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The Gunners are in sensational form, can they keep it going?

Premier League Gradebook: Arsenal and Liverpool excel, Manchester United in detention

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With the current international break disrupting Premier League play for two weeks, now is a good time to take stock on the season so far.

So, that’s exactly what we’re doing at ProSoccerTalk.

Right here, we give each team each a grade on their start to the 2013-14 campaign, and also pick out their ‘star pupil’ who is excelling and a ‘class clown’ who must do better.

MORE: PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS & TOP PL GOALSCORERS

On Thursday we will look at each manager, but for now, here’s the lowdown on every single PL teams start to the season. Some big sides better hit the books between now and Christmas, because they’re barely passing…

ARSENAL A

A tremendous start to the season for the Gunners, as the signing of Mesut Ozil for $60 million on Transfer Deadline Day galvanized the squad. Coupled with the remarkable form of free-scoring Welshman Aaron Ramsey and Oivier Giroud’s sublime hold up play, Arsenal have gone from top four hopefuls to title contenders in the space of the last six weeks. Ramsey’s remarkable start, eight goals already, has been the shining light in a great start for Arsene Wenger’s men who sit top of the table. And at the back they looked settled and assured, could this be the year they finally win a trophy again? Record – (5-1-1)

source: Getty Images
Ramsey can’t stop scoring, ad the Gunners sit top of the tree.

Star Pupil: Aaron Ramsey
Class Clown: Nicklas Bendtner

ASTON VILLA C

A solid start for Villa this season, with two massive wins on the board already. Victories over Arsenal and Manchester City were slightly fortuitous, but they’re certainly getting the breaks that they missed out on for the majority of last season. Their squad is stronger after a full season in the PL together last term. Can Paul Lambert keep his side firing on all cylinders from now until Christmas? If they can keep Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke fit, there’s no reason why not, while USMNT ‘keeper Brad Guzan is having another wonderful year. Record – (3-3-1)

Star Pupil: Brad Guzan
Class Clown: Ciaran Clark

CARDIFF CITY C-

A few disappointing results to end September has seen the Bluebirds take a bit of a nosedive, but they’ve fared pretty well in their first-ever season in the Premier League. Cardiff are solid and hard to break down, especially at home, but I do wonder where the goals are going to come from. Young Danish striker Andres Cornelius has been injured, and veterans Craig Bellamy and Peter Odemwingie may be just over the hill to cause teams too many problems. News of unrest in the boardroom could spell trouble in South Wales. Record – (2-3-2)

Star Pupil: Aron Gunnarsson
Class Clown: Andreas Cornelius

CHELSEA B

The screw is starting to turn for the Special One, slowly but surely. The first few weeks of the season has seen a very unsettled picture prevail at Stamford Bridge, with squad rotation the aim of the game. Keeping everyone happy isn’t easy, and Mourinho has certainly been feeling the pressure. However a promising second half against Spurs and a determined win away at Norwich sees his side sat just behind the leaders. I think Chelsea now know their best starting XI, with Juan Mata, Oscar and Ramires all slotting into midfield together. Watch out, because if Fernando Torres or one of their other forwards gets going, the Blues will be right up there. Record – (4-1-2)

Star Pupil: Oscar
Class Clown: Samuel Eto’o

source: Reuters
Oscar has been Chelsea’s main attacking threat, with four goals

CRYSTAL PALACE D

One win and six defeats from their opening seven games… it’s going to be a long, hard season for the Eagles. You have to love Ian Holloway’s persona, but this Palace team just aren’t capable of playing all-out attack in the PL, like his Blackpool side were a few years ago. They’ve had tough trips to Manchester United and Liverpool, so now those are out of the way, Palace can focus on picking up big wins at home. Defensively they’re not bad, but like Cardiff, I’m not sure who will grab the goals they need to stay up. Youngster Dwight Gayle is their only hope. Record – (1-6-0)

Star Pupil: Mile Jedinak
Class Clown: Adrian Mariappa

EVERTON B+

The Toffees have to be happy with their start under new manager Roberto Martinez, I for one was skeptical but he’s been a revelation on Merseyside. With just one loss in seven games coming away at Man City, Everton have started brightly and despite three draws to open up, they record three straight wins with stunning 3-2 victories against West Ham and Newcastle. Switching between the 3-5-2 system and a flat back four is working, and Martinez has brought attractive and free-flowing soccer to Goodison Park. I’d be very surprised if they don’t make the top six this season. Record – (3-1-3)

Star Pupil: Romelu Lukaku
Class Clown: Nikica Jelavic

FULHAM D-

Having seen the relief at Craven Cottage first hand following their win over Stoke last weekend, you can tell it’s been a struggle so far from Fulham. A core of experienced players has failed to gel and Martin Jol is still under the cosh, with defensive lapses late in games proving costly. If they can get Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent playing together, they will cause problems. But with a new owner and tough games ahead, I worry for Jol. Maybe that scrappy win against the Potters will be the turning point? Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Patjim Kasami
Class Clown: Giorgos Karagounis

HULL CITY B+

What a tremendous start for the Tigers, with 11 points form their first seven games. Hull are exceeding everyone’s expectations and despite not playing an attractive brand of soccer, plenty of people are pleased to see Steve Bruce’s side excel. Hull have only scored six goals, with Robbie Brady grabbing three of them and a big win at Newcastle gave them confidence. They’ve only let in seven and have plenty of PL experience throughout their team, but I still expect Hull to get sucked into the struggle later on in the season. Record – (3-2-2)

Star Pupil: Sone Aluko
Class Clown: Danny Graham

source: Reuters
S.A.S. have been a mean double act in the past few games. Can they keep it going?

LIVERPOOL– A

The Reds have been exceptional in the opening weeks of the season, with Daniel Sturridge the star of the show. Leading the league for long spells, Brendan Rodgers’ side have looked great going forward and their aim to make the top four seems to be well within reach. However, they’ve struggled to create since losing Philippe Coutinho through injury. But with Luis Suarez returning and no European competition this season, league play is the sole focus for Liverpool and that’s a great thing. The 3-5-2 system is looking good, how long can they keep this momentum going? Record – (5-1-1)

Star Pupil: Daniel Sturridge
Class Clown: Iago Aspas

MANCHESTER CITY B-

A real mixed bag for City so far, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side are still set up nicely. They’ve been Jekyll and Hyde, with tremendous displays at home, four wins from four, but no wins on the road after two shock defeats to Cardiff and Aston Villa. When they’re on form, they’re unstoppable, as the 4-1 derby demolition of Manchester United proved, but the Citizens must be more consistent if they’re going to win the PL title. Joe Hart’s form in goal is worrying, but up front new signings Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas have slotted in well with Sergio Aguero and Sami Nasri. Record – (4-2-1)

Star Pupil: Yaya Toure
Class Clown: Joe Hart

MANCHESTER UNITED F

Well, this isn’t going to plan. Sitting in ninth and suffering three defeats in their first seven matches, David Moyes’ reign at United has been underwhelming so far. The big problem is that this isn’t Moyes’ side, with hardly under roster changes form the Sir Alex Ferguson era. That aside, Wayne Rooney is looking fresh and hungry, but new signing Marouane Fellaini has struggled. However, youngster Adnan Januzaj is a star in the making following his two goals giving United a win vs. Sunderland on his full-debut. Defensively, United look old, with Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra exposed on several occasions and teams picking them off. There’s certainly work to do, can United drag themselves bag into the title race by December? Record – (3-3-1)

Star Pupil: Wayne Rooney
Class Clown: Rio Ferdinand

source: Getty Images
Worrying times at United, as the old guard look fragile.

NEWCASTLE UNITED C

Inconsistency has riddled the Magpies season, with scintillating attacking displays often followed up by inept defense in the same game. Loic Remy has scored five goals so far, and a great win down at Cardiff will spur Alan Pardew’s men on after the international break. But poor defeats at home to Hull City and away at Man City have been the low points. A fully-fit squad will see Newcastle steer safe from relegation, but can they keep sneaking up the table? Record – (3-1-3)

Star Pupil: Loic Remy
Class Clown: Papiss Demba Cisse

NORWICH CITY C-

So far the Canaries are just passing, but Chris Hughton will be disappointed with a lack of goals once again. Last season they struggled offensively, and the expensive additions of Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper have failed to click due to injury and loss of form. They’ve scored just four times in seven games so far, the lowest total in the entire league. Norwich are solid but unspectacular, and I worry about them slipping into a relegation scrap if goals continue to evade them. Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Nathan Redmond
Class Clown: Ricky van Wolfswinkel

SOUTHAMPTON B+

What an incredible start to the season for the Saints, and could be even better. Four wins and just one defeat sees Mauricio Pochettino’s team in fourth spot and home draws against Sunderland and West Ham should have been wins. Five clean sheets from seven games gives them the best defense in the league and their massive win at Anfield to burst Liverpool’s bubble proved just how good they are. Their high pressing style is breaking down every team, and expensive new additions Victor Wanyama, Dejan Lovren and Daniel Osvaldo have slotted in seamlessly. Can the Saints break into the top six in just their second season back in the big time? Record – (4-1-2)

Star Pupil: Artur Boruc
Class Clown: Gaston Ramirez

source: Getty Images
Surprise package of the season so far… Can the Saints keep marching in?

STOKE CITY C

The Potters are much more ‘aesthetically pleasing’ than in recent season, as Mark Hughes’ team are playing attractive, attacking soccer. They still have an edge and their gigantic team get stuck in, but they’re almost too scared to revert back to the direct play that won them so many games in the Tony Pulis era. This season they have been unlucky with a few decisions and should have beaten Fulham. They’ve held Man City and pushed Arsenal hard at the Emirates, but there’s still plenty of work to do at the Britannia. Definitely a work in progress, but some promising signs. Record – (2-4-1)

Star Pupil: Steven N’Zonzi
Class Clown: Kenwyne Jones

SUNDERLANDF

As starts to the season go, this was one of the worst in living memory. Paolo Di Canio added 13 players over the summer and those new additions failed to impress, gel and eventually cost the Italian his job. Just one point form seven games tells the story, but the Black Cats really have been woeful and lacking in every single department. New manager Gus Poyet has a huge  job on his hands to stave off relegation, the last time a team didn’t win any of their first seven games and stayed up in the PL was in 1999-00, when Newcastle did so. Jozy Altidore hasn’t scored in seven, and has looked devoid of confidence and cutting edge. Can he get going under Poyet? Record – (0-6-1)

Star Pupil: Emanuele Giaccherini
Class Clown: Jozy Altidore

SWANSEA CITY – C+

A really tumultuous start for the Swans, who’ve excelled in the Europa League but struggled in the PL. As normally is the case when a small squad makes it to Europe, Michael Laudrup has found it hard to rest players and mix his squad up between the midweek and weekend games. New addition Jonjo Shelvey had that crazy game against Liverpool where he was involved in all four goals in a 2-2 draw, but has failed to prove he can be their ‘go-to’ guy. Swansea look good going forward, but a little suspect defensively this season. The Welsh team haven’t strayed away from the possession first approach, but they could do with having a plan B every now and then. Lackluster start. Record – (2-1-4)

Star Pupil: Wilfried Bony
Class Clown: Jonjo Shelvey

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR B+

Just one defeat from their first six games, a narrow loss to North London rivals Arsenal, saw Spurs right at the top of the table. But they unraveled against West Ham in a 3-0 home loss on Sunday. Andre Villas-Boas has overseen a terrific overhaul this summer, with the likes of Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Paulinho and Christian Eriksen all impressing as they replaced Gareth Bale. Solid at the back and hugely powerful in midfield, Spurs will be pleased with a good start. Expect more good things from AVB’s side. Record – (4-2-1)

Star Pupil: Paulinho
Class Clown: Nacer Chadli

source: Getty Images
Spurs’ new-look side are gelling quickly at White Hart Lane.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION B

Steve Clarke’s men had a horrendous start to the season, but in the last few weeks they’ve turned things around. A big win against Sunderland, followed by a shock win at Old Trafford and a home draw with Arsenal, has seen the Baggies grow in confidence. Deadline day signings of Victor Anichebe and Stephane Sessegnon have certainly bolstered their attack, West Brom should be fine this season and showed they have what it takes to hang with the big boys. Record – (2-2-3)

Star Pupil: Saido Berahino
Class Clown: Nicolas Anelka

WEST HAM UNITED C+

Big Sam Allardyce has seen his side depleted by injuries, but they just keep plugging away. A big win at Spurs and an opening day victory against Cardiff have been the highlights so far. But the Hammers have definitely found it hard to create goals with Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing out injured. Ravel Morrison is a real talent in midfield, and things should only get better when the treatment tables clear. Things are looking up after a sluggish start to the 2013-14 campaign. Record – (2-3-2)

Star Pupil: Ravel Morrison
Class Clown: James Collins

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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Los Angeles FC
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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.

Barcelona reportedly seeking out Nice winger Hatem Ben Afra

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Lost in the 2015-16 campaign has been Nice attacker Hatem Ben Afra.

[ MORE: Leicester can provide more magic at home vs. Everton ]

While Paris Saint-Germain has stolen the spotlight in France for much of this season, the former Newcastle midfielder has been nothing short of special for Les Aiglons.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL picks are in for Week 37 ]

That has left La Liga giant Barcelona contacting the 29-year old Frenchman over his services, according to Nice president Jean Pierre Rivere.

Rivere told France 3 he wouldn’t mind Ben Afra exiting the club:

“I would be very happy for him and for Nice if this move comes off,” Rivère said. “You do not reject Barcelona, but it is up to him to decide. If I was a player and Barcelona was offered to me I would not ask questions, I would go! But it is not yet done according to what I am told.”

In 32 appearances this season for Nice, Ben Afra has notched 17 goals and added five assists. He ranks third in goals, only behind PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon.

Barcelona could very well be the frontrunners to acquire the talented attacker, but several European sides have also expressed interest in Ben Afra. Premier League clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as AC Milan have also been named as potential suitors.

[ MORE: What do other PL teams have to say about Leicester? ]

Ben Afra’s age may be a bit of a concern for the Blaugrana though, in addition to the fact that this current season is the only time in his career that he has tallied double-digit goals. The Lyon academy product could provide solid depth to Barcelona’s attack should a deal get finalized.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Everton

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  • Leicester simply playing for home pride
  • Everton seek top-10 finish

Leicester City host Everton on Saturday from the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) in hopes of providing its fans with a season-capping victory, after winning the Premier League title on Monday.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

By now everyone has seen Christian Fuchs‘ video of the Leicester players in celebration mode, but there are still two games left to play. The match against Everton may be more about pride than anything else, but it can still represent an important feat for the club and serve as a true celebration in front of their home supporters.

Jamie Vardy‘s return will provide the fans with yet another moment to applaud and you’d expect the Leicester forward to want to add to his 22 PL goals.

[ MORE: Norwich in desperate need of three points vs. Manchester United ]

The Foxes will be met by an Everton side that don’t really have anything to play for either. Toffees manager Roberto Martinez will surely be looking for a win with his job on the line, however, it’s left to be seen whether or not he can actually maintain his position. Everton has finished in the PL top 10 each of the last eight seasons, and a finish outside of that mark would be a huge setback for the club.

What they’re saying…

Ranieri on his team competing: “Inside me there are two people. One is a very aggressive, I want to win, I won the Premier League but now I want to win on Saturday.”

Martinez on Leicester not letting up: “I’m sure any sort of celebration could affect you in the long term if you had to face a difficult month. In a 90-minute game where the stadium is going to be an historic environment, I’m sure that can only be positive for the home team.”

Prediction

The title is already theirs but why wouldn’t Leicester win this match? The KP Stadium will be rocking into the night and the Foxes will come away with a convincing 3-0 win against Everton.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Norwich City vs. Manchester United

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  • Norwich sit two points out of 17th place
  • United in battle with West Ham for Europe
  • Canaries are losers of three straight

Norwich City host Manchester United from Carrow Road on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) as the Canaries seek Premier League safety with two weeks remaining.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

With their season on the line, Norwich is facing desperation as they meet Manchester United. The Canaries posted just one win in four matches in April, leaving them 19th in the PL. While neither Newcastle nor Sunderland were able to create separation between themselves and Norwich, a win against United is a necessity with three games left to play.

Goals have come at a minimum this season for the Canaries, leaving Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani in need of a big game. Each player has notched five goals this season for the side.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s on-field changes as manager have propelled Leicester ]

Disappointment has surrounded United for much of the 2015-16 season, however, the Red Devils still have important matches to play down the stretch. That starts with Norwich. Sitting four points behind fourth place Manchester City and holding a game in hand, Louis Van Gaal‘s club can close the gap on the Citizens with a strong performance on Saturday.

What they’re saying…

Neil on match’s importance: “Everybody knows the situation, so I don’t think it is going to have massive difference in terms of how we would approach the game or they (relegation rivals) would approach the game. What it does do is apply pressure to their game, but there will be pressure on that anyway. They will recognise and we recognise that all the teams need to win games to stay in the division.”

Van Gaal on injury struggles: “I always talk about facts, not about hypothetical circumstance and activities. I can only say that in the end of November we had first position, after that we had a big decline.”

Prediction

Despite playing in front of a feisty home crowd at Carrow Road and picking up a 2-1 victory early this season against United, the Canaries chances aren’t too optimistic. Norwich hasn’t scored in three straight matches, all of which were losses. With United still playing for something I don’t expect the Red Devils to drop this match. Give United the points on the road, 3-1, leaving Norwich to rely on Aston Villa and Chelsea to pick up wins.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

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