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Three things we learned from Arsenal’s failed UEFA Champions League campaign

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Following Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League exit to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, it seems like a good time to reflect on another disappointing European campaign for the Gunners.

Despite their brave effort in Bavaria — Arsenal drew 1-1 but barely threatend Munich who prevailed 3-1 on aggregate over the two legs — the North London club somewhat stuttered through the Champions League this season.

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There were some bright spots along the way, but some familiar problems popped up as Arsene Wenger’s men bowed out at the last 16 stage for the third time in the last four years.

Let’s take a look at what we learned from another UCL campaign to forget for the Gunners.

  • Lack of squad depth horribly exposed

In Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Bayern  Munich on Tuesday they had to rely on players like Serge Gnabry, Lukazs Fabianski, Thomas Vermaelen and Tomas Rosicky. Most of those names — who by the way, let nobody down — have been bit-part players this season and too many times throughout this domestic and European campaign they’ve been called upon on short notice and rushed back into the fray. The Gunners lost Nacho Monreal, Kieran Gibbs and Yaya Sanogo over the past weekend, that was on top of missing Nicklas Bendtner, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. That’s a lot of injuries, but it only acted to reinforce what we already knew: outside of their starting XI, Arsenal haven’t got much depth. Instead of spending $63 million on one player — we’ll get to you in a minute, Mesut Ozil — they should have added strength in-depth throughout the squad during both the summer and January transfer windows.

That cost them dear in the UCL knockout stages, as injuries in the PL and FA Cup have come back to haunt the Gunners. The players replacing Walcott and Ramsey in the lineup were simply nowhere near good enough to cause teams like Bayern problems. We saw that play out twice, painfully.

  • Ozil hasn’t delivered expected UCL pedigree
source: AP
Wenger’s big gamble on Ozil taking the Gunners to the next level hasn’t paid off, so far.

When Mesut Ozil arrived at the end of August to delight and delirium on the streets of North London, many believed he was the missing cog in Arsenal’s well-oiled machine. “He will make the difference in the Champions League,” they said, “Ozil has delivered on the biggest stages, he can be our leader” exclaimed plenty of Arsenal’s fans. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way in the UCL, did it? Yes, the German playmaker had his moments, after years of experience with Real Madrid on Europe’s biggest stage that was bound to happen. But when the biggest moment of all arrived, a penalty kick in the opening 10 minutes of their last 16 tie to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead over Bayern, he fluffed his lines. Even before that tie-changing PK miss, Ozil only scored once in Arsenal’s Champions League campaign and failed to turn up when it really mattered.

The official reason for replacing the German at half time of Arsenal’s second-leg away in Munich was “a hamstring injury” but he simply looked off the pace and disinterested. The man Arsenal bought in to quarterback their UCL charge didn’t deliver. Will this failure have a lasting impact on his legacy at the Emirates?

  • Away day blues are over

Okay, it’s not all doom and gloom. Besides the crazy 2-0 loss away at Napoli in the final group stage game, which Arsenal never looked losing until the last 15 minutes and then somehow were almost heading out of the tournament on goal difference, the Gunners were solid and sensational away from the Emirates. In recent seasons the Gunners have struggled away from home in the UCL group stages, winning just twice in the last two season on the continent. But early in the campaign with Olivier Giroud, Walcott, Ramsey and Ozil firing on all cylinders, the Gunners looked unstoppable away from home with their silky style shocking homes teams on the break.

Wins away at Borussia Dortmund and Marseille in the group stages were added to by their 1-1 draw away in Munich, and if you take into account their 2-0 win in the last 16 of the 2012-13 UCL tournament to Bayern, Arsenal have now lost just one of their last five away games in the Champions League. Not many sides can say that in the UCL, so a silver lining, of sorts, for Wenger to chew on as he tries to digest Arsenal’s latest failure to get over the first hurdle of the Champions League knockout stages.

What lies ahead for USMNT in January camp?

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Bruce Arena’s reign as the new U.S. national team head coach is well under way and the veteran seems to be enjoying his second stint in charge after 10 years away.

[ MORE: Europe’s 100 most valuable ]

The USMNT have been training in Carson, Calif. over the past five days and a pretty cool behind-the-scenes video of the opening day of training was released by U.S. Soccer (see above) to show how Arena has been getting on.

With 31 players currently in camp, Arena is enjoying himself (banter with DaMarcus Beasley and waxing lyrical about Jermaine Jones says as much) but he already has one eye on the two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama coming up in March.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

This camp will be key for the MLS-heavy contingent, with the likes of Chad Marshall, Benny Feilhaber, Dax McCarty and Juan Agudelo getting another chance to impress for the Stars and Stripes. So many youngsters have emerged from these camps in the past, with Kekuta Manneh, Keegan Rosenberry and Walker Zimmerman just some of the young talent looking to not only make their debuts but also become regulars in the USMNT setup.

Veterans Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and others are all around and ready to prove their worth to the new boss too.

Below is a quick look at what lies ahead for his team during January camp (and beyond) as they prepare for two friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica to tune themselves up for the World Cup qualifiers when the European contingent will join the squad.


Training

  • Jan. 11-28 – Carson, Calif.

Friendlies 

  • Jan. 29 – Serbia in San Diego, Calif.
  • Feb. 3 – Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tenn.

2018 World Cup qualifiers

  • Mar. 24 – vs. Honduras in San Jose, Calif.
  • Mar. 28 – at Panama in Panama City

Study reveals Europe’s 100 most valuable players

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (L) celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal with Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur (R) during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Wait, what?

[ MORE: Title race over for City? ]

A study from the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) has slapped valuations on Europe’s top stars and both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t the most valuable.

Hmm.

The guys over at the Football Observatory, the soccer arm of CIES, always do a great job with these kind of studies and below you will find who they’ve ranked as the 100 most valuable players in Europe’s top five leagues.

CIES take players’ performance on the pitch, contract length, age and many other factors into place when ranking them and in the extensive study 10 Premier League clubs have players included as stars from Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur feature.

In total, 38 PL players are in the top 100.

Neymar is the most valuable player in Europe as the Barcelona star has a valuation of $261.5 million, which puts him way ahead of Lionel Messi who sits in second place with a value of $180.6 million.In third place is Manchester United’s Paul Pogba who has a value of $164.5 million, while Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez round out the top five.

Below is the top 100 list in full, courtesy of CIES, with their club, age and when their current contract runs out listed.

Do you agree with their valuations?


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Too early for Guardiola to concede Premier League title?

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Pep Guardiola suffered his worst-ever league defeat as a manager on Sunday as Manchester City were hammered 4-0 at Everton in the Premier League.

Post-game he was understandably glum.

[ MORE: Klopp slams United ]

Guardiola even appeared to concede the Premier League title, as the preseason favorites for the crown have now fallen 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go.

When asked if City’s title hopes were over after a fifth defeat of the season, the Spaniard’s answer was emphatic.

“Yes. Ten is a lot of points,” Guardiola said. “The second one [Tottenham] is three points. We have to see. I spoke to my players the last three weeks or a month, forget about the table. Focus on the next game and try to do our best to win the games and after that at the end of the season we are going to evaluate how our level and performance was — how was the coach, how was the players and after we are going to decide.”

It seems like Guardiola has already decided that the title race is over for City, but has he thrown in the towel too early?

With just five points separating second-place Tottenham with sixth-place Manchester United, it appears City’s primary focus will now be to finish in the top four as a mammoth battle ensues in the final third of the season.

Yet, we have seen some miraculous comebacks from teams in the past to win the title. These stats could give Pep hope.

In the 1997-98 season, Arsenal were 12 points behind United after 21 games of the season (United had played a game more) but roared back to win the PL by one point. And of course, City’s two PL crowns came courtesy of stunning late surges in the season with thanks to Sergio Aguero’s magic on the final day in 2011-12 and then Liverpool’s collapse in the closing weeks of 2013-14.

Pep, don’t lost the faith. It can be done.

However, if City lose to Tottenham next weekend and Chelsea extend their lead over Pep’s boys to 13 points by beating Hull City, it is curtains.

Such is the dominance of the big boys this season, City pretty much have to go unbeaten for the rest of the season to have a shot at winning the PL. Given their recent defensive displays that seems unlikely.

We all know Pep is an idealist when it comes to how he wants his team to play but now we are seeing he is a realist too.

Conte urges players “money is not everything” amid Costa rumors

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on January 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images
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While new reports are suggesting that China will have to curb its massive spending, Antonio Conte has urged his players that they don’t have to be tempted by the Chinese Super League.

[ MORE: United, Liverpool finish level after late Ibrahimovic equalizer ]

Chelsea currently sits atop the Premier League — seven points clear of Tottenham and Liverpool — but the club has recently been at the center of controversy as star striker Diego Costa has been linked with a move away from the club.

[ MORE: CSL set to limit number of foreign players per team ]

Costa missed his side’s 3-0 win over Leicester City on Saturday after several outlets reported a rift between the Spaniard and Conte.

The Chelsea manager told reporters following the match that Costa wasn’t available due to a back injury he suffered in training, but there has been continued speculation that the 28-year-old could head to China.

Conte has made it clear to his squad though that the quality of competition in England supersedes the money offered abroad.

“The money is not everything,” Conte told reporters. “When you play for a great team like Chelsea, you must be pleased.

“I think we are a great club and it is a great honour to play for Chelsea. For this reason I don’t see [China] as a threat for my players.

The Blues have lost a number of high-profile players over recent seasons to the high spending of Chinese football, including Brazilian duo Oscar and Ramires, as well as John Obi Mikel.

Oscar departed Chelsea this month to join Shanghai SIPG for a reported $72 million.

“I have to look at the past,” Conte said. “Oscar played with us, had a good offer from China and he went.

“But this league is really competitive and every player wants to come and play in this league.

“This league is the first in the world because of a lot of positive things, so I don’t think these offers from China are a threat for our league.”