Arsenal

Premier League 2014-15 preview: Arsenal

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Arsenal are set to make a title charge in 2014-15 after they started brightly last time out but faded badly. Arsene Wenger has spent big in the transfer market (nearly $100 million) and with Alexis Sanchez arriving up front, Gunners fans could have a new cult hero. Other top players such as Sami Khedira continue to be linked with a move to the Emirates as the frugal past has been cast aside.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Last season the North Londoners came close to shocking everyone as they lead the Premier League standings for over half the season. However a small squad, injuries and loss of form led to a dramatic capitulation which saw them hang onto fourth place late in the season as they managed to quell the threat of Tottenham Hotspur and Everton. Winning the FA Cup by beating Hull City, 3-2 in extra time, was the icing on the cake as Wenger signed a new deal after clinching his first piece of silverware in nine long years. More is expected this term.

Transfers In: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona, $50 million ) Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle, $20 million), Calum Chambers (Southampton, $18.5 million), David Opsina (Nice, $5.3 million),

Transfers Out: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea, Free), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City, Free), Nicklas Bendtner (Free), Johan Djourou (Hamburg, $4.2 million), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad, Buy-back option terminated)

| Full PL schedule | Watch Arsenal live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

Last season: The Gunners finished fourth last season. That meant they qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the 18th straight season but it was a story of ‘what could have been’ for Arsene Wenger’s side as they led the Premier League up until January. Injuries, a loss of form and balancing a small squad took its toll but they did pick up a first piece of silverware in nine years, with the FA Cup in hand. Here is a recap of their 2013-14 season.

source: AP
Sanchez’s arrival could spark a new era at Arsenal.

Star player: Alexis Sanchez

Just like they did last summer by bringing in Mesut Ozil, Arsenal splashed the cash to bring in a genuine superstar. Sanchez, 25, has shone for Barcelona over the past few seasons and his performances for Chile during the World Cup showcased his supreme talent. His incredible pace, eye for goal and ability to play in a variety of attacking positions means he should slot in with Arsenal well. The big question mark is whether or not Sanchez adapts to the physicality of the Premier League straight away. If he does, he has all the attributes to be one of the top strikers in the league. Arsenal have been lacking that, Olivier Giroud’s purple patches aside, ever since Thierry Henry left.

Coaches’ Corner: Arsene Wenger

Many thought the 64-year-old Frenchman wouldn’t be in charge of Arsenal this season as he kept everyone waiting regarding his new deal. Now that Wenger is around for the foreseeable future, the Gunners can concentrate on improving the squad and trying to add more silverware to their collection. The longest-serving manager in the PL will continue to develop the beautiful flowing soccer he has fostered over the past two decades, while adding a steely core.

PST predicts: Arsenal have strengthened in key areas and will be a force at the top of the table. With Manchester City not spending much, Liverpool and Chelsea bringing in plenty of new players and the likes of Manchester United still figuring things out, Wenger’s men see themselves as serious title contenders. For the first time in a few years optimism levels are remarkably high around the Emirates Stadium. Expect Arsenal to put definitely in the top four at the end of the season, however a title may be just beyond them this season. Top four.

After January camp, USMNT looks to rosters for World Cup, Olympic qualifying

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
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The United States men’s national team finished its experimental January camp with a 2-0 record, and now trains its eyes on World Cup and Olympic qualifying.

The last part is critical not just because of the ramifications of a potential second-successive Olympic absence for the men’s U-23 side.

[ USMNT: Tops Iceland 3-2 | Knocks off Canada, too ]

The Yanks have to deftly divide their player pool because March 25 and 29 are not only the dates for the next round of World Cup qualifying matches — a home-and-home series with Guatemala — but also the dates for the U-23s’ pair of matches with Colombia.

That’s why Jordan Morris isn’t likely headed to Guatemala City, and the same is true for impressive January camper Jerome Kiesewetter and new Chelsea defender Matt Miazga.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

Bobby Wood, John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin are also eligible for the U-23s, but there’s the rub. All three are in good form for country, and only Yedlin isn’t playing well for his club (That’s because Sam Allardyce isn’t using him much at all. His substitute appearance against Liverpool was his first action since Jan. 9).

New England midfielder Lee Nguyen impressed Jurgen Klinsmann during January camp, and it’s hard to ignore the impact of Steve Birnbaum’s goal and assist.

Assuming health, here’s our best guess at who’s making the squad for Guatemala on March 25 and 29. It’s worth noting that six MLS clubs play on March 26 (NYC, New England, Vancouver, Houston, DC and Dallas):

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Jonathan Spector, Tim Ream

Midfielders: Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.