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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.

Premier League stars attend NBA game in London

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Premier League stars of now and years past graced London’s O2 Arena to catch a rare regular season NBA game outside of the U.S. and Canada.

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and former Blues midfielder Michael Ballack were all seen courtside, as well as Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Arsenal pair Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin. Even former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson enjoyed the game.

Stoke City’s American centerback Geoff Cameron also attended the game to see his hometown Boston Celtics face the Philadelphia 76ers, and he had a chat with our sister TV station in Boston.

Here’s a cool photo gallery of some of the Premier League’s best who were in attendance.

Wenger furious with late penalty kick, festive schedule

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Arsenal were heading towards a deserved three points on New Year’s Eve at West Bromwich Albion, then Mike Dean awarded a penalty kick and it cost the Gunners two points.

Arsene Wenger — setting the record for the most PL games managed in history (811) on Sunday — fumed on the sidelines and Dean came over to talk to the Arsenal manager during and after the game as Arsenal’s players were furious and Petr Cech was booked after the final whistle for his remonstrating.

Calum Chambers was the guilty party, in Dean’s eyes, as Kieran Gibbs knocked the ball onto his arm from close range inside the box and Jay Rodriguez scored the spot kick to make it 1-1 in the 89th minute at the Hawthorns.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game Wenger was fuming with the referees, saying “it was not a penalty at all” and also hit out at the scheduling of games over the festive period.

“What can you do – talk and talk and talk but it doesn’t change anything. The Premier League does face a problem with the scheduling and referees,” Wenger said. “I tried hard with referees to help them become professional. The level of the referees unfortunately doesn’t go up. It’s not the first time it happened but it’s best we don’t talk about it.

“I believe West Brom had five days to prepare and we had three. The Premier League has to look at when the schedule is fair and unfair, on our side it’s unfair. Since the start of the season you have to look at it.”

Asked if VAR would have made a difference, this was Wenger’s response to Sky Sports.

“It is time. I don’t know why we want to be the best league in the world and wait this time and other leagues use it already,” Wenger added.

Wenger isn’t the first manager to hit out at the scheduling of the festive games, with his Arsenal side having just three days rest compared to five for West Brom for this game, while Chelsea will also have an extra days rest before their game against Arsenal on Wednesday.

All in all, Wenger was not a happy man on the day he surpassed Sir Alex Ferguson as the man who has managed the most games in PL history.

Arsenal are only three points off the top four but Wenger will be fuming into 2018 after his side were undoubtedly dealt a bad dose of luck to see out 2017.

There was no way that was a handball against Chambers.

Watch Live: West Brom v. Arsenal

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On Sunday West Bromwich Albion host Arsenal in the final Premier League game of 2017 (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Arsene Wenger takes charge of his 811th Premier League game as a manager, surpassing Sir Alex Ferguson‘s record as managing the most games in PL history.

The Baggies are without a win in 18 games in the PL, while Arsenal are aiming to momentarily move into fifth place and close the gap to fourth-place Liverpool to just one point.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

In team news West Brom make one change from their draw against Everton with Salomon Rondon replaced by Hal Robson-Kanu.

Arsenal make one change from their win over Crystal Palace on Thursday with Alex Iwobi replacing the injured Mesut Ozil who has a minor knee problem.

LINEUPS

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, Hegazi, Evans, Gibbs; Livermore, Barry; Phillips, Rodriguez, Brunt; Robson-Kanu. Subs: Myhill, Nyom, Yacob, McClean, Burke, Krychowiak, McAuley

Arsenal: Cech; Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny; Bellerin, Xhaka, Wilshere, Kolasinac; Iwobi, Alexis, Lacazette Subs: Ospina, Mertesacker, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin, Elneny, Walcott, Welbeck

Playback: Where do City rank among best-ever PL teams?

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RANKING THE CREME DE LA CREME

It is a question which is dominating the Premier League right now: is this Manchester City team the best in Premier League history?

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

There is no doubt that even without winning the Premier League title this season (we are not even halfway in, folks) Pep Guardiola‘s men are set to be up there with the best teams the PL has ever seen after a record-breaking 16 consecutive wins and just generally breaking records like they’re going out of fashion.

They have plenty of competition though to be the best-ever in PL history, though, and they’ll likely need to go the entire PL season unbeaten if they are to be known as the best team ever assembled in England’s top-flight. There are plenty of clubs who have had fine squads (Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle) but to be among the PL’s best, you simply have to have won the trophy.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

 

Below we rank the top five teams in PL history, with this City side among them.


1. Arsenal (2003-04)


They won the Premier League title without losing (winning 26 games and drawing 12) “The Invincibles” have gone down in folklore for their incredible achievement. Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira were in their prime and they just didn’t look like losing. Arsene Wenger has the perfect mixture of passion and panache to make history and their incredible 49-game unbeaten run is unlikely to be surpassed, even by Man City. Apart from Arsenal, only Preston North End in the 1888-89 season have gone an entire campaign unbeaten. The only slight disappointment was that Arsenal didn’t win any other domestic trophies and lost in the Champions League last eight. That said, Henry scored 39 goals in all competitions and 30 in the PL to lead the Gunners to a feat that many believe will never be repeated.


2. Manchester City (2017-18)*if they win the title


If (and it’s still a big if despite their early season dominance) City win the title this season, given their 16-game winning run and attacking ability they will go down as the greatest team ever. It all depends on if they can go the entire season unbeaten but Guardiola is bringing soccer perfection to the PL. Yes, they’ve spent big to get there but the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United have also thrown plenty of cash at their squads and are nowhere near where City are right now. With Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus in attack, this City side have so many attacking weapons but adding Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy in defense, plus Ederson in goal, has been a huge reason why they’ve blown the PL away. History is in the making for this City side, in more ways than one. They are totally dominating the Premier League.


3. Manchester United (1998-99)


It took the famous treble winning team until the final day of the Premier League season to win the league title, but their exploits in winning the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League made up for it. Sir Alex Ferguson (just Alex Ferguson back then, actually) rotated his team masterfully in the final months of the season to pull off the greatest achievement in British soccer history. This was vintage United. Peter Schmeichel in goal behind a back four of Neville, Stam, Johnsen and Irwin, while Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs were in midfield and Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were up top. A perfect blend of youth and experience, skill and determination. This was a true “team first” effort with the likes of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Teddy Sheringham, Nicky Butt, Henning Berg, Phil Neville and Jesper Blomqvist all playing their parts. Fergie was knighted after their famous last-gasp win in Barcelona against Bayern Munich and although they only won the PL title by one point, their exploits in the FA Cup (where they beat second-place Arsenal in heroic fashion in the semifinal) and in Europe played a huge part in them not running away with the title.


4. Chelsea (2004-05)

Jose Mourinho won the Premier League title in his first two seasons in charge of Chelsea but his squad in 2004-05, which sealed a first league title in 50 years, was the best. Chelsea simply tore the Premier League apart. Didier Drogba led the line as Frank Lampard charged forward from midfield to be the top scorer, while Arjen Robben was on the wing and Claude Makele protected the back four with Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry leading from the back as a young Petr Cech excelled in goal. Chelsea had everything and lost just one game all season long on their way to reaching 95 points, which is still a record points total for the Premier League champions. Defensively they were incredible as they set PL records for the least goals conceded (15), most shutouts (25) and fewest away goals conceded in a season (9). Mourinho, fresh from his Champions League and treble success at FC Porto, proved he was “The Special One” and also won the League Cup as well as losing in the UCL semifinals to Liverpool. Chelsea have won the title four times since 2004-05 but the squad they had over 12 years ago was the finest the west London club has ever seen.


5. Manchester United (2007-08)

Yep, they had to have at least two teams in the top five. With 13 Premier League titles under their belt, they gained more points in their title wins either side of the 2007-08 campaign, but this was arguably their most impressive PL success. Cristiano Ronaldo led United’s charge as the Portuguese superstar scored 42 goals in all competitions to help them win the Premier League and UEFA Champions League. Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez were Ronaldo’s partners in crime as the trio scored 79 goals between them in all competitions. Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Michael Carrick were rotated expertly in midfield by Fergie and at the back Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Edwin van der Sar were formidable. After edging past Chelsea and Arsenal to the PL title, Fergie led United to UCL glory in Moscow against Chelsea as they won on penalty kicks. The trio of Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo were appointment viewing and United were top of the table from March and never gave up their perch with Chelsea and Arsenal breathing down their necks.


MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND IN FINE FETTLE

With familiar faces returning to the PL in droves over the past few months, most of them are doing rather well with their respective new clubs.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Sam Allardyce has won four from five with Everton who are now dreaming of Europe. Roy Hodgson is unbeaten in seven with Palace and has them out of the bottom three after two wins on the spin. David Moyes has won two of his last three at West Ham United and has turned them into a tough team to beat. Alan Pardew is slowly turning things around at West Brom.

There were plenty of moans and groans when these experienced coaches who have been on the merry-go-round a few more times than they care to mention were appointed, but they’re proving they can get the job done.

Allardyce is on his seventh PL club. Hodgson and Pardew both at their fifth. Moyes on his fourth.

The initial bump of having a new manager has led Everton and West Ham out of trouble, and Hodgson is starting to turn things around at Palace after inheriting a real mess from Frank De Boer.

Pardew, another old hand who is back in the PL, will be hoping it is his time to shine next. His West Brom side drew away at Liverpool and although they still look goal-shy, he has made them more stubborn to break down.

All four newbies have settled in well and you can expect to see plenty more familiar faces arrive if the likes of Stoke City, Southampton and Swansea continue to struggle.


LET THE GAMES CONTINUE

This is it. Primetime has arrived.

The holiday season is here and the Premier League is in full flow with 40 games coming up over 11 days from this Friday. Like March Madness, having NFL games on Thanksgiving and the NBA’s Christmas Day games, PL action dominates the holidays.

Bring. It. On.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]   

Below is the schedule in full for Boxing Day, the New Year’s Day games and more.

At this time of the year we are full of festive cheer but in the Premier League, this deluge of games can make or break a campaign.

Think about that when you’re tucking into your festive feasts while Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard limber up and prepare themselves for yet another game.


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here