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High-strung Wenger says Sanchez reports “completely false”

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Arsenal’s manager Arsene Wenger was in a combative mood on Monday.

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After losing 2-1 at Liverpool on Saturday — their third defeat in their last four PL games — Wenger’s side slipped up in the top four race as they’re now 13 points behind leaders Chelsea.

To compound matters the Gunners boss was heavily criticized for benching top scorer and star player Alexis Sanchez.

Wenger has claimed Sanchez’s omission was purely tactical as he went with Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud up top for a more direct approach but numerous reports have since circulated suggesting that the Chilean forward was involved in a training ground spat with his teammates last week.

Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg clash against Bayern Munich on Tuesday (Arsenal trail 5-1 from the first leg) at the Emirates, Wenger said “nothing happened” and the reports were “completely false” and had this to say about Sanchez’s current attitude.

“I explained after the game at Liverpool that I decided to go for a more direct option in the game. That was the unique reason in my decision,” Wenger explained. “For the rest, his attitude, he is a committed player sometimes with excessive behaviors but you have that so many times in the history in many squads.”

He then described his current relationship with Sanchez, while showing some annoyance when asked about the forward not yet agreeing to a new contract.

“Honest and normal, like with every single player,” Wenger said. “Alexis Sanchez has 15 months left on his contract so the decision depends on Arsenal Football Club, not on anybody else.”

Wenger then jumped in as reporters grilled club captain Per Mertesacker, who was sat alongside him in the press conference, about their support for Wenger and if the players want him to stay at the Emirates Stadium next season.

The Frenchman, whose contract runs out this summer, stated the players did not decide who the manager would be, the board do, and then gave this rallying call.

“I think we are in the best club in the world and we have to show pride and commitment to defend the pride of this club,” Wenger said. “It is not about the politics. We are not in a political club here, we are in the performance. I have to perform and the players have to perform.”

After seemingly months of criticism of him and his players, Wenger is hitting back.

This siege mentality could hold them in good stead for the rest of the season but with so much uncertainty surrounding the future of Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Wenger himself there are still plenty of distractions. Wenger’s decision to call these reports false will somewhat clear them up and he was seen shaking Sanchez’s hand before training on Monday at their London Colney home.

That said, his comments saying Sanchez as “excessive behaviors” leaves the door open for some intrigue as to what has gone on behind-the-scenes. Sanchez is a notoriously hard trainer and is upset when he isn’t picked to play in a third round League Cup game, let alone a massive Premier League battle away at a top four rival.

Don’t expect this situation to quieten down between now and the end of the season.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.