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.

Germany GK Zieler in Leicester for medical with Premier League champs

SANTO ANDRE, BRAZIL - JUNE 11:  Goalkeeper Ron Robert Zieler makes a save during the German National team training session at  Campo Bahia on June 11, 2014 in Santo Andre, Brazil.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images
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Kasper Schmeichel is a Premier League-winning goalkeeper, just like his even-more-famous father, Peter, and no one can ever take that away from him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

What can always be taken from the big Danish shot-stopper, though, is his starting job at Leicester City. That’s where Ron-Robert Zieler, a six-times-capped goalkeeper and 2014 World Cup winner with Germany, comes into play.

27 years old and out of contract after the expiration of his deal with Hannover, Zieler is set to become the Foxes’ first signing of the summer as Claudio Ranieri and Co. prepare to defend their PL title next season. (It’s still weird to say that, in case you were wondering.)

[ MORE: Rashford to be handsomely rewarded for breakout season ]

Zieler arrived in Leicester on Sunday, according to Hannover’s official website, and was set to undergo a medical examination before signing a long-term contract. An established Bundesliga starter since the age of 22 (started all 34 league games each of the last five seasons), Zieler will arrive at the King Power Stadium with expectations far loftier than those of the man he’ll battle for the starting job next season, if not comparable name recognition.

With neither ‘keeper north of 30 years old as of yet (Schmeichel will turn 30 in November), it would seem that Ranieri can do no wrong in choosing either one of the combatants his no. 1 ahead of the 2016-17 season.

Report: In-demand Man United starlet Rashford to sign long-term contract

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Marcus Rashford of England gestures to a team mate during the International Friendly match between England and Australia at Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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Understatement of the year alert: It’s not a bad time to be Marcus Rashford, right now.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage | EURO 2016 ]

From his breakout season at Manchester United, to winning the FA Cup, to making and scoring three minutes into his England debut, and now on the brink of being chosen to represent his country at next month’s European Championship in France (manager Roy Hodgson will announce his final 23-man squad on Tuesday), the first five months of 2016 have treated the 18-year-old pretty well.

Now, with just one year remaining on his current Man United contract, Rashford is set to capitalize on all of his successes and become a very, very rich boy. According to reports out of the UK, United have already offered the Manchester-born and -bred striker a long-term contract extension worth nearly $30,000 per week.

[ MORE: Rashford, Rooney propel England to victory over Australia ]

After scoring eight goals in 18 appearances (all competitions), including five in the Premier League, for United this season, 19 other top-division clubs would have knocked the door down to snatch Rashford up at the expiration of his current contract.

Also reportedly in line for a new deal — though surely nowhere near the size of that of Rashford — is 19-year-old defender Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, who made 14 appearances for United this season, including 10 in the PL. Like Rashford, his current contract is set to expire at the end of the 2016-17 season.

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-2 Orlando City SC (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC tries to keep the ball as Scott Caldwell #6 of New England Revolution defends during the inaugural game of the New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on March 15, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City.The New York City FC defeated the New England Revolution 2-0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): “It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up.” If that is indeed the way the world works, New York City FC will be given every opportunity to prove themselves again and again and again. When they’re not losing 7-0 to their rivals, they’re blowing two-goal leads (and the simplest of chances to go 3-0 up — check out the videos below for more on that) inside the final 20 minutes at home a week later. Orlando City SC have made a habit of scoring stoppage-time goals this season (Sunday’s 94th-minute equalizer in the Bronx was their fifth), so you’ll have to excuse all of us who wholeheartedly expected NYCFC to snatch this 2-2 draw from the jaws of victory. With the draw, NYCFC remain fourth in the Eastern Conference, a point back of the New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact for second and third, while Orlando City inch to level on points with sixth-place Toronto FC.

[ MORE: USMNT 4-0 Bolivia | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

42′ — Brilliant heads home not long before halftime — Everything seemed fine for NYCFC

66′ — Pirlo’s beautiful ball sets Villa up for 2-0 — Class. Pure class from everyone involved. Everything is fine.

70′ — Villa sends his PK effort sky high — What more can you say? Everything is still probably fine.

72′ — Baptista fires low to make it 2-1 — Villa left the door wide open, and Julio Baptista was quick to walk right through two minutes later. Everything is less fine.

90+4′ — Molino heads home with no time left — As soon as Villa missed the penalty, it was always going to end like this. Nothing is fine.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa (for a variety of reasons)

Goalscorers: Brilliant (42′), Villa (66′), Baptista (72′), Molino (90+4′)

Klinsmann excited about USMNT’s promising youngsters ahead of Copa America

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States Men's National Team watches his team play against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The U.S. national team’s last 135 minutes of game time — the final 45 minutes of a 1-0 victory over Ecuador, followed by Saturday’s 4-0 dismantling of Bolivia here at Children’s Mercy Park — have supporters across the country harboring unfamiliar feelings these days: cautious optimism ahead of this week’s 2016 Copa America Centenario.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

It’s the best three-half stretch Jurgen Klinsmann’s side has enjoyed (against top-80 opposition, according FIFA world rankings) since … well, come to think of it, I’m not really sure when. In the last 24 months, the Yanks have lost away to Guatemala, drawn away to Trinidad & Tobago, lost the CONCACAF Cup to Mexico on home soil, finished fourth at the Gold Cup on home soil, and wrapped up 2014 with just one win in their last eight games of the calendar year, including three of four World Cup fixtures.

(When you write it all out like that, it sounds really bad. It’s been really bad.)

Yet, here stands the USMNT, five days from kicking off the centennial edition of Copa America, and a few pieces are beginning to fall into place for Klinsmann and Co. I waxed poetically about Saturday’s victory and all the positives it highlighted.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Listening to Klinsmann and a handful of players speak after the game, there was a similar sense of confidence among the men on the field that a workable, sustainable formula had indeed been realized.

“The atmosphere is really good,” the 1990 World Cup-winning German said. “Fine-tuning elements, every training session helps you. I think no team will come into Copa America 100 percent or perfectly prepared. … It’s a bit tricky.”

[ MORE: Ranking Copa America contenders — what are USMNT’s chances? ]

Perhaps no player on the USMNT’s Copa America roster has come further under Klinsmann’s tutelage, and in such a short period of time, than striker Bobby Wood, who has scored all five of his international goals inside the last five months and on Saturday assisted on Gyasi Zardes’s strike for a 3-0 lead with a quality cut-back cross from the end line — Wood, speaking after the game:

“I think as a team, we’re pretty confident,” Wood said. “We wanted to continue growing as a team with each game before the tournament. With these results, I think we did a good job to be confident going into the Colombia game. … I actually think two games ago, we were still pretty confident. Maybe the outside is putting pressure on us, but as a team inside the locker room, we’re pretty confident to do well. I think everyone is pretty hungry for Copa to start.”

It’s the USMNT’s current crop of youngsters like Wood, the 23-year-old now-Hamburg man, that gives American fans hope beyond Copa America with an eye toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The average age of the scorers of the USMNT’s last eight goals: 23 years old. No one is more excited by that progression than Klinsmann, who raved about Christian Pulisic after the 17-year-old became the youngest goalscorer in USMNT history on Saturday.

[ MORE: USA 4-0 Bolivia | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

“What is wonderful to see is the growth of [the young] players over these last one or two years — how they improved their game, how they’re becoming more adult[-like], obviously stronger physically, but also becoming more confident,” he said of players like Wood, Zardes, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, among others. “This is a process. The process is never-ending, but the first couple of years when you grow, it’s a big learning curve. How far this process takes us into Copa America, we’ll take it one step at a time. We put the pieces together the best way that we get the right results.

“I think over the next couple of weeks, they will definitely get their opportunities to play minutes, leave an impression, and to push more and more the established players toward the edge, which is their job. It will be a very intense and interesting next couple of weeks.”