Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Arsenal

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  • Gunners have won last seven matches in all competitions
  • Arsenal beat Southampton 2-0 at the Emirates on Nov. 23
  • Saints are 1W-1D-3L in last five at home.

Southampton’s season has been far from ordinary, but their inability to stay near the top of the table is directly tied with their problems against upper-echelon competitors like Arsenal, who the Saints host today (Watch at 2:45pm ET on on NBC Sports Live Extra).

Southampton is comfortably mid-table, perhaps the definition of such as they sit seven points ahead of No. 10 Aston Villa but five points back of No. 8 Newcastle. They haven’t been able to sustain their early season Europe-tempting heights in large part because they’ve failed to topple the giants.

The Saints boast a 7W-4D-2L mark against teams below them in the table but a 1W-3D-5L record against the top eight.

Enter Arsenal, who’ve sacrificed points just six times this season and lost just thrice. Aside from a 2-0 UEFA Champions League setback to Napoli on Dec. 11 and a 6-3 beatdown from Manchester City three days later, the Gunners haven’t lost since early November.

Their record in the Premier League since a Nov. 10 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford is a more-than-decent 8W-2D-1L. And yet their lead atop the PL table is a mere point over Manchester City, two above Chelsea.

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What They’re Saying

Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino: ““The team is perfect. There is a great environment, great atmosphere inside the changing room, on the pitch. The team is perfect and looking forward to the future.”

Arsene Wenger on the job Pochettino’s done at St. Mary’s: “Pochettino has done well because he arrived in a skeptical environment. Nigel Adkins had done a great job before him and it was a surprise to everyone that he left. It is never easy when you come in after people have done well before you. But he [Pochettino] has convinced people very quickly that he has the quality to do the job.”

Prediction

There’s plenty of drama in Southampton, even leaving alone the dust settling from Nicola Cortese’s departure, as Luke Shaw can’t go a day without hearing a new transfer rumor (though Pochettino insists the 18-year-old defender is staying put). Meanwhile, the Gunners are humming but have Chelsea and City hot on their heels. Is this the part where Arsenal slips up? It’s been a while, and probably will be a bit more. Arsenal has too much for the Saints today in a 2-1 win.

Reports: Jonathan Dos Santos set to join Giovani on Galaxy

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Double Dos Santos DPs in Tinseltown?

That’s again the rumor out of Spain, where Jonathan Dos Santos has reportedly left Villarreal camp with permission to negotiate with the LA Galaxy.

Dos Santos would join his brother Giovani in a move which would not only increase the Galaxy’s attacking portfolio but give the club another feather in the cap as it attempts to ward off incoming Los Angeles FC in the race for the hearts of L.A. soccer supporters.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up in Gold Cup Final? ]

It would be the second time Jonathan joined his brother on a squad, and the third time the two were professional teammates. Both joined Barcelona’s academy in 2002.

Jonathan posted two goals and three assists in La Liga last season, leading the team in key passes per game with 1.3. He added a goal and an assist in UEFA Europa League play, where he also registered a hemorrhagic 2.6 giveaways per contest.

Nevertheless, there’s little doubt the younger Dos Santos brother would shine in MLS, where he could set up his brother and Romain Alessandrini to feast on defenses, and maybe even help Gyasi Zardes find his form.

How might the USMNT line up in the Gold Cup Final?

AP Photo/LM Otero
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The United States men’s national team became the favorite to win the Gold Cup when Bruce Arena called up more than 500 caps worth of experience after the group stage, but there’s one group that wasn’t improved at all by the legendary MLS coach, and that’s defense.

So while Michael Bradley and Tim Howard certainly help the unit take shape and Darlington Nagbe, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore all improve the side’s speed, passing, and creativity, no move was made to help a back line that’s done anything but thrive in this tournament.

Most of this is not Arena’s fault. John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, and Geoff Cameron were given time to focus on their European careers, and “next batch” backs Tim Ream and Timothy Chandler fit into that overseas bunch as well.

[ MORE: Palace signs Ajax CB/DCM/LB ]

That doesn’t change the fact that the easy weakness for the USMNT right now has a big chance to be exposed by opponents Jamaica, who — as funny as this sounds — are possibly a worse match-up for the Yanks than the side it upset in Mexico’s ‘B Teamers’.

While player ratings are far from the be-all, end-all, we’ve had two writers handle the Americans’ five matches of Gold Cup. Here are the ratings for the eight backs on the roster by appearance.

Jorge Villafana — 6.5, 5, 6; Omar Gonzalez — 6, 5, 7, 5; Matt Miazga — 7; Matt Besler — 7.5, 6, 8; Eric Lichaj — 5, 7; Justin Morrow — 6, 5; Graham Zusi — 6, 5.5, 4; Matt Hedges — 5, 5.

Only Besler has avoided a dud so far, and keep in mind that Arena has not subbed a back in the tournament and also loves Gonzalez.

[ WAYBACK: How U.S. lost to Jamaica in 2015 Gold Cup semi ]

Dealing with speedy Jamaica is a challenge for a group that’s looked pretty mixed up when it comes to dealing with counter attacks. This is especially challenging for one player, Matt Hedges, who is better suited for teams that want to attack through the air.

As for the midfielders and forwards, remember that Arena pulled Paul Arriola after 66 minutes in the semifinal and let Darlington Nagbe and Jordan Morris go all 90.

Considering all that, here’s how Arena may try to win the Gold Cup and put one American foot in Qatar for the 2021 Confederations Cup (That’s still happening, by the way).

Howard

Lichaj — Gonzalez — Besler — Villafana

Bradley — McCarty

Arriola — Corona — Zardes

Altidore

As a bonus, here’s how we think the subs may play out given player use in the run-up to the final. Call this between the 65-80 minute marks, and it can work with the lead or pushing for an equalizer or winner:

Howard

Lichaj — Gonzalez — Besler — Villafana

 Acosta/Pontius — Bradley — McCarty — Nagbe

Altidore — Morris

Ajax reunion at Palace as De Boer signs center back

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Crystal Palace has added much needed depth and youth to its corps of center backs with 20-year-old Ajax man Jairo Riedewald.

The left back in Ajax’s UEFA Europa League loss to Manchester United, Riedewald completed better than 92 percent of his passes in Eredivisie play. He also nabbed 2.2 interceptions per match.

[ MORE: Russia’s straw stadium ]

Fellow Palace center backs James Tompkins, Scott Dann, and Damien Delaney average age is 31.3.

Riedewald played for Palace boss Frank De Boer at Ajax. From Palace’s official site:

“He will be an excellent addition to our squad, Jairo is a young player but already has a lot of experience. I know he is looking forward to playing in the Premier League.”

Riedewald played the majority of his Eredivisie matches at center back, but has 18 appearances as a defensive midfielder and another 12 at left back.

He’s Palace’s second addition of this summer, the other being a loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea.

Russian farmer’s straw stadium pokes fun at World Cup costs

AP Photo/Oleksandr Stashevskyi
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KRASNOYE, Russia (AP) Russia is desperate to control its spending on the 2018 World Cup, and a farmer might just have the answer – straw.

In a project straight out of the “Three Little Pigs” fairytale, Roman Ponomaryov has built a straw replica of the 43 billion ruble ($700 million) stadium in St. Petersburg which will host World Cup semifinals.

His arena made of 4,500 straw bales comes with tiered seating for 300 and flagpoles. It hosted its first tournament – for local teams only – last weekend using modified soccer rules.

[ VIDEO: Man United beat Real Madrid ] 

“It’s good to get people excited and create a sports atmosphere ahead of the World Cup,” Ponomaryov said in a recent interview.

The real St. Petersburg Stadium has drawn ire for its cost, corruption scandals, delays, and workers’ deaths.

Ponomaryov is a fan of the Zenit St. Petersburg club and says he modeled his straw stadium on Zenit’s new home in a gentle dig at the problems around the construction.

“It seemed pretty strange … how the cost of the stadium and its construction timeframe were increasing,” he said. Russia’s total World Cup budget is around $10.7 billion.

Zenit has accepted the straw stadium with good humor, offering Ponomaryov a ticket to a game at the real thing.

The harvest will keep him on the farm for the next few weeks, though, and he has in mind another project – organizing a Straw World Cup.