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Robbie Mustoe: Arsene Wenger has reached the end of his time at Arsenal

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With long-time manager Arsene Wenger‘s status at Arsenal in the spotlight, ProSoccerTalk spoke with Robbie Mustoe about what has happened to Wenger at Arsenal.

Q: Arsenal fans’ protests against Wenger seem louder than ever before. Why do you think this season is different even though Arsenal have been getting similar results as the past few years?

Robbie Mustoe: I think, as you said, the results are similar and in some ways the performances have been similar, some really good ones, particularly the first half of the season when there was a feeling that Arsenal was somewhat different, but I was never fully convinced of this. Although I did like Alexis Sanchez playing as a striker and [Granit] Xhaka was different in midfield, so there was a few differences going into this season, but I still was never convinced about the mentality of the team. Now going back to how it’s different, I think it’s different because it looks to me over the past few weeks that the players have lost respect for the manager.

We can criticize Wenger for some tactical things, some mentality things, some selection things, stuff that always stops him from winning the league title and in the first half of the season that was the same story. It’s changed because I think some of the players now are disbelieving like a lot of other people, the fans you’re seeing now more and more are realizing that it’s time for him to go, ex-players and loyal former guys that worked and played for Arsene Wenger are starting to say it’s definitely time to go. I just think the players have lost respect. Alexis Sanchez on the bench the other day with the smirking, it’s hard to be definitive if he was laughing there, it’s just when you watch them play it looks like they are empty. I’ve said that with Robbie Earle on our radio show, they look empty, they look like there is nothing inside left, that his words are not getting through. I suppose to summarize I think over the last few weeks the players have thrown the towel in a little bit and I’ve not seen that before. That is another massive indication that Wenger has reached the end of his time at Arsenal in my opinion.

Q: What is your takeaway from Wenger’s handling of the Alexis Sanchez situation in both the decision to bench him and his explanation afterward?

RM: The explanation to start with, it’s disappointing because people in the game know that there was nothing tactically different from Arsenal with a direct approach. There’s no way, assuming there’s not been a bust-up which is what Wenger is hinting here, that the joint-top scorer with an incredibly hard mentality, a winning mindset, a great work ethic, tremendous quality, there’s no way he doesn’t get into any team in the Premier League no matter what style you’re playing. The explanation of it was disappointing because it’s just not true.

[ MORE: Wenger to listen to protests ]

Leaving him out, if there is ill-discipline within the squad and if Alexis Sanchez was disrespectful to the manager, to his teammates, then of course as a manager you have the right to leave a player benched for whatever reason. My response to that would be find a way to patch up the disagreement, find a way to get the player back on board again and if you can’t you leave him out of the squad. Don’t put him on the bench and have people like, ‘what’s going on,’ leave him out and be open. Be open about it, if it’s a disagreement for whatever reason there’s various ways that you can go at it. The preferred way in my opinion would be, sit down and try to figure it out because you’re all in this together you need your best players. Without letting the player win, you got to get him back on board whichever way that you do that with man management. Wenger’s got every right if he feels that certain players are undermining him or the squad than absolutely he has every right to drop a player, but don’t leave him on the bench and tell us that it’s a tactical reason. That’s disappointing from a guy that’s so classy and has been around so long and he’s so good generally with the media. This, in my opinion, was incorrect.

Q: Do you think his decision to do this was some sort of last-ditch effort, feeling that he may have lost the respect of his players and trying to do something drastic to shake it up?

RM: Yeah, it is, it was. That’s what I thought. We are having to surmise this. Wenger said there was no bust-up and it’s a normal relationship so this is you know this s what we are suggesting, speculating if you like. That goes back to my last answer, if there is something that the players are revolting against in some way than you leaving your star player on the bench I guess sends a message out, but it just doesn’t feel right. We’ve seen this before with different players and it feels the right thing to do. Again it’s so difficult to speculate, I mean Dimitri Payet at West Ham United there was a big bust-up there. He said he didn’t want to play for the club again. The manager meets with him, meets with him again and just confirms to him that he is going to tell the press what the disagreement is and he did. That felt transparent, clean and open. This just doesn’t.

[ MORE: Arsenal release statement on Wenger ]

We are speculating, whether that’s right or wrong, I still think it’s the last resort to have a bust-up with a star player and leave him on the bench. A bigger message maybe is to leave him out of the squad and be transparent. It just hasn’t been handled very well from Arsene Wenger and I don’t think we’ve seen this before. If our speculation is correct and there has been a bust-up I can’t remember a time when Wenger has had to do this before or left a star player out because of issues not involved with how he’s playing. He’s been the best player for Arsenal and arguably the best player in the league. It has nothing to do with his performance level. It must have been something that was said behind the scenes and hasn’t been handled very well.

Q: Looking at where Arsenal are in the table and the fact that they are still in contention in the FA Cup is there a way this season can still be a success for Wenger and Arsenal?

RM: Yes, they can win the FA Cup and they can finish in the top four. Champions League qualification and winning a trophy has to be a success. Some Arsenal fans would say we’ve seen this before, we want progression, we’ve spent money, we are a little bit stronger, we should be winning the title, but you win an FA Cup and finish in the top four this year that’s a decent season, I don’t care what anybody says. It’s just that you’re concerned with the way that it feels different now. The atmosphere around not only the supporters, but it sounds like within the dressing room, within the playing staff is that this really has come to an end.

We can speculate about stuff happening off the pitch, but I can give you my opinion of what I see from the team. I’ve been watching Arsene Wenger and his team for years and years and years and I’m seeing over the last few weeks with some bad results almost a team that’s saying wow we can’t turn up against the big teams, we can’t get the right results. It seems to me that that FA Cup fixture and the top four finish is going to be extremely hard. Success is possible, some degree of success, but there’s so much that has gone on in these last few weeks. It’s not right at the club and Arsene Wenger himself must realize that. I just don’t know how stubborn he is, I don’t know if he’s just going to say, ‘I don’t care, I have a contract, I’m going to crack on, we’re going to get this right, we’re going to sign some players in the summer.’ That’s one line of thinking, but the other line that would make more sense is, ‘My time has come to an end here. I’m going to let my owner and my board of directors know that this is my last season.’ I’d like that transparency. I’d like that honesty and it could be known to everybody that that’s the intention and I think then the remainder of the season is not so horrible. I think there will be respect and appreciation between now and the end of the season for what he’s done. I just really don’t know what’s going to happen with that. It seems that everybody around the club: pundits, supporters, maybe players now and former players really believe that this is time for him to leave.

For more on Arsene Wenger’s future, listen to the latest 2 Robbies podcast.

“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.