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How Arsenal can launch a Premier League title bid

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The title is tricky. Surely some would see words flipped to read, “How can Arsenal launch a Premier League title bid?” but we digress.

It’s seemingly easy to be critical of Arsenal in years past, as Arsene Wenger has a knack for explaining away perceived failures in the transfer market and Top Four laurels have felt the full weight of 13 years worth of rest.

This season, however, there’s reason to be optimistic about Arsenal from Day One. Wenger’s survived a solid 25 weeks of “Will he or won’t he?” that felt about as long as Ross and Rachel or whatever other sitcom love connection you want to reference?

[ MORE: Premier League summer transfers, so far ]

Remember when Chandler flew a plane with the “Ross Out” banner over the coffee shop or whatever? That was the awesome.

Anyway, Wenger went ahead and bought a world-class striker in the form of Alexandre Lacazette and a beast of a back in Sead Kolasinac, both who did their best to appear the real deal in Arsenal’s win over Chelsea in Sunday’s Community Shield battle at Wembley.

Consider that the Gunners’ ill-fated season last season saw injuries, constant turmoil regarding Wenger’s future, and the twin Alexis Sanchez/Mesut Ozil contract conversations that felt about as persistently annoying as their boss’ destiny.

The point is that the drama is almost certainly going to be lower, and the competition a bit easier. But it’s the UEFA Europa League that’s going to be the main obstacle in Arsenal’s hopes of reclaiming a Premier League title. Put plainly: Premier League teams entering at the group stage rarely bow out of the competition early.

Southampton was bounced last year, the first PL side to fail to advance in some time, and still nearly made it out of the group stages of the Europa League last season despite not finding their form in the competition. Manchester United advanced, as did Liverpool and Spurs the previous season, and Spurs and Everton the year before that. Swansea’s done it, Newcastle, too.

[ MORE: Predicted XIs for all 20 PL clubs ]

Point is: Southampton is very much an outlier, and Arsenal will likely be contending with the Europa League well into the winter. With the Round of 32 being played in February — and let’s face it: once you’re six wins from something shiny and an automatic UCL slot, the fight will go on — Arsenal’s depth is going to be tested again this season.

So first and foremost the Gunners are probably — and this is not one for the advanced stats crowd — Arsenal is going to have to be a bit lucky with injuries. It’s best XI looks pretty dynamite, and putting Lacazette up top to feast off the spoils of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is going to lead to some wins even if the Gunners’ back line completely spits up on its collective tight red shirt.

The keys for Arsenal’s hopes of a title bid?

— A return to form for Hector Bellerin.

— Less moments of mayhem from Granit Xhaka.

— A quick adjustment to the league for Lacazette (He’ll figure it out, but how fast?).

— Resolution one way or another on Ozil and Sanchez’s future.

— Be near the top by February, when the PL fixtures read: home Everton, at Spurs, home Man City. Then hold serve at home, and ride the energy of one of the league’s best derbies.

It’s a long shot to say Arsenal will contend for the crown, but Wenger is a good manager and I was asked whether it’s possible, not probable. Several scenarios exist that put Arsenal into the conversation. While the class of the league seems to be Chelsea, Man City, and Manchester United, ruling out the Gunners seems foolish when it’s reasonable to think the chips could fall their way.

Jurgen Klopp hails “perfect day” for Liverpool

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Jurgen Klopp has had far from an ideal week but his Liverpool side ruthlessly dispatched Southampton at Anfield to end it on a high note.

[ MORE: Liverpool batter Saints ]

Klopp was sent to hospital earlier this week when he felt unwell but the German coach was given a big boost as Mohamed Salah scored twice in the first half, which included a stunning opener, and Philippe Coutinho finished Saints off in the second half as the Reds eased to victory and stayed in touch with the chasing pack behind runaway leaders Manchester City.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Klopp was happy with what he saw from his side after he was fit enough to be on the bench on Saturday.

“Difficult game, Southampton are a really good football side. It was an open game, we had more chances before we scored. We need to be patient in a lively way,” Klopp said. “The first goal, wow, I have nothing to do with the goal and the second was a fantastic pass and Mo Salah makes great runs. We could have scored more often but it was a perfect day for us.”

Klopp, 50, sees his side just three points off second place after 12 games of the Premier League season, while his side remain firm favorites to qualify for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

So far, so good.

Yes, Man City will take some catching (and a collapse of their own) but Liverpool’s aim should be to secure a second-straight top four finish and go from there.

With Sadio Mane, Salah, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in the form they showed on Saturday, plus a fifth clean sheet in six PL games this season at Anfield, the defensive woes Klopp’s team have faced away from home this season aren’t troubling them at home.

Next up is Chelsea at home for Liverpool, which will be a supreme test of their newfound defensive solidity at home. Their results against title contenders this season have been up and down with a draw against Manchester United, hammerings at Tottenham and Man City and a thrashing of Arsenal at home.

Liverpool’s clash against top four rivals Chelsea is followed by five winnable games before they travel to Arsenal on Dec. 22.

Between now and then we will see if Liverpool’s season will amount to more than just a top four challenge. Saturday’s shellacking of a lackluster Southampton may have been “perfect” but a much tougher test awaits next week against a rejuvenated Chelsea side who have Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard purring in attack

Can Liverpool’s oft-fragile defense cope? We are about to find out.

Burnley’s Barnes: “Can we finish the season now?”

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Ashley Barnes broke his season duck in classy fashion, scoring and adding an assist as Burnley stayed in the thick of the race for Europe with a 2-0 win over Swansea City at Turf Moor on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Burnley 2-0 Swans ]

The win shouldn’t be a surprise, as Burnley is humming in style. The Clarets entered the day with a win at Chelsea and draws at Liverpool and Spurs, so why would a visit from Swansea lead to anything than three points.

It’s dream world, really.

From the BBC:

“We’re on a fantastic run. We’re working hard every day and today we were different class.

“Can we finish the season now? No, I’m kidding. there’s still a long way to go and we need to pick up as many points as possible.”

Every win makes more and more believers of the Burnley Football Club. Perhaps more important to the Clarets, each win makes it less likely that Sean Dyche will leave the club for a better gig (Everton), at least right now.

Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton: Toffees battle back for point

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  • Eagles took lead through McArthur, Zaha
  • Baines, Niasse equalized
  • Palace remain bottom of PL table

Crystal Palace and Everton played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

The Eagles twice took the lead in a wild first half with James McArthur giving Palace the lead less than a minute in but Leighton Baines soon equalized from the penalty spot. Wilfried Zaha made it 2-1 but Oumar Niasse equalized right on half time and it finished 2-2 after a tense second half.

With the point Palace stay bottom of the table on five points, while Everton are in 16th place on 12 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

A rapid start to the game saw Palace take the lead with just 51 seconds on the clock.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek‘s shot was saved by Jordan Pickford but McArthur was on hand to tap home and give the Eagles an early lead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Soon after Everton were level as Oumar Niasse went down under Scott Dann‘s challenge in the box and Baines smashed home the spot kick. 1-1 with less than seven minutes in.

10 minutes before half time Palace retook the lead as Joel Ward’s cross found Zaha and his flick beat Pickford to make it 2-1. Just when it looked like Palace would lead at half time, Everton leveled.

Julian Speroni had a howler as he gave the ball straight to Idrissa Gana Gueye who played it to Gylfi Sigurdsson who put it on a plate for Niasse to make it 2-2. The Senegalese forward came so close to joining Palace on Transfer Deadline Day back in the summer and came back to haunt them.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

A tense second half saw plenty of players booked in the rain in south London as Palace pushed hard for the winner with Loftus-Cheek going close but Everton’s defense held firm.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Late on Christian Benteke, on his long-awaited return from injury, also went close for Palace but the game ended even at Selhurst.

WATCH LIVE: Manchester United vs. Newcastle United

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Paul Pogba returns for Manchester United, who welcomes Newcastle United to Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic makes the bench for the Red Devils, which also has Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard as options.

Rafa Benitez will look to best his old nemesis with Dwight Gayle and Joselu up top.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Young, Matic, Pogba, Mata, Rashford, Martial, Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Rojo, Shaw, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Ibrahimovic.

Newcastle United: Elliot; Yedlin, Lejeune, Clark, Manquillo; Ritchie, Hayden, Shelvey, Murphy; Gayle, Joselu. Subs: Darlow, Gamez, Mbemba, Diame, Aarons, Perez, Mitrovic.