Shkodran Mustafi

Arsenal take positives from winning “total battle” at Chelsea

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LONDON — Arsenal took the moral victory at Chelsea on Sunday in a bruising draw against their London rivals at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Three things learned ]

They have yet to win a game away at a top six rival since a 2-0 victory at Manchester City back in January 2015 but the display on Sunday proved they have a blueprint for success away from home against the top teams.

Call it a moral victory, if you will.

Arsene Wenger‘s 3-4-3 formation has made the Gunners, overall, look more solid against a counter-attacking unit as they recovered from their ghastly defensive display away at Liverpool before the international break and thwarted Chelsea for the third time in as many games since the end of last season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Speaking after the game, Wenger was delighted with the mental toughness of his players in what he called a “total battle” in the sun in west London.

“I felt it was a game of total intensity where two teams went for it and it was a battle all over the pitch,” Wenger said. “We responded well in domains where we were questioned. I like when a team shows that kind of response. Overall, I feel that it is a deserved point. With a bit more freedom and inhibition we could have really won it. Overall it was important for us not to lose today and you could feel that in the team in the last 20 minutes with a little bit of that in our mind.”

Following their 4-0 mauling at Liverpool and defeat at Stoke City, it was understandable that any positive result away from home would have been welcomed.

Stopping a five-game losing streak at Chelsea in the PL was welcomed as Arsenal carried on where they left off from their FA Cup and Community Shield victories at Wembley against their London rivals.

“People forget that two months ago we beat Chelsea in a cup final and they don’t give you a cup, you know?” Wenger smiled. “It is true that you have to accept that when you deliver the kind of performance we had at Liverpool that you are criticized. You have only one way to respond. That’s on the pitch and that’s what we did today. Of course it was a question today of what will happen at least with the attitude, response and determination, it was vital for us, even above the result, to come out with a solid performance on that front.”

Wenger saw Shkodran Mustafi put in a solid, dominant display in central defense as he and Laurent Koscielny shackled Alvaro Morata and the Gunners had the better chances to win the game with Aaron Ramsey hitting the post, Alexandre Lacazette knocking the follow up over and Mustafi having a header correctly disallowed for offside.

Chelsea were frustrated in their first 0-0 draw since February 2016 as they were outbattled by Arsenal with David Luiz sent off late on as he lunged into a challenge on Saed Kolasinac and you could feel the Blues’ temper rising as the Gunners continued their shut down of Chelsea’s usually effective counter-attacks.

Antonio Conte brushed aside questions about Arsenal’s physicality knocking Chelsea out of their stride and reminded the assembled media of the Gunners’ quality.

“We suffered a bit in the middle of the first half but don’t forget, sometimes you forgot that Arsenal is one of the top six in England. For this reason we all know the type of game we have to face today against them,” Conte said. “Arsenal is a really good team, a strong team and they have a lot of top players. It is normal to find this situation when you play against them.”

Yet, this wasn’t a normal Arsenal performance as Wenger and his players substituted their usual panache for grit and their admirable free spirit for concentration.

The atmosphere among Arsenal’s players, fans and manager at the end of the game was far from euphoric but this felt like a step forward for Wenger’s men.

Three things we learned from Chelsea v. Arsenal

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LONDON — Chelsea and Arsenal played out a tight, tense 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as the Gunners hit the post in the first half through Aaron Ramsey but couldn’t break through.

[ MORE: Wenger, Arsenal win battle ]

Arsenal nullified the threat of Chelsea’s counter attacks for large periods of the game with the reigning champions left frustrated as David Luiz was sent off late on for a lunging tackle on Sead Kolasinac.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Here’s a look at what we learned from an even, eventful London derby.


SANCHEZ, HAZARD RUSTY

0-0 with 25 minutes to go, Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger both reached to the bench to unleash their best players.

Alexis Sanchez came on for Arsenal and moments later Eden Hazard arrived.

Both were on the bench as they continued their recovery to full fitness with Hazard coming off a long-term ankle injury and Sanchez perhaps recovering from a broken heart after his deadline day move to Manchester City collapsed.

Apart from a run and shot straight at Petr Cech, Hazard didn’t get involved in the final third for Chelsea as a few runs from deep barely threatened Arsenal.

Sanchez was equally non-existent as the Chilean sauntered around the left wing role and apart from one majestic back heel he gave the ball away cheaply and looked like a man who was without a preseason to his name.

Two of the biggest stars in the Premier League are yet to get up and running.


MORATA LOSES BATTLE WITH MUSTAFI

With three goals and two assists, all with his head, in the Premier League so far this season, Alvaro Morata is Chelsea’s new main man up top.

He could’ve done with emulating the Spanish international striker he has replaced at Chelsea with Diego Costa often relishing his battles against Arsenal center backs and often coming out on top.

Morata did not with Shkodran Mustafi having an exceptional game at center back (he also had a header chalked out, correctly, for offside) to deny him chances and service. Morata looked isolated up top and with Cesc Fabregas moved closer to him for the second half to try and supply him with some chances, it didn’t work.

After a very good start to life at Chelsea and his aerial ability admirable, Morata proved he still has to adjust to the rigors of the Premier League.


SOLID, SOLID ARSENAL

Much has been made of Arsenal’s defensive solidity since switching to a 3-4-3 formation and this game proved that away from home against a title contender it works.

After switching to a 3-4-3 last season, Arsenal’s expected goals conceded actually rose from 1.2 per game to 1.7 and after conceding eight goals in their opening three Premier League games this season it seemed like the 3-4-3 could be ditched.

Even though Arsenal still haven’t won a Premier League match away from home against a side that finished in the top six the previous season since January 2015 (a 2-0 victory at Man City) — with an 0-8-6 record — the 3-4-3 formation allowed them to recover well at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea launched counters.

The pace of Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac helped Arsenal recover quickly when Willian and Pedro launched counters which usually pull opposition defenses apart.

Arsenal’s attacking unit wasn’t firing on all cylinders but defensively they were solid and after losing their last five games on the spin at Chelsea in the PL, a draw in a game which they controlled for large spells will do just fine.


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

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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

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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

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  • 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).

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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