Manchester City v Arsenal - FA Community Shield

Can Arsenal challenge for the 2014-15 Premier League title?

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Optimism is building at the Emirates Stadium as we hurtle towards the start of the 2014-15 Premier League season.

Can the Gunners really challenge for the title?

After Arsenal brushed aside a slightly under strength Manchester City 3-0 to win the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday, fans of the North London club are starting to get quite excited about the season ahead. Why not?

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Arsene Wenger has finally been allowed to splash the cash and has spent over $95 million this summer on four players who will strengthen his squad considerably. Plus, if his star players can stay healthy for the entire season then a charge to win their first PL title since 2004 may not be out of reach.

[RELATED: Agger to Arsenal?]

Last season the Gunners led for vast swathes of the campaign and up until January they looked like the real deal. However with UEFA Champions League games taking their toll, the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere missing several months out through injury, plus other teams improving as the season wore on, Arsenal had to settle for their customary fourth-place finish. However they did win the FA Cup last season, their first trophy in nine years, so the pressure is off as they have finally delivered some silverware to the Emirates Stadium. Bringing the PL title back is the next step, albeit it a huge one.

If they can start well this term, maybe, just maybe, North London will be hosting a PL title parade next May. Let’s break it down and look at reasons on both sides of the coin as to how likely a title triumph is for Wenger’s men this season.

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After winning the FA Cup and Community Shield, can the Gunners win the PL title this season?

Here’s three reasons why Arsenal can win the Premier League…

1. Alexis Sanchez – Signing from Barcelona for $50 million, the Chilean attacker could be the missing piece in the jigsaw for Wenger. With Walcott, Chamberlain and Ozil alongside him and Olivier Giroud up top, Sanchez will prove to be a menace for opposition defenses. If he can score 20 goals plus, the Gunners may just win it all. He has the pace, skill and, most importantly, the strength to succeed in the PL. A big claim: Sanchez could be the game-changer Arsenal have missed since Thierry Henry departed in 2007.

2. Players coming of age – I’m looking at you, Jack Wilshere. Okay, not just the English midfielder but Kieran Gibbs, Ramsey and Walcott are all expected to step up and continue to develop. Wilshere has looked in good shape this preseason and if he can stay fit, Arsenal’s engine room has a true leader. Ramsey is a magician who shone last season, while the likes of Gibbs and Walcott are capable of kicking their play up to the next level.

3. New found depth across the board – If you look through the spine of their side, Arsenal now have plentiful options everywhere. In goal David Ospina will challenge Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will get cover from Calum Chambers, Sanchez compliments Ozil and Walcott superbly, while Yaya Sanogo will battle it out with Olivier Giroud up top. Strength in depth indeed. That will help not only in the PL, but also in the Champions League.

…and here are three reasons why they won’t

1. Lack of defensive cover – With Thomas Vermaelen allowed to leave for Barcelona, Wenger now has a couple of options at center back but not many. As we said Chambers can step in to play with Koscielny or Mertesacker but he has been earmarked as a holding midfielder by Wenger. Rumors of a move for Daniel Agger seems to be a good fit for the Gunners. If either Mertesacker or Koscielny get injured, they are struggling for CBs.

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Walcott, and many other Arsenal stars, have been injured far too much in recent seasons.

2. Injuries will probably play a part, again – It always seems to hit the Gunners hard every single season. If it’s not Wilshere, it’s Ramsey. If it’s not Walcott, it’s Oxlade-Chamberlain. Just when Wenger looks to have assembled a ruthlessly efficient yet moderatley stylish side they start to drop like flies. Maybe there needs to be more protein in the meals dished out at their London Colney training ground… who knows. Arsenal fans will be praying their squad can stay fit and healthy.

3. Wenger’s insistence to not ‘shut up shop’ away from the Emirates – Last season the Gunners were smacked 5-1 by Liverpool, 6-3 by Manchester City and 6-0 by Chelsea away from home. In all three games Wenger’s side were undone early by sloppy mistakes in midfield and the back as they tried to play their way out of trouble. Wenger is one of the greatest influences the English game has ever seen, don’t get me wrong. But at times he has to set his side up to grind out boring 1-0 wins on the road. When they can master that, Arsenal are ready to life the PL title. We all love their expansive, flowing style of soccer but substance counts for so much. Much more than Wenger gives it credit for, especially away from home on a wet and windy Tuesday night.

How important is Philippe Coutinho to Liverpool?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores their fourth goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Hull City at Anfield on September 24, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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With reports circulating that Philippe Coutinho‘s agent is in talks with Liverpool over a new deal, it is easy to see why the Reds want to reward the Brazilian playmaker.

[ MORE: Klopp on title chances

Coutinho, 24, is undoubtedly the key cog in Jurgen Klopp‘s offensive machine and since he went down with an ankle injury in November against Sunderland they’ve missed him being back to his best.

In the nine games since Coutinho was injured Liverpool have dropped 12 points in the Premier League. In the 13 PL games before his injury they dropped just nine.

Now, this isn’t down to one man but there’s no coincidence here. He makes Liverpool tick and as good as Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino have been, Coutinho is the main man. Even when you look at Liverpool’s defensive record, their much-maligned backline is slightly better with Coutinho in the team. They conceded 14 goals in 13 games before he was injured and they’ve conceded 13 in their last nine games.

Maybe that’s because Coutinho takes the pressure off his teammates by getting on the ball, dipping between the lines of defense and attack and easing pressure to allow Liverpool to dominant play rather than seeing them susceptible to counter attacks like we did against Swansea City.

Klopp’s main man started at Plymouth last week and against Swansea at the weekend, playing over an hour in each game and showing flashes of his ability. Slowly but surely he is getting back to his best and Liverpool need him to be fully fit for a pivotal stretch of games.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

On Wednesday they host Southampton in the EFL Cup semifinal second leg as the Reds trail 1-0 from the first leg. They then play an FA Cup game against second-tier Wolves and host Premier League leaders Chelsea next Wednesday in a game which they simply must win to have any hope of overhauling Chelsea to win the Premier League title.

Top four is the priority for Klopp’s men but keeping Coutinho fit and in-form is a close second.

This season he has scored five goals and added five assists in just 13 starts in the Premier League and Coutinho’s ability to thread balls in-behind to onrushing attackers, always seem to have time on the ball and ability to change the direction of play has been much missed by Liverpool over the past two months. It is inevitable that in recent displays Coutinho hasn’t looked as sharp as he did before he got injured but Klopp will be hoping the rust has been shaken off and he’s back to his best in the next week.

Along with Sadio Mane‘s absence at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal (which will likely be until the first week of February at least as he led them to the knockout stages) Liverpool’s attack looks less dangerous and that extra bit of quality and pace is missing.

That’s because Mane and Coutinho have been missing.

With Mane away, more pressure is now on Coutinho’s shoulders.

Last season was Coutinho’s most productive of his career with 10 goals and seven assists in all competitions. He is well on the way to breaking that record this season based on goals and assists in the Premier League alone.

If Liverpool is going to at least finish in the top four this season and make at least one Wembley final, they have to keep calm and pass it to Coutinho.

He’ll do the rest.

Yaya Toure slams big money moves to China

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21:  Yaya Toure of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and Sevilla at Etihad Stadium on October 21, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Yaya Toure is sick of hearing about players moving to the Chinese Super League for big money.

[ PLAYBACK: Ref calls cost Man City ]

Toure, 33, is out of contract at the Etihad Stadium this summer but after coming back into the fold at Manchester City in recent weeks (thanks to an apology from his agent to manager Pep Guardiola) he has been a key cog in central midfield and wants to stay at City.

The towering Ivorian midfielder has been instrumental since joining City in 2010 from Barcelona. Toure has won the FA Cup, two League Cups and two Premier League titles with City and has questioned what means more to players.

Money or enjoyment?

“I always say that if I went to China I would end up feeling angry there. Do you play football because you love football, or do you play because you want to make money? What’s the purpose?” Toure said. “Me, I just want to play football because I enjoy it, I love playing. I enjoy helping my team-mates, I enjoy playing against the big players and teams. I want to carry on in that way. Some people have the mentality that they want to do that, to try something different but, for me, my feeling is that I want to play more football.”

Toure also said that he hopes to remain at City beyond the end of his current deal which expires in the summer.

“I’ve said before that I’ve been involved with a lot of clubs but, especially at City, I want to give something back to the fans,” Toure said. “I’d like to continue to work hard for them, keep giving them entertainment, keep them happy – that’s what I want. If I was tired, I’d say ‘no more, move on’, but I don’t feel like that. I feel very, very good. I feel young.”

Over to you Pep and Man City. Toure clearly wants to say.

Toure certainly has a lot more to give and now that Pep is on board, a two-year extension would surely be signed if it was offered.

The song below becomes more and more poignant. All together now…

Hull give latest update on Ryan Mason after skull fracture

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Ryan Mason of Hull City is examined by a medical staff after the collision with Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ryan Mason is making “excellent progress” after fracturing his skull in Hull City’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Mason, 25, collided with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill when challenging for a header in the first half.

The English midfielder has since been diagnosed with a fracture in his skull and has undergone surgery at a central London hospital

On Tuesday the Premier League club gave the latest update on Mason’s condition.

The Club can confirm that Ryan Mason continues to make excellent progress after sustaining a skull fracture in Sunday’s game against Chelsea. He will continue to be closely monitored by staff at St Mary’s Hospital over the next few days, whilst also remaining in contact with our medical team to assess his progress. There will be no further updates from the club until there are any changes in Ryan’s condition. We also ask that people respect Ryan and his family’s privacy whilst he remains in hospital.

Mason has been visited in hospital by Chelsea’s John Terry, Gary Cahill and assistant manager Steve Holland, plus Hull captain Michael Dawson and members of their staff have also been by his side.

This is very promising news.

Sunderland sign Lescott on short-term deal

WATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Aston Villa at Vicarage Road on April 30, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Sunderland have signed defender Joleon Lescott on a short-term contract until the end of the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Lescott, 34, will add plenty of experience to Sunderland’s defense and will link up with former manager David Moyes who helped him become an England international during their time together at Everton from 2006-09.

The two-time Premier League winner with Manchester City in 2011-12 and 2013-14 has bounced around in the past two years since leaving the Manchester club, playing for West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and AEK Athens after spending five years at City.

Lescott has also made 26 appearances for England, playing and scoring at EURO 2012 as his header put England ahead against France in their group opener.

Speaking about the deal, see the video below, Lescott is ready to help out the Black Cats in whatever way he can.

With Lamine Kone, John O'Shea and Papy Djilobodji around, Moyes now has options at the back and could play a three-man central defense to help bolster Sunderland’s chances of survival.

The Black Cats currently sit bottom of the table, three points from safety.