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Arsene Wenger’s future in Stan Kroenke’s hands?

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Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov has launched an attack on the current board for failing to sort out Arsene Wenger‘s future and not having a replacement lined up.

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Russian billionaire Usmanov, 63, owns 30 percent of the Gunners but has been excluded from the board at Arsenal as majority shareholder Stan Kroenke continues to hold the power with 67.05 percent of the shares.

Usmanov, speaking to Bloomberg from Moscow, had the following to say about the current situation as the Wenger is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to announce his future plans with the Gunners battling for a top four finish for the 21st season in a row under his guidance.

“I do not think that the coach alone is to be blamed for what is happening. The board bear huge responsibility,” Usmanov said. “Some continuity is needed and this includes the need to prepare for a successor for Wenger. This needs to be done in a very respectful way and I can suggest that Wenger himself prepare a successor. Unfortunately, I am fully isolated from decision-making at Arsenal. All the responsibility for the fate of the club rests with the main shareholder.”

Now, this is interesting.

With Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s CEO, recently attending meetings with supporters groups speaking of a “catalyst for change” and chairman Sir Chips Keswick saying that the decision over Wenger’s future will be “mutual” between the board and the manager, it appears that, at least according to Usmanov, one man holds the key to this decision: Kroenke.

The American billionaire has a hands-off approach when it comes to Arsenal while his son, Josh, also sits on the board as a director but you never hear much from them. Perhaps what is most crucial amid all of this smack talk from Usmanov is that he admits Kroenke calls the shots and we all know Kroenke is a huge fan of Wenger.

After the most recent Arsenal AGM Kroenke said that Wenger “has been a wonderful influence on the club” and added that “we are all very high on Arsene” as well as praising his ability to achieve consistent results.

Kroenke, Arsenal’s biggest shareholder, holds the key. That is clear.

That fact seems to have been overlooked in the past few months when fans have called for Wenger to be fired and have questioned the ambition of the board time and time again. Yet even the “Wenger Out” protests are dying down recently, with a protest scheduled for the home game against West Ham last week canceled due to a lack of numbers.

With Kroenke calling the shots, Wenger is in a very good position. The owner of the LA Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Colorado Rapids sports franchises in the U.S. is the key man in Wenger’s future with a two-year deal reportedly ready for the 67-year-old coach to sign.

If that is the case, surely Kroenke will keep Wenger and maybe that’s why the Frenchman has been so coy on his future. Perhaps he knows he has the offer on the table from Kroenke no matter what everyone else connected with the club is saying.

Still, if Arsenal fail to finish in the top four this season then maybe Wenger and Kroenke’s plans go out of the window. The next few weeks for Arsenal are pivotal in its future with Wenger, plus Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in limbo with Champions League action in the balance.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday