Premier League 2014-15 preview: Arsenal

4 Comments

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.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday