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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”