Arsenal could be own worst enemy as title challenge sees tension rise

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LONDON — Following their 1-1 draw with Everton on Arsenal, one thing is clear as we enter the cold winter months of the long Premier League season and teams at the top of the table continue to drop points.

Arsenal only have one main competitor for the title… themselves.

After their slightly nervous display on Sunday, Arsene Wenger revealed that his side must stay focused on the matter on hand as they’re five points clear at the summit. Despite all the hype and hubbub from many speculating a first Premier League title since 2004 will arrive at the Emirates this season, their long-time French manager is urging caution but believes his team are much stronger than they have been in recent years.

“We have shown consistency up until now and an absolutely fantastic attitude,” Wenger said. “That’s why we are different to last season. We are a better team too and more stable defensively and better offensively. Overall, you could see today with the toughness of the game we have to prepare ourselves for every single game.”

The weight of expectancy on Arsenal’s shoulder was palpable from the offset in an entertaining end-to-end game, as Everton put in an impressive display that pushed the league leaders to their limits.

(MORE: Arsenal 1-1 Everton – Late breakthroughs cancel as Deulofeu denies Arsenal all 3 points)

When Mesut Ozil put Arsenal 1-0 up in the 80th minute, the relief was obvious amongst the home fans as they celebrated the strike with thunderous chants of “1-0 to the Arsenal” and they believed, that was that. Many times this season it has been, as five shutout wins from their last seven league games prove, but that huge sigh of relief following Ozil’s goal turned into groans of discontent four minutes later as Gerard Deulofeu scored a stunning late equalizer to send Arsenal’s fans into silence.

Ozil’s opener should have kicked Arsenal on but they sat back, looked edgy and failure to clear several crosses late on cost them all three points. Wenger was left scratching his head.

“The regret I have is that we were pulled back after being 1-0 up with seven minutes to go,” Wenger said. “You have to give credit to Everton, they continue to play well and they always looked dangerous. We played against a very good side we are disappointed to get caught with one at the end, but it’s still a point.”

Throughout the draw with the Toffees, especially early on, Arsenal’s fans were getting on their sides back as their team gave the ball away needlessly and the away side were pressing the Gunners high up the pitch to great success. Negativity reigned supreme around the Emirates as large spells of prominent silence from the home fans was telling. U.S. international ‘keeper Tim Howard put in an inspired performance in goal for Everton, pulling off three fantastic stops to thwart the league leaders as anxiety levels rose in the Emirates as the pulsating clash wore on.

source: Reuters
Deulofeu’s late goal stunned the Gunners as their mental toughness in the tough moment coming up will be key.

“We took time to get into the game, Everton started stronger,” Wenger said. “After that we had three one-on-one’s against the ‘keeper in the first half. But we didn’t our chances very well.”

Wenger was right, plenty of players like Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla weren’t quite at the races as needless giveaways were greeted with endless sighs and cries of disbelief from the home fans. You can’t blame the players for feeling a bit under pressure, Arsenal’s fans are desperate for some silverware after eight barren years and reminders of that are all around the Gunners stars as they continue to stay on top of the PL.

Emblazoned on the balconies splitting up the four tiers of the vast 60,000 plus Emirates Stadium are the outlines of which trophies they’ve won and which year they’ve won them in. FA Cups, Premier League titles, League Cups… they all hang over the pitch as an ominous reminder, to the players at least, of Arsenal’s great history and level of success spanning decades.

Asked afterwards if Arsenal were serious title contenders this season, Wenger kept his cards close to his chest.

“It depends what you call serious,” Wenger said. “As long as we are five points ahead we cannot rule ourselves out. So, let’s keep that going. It shows you that it will be a tough a Premier League and consistency, in the end, will be a reward. Consistency if of course down to us to keep this attitude going from now until the end of the season.”

This season many expect them to break that duck of no trophies since switching from their historic Highbury Stadium for the Emirates back in 2006. But as the nervy atmosphere on Sunday suggested, that huge level of expectancy could bring the walls crumbling down around them.

Against Everton, some cracks were starting to show.

Their next two games against Manchester City and Chelsea may reveal further blemishes but the toughest task will be how to deal with their own demons that have robbed them of success in recent campaigns. Mental toughness is key and Wenger believe his sides attitude is spot on, as Arsenal have rolled teams over all season and deservedly sit top of the standings.

But now the biggest battle of all is coming up, a battle against themselves.

WATCH: Neymar dizzies Valencia, gets Suarez pick to score vs. Man Utd

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All three parts of the MSN trident helped Barcelona produce an International Champions Cup goal against Manchester United on Wednesday, though not in the most traditional of fashions.

Lionel Messi’s through ball was off target, and Neymar rushed onto it before spinning toward goal. Luis Suarez literally shoved Chris Smalling out of contention to stop the Brazilian, and Neymar did the rest with a finish past David De Gea.

[ REPORT: Barca confident of Coutinho deal ]

Say it with me, “It’s preseason for the officials, too, you guys.”

Neymar’s goal has given Barcelona a 1-0 lead over United, and the match is at halftime. Obviously, he hasn’t been sent to Paris Saint-Germain.

Report: Man City in “advanced” Mbappe talks; Real could sell Bale to Man Utd

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Can Manchester United doom Manchester City’s hopes of claiming Kylian Mbappe from AS Monaco?

Goal.com reports that Man City is in advanced talks with Monaco regarding the electric 18-year-old coming off a 26-goal season, but claims Real Madrid remains prepared to buy Mbappe if they can finance the move.

How would they do that? Apparently, by selling Gareth Bale to Manchester United.

[ REPORT: Barca confident of Coutinho deal ]

The Bale to Old Trafford rumors have existed dating back to the Welshman’s days at Tottenham Hotspur, but this puts a concrete plan behind a move. United boss Jose Mourinho has lamented the price of doing business in the market, and maybe the fee would bend a bit to his liking thanks to Real’s alleged need to deal.

This helps explain why it’s Man City who Goal claims sits in the driver’s seat:

Though it is believed Mbappe is also open to moving to the Santiago Bernabeu, Pep Guardiola has spoken personally with the teenager in a bid to convince him to move to Manchester, and the Catalan’s employers are now trying to persuade Monaco to sell.

The same report, seemingly well connected to Man City, claims the Etihad Stadium bunch has been surprised by Arsenal’s unwillingness to sell Alexis Sanchez within the Premier League.

The arrival of Bale and/or Mbappe to the Premier League would further congest the race for the top of the table, and start to build a gulf between a trio of Man City, Man United, and Chelsea, and the rest of the league.

And what about the Reggae Boyz? History awaits

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Being an American site whose readership celebrates USMNT coverage, we’ve dealt with the U.S. side of Wednesday’s Gold Cup Final in Santa Clara.

Yet the opponent is truly staring down history with little to no expectations. Jamaica enters its second-straight Gold Cup Final also hoping to put one leg in the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar.

[ MORE: Gold Cup Final preview ]

The Reggae Boyz are 8:1 underdogs against the United States tonight, and that figure would likely be even bolder if the U.S. was performing to its capabilities. Jamaica enters the game with red-hot Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, a half-dozen MLS players, and the rest of its roster comprised of Jamaican-based or lower-tier U.S. club players.

And as for leaving players behind, as the U.S. clearly did for this tournament, this is not a Jamaican team boasting Premier League players Wes Morgan, Adrian Mariappa, and Michael Hector.  Consider that manager Theodore Whitmore has qualified for a final with a far less impressive-looking roster than the one that fell to Mexico in 2015. That tournament roster had only six players from outside the MLS, the Premier League, and the English Football League system.

Jamaica boasted third- and fourth-place finishes in 1993 and 1998, and remains the only team from the Caribbean Football Union to make it to a final. It has a chance to become just the fourth Gold Cup winner in 14 tournaments (Mexico has seven, the USMNT five, and Canada won the 2000 tournament).

Jamaica’s ELO rating is 66th in the world. It’s FIFA ranking is 113, behind Cuba, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Haiti. Behind Antigua and Barbuda.

To win this tournament, whatever you think of the Gold Cup, would be an amazing achievement. But what Whitmore has done in calmly guiding his men to this point is already remarkable. That he’s done it like he’s been there before is even more laudable.

Rapids add longtime Bundesliga winger Aigner from 1860 Munich (highlights)

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The Colorado Rapids are hoping for an injection of offense from veteran Bundesliga right winger Stefan Aigner.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old has played 274 games between the first and second tiers of German soccer, with 25 goals and 25 assists in Bundesliga play and a further 31 and 25 in the second tier.

Most recently with 2.Bundesliga side 1860 Munich for a third time, he’s played most of his career between Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt.

[ MORE: BVB’s Merino to Newcastle ]

Aigner has the resume to succeed and perhaps star in MLS, especially if he wasn’t slowed too much by a knee injury last season (He returned and produced at the 2.Bundesliga level).

Here’s what Rapids interim general manager Padraig Smith said:

“We’re excited to add a player of Stefan’s caliber to our roster for the next three-and-a-half years,” said Smith. “As an organization we are committed to fielding a forward-thinking side and bringing in Stefan – a technical and versatile player who can excel in multiple attacking roles – will help us achieve that vision.”