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The stages of Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal

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Initially there was intrigue. Then there was admiration. Next came pity, followed by anger and protest.

It has been a roller-coaster of emotions during the 21-year tenure of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, which will continue after the Frenchman signed a contract extension for two more years on Wednesday.

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A look at the various stages of Wenger’s reign:

“Arsene Who?” read the headline across a London newspaper when Wenger, a wiry, bespectacled and relatively unknown French coach was hired by Arsenal in September 1996.

Within two years, it was clear the club had pulled off a coup.

That’s all it took for Wenger to turn Arsenal around – its players’ drinking culture, their dietary habits and the team’s style of play – and lead the club to a Premier League-FA Cup double in 1998 at the end of his first full season in charge. He was the first foreign-born manager to achieve the double.

Helped by his knowledge of the French league, Wenger quickly began constructing a formidable side: Patrick Vieira had already joined in the months before Wenger’s arrival; Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Nicolas Anelka joined ahead of the 1998-99 season; Thierry Henry replaced Anelka in 1999. By 2001, he was building the team that would become known as the “Invincibles” – one that went through the 2003-04 league season unbeaten.

Arsenal recovered from losing the UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray in 2000 and the FA Cup final to Liverpool in 2001 by winning another league-cup double in 2002.

The “Invincibles” season would define his reign, with Arsenal winning 26 games and drawing the other 12 as the likes of Henry, Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and Sol Campbell excelled. Wenger’s swashbuckling, slick side was awarded a special gold version of the league trophy in recognition.

[ MORE: Two more years — Wenger signs new contract ]

Arsenal then won the FA Cup in 2005 after a penalty shootout against Manchester United. Few could have imagined that would be the club’s last major trophy for nine years.

Although Arsenal reached the Champions League final the following season, losing to Barcelona after taking an early lead in Paris, a fourth-place finish in the league – the first time Wenger had finished outside the top two in a full season – was a sign of things to come.

Arsenal left its Highbury home of 93 years and relocated to nearby Emirates Stadium in 2006. Suddenly the priority was financing the new 60,000-seat stadium over strengthening the playing squad.

Vieira had already left in 2005, Henry and David Dein – who was both the vice chairman and a trusted ally of Wenger in the boardroom – departed in 2007, and Arsenal veered toward bringing through youth players and cheaper signings.

There was a gradual loss of leadership at the club, on and off the field, and it began to show in results.

Between 2007-13, Arsenal finished either third or fourth in the Premier League and rarely had a shot at the title. The team blew a five-point lead in February in the 2007-08 season and imploded in the last months of the 2010-11 season when in contention for four trophies, including losing to Birmingham in the English League Cup final.

Wenger couldn’t afford to keep hold of his star players. In 2011, Cesc Fabregas was sold to Barcelona, and Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy joined Manchester City. Top scorer Robin Van Persie moved to Manchester United in 2012, leading his new team to the league title the following season.

[ MORE: Huddersfield win promotion, complete 2017-18 PL field ]

Aspirations lowered at the Emirates. By 2012 and with Arsenal struggling to win titles, Wenger was saying that finishing in the top four – and therefore qualifying for the Champions League – was comparable to winning a trophy.

By 2013, Arsenal’s title drought extended to eight years and Wenger would soon be labeled a “specialist in failure” by managerial rival Jose Mourinho. Fueled by cash from their Russian and Abu Dhabi owners, Chelsea and Manchester City had sprinted past Arsenal and changed the financial landscape of the Premier League – much to the chagrin of the more conservative Wenger.

“I accept one basic principle for every company,” Wenger said, “that you can spend the money you make.”

No longer hamstrung by stadium debts, Wenger could finally start spending again. Off came the financial straitjacket and in came two stars of the Spanish league, playmaker Mesut Ozil for a club-record 42.4 million pounds (then $66 million) in 2013 and forward Alexis Sanchez for 35 million pounds (then $60 million) in 2014.

Arsenal continued to secure Champions League qualification each season and the team ended its wait for a trophy by winning the FA Cup in 2014 – but only after a penalty-shootout win over second-tier club Wigan in the semifinals and the need for extra time to beat Hull 3-2 in the final. There were reports that Wenger might have quit if Arsenal had lost the final; instead he signed a new three-year deal.

[ MORE: Slaven Bilic confirms he’ll return to West Ham next season ]

By now, though, there was a small but loud contingent of fans that was growing tired with Wenger. The embarrassing losses started to build up, including in the 2013-14 season a 5-1 loss at Liverpool and 6-0 loss at Chelsea in his 1,000th match in charge of Arsenal.

Arsenal retained the FA Cup in 2015, taking Wenger’s haul of titles in that competition to six, but it couldn’t hide the team’s failure to challenge for the Premier League or Champions League. Arsenal’s limitations in the Champions League were particularly galling, with Wenger unable to lead his side beyond the last 16 from 2011-17.

Wenger acknowledged that he missed a great chance to win a first Premier League title since 2004 when Arsenal finished second behind surprise champion Leicester in the 2015-16 season.

Fan unrest was at its worst the following season as the Gunners slipped from league contention by February and were routed 10-2 on aggregate by Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Arsenal ended up finishing fifth in the Premier League and missing out on Champions League qualification for the first time in a full season under Wenger, although a strong finish to the campaign saw the team beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final. It was a record seventh FA Cup triumph for Wenger, and – following a board meeting three days later – he signed up for two more years.

Stream Live: Manchester City host Everton

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Manchester City welcome Everton to the Etihad Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with two Barcelona legends colliding on the sidelines.

[ LIVE: Stream Man City-Everton ] 

Both teams will be looking to make it two wins from two to kick off the season as their new-look, expensively assembled squads have plenty of expectation on their shoulders.

Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman will put their friendship to one side for this game.

In team news Man City bring in Leroy Sane for Danilo, while Everton move Davy Klaassen to the bench and have new club-record signing Gylfi Sigurdsson alongside him.

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Geoff Cameron reaches Premier League milestone

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Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron has become just the sixth American in history to make 150 appearances in the Premier League.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Cameron, 32, started at center back as Stoke beat Arsenal 1-0 at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday with the Potters defense holding firm to seal a big early-season win.

The U.S. national team star has been a mainstay at Stoke since arriving from the Houston Dynamo in 2012 and he is now only behind Clint Dempsey in terms of appearances made by an outfield player in the Premier League.

Selected 46th overall in the 2009 MLS draft by Houston, Cameron’s career has gone from strength-to-strength since joining Stoke and the USMNT center back signed a new two-year contract extension at the end of last season which will keep him with the Potters until at least the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

Therefore it is not inconceivable that given his great recent form and his versatility to play at center back, in central midfield or a right back, that he will rack up close to another 90 appearances over the next two seasons to overtake Dempsey’s total of 218 appearances.

Cameron has quietly moved ahead of the likes of Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna and other U.S. legends in terms of appearances and his longevity in the PL, at perhaps its most competitive era in history, should be applauded.

With only Danny Williams and DeAndre Yedlin likely to play consistently elsewhere in the PL this season, Cameron is one of the few players still flying the American flag.

Here’s a look at who is ahead of him and when he can move further up the list of Americans to appear in the PL.

  • Brad Friedel – 451 appearances
  • Tim Howard – 399 appearances
  • Clint Dempsey – 218 appearances
  • Kasey Keller – 201 appearances
  • Brad Guzan – 153 appearances
  • Geoff Cameron – 150 appearances

PL Playback: Man United ready to roam freely

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MAN UNITED’S MOMENTUM

So far this season Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United look ready to bolt from the barn whenever matchday rolls around.

In a good way.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

United blew away Swansea City 4-0 on Saturday, using an explosive 3 minute and 41 second period to score three times at the end of the game.

Mourinho’s stable of powerful attacking players are on the pitch and on the bench, with Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial running riot late in the game.

“I had players on the bench who could help me. Happiness in our play. It happened to me so much with my teams, you’re winning 1-0 and you can can concede. There was no need to close the door, just let the horses run freely,” Mourinho told the BBC after the game.

The depth in this United squad is considerable with Martial coming off the bench to score twice and assist on another goal in the opening two games of the PL season. Lukaku has scored four goals in his first three official games for United, while Pogba has a goal in each of his first two PL games this season. Everything is looking rosy for United who sit top of the table after two 4-0 wins to open the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

But hold your horses. No disrespect to West Ham and Swansea, but United should beat them convincingly. Yet they seem to have put aside their problems from last season where they dominated teams but couldn’t put them away, which led to a league-high 15 draws from 38 games. They’ve kept more clean sheets than any other PL team in 2017, so conceding hasn’t been the issue.

The balance is now better with attackers able to roam freely and interchange further up the pitch. In truth, they played similarly for large spells of last season but they couldn’t finish. Now the confidence is flowing and scoring goals seems like the easiest thing in the world.

Mourinho seems to have instilled newfound confidence in his team and with the players now having a whole season of the Mourinho experience under their belt, they understand what he wants. Also, the second-season syndrome (we all know what happens in year three) under Mourinho always seems to get the best out of his methods. There is a real feel-good vibe around United right now and their early-season schedule will allow this to build.

Despite all of the positives surrounding United’s opening victories, what if Romelu Lukaku goes down injured? Can Marcus Rashford, who has looked dangerous out on the left, fill his void up top? Maybe Zlatan Ibrahimovic will arrive on a short-term deal but the forward issue is one which will still concern Mourinho, even though his attacking unit is purring right now. Injuries hit United hard last season but they had more games with their Europa League campaign, EFL Cup success and deep run in the FA Cup. This season should be easier to manage.

Mourinho’s team now seem able to shut opponents down and limit their chances and the balance of this team is spot on. Nemanja Matic‘s arrival has been lauded and he allows Pogba to roam free in support of Lukaku, Rashford, Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who was sublime once again, taking his assist tally to four in 173 minutes for the season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

The diminutive duo of Juan Mata and Mkhitaryan perfectly compliment the powerful trio of Pogba, Lukaku and Rashford in attack and all of a sudden you can see why Mourinho was shown pretending to smoke an imaginary cigar before the game when the cameras caught him chatting with Swansea boss Paul Clement.

So chill.

Mourinho will let his horses roam free for the opening months of the season as United do not face a top six opponent until Oct. 14 when they head to Liverpool and then they face Chelsea and Tottenham in two of their next three games, while the UCL group games will also come thick and fast around that time.

That’s when the real tests will start to arrive but United already have a ruthless streak about them which wasn’t there last season.


CHELSEA’S WEMBLEY GRIT

It wasn’t the best display Chelsea will put in, but it had buckets of desire and determination as they became the first team to beat Tottenham at home (yes, it was Wembley) in 19 Premier League games.

[ MORE: Can Spurs get over Wembley jinx? ]

After being at the London derby, the first-ever Premier League game at Wembley, I wrote about Spurs’ struggles at their temporary home, and that was a big part of this.

Chelsea rode their luck but without the injured Eden Hazard, exiled Diego Costa, the suspended duo of Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, plus new signings Alvaro Morata, Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko all taking time to settle in as they made their first starts for the club, it was one heck of a result.

[ MORE: 3 things learned from Chelsea’s win ]

Tottenham were wasteful in attack against Chelsea’s revamped 3-5-2 system which saw David Luiz become a colossal in central midfield and youngster Andreas Christensen more than hold his own in central defense. They hit Spurs on the counter expertly as Willian hit the post and then Marcos Alonso scored a late winner which sent the 3,000-plus away fans wild at Wembley.

Antonio Conte ran to the away section after the game punching the air with delight as the Italian coach looked to be unloading plenty of the pressure which had been piling up on his shoulders over the summer and the early weeks of this season. That was understandable following the Costa saga, Nemanja Matic being sold to Man United, the FA Community Shield defeat to Arsenal and a shock loss to Burnley.

“This is a perfect response of the champions,” Conte said. “We won the league last season, winning 30 games, and that is not easy. We lost in the final of the FA Cup. We have arrived in some problems with bans and injuries but we must be ready to work and focus on the pitch. The club is trying its best in the transfer market to improve our squad but I must be happy.”

With the chips down, Sunday’s London derby win proved the reigning champs won’t give up their crown without a fight.


EARLY SEASON HEROES, STRUGGLERS

We are only in Week 2 but there are already plenty of heroes and vllains around the Premier League.

Huddersfield Town have won their first two Premier League games with David Wagner‘s side beating Newcastle United 1-0 on Sunday at a raucous John Smith’s Stadium.

Aaron Mooy was the hero as the Australian midfielder cut inside and bent home a beauty into the far corner to become Huddersfield’s hero. In truth, every Terriers player was a hero, just like they were in Week 1 at Crystal Palace.

Wagner’s men are six points closer to the magic 40-point marker to avoid relegation and the Yorkshire club are loving life in the big-time. They are the new darlings of the PL.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are five teams at the bottom of the Premier League table who have yet to grab a point this season, and four of those have yet to score a goal.

They aren’t panicking, but a slow start is far from ideal.

Newcastle United were lackluster in attack in their defeat at Huddersfield and Rafael Benitez looks frustrated on the sidelines with funds from owner Mike Ashley not as forthcoming as he’d hoped. The Magpies need major work in the final weeks of the window.

So do fellow new boys Brighton & Hove Albion and Chris Hughton‘s side barely created anything at Leicester City in their second 2-0 defeat to open the season. Bournemouth, surprisingly, have lost two games to open the campaign with Eddie Howe‘s men also yet to score as Watford dominated the game at the Vitality Stadium. The alarm bells are ringing in Dorset.

Crystal Palace put in a dogged display away at Liverpool but Christian Benteke missed a glorious chance and Frank de Boer’s men conceded late on with Sadio Mane grabbing the winner and West Ham have now conceded seven goals to open the season with two defeats from two for Slaven Bilic‘s side.

At least West Ham’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez hasn’t had a slow start to the season even though his team lost 3-2 at Southampton in a dramatic game. Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer netted two typical close-range goals but his side were undone by giving away two penalty kicks and having Marko Arnautovic stupidly sent off.

Like the other teams struggling at the start of the season, the Hammers are creating problems for themselves. How would Hernandez sum up their start and the current mood at West Ham?

“Difficult, we knew that with three away games. The last two with Manchester United and then at Southampton we played a really good game in the second half with 10 men, we had a lot of effort and were so close to getting one point and maybe even three points, you never know. It has been a little bit sad but we are getting there,” Hernandez said. “We need time to keep working, to keep improving. We need to look forward, we need to be positive. We can not stay in the good memories or bad memories. That’s the good thing about football, you have a chance of revenge every weekend.”

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

Transfer rumor wrap: Messi to Man City; Aubameyang to Chelsea

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Manchester City are said to have “stepped up” their interest in Lionel Messi.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

A report from the Daily Record claims Man City met with representatives of Messi, 30, last week with the Argentine superstar reportedly unhappy with life at Barcelona after watching Neymar leave, plus legend Andres Iniesta yet to agree to a new contract.

The report goes on to claim that Messi’s new contract last month was announced before it was signed and it has yet to be formalized with Barca offering him wages over $1.4 million per week.

With Neymar leaving Barca for PSG, anything now seems possible and Man City certainly hold the ace if Messi was to ever leave Barcelona with Pep Guardiola on board.

Would the deal for Messi be a new world-record transfer deal, surpassing Neymar’s move to PSG? It is mooted that the deal could be a free transfer if Messi doesn’t sign the new deal and he could join for free ahead of the 2018-19 Premier League season.

After Barcelona lost 5-1 to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup to open up this season and they continue to struggle to bring in Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele to replace Neymar.

Will Messi leave Barcelona? It always seems highly-unlikely. Yet, with Pep around and Man City able to afford to pay him whatever he wants, if he leaves Barca they seem like the most likely club he will join.


In what could be another big-money move to the Premier League, Chelsea target Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has admitted he is still thinking about leaving Borussia Dortmund.

Earlier this summer it appeared that Aubameyang, 28, was heading to the Chinese Super League while Chelsea and AC Milan were both reportedly interested.

However he remained at Dortmund and the Bundesliga’s golden boot winner last season scored in their opening day win against Wolfsburg on Saturday and has five goals in three official games for BVB to kick off 2017-18.

Speaking to Radio Montecarlo Italy, the Gabon international said the following about his future.

“I am still reflecting on whether I should leave or not. This club and these fans are incredible, but if I want to grow, I feel I need to leave,” Aubameyang said.

Intriguing.

With Chelsea still trying to offload Diego Costa, who is currently exiled in Brazil and staying away from the club, they will soon have an open slot up front. Costa is likely to join Atletico Madrid before the transfer deadline on Aug. 31, with a loan move elsewhere to be arranged until January when Atleti’s transfer ban ends.

Judging by Alvaro Morata’s rusty display for Chelsea against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, plus only having Michy Batshuayi in reserve, Antonio Conte will want to strengthen his forward options considerably. Aubameyang ticks all the boxes and it is expected Dortmund would accept an offer of around $90 million for the forward.