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.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

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On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.