Arsene Wenger has some very big personnel decisions to make

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Wednesday’s Champions League flop against Bayern Munich is the latest ingredient to the not-so-delicious cake Arsene Wenger currently has in front of him.

With a title race to concentrate on, the FA Cup still in play, and a prayer in Europe to cling to, the Gunners have plenty of important fixtures remaining this season.

Unfortunately, there are some side-stories brewing that have made the team sheets Wenger compiles much more complicated than just being about who plays where on the field.

The Emirates saw on Wednesday a mentally derailed Mesut Ozil. The knockout blow to his psyche came on a grotesque penalty which was easily saved by his boyhood buddy Manuel Neuer.

With Ozil in la-la land following his ninth-minute snafu, calls for him to be plopped on the bench have become deafening.

With four goals and nine assists on the Premier League season, playing at a high level with Ozil on the bench is a tall task for Arsenal.  However, his on-the-field sulking has temporarily opened the door for players like Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla to take over the playmaking role with less depression.

It’s quite possible that some time to think and reflect on the bench, and/or an electric performance or two off the bench would do Ozil a world of good.

(MORE – PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW: ARSENAL VS SUNDERLAND)

But that’s not all Wenger is wrestling with on his lineup card.

source: Getty Images
English reports are speculating Lukas Podolski could quit Arsenal this summer if he doesn’t play more.

With Olivier Giroud sat for the Champions League match following his relationship fiasco (which Wenger insists had nothing to do with his decision), youngster Yaya Sanogo has impressed – even in the Bayern match where the Gunners failed to score.

Giroud is also essential to the squad, with a team-leading 14 goals on the year in total, and leaving him to rot for too long could have adverse effects.  However, Sanogo also played very well, and certainly planted a seed in Wenger’s mind.

With three goals in his last 12 league games, Giroud’s form has come crashing down since his furious start to the season, but Wenger said “his head is in the right place. He will be focused.”

Muddying the attacking waters for Arsenal is the presence of Lukaz Podolski.  According to a report in the Telegraph, one of England’s less sensational papers, players have privately expressed their feelings that Podolski should be the recipient of more playing time.

The winger has taken a back seat for much of the year, missing over four months due to injury, but also failing to secure regular time on the pitch since his December 23rd return.  But his teammates have seen otherwise, as the German has bagged six goals in 10 appearances across domestic competitions (league and FA Cup play).

The report in the Telegraph speculates that the players are worried Podolski could leave in the summer if he’s not given ample playing time.  If Ozil is dropped, it would allow Cazorla to slot into the playmaker position leaving Podolski an opening on the left wing, his favorite spot. But that’s only a temporary fix for the German.

The Gunners manager is quite aware of his upcoming dilemmas, saying, “It’s part of the job to decide who plays, it’s debatable every time. I have to live with that and I have to make my decisions with my conscience and I just make my decision based on who can help us win the next game.”

Unfortunately, his decisions at the moment have just as much effect on life off the pitch as they do the results on it.  And he has to sleep in whichever way he chooses to make the bed.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

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Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.