cameron is his best option at CB, and could serve a similar purpose to Brooks. Still, he’s not 100 percent.

Gonzalez and Matt Besler worked well together a long time ago, but Tim Ream was Arena’s first choice when Brooks hit the turf with dehydration on Friday. There’s also wild card Walker Zimmerman, who would be taking the field in his highest-profile match yet.

Arena will want to take the match to Panama, even on the road. How will it look in front of Tim Howard? This is an option for Arena, though not one we expect:

Howard

Zusi — Cameron — Ream — Villafana

Jones — Bradley — Nagbe

Pulisic

Dempsey — Altidore

Instead, Arena will probably roll the bones with Gonzalez again, and keep things close to the Honduras win. It would be silly to break up the Villafana-Nagbe partnership on the left, and the top three isn’t changing one bit.

The question is whether Arena ruffles Jones, who is both combustible and not part of the long-term future. But Jones, like all of us, would’ve seen 6-0. So, probably, this:

Howard

Cameron — Gonzalez — Ream — Villafana

Bradley

Bedoya — Nagbe

Pulisic

Dempsey — Altidore

If Bradley provides the same picture-perfect cover for the back four and Pulisic continues to hum off the veteran big bodies of Dempsey and Altidore, the latter of which who is due a goal or two, the Yanks win. At worst, they’re beaten for pace by Alberto Quintero and stymied by Jaime Penedo. But the former can be covered by an in-form Howard, and the latter can only hold out for so long.

A draw puts the U.S. behind Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico ahead of two months off and the knowledge that both Mexico and Costa Rica are home for both June qualifiers.

Schweinsteiger waiting on visa, training in Mallorca

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Bastian Schweinsteiger is waiting on a visa to make his trip to Chicago official.

It’s a formality, albeit a bit trickier now given the political climate in the United States. The former Manchester United midfielder is training at Real Mallorca ahead of the move.

The transfer was announced one week ago, and Schweinsteiger is anxious to get back on the pitch. Set for a 1-year, $4.5 million deal, the midfielder has not missed any Chicago matches yet.

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

The Fire is 1-1-1 to start the new season under Veljko Paunovic, and has three home matches next: Montreal (Saturday), Columbus (Apr. 8), and New England (Apr. 15)

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.