Arsenal FC

David Luiz is already Arsenal’s lovable new leader

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David Luiz is a lover.

He’s a man who enjoys the beautiful things in life and exploring all that the world has to offer. In the same way he marauds all over the pitch, Luiz is just as adventurous taking in new surroundings.

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The way he plays reflects his personality. Courageous, full of energy and a little unpredictable. Chatting with him is both enjoyable and full of surprises.

Ahead of their trip to Sheffield United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) his attitude is very much: ‘Why not me? Why not us? Let’s do this!’

Over the international break Luiz, 32, traveled with his fiancee and mom to Rwanda, in partnership with Arsenal’s sponsor Visit Rwanda, as he visited the African country which has transformed itself over the past 25 years after it was torn apart by genocide in 1994.

Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Luiz was humbled as he paid his respects to the victims of the genocide against the Tutsi. He was in a reflective mood as he discussed the work Rwanda has done to get to this stage.

“After 25 years you can see how things have improved and how people have love for their country and you can feel love from the people,” Luiz said of Rwanda’s rebuild. “I am in love with this country and I will recommend Rwanda to all of my friends to take a trip, and I’m going to be here again, for sure.”

Luiz is a people person. There’s no other way to put it.

From leading celebrations with teammates during and after games, to sticking his head out of his car window as he drives through London to sign autographs and pose for photos, he just loves life.

“I feel a connection because I’m a guy who likes to feel a connection from the people. They are so friendly, they respect you and the way they look at you, they want you to feel at home,” Luiz said of his trip around Rwanda.

During his time in the African country he also visited Volcanoes National Park and planted new indigenous trees as he was mesmerized by its beauty.

The boy from Brazil had never stepped foot in a jungle before, and he and his family got the chance to meet the endangered Mountain Gorillas up close in their natural habitat after a long trek through Rwanda’s jungles.

“I am Brazilian, but I never had the opportunity to walk in a real jungle!” Luiz said. “To see the gorillas so near with my family and experience the wildlife, the culture and do something completely different. It was amazing to see all of the gorillas with their babies, their families. It was incredible. For me it has been an emotional trip in a positive way.”

Luiz is an emotional, thoughtful person and his passion for not just football but life shines through when you chat to him. He has a keen interest in helping the environment in any way he can and wants to leave behind a better world.

His summer arrival at Arsenal raised plenty of eyebrows and he has always been a bit of a wildcard, but his experience was supposed to gel the defensive unit together. It was a big deal for him to leave Chelsea, where he was expected to be a key player under Frank Lampard, but he is certainly glad he swapped London giants.

“I really love the spirit of the club. Everyone loves the club and loves to work at this club. I love people,” Luiz explained. “To see everyone who works in the kitchen, everyone who works on the pitch, they are all in love with the club. This is amazing because this is what I enjoy and I enjoy to be with these kind of people.”

The people at Arsenal aside, have the Gunners got the players to improve things defensively and finish back in the top four after a three-season hiatus?

Luiz bristles a little when asked if Arsenal can improve enough defensively to finish in the top four this season.

“We talk about this with every single club. Arsenal is no different,” Luiz said. “I think Unai is working very well with the plan to defend and then the plan to attack. I always say, defending starts with the strikers and through the whole team, and you can see with modern football that the goalkeeper is now like a No. 6. We are going to try and improve, we are already doing well and the last few games have showed that we are stronger in a defensive way. I want this club to improve in every part of the game.”

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Luiz’s game has evolved over the years. His marauding runs from center back aren’t as often as they once were but that doesn’t mean his swashbuckling style has disappeared forever.

We have already seen Luiz take chances on the ball and bring his Brazilian flair to Arsenal’s defense, especially on the ball with goalkeeper Bernd Leno. Is Luiz, the oldest player in Arsenal’s squad, going to change his game now?

“It is the same. But this year my game depends on the team. I have to be someone who can adapt in a quality way, especially because I am a specialty player,” Luiz said. “You have to feel the moment. We need to play games, we need to win trophies. Everything was good where I was at clubs winning titles, so I can’t think in a different way. I want to win titles with Arsenal. I want to improve and adapt myself for the style of Arsenal, as a club and how the manager wants us to play. I think we can do that together.”

Luiz has settled in very quickly at Arsenal.

He is popular with his teammates and  scored the winning goal last time out in the Premier League, a deft header as the Gunners edged past Bournemouth 1-0.

“I’ve had a good relationship with players at all of the clubs, big clubs, I’ve been at during my career. I’m trying to do what I’ve done everywhere. I am working hard to improve myself and the team to have the ambition to win titles. I think this club deserves to shine again,” Luiz said. “We have an amazing team, amazing coaching staff, I think we can have this ambition and this as a goal. And then to achieve these kind of things you need to work hard.”

The hard work never stops for Luiz. He comes across as a professional, humble man, even if his lively demeanor on the pitch and off it can be misconstrued as overconfidence.

When asked if Arsenal can win the Premier League title this season, Luiz’s tone changed from being the fun-loving, mercurial defender we all know to being all business.

The man who has won the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, Europa League (twice), three FA Cups and  French and Portuguese league titles wants more silverware.

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He wants it with Arsenal and after starring in Chelsea’s surprise title win in 2016-17 under Antonio Conte, could he help the Gunners pull off an even bigger shock to launch a title push as extreme darkhorses this season?

“For me, if you start something, and we’ve just started the Premier League and all of the competitions, if you don’t think you can win the competition then you won’t start anything in your life,” Luiz said in a defiant manner. “The ambition has to be there, the dream has to be there. Also, you have to be humble and have the humility to understand how you can achieve this kind of thing. This is what you have to do every single day. To understand the plan, to work hard and understand that if you have the opportunity you have to give your best. After that, if you don’t achieve you have to understand why you didn’t achieve these kind of goals. But my vision, my ambition and my will is always to fight for the title. And between the club, the players and the coach, we have the possibility to fight for the title.”

Luiz is a many of many layers. He can be the joker, the thinker and the ultimate professional. All at the same time.

Arsenal will need him to be all of the above, and to be at his best on the pitch, if they’re going to seriously challenge Liverpool and Man City for the title this season. That may not happen, but with Chelsea, Man United and Tottenham all in transition, the Gunners all of a sudden seem to have the edge in the top four battle.

Luiz is up for the challenge and his distinguished career proves he will often prove you wrong and surprise you at the same time.

Just like in Rwanda, Luiz is eager to be a big part of the process and help the development and progress of Arsenal’s youngsters any way he can as they currently sit in third.

“I think we’ve started really well and we just lost one game in the Premier League. I think the team is improving and now we are in third in the table but we want to finish this season fighting for the title,” Luiz said. “This is our goal. I’m trying to my best for the team and for every single player and I’m so happy to be here with all of the talent we have in the club.

“Myself, as a senior play, I have over 600 games in my career, so I’m going to help the young players develop a lot and help the team… I think I’m continuing that role. I’ve been doing that the last few years already and to have the pleasure to do that. I’ve been doing that because it’s a pleasure and I like to see them enjoy improving and finding out the importance of how to play the game. I’ve played a lot of games in my career, and the only game I haven’t played in is the World Cup final, so I want to enjoy this as much as I can.”

Watching Luiz play is never boring, and Arsenal aren’t either.

In many ways this is a match made in heaven.

Champions League score predictions: Matchweek 6

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The sixth and final matchday of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage is here, and two of the four Premier League clubs needing to avoid defeat to go through.

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Fans of Liverpool and Chelsea will both be sweating ahead of their group stage finales.

Below we predict the scores for all 16 UCL games taking place over the next two days, with Tottenham heading to Bayern Munich able to rest players,  while reigning champions Liverpool head to Jesse March’s Salzburg needing a draw to advance but the hosts will go through with a win.

As for Chelsea, they host Lille needing a win to secure their route to the last 16 and a draw could be enough if Valencia lose to Ajax, while Man City travel to Dinamo Zagreb already confirmed as group winners.

Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg 3-5 Liverpool
Napoli 3-1 Genk

Group F
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Slavia Prague
Inter Milan 2-2 Barcelona

Group G
Lyon 2-1 Leipzig
Benfica 0-2 Zenit

Group H
Chelsea 1-1 Lille
Ajax 2-2 Valencia


Wednesday

Group A
PSG 3-0 Galatasaray
Club Brugge 1-2 Real Madrid

Group B
Bayern Munich 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Man City

Group D
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Juventus
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

MLS teams learn opponents for CCL last 16

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The draw for the last 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League took place late Monday and some intriguing clashes have been set up to kick off the knockout rounds.

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2019 Supporters’ Shield champs LAFC face Liga MX’s Club Leon, while NYCFC fave San Carlos from Costa Rica, 2019 MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders square off with Honduran side Olimpia, the Montreal Impact face Costa Rica’s Saprissa and Atlanta United also have Honduran opponents in Motagua.

Fans of MLS teams will not need reminding that Liga MX have dominated this competition, with a team from Mexico winning this competition each season since 2006.

Below is the schedule in full for the knockout rounds of the tournament, which begin in mid-February.


2020 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Leg 1: Feb. 18-20; Leg 2: Feb. 25-27. First team listed hosts Leg 2.

  1. Atlanta United (USA) vs. Motagua (HON)
  2. Club America (MEX) vs. Comunicaciones (GUA)
  3. Cruz Azul (MEX) vs. Portmore United (JAM)
  4. LAFC (USA) vs. Club Leon (MEX)
  5. Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Alianza (SLV)
  6. NYCFC (USA) vs. San Carlos (CRC)
  7. Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Olimpia (HON)
  8. Montreal Impact (CAN) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

Quarterfinals

Leg 1: March 10-12; Leg 2: March 17-19. Winner of odd-numbered Round of 16 game hosts Leg 2.

  • Winner 1 vs. Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs. Winner 4
  • Winner 5 vs. Winner 6
  • Winner 7 vs. Winner 8

Semifinals

Leg 1: Apr. 7-9; Leg 2: Apr. 14-16. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner 1/2 vs. Winner 3/4
  • Winner 5/6 vs. Winner 7/8

Final

Leg 1: April 28-30; Leg 2: May 5-7. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner SF1 vs. Winner SF2

Arsenal issue injury update

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Arsenal have issued an injury update on several players after their win at West Ham on Monday.

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Interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg will have an injury headache to sort out, especially at full back, as Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney were both injured before and during the 3-1 win at the London Stadium.

Bellerin felt his hamstring go in the warm up and the Spaniard was replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who performed well.

“Hector had a feeling in his hamstring during the warm-up and we took the decision. Not going to force anyone to play if they don’t feel 100%,” Ljungberg said. “It was a straight swap on that with Ainsley. Ainsley has been out in the cold a little bit but came in and did really well. I’m really proud of him.”

As for Tierney, who suffered a shoulder injury during the game, the prognosis on the Scottish left back doesn’t appear as positive as Bellerin.

“It’s something with his shoulder but I don’t know exactly what that is. We obviously had to take him off. He’s going to hospital to get it checked,” Ljungberg added.

The Gunners have enough defensive issues as it is without throwing a few injuries to arguably their best right and left backs.

Arsenal have plenty of walking wounded right now, as Rob Holding wasn’t in the squad to face West Ham due to a knee injury flaring up, while Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith-Rowe are still working their way back to full fitness.

Remarkably, Arsenal are just seven points off the top four given the firing of Unai Emery, their woeful defensive displays and their worst-ever start to a season.

Ljungberg’s boys host Man City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) which looks like being a straight shootout between two teams who can score at will but can’t keep them out at the other end.

The Gunners are great to watch for the neutrals, but these defensive injuries continue to hamper any recovery post-Emery.

Hyndman, Hamid seal permanent MLS deals

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Two players who have featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the past signed permanent MLS deals on Monday, after spending the all or parts of the 2019 MLS season on loan in the league.

The question is, should we be disappointed? It’s two USMNT-eligible players in their prime who are leaving Europe for regular playing time? Will that playing time get them back in the USMNT picture? Or were their old club teams simply the problem before?

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It was a return for Bill Hamid, who was a D.C. United homegrown player and arguably the first player on the team sheet between 2009-2017. Hamid actually returned from Europe in 2018 and spent all of the last year and a half on loan from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

Hyndman on the other hand signed a permanent deal with Atlanta United, after the former MLS Cup champions signed the 23-year-old midfielder on a loan deal from Bournemouth in the Premier League. It was Hyndman’s fourth club in four years – including three loan moves – and perhaps Atlanta is a place he can put down roots and stay for the long term.

Per both D.C. United and Atlanta United, both players signed multi-year deals. D.C. United reportedly even paid a transfer fee for Hamid.

Both players are solid to good players in MLS, and as Americans, they add quality and don’t cost a team an international spot. But for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s unclear how this could affect the pair.

On one hand, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference to certain players he had in the 2019 January camp, including guys like Nick Lima, Paul Arriola and Christian Roldan, even if performances don’t necessarily merit them playing each match. On the other hand, as someone who has played in Germany, and England, Berhalter surely understands the benefits of challenging yourself every few years to play and train at a higher level. It doesn’t have to be Jurgen Klinsmann levels, where every single year they have to step it up, but finding a new way to freshen things up in a tough environment can have positive benefits for everyone, assuming there is playing time.

For Hyndman, who moved to Fulham’s academy in 2011 at the age of 15, it marks the end of seven years in Europe trying to break in. He had decent half-season spells with Hibernian and Rangers in the Scottish Premier Division, but one can argue that Atlanta United is itself on a higher level of play. That being said, Hyndman has clearly decided that regular gametime is best for his development as a player than relocating to the Netherlands, Italy or Germany to play. He wasn’t likely to get any at Bournemouth, even with their current Premier League struggles.

In Hamid’s case, he took a chance on Europe with FC Midtjylland. However, pretty quickly he realized that it wasn’t the right situation for him and within six months, he was back on D.C. United on loan for the next year and a half.

In both cases, there may have been options to continue their European adventures. Whether it was in the Championship or another “mid-major” European league, in the past, two players entering their primes might have tried to stay in Europe a little longer. But the lure of MLS, with a decent salary, less competition for places and the opportunity to play at home in front of family is a strong one, and the national team will have to adjust with it.