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USMNT already vindicated in hiring Arena, firing Klinsmann

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It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction from a stellar point away at Mexico in 2018 World Cup qualifying, but this is so much more than that.

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Fans of the U.S. men’s national team will be waking up with a renewed sense of hope on Monday morning as they watched their team implement a solid gameplan almost to perfection in the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca.

Sure, Mexico was missing several key players, had one eye on the upcoming Confederations Cup and already has more than one foot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but it also shuffled its pack marvelously, and bravely, to come away from Mexico City with a valuable point.

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U.S. Soccer got plenty of stick for firing Jurgen Klinsmann back in November 2016 after two defeats to open World Cup qualifying and then going for a blast from the past in Bruce Arena to guide them to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Despite all the critics (in truth, hiring Arena always seemed like the only real option) this is all working remarkably well and much quicker than expected.

Arena, 65, used all of his experience to navigate two World Cup qualifiers in four days at altitude and the length to which he went to make sure this happened smoothly is remarkable.

Players revealed after the game that Arena planned this out three weeks ago when they first met up ahead of the qualifiers. He had two separate teams training in different formations in order to get at least four points from the two qualifiers.

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Arena himself, as he tends to do, kept things simple when speaking after the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca, just the third time the U.S. had got something from their travels to Mexico City in World Cup qualifying.

“We told the team on day one of this camp that we would play that way in this game,” Arena said. “We call the formation a 3-4-3 or a 5-2-1-2, or whatever you want to call it. As long as it adds up to 10, we’re good.”

Arena may have made it sound simple, but it was far from that.

Many threw their hands up in the air when Arena was appointed, stating that the USMNT had gone backwards. But was the past really that bad? After all, Arena had led the U.S. to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002. We all know what happened in 2006 but this current U.S. squad was better than any other.

This is not so much about Arena’s superior game management as it is about Klinsmann’s tactical ineptitude. On a big-picture level Klinsmann did plenty of good for U.S. Soccer as a Technical Director. You can already see that with the youth national teams in recent months and the likes of Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks becoming regulars for the U.S. national team.

But what Klinsmann always lacked is what Arena is great at: organization for individual games and man-management.

USMNT center back Omar Gonzalez spoke of the difference between Klinsmann and Arena following the draw on Sunday night. He revealed that he and others knew for weeks that they would be playing in a three-man central defense, rather than at the last minute under Klinsmann for the home qualifier against Mexico in Columbus back in November.

“I was relieved that I knew that early, for sure,” Gonzalez told Goal.com. “I’ve had three weeks to prepare for this game. It’s just a different environment, and a different mentality you can take when you know three weeks out when you’re going to play, how you’re going to prepare. Sometimes with Jurgen you wouldn’t know until the day of the game. It’s just stressful, so with Bruce here taking that kind of approach here, it’s been helping out a lot…

“Bruce is very open, clear with players, straightforward. I like that approach and it’s been great so far. We’ve turned things around since November. Now we’re in third place (in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying) and I couldn’t be happier.”

Now, we will always be reminded of Klinsmann taking the German national team to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup on home soil but he had Joachim Low alongside him. In the nicest way possible Klinsmann was a figurehead, a cheerleader who galvanized the players and staff, but now we all know Low was responsible for the key tactical decisions and he has shown that in the past 11 years in charge of Germany.

Klinsmann helped set up the system for the young German players to thrive in which the likes of Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller soon benefited from. And you could argue the U.S. needed Klinsmann to put a similar rubric in place. You can also argue that having him in charge of the USMNT never really worked and he failed to get the best out of the most talented pool of players the U.S. has ever had.

Just over six months in, Arena is already doing that. Eight points from four World Cup qualifiers points to that, but the main positive is that Arena has the backing of this squad and everyone believes in what he’s doing. He is old school and is keeping it simple.

Of course, there was a certain staleness towards the end of the Klinsmann era. That’s inevitable after six years at the helm and there is usually a short-term boost when a new manager comes in. Arena’s second-coming as U.S. boss feels like he is the right man at the right time.

Looking back at Klinsmann’s reign one final time, there were major ups and downs throughout and he could never get to grips with the ever-changing American soccer landscape. Arena is an old hand at handling that. Under Klinsmann friendly wins against Italy, Germany and Holland, plus the Copa America Centenario run and reaching the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup were scattered among a Gold Cup debacle and humiliating defeats to CONCACAF rivals.

It was probably in doubt before the past week, but now it is clear U.S. Soccer pulled the plug on Klinsmann at the right time.

They could’ve done it sooner but they were all-in on Klinsmann and only inept defeats which showcased a lack of detailed preparation could be the signal for his increasingly inevitable departure. That arrived in November and U.S. Soccer acted swiftly to appoint Arena. He may too have struggled against Mexico and Costa Rica last fall, but what we we have seen across Arena’s seven unbeaten games is exactly why Sunil Gulati and Co. made the change.

The Brooklyn native is brash and bold and not everyone’s cup of tea, but my word he’s getting the job done, once again, for the U.S.

With four qualifiers to go there is still plenty of work to do but after the home game against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 and then the trip to Honduras four days later the U.S. will have a strong idea if they’re going to qualify for the 2018 World Cup automatically.

Arena’s job will be complete if that is the case and anything next summer in Russia is a bonus. That’s a good mindset to have as the USMNT looked rejuvenated and refocused under an experienced coach who is surely the best the U.S. has ever produced.

Watch Live: Swansea host Manchester United

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Swansea City welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s side aiming to stay top of the Premier League table.

[ STREAM: Swansea v. Man United ]

Yes, it’s early days, but the Red Devils were imperious in their thumping 4-0 win against West Ham United to open their season. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic dominated and Mourinho’s men are now a powerful, well-oiled machine.

As for Swansea, they struggled at Southampton but came away with a draw, however the main storyline surrounding the South Wales side this week has been losing Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for over $60 million. Paul Clement will have to act fast to spend that cash wisely, but there is no doubt the Swans will miss their Icelandic playmaker.

In team news Swansea bring in Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa as they line up in a 3-5-2 formation with Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham up top.

Man United are, unsurprisingly, unchanged.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Fernandez, Bartley, Mawson; Naughton, Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Olsson; Ayew, Abraham. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, van der Hoorn, Fulton, Narsingh, Routledge, McBurnie.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Smalling, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Martial

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.