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Premier League 2017-18 preview – Arsenal

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An intriguing season awaits Arsenal as they prepare for life outside of the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 21 years under Arsene Wenger.

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The Gunners finished fifth last season, which insinuated we were hurtling towards an impending apocalypse given their penchant to finish in the top four no matter what over Premier League history. It was a good run while it lasted but perhaps that prompted much-maligned American owner Stan Kroenke to sanction the club-record deal for French striker Alexandre Lacazette over the summer.

[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub

Historically Arsenal are London’s most successful club with 29 major trophies (including 13 league titles) and despite the disdain towards Wenger over the past few seasons they continue to collect silverware, winning three of the last four FA Cups, including last season as they stopped Chelsea from clinching the double at Wembley in May.

With their north London rivals Tottenham finishing above them for the first time in over two decades, many are suggesting a power shift is occurring as Spurs’ young squad get ready to kick on in their new stadium next season. Arsenal know another season outside the top four would be a disaster.

Best, worst case scenario: They will finish in the top four because, well, it’s Arsenal (last year was a blip, they’ll tell you), but they are in real danger of finishing outside the top six due to the Europa League and the situation surrounding Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. 

Best possible XI is…


—– Cech —–

— Mustafi — Koscielny — Monreal —

—- Bellerin —- Xhaka —- Ramsey —- Chamberlain —-

—– Ozil —– Sanchez —–

—– Lacazette —–


Transfers In: Alexandre Lacazette ($62.3 million, Lyon), Sead Kolasnac (Free, Schalke 04)

Transfers Out: Wojciech Szczesny ($13.2 million, Juventus), Yaya Sanogo (Free, Toulouse), Kaylen Hinds ($3.3 million, Wolfsburg), Daniel Crowley (Free, Willem II), Chris Willock (Free, Benfica), Glen Kamara ($662,000, Dundee)

Last season
5th place in Premier League
Round of 16 in UEFA Champions League
Quarterfinals of EFL Cup
Winners of 2016-17 FA Cup

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Star player: Alexis Sanchez – The Chilean superstar is the obvious standout player for the Gunners, but with just 12 months left on his contract and both Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City circling, will he be at the Emirates Stadium when the transfer window slams shut on Aug. 31? Sanchez, 28, was Arsenal’s top scorer last season with 24 goals and 10 assists in PL player and 30 goals overall. The longest this saga drags on, the more likely he, and Ozil, are likely to leave. Wenger doesn’t believe he will be playing anywhere else this season, so will Sanchez leave for free next summer? So many questions, but something which can’t be discussed is how important he is to Arsenal. Despite a club-record deal for Lacazette this summer, Sanchez is still the main man. Period. 

Coaches’ Corner: What more can we say about Arsene Wenger? He signed a new two-year deal with the Gunners early in the summer after leading them to FA Cup glory and the Frenchman, 67, is now heading into his 22nd season in charge of Arsenal. He knows he will have to balance his squad expertly in the opening months of the campaign with the test of the Europa League to come, but after seeing a 3-4-3 formation work splendidly well at the end of last season, maybe, just maybe, the Gunners are flying somewhat under the radar and will challenge for the title this season. Has the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade been silenced for at least a few months? He needs a strong start and for Lacazette to score plenty of goals, but this Arsenal squad is stacked in every position. If he can convince Ozil and Sanchez to stay the Gunners can seriously challenge for the title.

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PST predicts: Arsenal’s biggest challenge this season will be squad rotation but such is the size and strength of their roster they could play almost two different teams in the PL and the Europa League group stages and expect to do well in both in the first half of the campaign. All of their rivals have strengthened but with a strong finish to last season there is hope the Gunners will be back among the top four. PST believes that will be the case, plus they’ll make a deep run to at least the Europa League last eight. And oh yeah, they’ll probably win the FA Cup again too.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham