Christian Benteke

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Gunners rampant

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  • Arsenal have scored in all 18 home league games against Palace, totaling 43 goals – an average of 2.38 per game.
  • The Gunners grabbed their first win in six across all competitions
  • Palace haven’t won away in the PL at Arsenal since October 1994

Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday after a stunning start to the game.

The Gunners were 4-0 up after just 22 minutes with Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all on the scoresheet.

Palace grabbed a goal back via Luka Milivojevic late on but the damage was done early on as Arsene Wenger‘s side reminded their doubters just what they’re capable of, even with Alexis Sanchez heading out of the door to Manchester United as he wasn’t involved on Saturday.

With the win Arsenal remain in fifth place on 42 points and are five points off the top four, while Palace remain on 25 place and drop to 13th place.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal went ahead early as Granit Xhaka‘s corner found Monreal at the back post and the Spanish defender marked his return to the team with a fine header. 1-0.

Soon it was 2-0 as Monreal was played in down the left following some slick passing from Arsenal saw the Spaniard cross for Iwobi to tap home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The goals kept coming for Arsenal early on with Monreal involved yet again as a ball to the back post found him unmarked and his cutback was bundled home by Koscielny to make it 3-0.

Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere were then involved in a fine team goal as they set up Laceztte to finish and make it 4-0 with less than 23 minutes on the clock.

Monreal was subbed out before half time after suffering a reaction to his recent injury, while Palace almost pulled a goal back just before half time but Wilfried Zaha‘s shot was tipped wide by Petr Cech.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

Palace improved in the second half and could have had a penalty kick with Zaha going down in the box under a challenge from Mohamed Elneny but nothing was given.

Arsenal had a decent chance as Ozil set up Iwobi but the latter had his shot saved well by Wayne Hennessey.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

At the other end Cech kept out Christian Benteke with a great save but he couldn’t keep Palace out. Benteke’s header across goal found Milivojevic and he chested the ball before firing home on the turn. A fine consolation goal for the Eagles.

It’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button

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John Cross of the Mirror wrote yesterday that this is the worst Arsenal team in 20 years. He’s right, and that means it’s time to blow the squad up.

Sitting in 6th and coming off an embarrassing 2-1 loss at 13th placed Bourneouth, there is no quick fix to return this club to Champions League caliber, having slowly emaciated through years of poor transfer policy and miserable contract management.

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and even Jack Wilshere could all potentially leave this summer for zero return, the loss of prime talent at the height of its monetary value. Even if Sanchez does leave this January, which looks likely, he’ll leave for a cut-rate price.

In recent years, Arsenal has failed to prepare for the stark decline of defensive stalwarts Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, left with Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, and occasionally an out of position Nacho Monreal at the back. In Holding’s five Premier League starts this season, Arsenal has conceded 11 goals; Chambers has started the last four games, with just one win and seven goals conceded.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

It doesn’t end there. With Francis Coquelin failing to live up to his sky-high potential shown early in his career, the Gunners brought in Granit Xhaka, who has been utterly useless, succeeding more at reducing his side to 10 men than he has in providing defensive cover or possessional strength. The 25-year-old Swiss is rated the 21st-best midfielder in the Premier League this season according to Squawka’s player ratings, behind guys like West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucore.

Hector Bellerin has declined for two seasons straight. Petr Cech looks all of his 35 years old, leaving fans longing for Wojciech Szczesny, who has performed his backup duties to Gianluigi Buffon to perfection (six goals conceded in 10 Serie A appearances). Lucas Perez lasted one season before being shipped out on loan. Mohamed Elneny can’t even beat out Xhaka for a starting spot. Gabriel Paulista was a flop; Mathieu Debuchy too.

The miserable squad makeup has forced youth products Alex Iwobi, Chuba Akpom, Yaya Sanogo, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles into spot starts over the last few years, with none of the above able to grab a foothold among Premier League competition.

Meanwhile, on the outgoing side, the club has sold players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has been revived under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. They let Szczesny leave for Italy. Even back to the Robin Van Persie sale in the summer of 2012, they handed a top talent to a Premier League rival where he won a title. Arsenal hasn’t broken its record sale since shipping Marc Overmars to Barcelona in 2000 for $49 million, proving they can’t cash in on top talent when necessary. Allowing Alexis Sanchez to leave for pennies on the dollar (if anything) is a disaster of epic proportions, but not the first – they held onto players like Lukas Podolski too long, eventually saying goodbye far past peak value for little return.

And so, the Gunners have no other option. They must completely blow up the squad and start over. It will take some time, it will take heavy investment given the lack of assets at the club, and it might take a painful season or two. But it is what must be done. They only need to look north to Anfield to get a solid blueprint of what a top club grinding out a successful rebuild looks like.

Liverpool was in the same situation in 2015. The squad was aging, the transfer policy was poor, and aside from a 2nd place finish the year before which masked some of the problems plaguing the club, they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League since 2010. So, Fenway Sports Group blew the whole thing up. They sold Raheem Sterling, who would take years to finally blossom under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, for top dollar. They saw Steven Gerrard, Luis Enrique, and Pepe Reina out. They got rid of failures like Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic. They used money from the painful but necessary sale of Luis Suarez to bring in Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. They swung and missed on Christian Benteke, but righted that wrong quickly and got most of their money back. They brought in a veteran grinder in James Milner on a free. Eventually, smart money was spent on Emre Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah, and they found a gem in Philippe Coutinho for just $16 million.

The key however, through all that, was the home run hire of Jurgen Klopp, who has had plenty of growing pains in the Premier League, but is the perfect manager for a rebuild. A loyal and enigmatic character who grooms young players brilliantly, Klopp has mixed cheap veterans with promising youngsters with amazing touch, and can tactically mask squad weaknesses with the best of them. The Reds still have a ways to go as they slowly climb the ladder to perennial Champions League contender, still sporting massive holes at defense and goalkeeper, but shrewd decision-making at the top now has Liverpool with the resources to patch holes while still allowing the stars of the squad to shine.

No rebuild is perfect, and no rebuild is without pain and mistakes, but it is preferable to the alternative in the long-run. Manchester United has been able to avoid a full-on squad nuke when left in a similar position after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, but only because of near-unlimited resources and the hiring of managers who mask deficiencies with short-term band-aids such as negative tactics which infuriate supporters and yet fail to achieve the heights the club once reached on a regular basis.

It’s clear that Arsenal must follow Liverpool’s example and sacrifice a few battles to win the war. The first step is letting go of Arsene Wenger and finding someone to lead them through the muck and still be there on the other side. While Carlo Ancelotti would be a big-name get, he wouldn’t fit a long-term plan as snug as someone like Diego Simeone.

The next step – which is no cake walk – would be to retool the squad without many assets of value on hand. Players like Jack Wilshere must be retained, while recent transfers Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac have shown enough promise and work rate to build around. The rest are expendable, and departures are required to both raise funds and provide turnover. Aaron Ramsey would be a rare example of someone who could net a solid return while also proving replaceable, as would Hector Bellerin at just 22 years old. Expired has-beens over 30 in Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Debuchy are all immediately out the door despite minimal return, while keeping Olivier Giroud and Nacho Monreal would provide valuable veteran leaders who can still produce on the field.

These aren’t all the answers, and it can’t all be done at once, but it’s a starting point. As is, the Gunners are slowly bleeding out, and instead of layers and layers of gauze, upper management should invest in wide-scale surgery for the long-term health of the club.

Crystal Palace 1-0 Burnley: Eagles continue to soar

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  • Palace have lost just one of their last 12 PL games
  • Burnley without a win in seven in all competitions
  • Sako scores for second-straight game

Crystal Palace beat Burnley 1-0 at Selhurst Park on Saturday with Bakary Sako grabbing the only goal of the game.

The Eagles impressed throughout and a combination of brave Burnley defending and slack finishing kept Roy Hodgson‘s men from winning by a more comfortable margin.

With the win Palace move up to 12th in the table on 25 points, while Burnley’s alarming run of form under Sean Dyche continues but they remain in seventh place on 34 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Palace should have had a penalty kick early in the game as Sako was scythed down in the box by James Tarkowski but Michael Oliver failed to award a penalty pick.

Sako made sure Palace took the lead soon after as he cut in from the left and drilled a low shot across Nick Pope and in. 1-0 to Palace.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The Eagles could have been 2-0 up soon after as Wilfried Zaha nipped in front of Pope, poked the ball towards goal but Ben Mee cleared heroically with James McArthur waiting to tap home.

Before the break Christian Benteke towered above Burnley’s defense but his header was off target from the center of the box.

At the other end Sam Vokes put a header just wide, while Wayne Hennessey was forced into a good save from Ashley Barnes as Burnley tried to get an equalizer but Sako volleyed inches wide for Palace.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ] 

Barnes nodded just wide early in the second half as Burnley improved after the break, with Vokes then heading into the side-netting.

Charlie Taylor blocked a Wilfried Zaha shot brilliantly at the other end as the game became a feisty encounter in the latter stages.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Palace held on for the win in comfortable fashion as their home fans celebrated yet another win at the final whistle. The Eagles are soaring up the PL table.

Liverpool played the Coutinho game perfectly

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Buy for $15 million, sell for (a possible) $192 million. Barcelona has won the Philippe Coutinho sweepstakes, but so has Liverpool.

The Reds got all they could out of the Brazilian midfield star, and when they could not get any more, they cashed in at the highest possible value. Last week’s sale of Coutinho to Barcelona was the best possible result for the Merseyside club, one still looking to regain its footing as a top challenger in the Premier League.

There was no keeping Coutinho forever. He was always going to leave, ever since he came closer than many thought over the summer. Nay, instead, they cashed in on a peak 2016/17 season where Coutinho was arguably the best player in the Premier League, a sell-high proposition that only the most wealthy of clubs would have been able to pass up.

[ MORE: Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang set for move to China ]

Coutinho is an unbelievable player, and Liverpool will surely be the worse for wear without his brilliance on the ball or magic from set-pieces. It may even cost Liverpool a top four place this season, as holding off Tottenham and Arsenal without the club’s best creator will be a daunting task. However, every player has his price, and Liverpool surely exceeded Coutinho’s.

It all becomes clear when looking at the numbers.

The biggest difference between Coutinho’s 2016/17 brilliance and this half-season appears to be his shot-selection, which has declined considerably. Last season, Coutinho took a total of 106 shots in Premier League play, with 40 of those coming inside the penalty area ((38%). The combined xG per shot for Coutinho through last season was about 0.09. We know Coutinho is not a pure goalscorer first and foremost, and those paltry numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone given his style of play and his ability to score fabulous goals from great distance. Nevertheless, giving up possession in the hopes of scoring a wonder-goal is a negative aspect of Coutinho’s play, and that has done nothing but get worse this season.

This year, through half a season, Coutinho has taken just 14 of his 54 shots (26%) from inside the penalty area, for a total xG per shot of 0.06. That paltry number has gone down even further, despite the benefit of a better attacking side around him that has helped increase his key passes per 90 minutes by nearly three quarters of a point.

While this is just one small aspect of Coutinho’s game, it suggests that Liverpool have sold high on a player who, while brilliant, may have maxed out his play while in the Premier League. It would be foolish to say Coutinho’s 2016/17 season was a fluke, or even an outlier, but it was likely above the mean for his ability.

What Liverpool must now do is bank that $192 million and reinvest it properly, and there’s no reason to suggest they can’t.

Liverpool has already added Mohammed Salah this past offseason, a brilliant arrival that is almost certainly the signing of the season already. Sadio Mane, an addition last summer, has brought a cutting edge to the attack. Roberto Firmino was expensive, but worth it. Heck, they even bought Coutinho from Inter in January 2013 for pennies on the dollar (which is becoming a VERY bad look for the Italian side).

However, like any top club, they’ve also missed a few. The $33 million spent on Georginio Wijnaldum at this point appears to be a miss, although he’s settled into more of a starting role of late suggesting things could turn around. Christian Benteke was a disaster, although they managed to con Crystal Palace into giving them a hefty chunk of it back. Lazar Markovic was a waste. This is normal, and Liverpool has done well to mitigate the failures in the transfer market while highlighting the successes.

There’s plenty of pressure on the Reds to finish the job and reinvest properly. They need to replace the Brazilian (Christian Pulisic, not Riyad Mahrez) while also improving at the back (Virgil Van Dijk hopefully plugs a big hole there) and filling a need at goalkeeper (Samir Handanovic, anyone?). Despite that, all the signs point to a bright future for Liverpool, and this massive influx of cash could be the turning point that gets them over the hump to returning as a perennial Champions League contender, even if it costs them a top four spot this season.

Transfer needs for all 20 Premier League clubs

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Everyone could use a Harry Kane or N'Golo Kante, so we’ll try to avoid saying each side could improve at center midfield or striker unless it’s almost absolutely the *case.

[ ARSENAL-CHELSEA: 4 things | Player ratings ]

*Pretty much everyone really could use a striker. Apologies in advance.

Arsenal

Jack Wilshere‘s return to form and fitness helps their center midfield, but Arsene Wenger seemingly hasn’t found his answer in the middle of the park whether the addition of Mohamed Elneny in the past or Granit Xhaka this season. Laurent Koscielny‘s surprising recent struggles also show just how few answers the club has behind him at center back.

Bournemouth

Need to find that leading scorer either Jermain Defoe or Joshua King was supposed to be, or find the playmaker who puts them in position to start burying goals again.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Offensive players of any kind, as the league’s worst offense has allowed teams to focus on Pascal Gross.

Burnley

A versatile midfielder who can play centrally or on the left would solve multiple problems. Center back insurance would help, too.

Chelsea

Cheekily, we’d suggest bringing some of its many stars back from loan, as Kurt Zouma (Stoke) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Palace) have been mighty influential at their clubs. It’s more about personage than positions with Chelsea, as Alex Sandro of Juventus has been mentioned often. Will Ross Barkley change his mind about the Blues, or vice versa?

Crystal Palace

Still need an answer at striker behind Christian Benteke and Bakary Sako, and the injuries to Scott Dann and Jason Puncheon mean they could use help essentially everywhere.

Everton

The Toffees have made no secret of their need for a finishing center forward. No other team needs a positional upgrade more than Everton at CF.

Huddersfield Town

An upgrade at center back seems the prime need for David Wagner‘s men.

Leicester City

A center back to pair with Harry Maguire, and depth down the right side. Both become secondary to playmaker if Riyad Mahrez leaves the King Power Stadium.

Wes Morgan and Robert Huth (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Liverpool

Virgil Van Dijk solves a lot, but the club could stand to upgrade the position beyond him and Joel Matip. Instead, Jurgen Klopp might buy more attackers. An alternative to Jordan Henderson would be nice, but would also be superfluous with Naby Keita arriving in the summer.

Manchester City

Center forward depth in the short-term with Gabriel Jesus injured, and left back cover might be on Guardiola’s mind. Another center back seems likely to arrive this month or this summer.

Manchester United

Jose Mourinho could add anywhere outside of goalkeeper and his attacking trident. Left back remains a priority, especially if he sells Luke Shaw.

Newcastle United

The Magpies need a more effective Premier League striker than Joselu or Dwight Gayle, an improved left back, and a box-to-box center midfielder. Rafa Benitez will reportedly hunt for a goalkeeper, too.

Southampton

Still need a center back, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mauricio Pellegrino attempt to find a solution for any spot besides the one occupied by Oriol Romeu.

Stoke City

The Potters have allowed a league-worst 47 goals, and it’d be worse without Jack Butland. A left back is needed, as is either a defensive mid or right back depending on where they want to deploy Geoff Cameron (which means they also could use cover for both in case injury).

Swansea City

With a new manager you can pick a position, and Swans may want to improve it. The priority will be players who can produce goals, as Fernando Llorente and Gylfi Sigurdsson were not adequately replaced.

Tottenham Hotspur

Another winger? Spurs may have the least amount of needs in the league outside of Man City.

Watford

Full backs might be top of the list.

West Bromwich Albion

The Baggies have to find a better way to utilize big forward Salomon Rondon, who is quite gifted. Maybe it’s a partner striker, maybe a playmaker.

West Ham United

Up the middle, besides forward. The Hammers will look to address center back and center midfield. They are alright out wide and across the top.