Premier League Playback: Why Sanchez will leave Arsenal

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WHAT NOW FOR SANCHEZ?

Alexis Sanchez’s benching in Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat at Liverpool was one of the most bizarre decisions in Premier League history.

Sanchez, 28, is Arsenal’s leading scorer and has been involved in more goals than any other PL player this season. He was fully fit and Arsene Wenger was also without his other star man, Mesut Ozil, who was back in London after falling ill.

Wenger gambled and it backfired badly. Now, both he and Arsenal will pay the consequences.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

Citing “tactical reasons” for dropping Sanchez and instead starting Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud, it was pretty inconceivable that Sanchez (even though he’s been in mixed form of late) wouldn’t have helped Arsenal had he been on the pitch. They were 2-0 down at Liverpool at half time and Wenger had to hold his hands up. He brought on Sanchez at half time and he set up Welbeck’s goal, caused Liverpool countless problems and had a shot blocked in stoppage time which could’ve rescued a point before Liverpool’s late clincher.

His situation at Arsenal seems past the point of rescuing.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Talk of a training ground bust-up between Sanchez and his teammates came after the defeat but Wenger has since brushed that off (see above) and called those rumors “completely false” in an angry statement.

All of this bluster aside, it all points to one impending factor: Sanchez will not be at Arsenal next season.

Following the mass speculation, the fiery Chilean forward — we’re talking about a guy who pounded the floor after Arsenal secured a miraculous point at Bournemouth when they trailed 3-0 late in the second half, is often told to stop training so hard and almost cried when subbed out in a routine win at Swansea — could have nipped it all in the bud.

Instead, he said the following on Instagram.

“The true warrior fights not because he hates the ones in front of him, but because he loves those behind him. Let’s go Gunners. The only failure is not trying,” Sanchez said.

That was it.

With Wenger saying that Arsenal Football Club will decide the future of Sanchez, and Ozil, regarding new contracts, it seems ominous that Arsenal’s star man has 15 months to go and there doesn’t seem to be any new contract announcement in sight.

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He will likely leave this summer for a fee below $30 million as he’ll have just 12 months left on his contract. That will be a steal for whoever buys him and selfishly I hope he stays in the Premier League. Of course, Arsenal will do their utmost to sell Sanchez to Spain, France or Italy if they can but with his former boss Pep Guardiola at Manchester City there’s a real danger that the Gunners are set to lose another star to a PL rival for the prime of their career.

Think Robin Van Persie to Manchester United. Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea, via Barcelona. To a lesser extent Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Bacary Sagna to Manchester City. Heck, even Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira before these guys, but that trio all went overseas.

In the current climate, with six heavyweights all scrapping for the top four and all capable of challenging for the title, Arsenal can’t afford to strengthen a rival. That’s what they will do if Sanchez joins Man City.

Until something changes at Arsenal and they’re willing to break the bank to not only keep but attract the biggest names in the world, they’ll be destined for top four finishes, getting knocked out of the UEFA Champions League last 16 and winning the FA Cup. That’s not something to scoff at. It’s also why Wenger will likely sign the two-year extension gathering dust on his desk before this season is over.

Still, the most important man for Arsenal’s immediate future looks even more likely to move on after this weekend. You can file this article away and dust it off every four or five years when the Gunners are in contract negotiations with a star player about remaining in north London.

It’s the same outcome. But this time with Wenger and Ozil’s future up in the air too it could be incredibly damaging for Arsenal’s ambition of a top four finish. Not just for this season but for the next generation.


CHELSEA UNSTOPPABLE

10 points clear with 11 games to play, Chelsea look imperious as Antonio Conte‘s men march towards the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea record breakers?

Many things are helping the Italian coach with N'Golo Kante running the show in midfield and a solid defensive unit thriving in the 3-4-3 system he introduced in September, but the form of Eden Hazard has somewhat flown under the radar.

Hazard, 26, is back to his best and is putting the horrors of the 2015-16 campaign behind him. Many thought he would never recover from a horrendous season which saw him look a shadow of the PFA Player of the Year in 2014-15 who led Chelsea to the crown.

[ MORE: 3 things learned

He has 11 goals and four assists in the PL and his latest strike in the 2-1 win at West Ham on Monday summed up Chelsea’s brilliantly incisive play this season. Kante intercepted the ball and gave it to Hazard and that was the trigger for Pedro‘s run. The duo darted forward together, leaving West Ham’s defenders bamboozled as Hazard slotted home the opener after rounding goalkeeper Darren Randolph following a devastating 11-second counter-attack.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Following the victory, Pro Soccer Talk asked Conte about Hazard’s ability on the counter and just how important he is to this Chelsea team.

“Eden is really important for us; we all know that. He’s a really good player with great technique and talent,” Conte said. “It’s better when he plays between the lines to score on the counter-attack. It’s not his specialty but he’s very good at receiving the ball, going one v one and beating his opponent to score the goal. We also have other options of scoring a goal on the counter-attack, people like Willian and Pedro and Costa, and this is also good.”

They have so many ways to hurt teams — on the counter, from set pieces, by dominating possession, you name it — and it is clear Chelsea will win the PL.

Only seven teams in PL history have had 66 or more points after 27 games of the season. Every single one of them has gone on to win the title. Chelsea currently has 66 points after 27 games.

Even if Man City beat Stoke in midweek to cut Chelsea’s lead at the top to eight points, it seems like the pressure isn’t getting to Chelsea and all of their players are rested and ready each week.

Not having European action has been pivotal in their run of just one defeat in their last 21 games, but so has the brilliance of individuals such as Diego Costa, Kante, David Luiz and the forgotten man: Hazard.


FA GET ZLATAN, MINGS SPOT ON

The officials don’t often get praise, and they didn’t get much this weekend in the Premier League with an impromptu bachelor party muddying the criticism around officials, but in the end the English Football Association got the main point of contention spot on.

[ MORE: Ibra accepts three-game ban ]

On Monday both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings were charged with alleged violent conduct for their ongoing spat during Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

Ibrahimovic accepted the charge and has a three-game ban, while Mings is set to contest what is reported to be a six-game ban for his stamp on Zlatan’s head which then led to the an elbow in his face by the veteran Swede.

Kevin Friend and his officials didn’t see the incidents clearly at the time and took no action. With the retrospective action coming in to save the day, it’s a system which works well. Even though Zlatan and Mings both came out and said they didn’t mean to injure one another after the game, they had the look of guilty men plastered across their faces.

Both men will have to take their punishment for a bruising battle. We will also cherish another gem from Zlatan when he tried to explain what happened.

“With the stamp, I don’t see it. I just felt something hit me behind my neck,” Ibrahimovic said. “With the elbow I see it clearly. I jump up, I jump high to protect myself. At the same time I jump for the ball and he jumps into my elbow. Hopefully he didn’t get injured or something. My intention was not to injure, it was the opposite, to protect myself to go for the ball. It was unlucky he jumped into the elbow. This happens many times.”

Okay, Zlatan…


KING KANE

“One season wonder, he’s just a one season wonder!” sang Tottenham’s fans after Harry Kane belted in the opening goal of Spurs’ 3-2 win against Everton on Sunday.

The Englishman, still just 23, added another to take his tally to 19 for the season as he leads the PL in goals and he’s now scored 24 times in 28 games in all competitions for Tottenham. That’s getting to the Ronaldo and Messi-esque bracket of a goal a game or better.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Before the weekend all the talk was about the Kane vs. Romelu Lukaku battle. Give me Kane all day long. He creates goals, drops deep, is a pure finisher and you always know he is going to leave everything out on the pitch. He is one of the most complete forwards in the game and Mauricio Pochettino was correct to say he can go on to become a Spurs legend. With Tottenham in second place, they’re 10 points off Chelsea and it’s destined to be another case of “close, but no cigar” for the second season running in their title hopes.

Their talisman will keep on trucking away though.

Don’t forget, Kane was out for over six weeks this season too through injury. Imagine if he was fit throughout October. Where would Spurs be had Kane been on hand as they dropped points against Leicester, Bournemouth and West Brom during his absence?

Probably challenging Chelsea for the title.

Still, with no defeats at home all season and a record nine-straight home wins in the PL they are looking nailed on for a top four finish as they only have two of the top four (Arsenal and Manchester  United) left to play. Both at home. That will please Pochettino as he kicks on the project to the next step ahead of the stadium move and with his young squad all committed to the vision.

Plus, their goal celebrations are as awesome as they are elaborate…


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

“Three trophies and CL”: Mourinho relieved after “most difficult season”

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Don’t try to tell Jose Mourinho that his first season at Manchester United wasn’t a raging success, because all you’d get in return is a simple shake of the head before he walks away.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Following Wednesday’s Europa League final victory over Ajax, one which put Man United into next season’s UEFA Champions League, Mourinho was adamant that the club’s 2016-17 season was a success, despite the fact the Red Devils finished sixth in the Premier League.

“Three trophies in one season and the Champions League,” as Mourinho put it, in his “most difficult season as a manager” — quotes from the BBC:

“We totally deserved the win. I am so happy to see the boys with the crutches with the trophy and now I am on holiday. I don’t want to see any international friendlies, I am selfish. I can’t do it.

“For me, enough is enough. It has been a very hard last few months, we were short of numbers.

“Three trophies in one season and the Champions League. I am very happy in my most difficult season as a manager.”

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

As for his summer shopping list and Wayne Rooney‘s future at the club, well… Mourinho was much clearer about one than the other — quotes from the BBC:

“Ed Woodward has my list, what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it’s up to him and the owners. But I don’t care about football for now.

“Wayne Rooney was ready to play, he was a big option. But I didn’t need to attack at 2-0. I told him yesterday that he could be the key man but he can perfectly be here next season. He is a very important player for us. If he stays next season I’d be very happy.”

USMNT’s Gedion Zelalem out 6-9 months with knee injury

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Following much fanfare as he rose through the ranks of Arsenal’s youth academy system, and even more after officially pledging his international allegiance to the U.S., Gedion Zelalem‘s progress stalled a fair bit this season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | U-20 World Cup ]

After failing to force his way onto the fringes of Arsenal’s first team, the 20-year-old was sent out on loan to VVV Venlo, where he made just nine league appearances (one start) in the Dutch second division. Now, with the U.S. U-20 national team at the U-20 World Cup in South Korea, his tournament is over after just 34 minutes.

Zelalen suffered ligament damage to his left knee during the first half of the Americans’ tournament-opening draw with Ecuador. The Washington Post received confirmation on Wednesday, from Zelalem’s family, confirming that he’ll be sidelined for at least six months. An earlier report, from Football.London, pinned the recovery time at up to nine months.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

“For Gedion, this was his second U-20 World Cup, so his experience was invaluable for us,” said U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos. “His passing ability is second to none in this tournament, and we’ll miss that. He was running the team from his position.

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

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Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.