Per Mertesacker

Getty Images

Transfer rumor wrap: Bale to Man United; Mbappe to PSG

1 Comment

Spanish outlet Don Balon claim Manchester United have bid $118 million for Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale.

Despite Bale, 28, insisting he wants to stay at Real and club president Florentino Perez saying he is going nowhere, Bale was jeered by Real’s fans once again on Sunday as he missed multiple chances in their 2-2 draw against Valencia at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Bale has five years left on his current contract at Real Madrid (he only signed a big new extension last October) but Jose Mourinho previously said he would “be waiting at the airport” for Bale if his situation changed with Real.

The Welsh wizard has scored 68 goals in 154 appearances for Real over the past five seasons but with Marco Asensio and Lucas Vasquez challenging to become first team regulars, Bale has a little more competition this season with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karem Benzema guaranteed starters for the reigning European and Spanish champions.

Mourinho has made no secret that United are said to be looking for a wide player for much of the summer with a move for Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic seemingly falling by the wayside. Yet with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mhitaryan and Jesse Lingard, how many wide players does Mourinho need?

Is it time Bale returned to the Premier League after winning everything he can at Real? That still seems like a year or two away, if it happens at all, but Bale being booed by his own supporters will be music to the ears of the PL’s big boys who hope to pry him away from the Spanish capital.


Arsenal could lose German center back Shkodran Mustafi to Inter Milan.

Sky Italy say that Mustafi, 25, has agreed personal terms with Inter and believe that an agreement over an initial loan deal is close between the two clubs.

Mustafi joined Arsenal from Valencia for $45 million last summer and the German international impressed for the Gunners despite their fifth-place finish in the Premier League table.

Composed on the ball and able to play in a flat back four or as one of three central defenders, quite why Arsenal would let Mustafi leave is a bit mind-boggling.

With the rise of Rob Holding, plus Nacho Monreal playing as a center back, perhaps Wenger thinks he has sufficient cover at center back with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker also around.

The deal for Mustafi is believed to be a loan deal with an option to buy.


Kylian Mbappe’s move to Paris Saint-Germain is edging closer with the French national team teenager arriving for national team duty.

Mbappe, 18, is said to have had a medical with PSG while the finer points of the massive $214 million deal are sorted out.

Per multiple reports Monaco will loan Mbappe to PSG for the 2017-18 season and then the deal will be made permanent next summer.

That is due to PSG’s world-record $262 million deal for Neymar earlier this month, as Les Parisiens are concerned another $200 million-plus will, obviously, see them struggle to met UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules.

Mbappe is set for a 2,000 percent pay rise which will see him paid $387,000 per week.

The teenage talent burst onto the scenes last season with Monaco, scoring 27 times in his first full season in the pro game as he led the Ligue 1 club to the French title, the UEFA Champions League semifinals and also made his debut for France.


Leicester City are said to have had a bid of $27.1 million turned down by West Bromwich Albion for their captain Jonny Evans and it is believed the Baggies want $38 million for Evans.

The Northern Ireland national team defender has missed West Brom’s last two games with an injured hamstring and despite stating in the matchday programme before West Brom’s 1-1 draw vs. Stoke on Sunday that he wants to stay, another bid has arrived from the Foxes.

Evans has been a target for both Manchester City and Leicester over the past few weeks as the former Manchester United defender has quietly become one of the star defenders in the league over the past 12 months.

Despite Tony Pulis stating Evans will remain at the Hawthorns, if a huge bid arrives from Man City or Leicester in the final days of the window, can the Baggies really turn it down?

Leicester have already improved their defense drastically this summer by adding Harry Maguire from Hull City with the center back handed his first England national team call-up last week. Man City are said to be chasing Evans with one eye on his status as a “homegrown player” under PL rules.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

Getty Images
1 Comment

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.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Arsenal

Leave a comment
  • Shkodran Mustafi, Francis Coquelin, Per Mertesacker all in line for season debuts.
  • The game will likely come too soon for Alexis Sanchez, who is still working to get to match fitness.
  • Stoke City have lost only one of their last seven home matches against Arsenal (W3 D3 L1).
  • Stoke City forward Jese Rodriguez could make his debut following his season-long loan move from Paris Saint-Germain.
  • Alexandre Lacazette could become the first Arsenal player to score in both of his opening two PL appearances for the club.

Coming off an exciting 4-3 comeback victory at home against Leicester City, Arsenal travel to what’s been in the past a house of horrors, visiting the bet365 Stadium to face Stoke City. (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Three months ago, Arsenal ended some of the bad voodoo on them in Stoke with a 4-1 win on the road. This time around, the Gunners have even more firepower, with Alexandre Lacazette off to a strong start in the Premier League.

Stoke City, like Arsenal, are still getting comfortable in the in-vogue 3-4-3 formation, as well as getting used to life without Marko Arnautovic. Spanish forward Jese, a Real Madrid academy graduate, could make his season debut for Stoke on Saturday and summer signings Kurt Zouma, Bruno Martins Indi and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting will push American Geoff Cameron for a place in the team each week.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on last year’s win at Stoke: “We were well-organized, efficient and under pressure to win the game. We were on a strong run as well. We had a convincing win there and that should inspire us. Traditionally it’s always been a difficult place to go for everybody, but of course we continue in a strong way our start to the season.

“I don’t believe in bogey teams too much. What is important is the performance on the day. We had a good performance last season and we have to focus on that, just to deal with the same performance. Stoke have a good record at home against many teams and I’m convinced that if we play our game, we have a good chance of winning.”

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes on this season’s new signings: “We are hoping to involve all the guys we have signed this summer, some will be on the bench, others won’t. We are very excited by the group that we are assembling to be honest.”

“We always aim to be stronger at the end of the window than we were at the beginning, and I would argue that of all the players that have left only one would have been considered as a regular starter. We have replaced those guys with players who I see as potential regular starters.”

Prediction

Arsenal are clearly still a work in progress, but offensively they’re improved from a year ago. Stoke City on the other hand fell by a slim margin to Everton last week but have greatly improved defensively. We think it will be another defensive struggle, ending in a draw. Stoke City 1-1 Arsenal

Arsenal’s newfound fighting spirit continues to lead rebound

Leave a comment

LONDON — With Arsenal languishing outside of the top four, dumped out of the UEFA Champions League in humiliating fashion, the future’s of star players uncertain and protests gathering considerable steam against Arsene Wenger, the Gunners hit rock bottom last Spring.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

For the first time in his 21-year reign Wenger’s time appeared to be over. Arsenal had to hit rock bottom to start the climb back to the top.

Many will scoff at the assumption that beating Leicester City 4-3 in a pulsating, yet error-riddled game, on the opening day of the 2017-18 Premier League season means Arsenal will now win the title and sweep all that lay before them. That likely won’t happen but the Gunners have shown that they’re now at least up for the fight.

[ MORE: Giroud lauded by Wenger

So many times in the past Arsenal rolled over in the face of adversity with the club synonymous with the finest play in the land but no substance to back it up. There are signs the fighting spirit is returning. It has taken time to rebuild the confidence but a win in this fashion will do wonders for belief.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk when he believes things started to turn around, Wenger pointed towards the fine finish to last season which gave his team the confidence to continue their fight back from the depths of despair.

“I am convinced that when we won 10 of the last 11 games in the Premier League [last season], we won against Man City in the semifinal and the FA Cup final against Chelsea and overall I am convinced that the team is focused and I see that every day in training,” Wenger told Pro Soccer Talk.

On Friday the odds were stacked against Arsenal even though they were the clear favorites to beat Leicester.

Their star man, Alexis Sanchez, was out injured and has yet to play in preseason. They were missing Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker in defense. Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil had been struggling with knocks and with 23 minutes to go he was forced into a huge defensive reshuffle which saw a winger at right back, two left backs at center back and a right back at left back.

Despite all of that Wenger, who must be praised for chucking on Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey who proved pivotal, was delighted with the spirit of his team and pointed to the chances they created rather than the slack defending which Leicester punished ruthlessly.

“We kept going and the spirit of the team was absolutely outstanding,” Wenger said. “Overall you could saw we were punished on every single mistake tonight by a Leicester team who was very efficient going forward. You could see that this team has quality and is used to playing together. 70 percent possession. We had 27 shots on goal and Leicester had three shots on target and scored three goals. That shows your how efficient they are.

“If you look at it from a neutrals point of view, for a first game it was a top quality game. You want the Premier League to be the best league in the world, I think it has to produce this type of game to produce interest and quality. People will say we conceded three goals, yes, but we scored four as well, the game was of quality.”

Arsenal have always had quality but now they appear to have the required spirit to dig deep and grind out results from improbable positions. That quality will serve them well in a season which will push them to their limits with a PL title push augmented by a Europa League campaign. The Thursday-Sunday grind is no joke.

Nobody is laughing at Arsenal anymore, at least not right now.

Momentum continues to build with Arsenal now winning 12 of their last 13 Premier League games, plus picking up the FA Cup and Community Shield at Wembley.

The “Wenger Out” brigade are eerily quiet. For now.

Three things learned from Arsenal’s amazing win vs. Leicester

Leave a comment

LONDON — For most of the opening 83 minutes it looked like Arsenal would start up the season with their now customary demoralizing defeat.

Leicester City rolled into the Emirates Stadium on Friday night and led the Gunners 3-2 with seven minutes left for what looked like a shock win. Hold your horses.

Two goals from subs Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud in two minutes late on saw Arsenal go 4-3 up as they started off the Premier League season in incredible, breathtaking fashion.

A classic PL encounter saw Arsenal lead 1-0 after 94 seconds. Then Leicester went 2-1 up. Then Arsenal pulled it back to 2-2. Then Leicester went 3-2 up and then Arsenal’s late two-goal show saw them take all three points.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating encounter in north London to open up the new PL campaign.


ARSENAL’S INCREDIBLE SPIRIT RESURFACES

This Arsenal side has a true never say die attitude. Numerous times at the back end of last season they found winners late on. They did it again to win the FA Cup in May. And they outlasted Chelsea to win on penalty kicks last weekend at Wembley.

Even though they showcased most of their flaws on Friday, you can’t fault the spirit of Arsene Wenger‘s men.

Given their poor opening day record (one win in seven before Friday) we should’ve expected another opening day collapse but given their fine preseason form and an impressive display against Chelsea to win the Community Shield last weekend at Wembley, this inept display against Leicester City was hard to believe. Yet somehow they still grabbed all three points to keep the feel-good factor intact. For now.

Petr Cech was shaky on Leicester’s first and second goals. Young center back Rob Holding (he was subbed out in the second half) was targeted by Christian Fuchs and Marc Albrighton with Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin giving him no protection. Central midfielders Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka were nervous on the ball and slack in possession to gift Leicester the ball in dangerous positions time and time again. Slack zonal marking allowed Jamie Vardy to make it 3-2.

Wenger was left shaking his head on the sidelines for much of the opening 67 minutes of this game with Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud brought on to try and rescue a point. Somehow they got more than that.

Those subs forced a desperate defensive reshuffle which saw a winger (Oxlade-Chamberlain) at right back, two left backs (Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac) at center back and a right back (Bellerin) at left back, and some of the reasons for this disjointed display were due to Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker all being unavailable. That’s acceptable but perhaps proved that Arsenal’s second-string defenders may not be as good as we thought.

Following his new two-year contract the pressure had eased on Wenger over the summer after improved displays in April and May with a 3-4-3 system, an FA Cup victory to end last season and the signing of Alexandre Lacazette.

Wenger will get plenty of the plaudits once again for a dramatic opening night win which saw his two subs work perfectly.

Still, with no end in sight to the Ozil and Alexis Sanchez contract saga, how long will it be before a shock defeat, which this easily could have been, will force the “Wenger Out” banners to appear once again?


SLIGHT HOPE FOR LEICESTER

There were glimpses that this season will be about much more than just settling for midtable obscurity for Leicester.

The way they ruthlessly pounced on Arsenal mistakes was highlighted by their second via a Albrighton cross for Vardy to tap home at the back post. Vintage Leicester.

They sat back, forced Arsenal into making mistakes and had Vardy’s pace on the break to hurt the Gunners. Yes, they looked shaky at times in defense with Lacazette and Welbeck combining well in and around the box, but most teams struggle with that against Arsenal.

There is no excusing the way Craig Shakespeare‘s men collapsed late in the game to have victory snatched away from them as they left north London empty handed. Yet there is hope they can play like this against most teams in the PL and win games.

Still, not the ideal start for Shakespeare as a manager who has spent plenty of cash ahead of first full season in charge in the Premier League.


LACAZETTE THE BRIGHT SPOT

It took Lacazette just 94 seconds to score in the Premier League with his second touch in England’s top-flight. The first was a kick off.

The 26-year-old Frenchman averaged a goal every 80 minutes during his Ligue 1 career with Lyon and he’s started in fine style.

Lacazette’s goalscoring ability is one thing, but his ability to link up with Arsenal’s other attackers inside the box is an added bonus. You do not get that from most poachers.

He is a menace in the box and was involved in both Welbeck’s goal to make it 2-2 and his incredible trickery and powerful shot forced Kasper Schmeichel into a fine stop which led to the corner for Giroud to score the winner.

For most of his career Lacazette is a man who has been in the right place at the right time and it seems he will carry on that trend at Arsenal.