Six-time Serie A defending champions Juventus are in trouble. Not a lot, but the heat has been turned up.
A wild 3-2 loss to Sampdoria means the Italian giants are now four points back of Napoli in the Serie A table, and heading into their Champions League matchup with Barcelona, there is plenty of soul-searching to do in Turin.
Juventus nearly mounted what would have been a monumental comeback, down 3-0 heading into stoppage-time but posting goals by Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala in the first and fourth minutes of injury time. It was not to be, and the four-point deficit through 13 games not only leaves Juventus looking at Napoli more than a game in front of them, but also over their shoulders at Roma and Inter Milan both a point behind in third and fourth.
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was kept out of the lineup as he continues to deal emotionally with the World Cup miss, and it showed. After a scoreless first half at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Duzan Zapata beat Stephan Lichtensteiner in the air and sent a looping header over a flatfooted Wojciech Szczesny for the opening goal.
With 20 minutes to go, Sampdoria struck again as former Premier League creator Gaston Ramirez fed 21-year-old Lucas Torreira at the top of the box, and with nobody closing him down, he fired into the bottom-left corner of the net. They got the eventual winner nine minutes later after an embarrassing defensive breakdown by the visitors. A free-kick saw two attackers in front of net against five defenders, but somehow Gianmarco Ferrari was completely unmarked in front of the net for a tap-in.
Higuain struck from the penalty spot and Dybala hit on the counter to beat Emiliano Vivaldo at his near post, but it wasn’t enough for Juventus. The defensive frailty will need to be corrected moving forward, as they face a vital match at Napoli on December 1st, and a loss there could spell disaster for their title charge.
The Gunners finished fifth last season, which insinuated we were hurtling towards an impending apocalypse given their penchant to finish in the top four no matter what over Premier League history. It was a good run while it lasted but perhaps that prompted much-maligned American owner Stan Kroenke to sanction the club-record deal for French striker Alexandre Lacazette over the summer.
Historically Arsenal are London’s most successful club with 29 major trophies (including 13 league titles) and despite the disdain towards Wenger over the past few seasons they continue to collect silverware, winning three of the last four FA Cups, including last season as they stopped Chelsea from clinching the double at Wembley in May.
With their north London rivals Tottenham finishing above them for the first time in over two decades, many are suggesting a power shift is occurring as Spurs’ young squad get ready to kick on in their new stadium next season. Arsenal know another season outside the top four would be a disaster.
Best, worst case scenario: They will finish in the top four because, well, it’s Arsenal (last year was a blip, they’ll tell you), but they are in real danger of finishing outside the top six due to the Europa League and the situation surrounding Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
Star player:Alexis Sanchez – The Chilean superstar is the obvious standout player for the Gunners, but with just 12 months left on his contract and both Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City circling, will he be at the Emirates Stadium when the transfer window slams shut on Aug. 31? Sanchez, 28, was Arsenal’s top scorer last season with 24 goals and 10 assists in PL player and 30 goals overall. The longest this saga drags on, the more likely he, and Ozil, are likely to leave. Wenger doesn’t believe he will be playing anywhere else this season, so will Sanchez leave for free next summer? So many questions, but something which can’t be discussed is how important he is to Arsenal. Despite a club-record deal for Lacazette this summer, Sanchez is still the main man. Period.
Coaches’ Corner: What more can we say about Arsene Wenger? He signed a new two-year deal with the Gunners early in the summer after leading them to FA Cup glory and the Frenchman, 67, is now heading into his 22nd season in charge of Arsenal. He knows he will have to balance his squad expertly in the opening months of the campaign with the test of the Europa League to come, but after seeing a 3-4-3 formation work splendidly well at the end of last season, maybe, just maybe, the Gunners are flying somewhat under the radar and will challenge for the title this season. Has the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade been silenced for at least a few months? He needs a strong start and for Lacazette to score plenty of goals, but this Arsenal squad is stacked in every position. If he can convince Ozil and Sanchez to stay the Gunners can seriously challenge for the title.
PST predicts: Arsenal’s biggest challenge this season will be squad rotation but such is the size and strength of their roster they could play almost two different teams in the PL and the Europa League group stages and expect to do well in both in the first half of the campaign. All of their rivals have strengthened but with a strong finish to last season there is hope the Gunners will be back among the top four. PST believes that will be the case, plus they’ll make a deep run to at least the Europa League last eight. And oh yeah, they’ll probably win the FA Cup again too.
AS Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman appears to be annoyed at the recent exodus from the Italian capital.
After the announcement that defender Antonio Rudiger was departing for Chelsea, Strootman posted on social media his well wishes to the German, before remarking, “Ps I hope that this will be the last goodbye of this summer.”
Roma has sold three pricey players this summer, including Rudiger. They offloaded electric winger Mohamed Salah to Liverpool, and saw Brazilian midfielder Leandro Paredes join Zenit St. Petersburg. Mario Rui is also rumored to be on his way to Napoli in the next few days, while starting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny returned to Arsenal at the expiry of his two-year loan.
It’s not all bad news for Roma, a club known for a positive cash flow in the transfer market. They’ve brought in a number of cheaper options, including 22-year-old Dutch right-back Rick Karsdorp from Feyenoord and 21-year-old midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini from Torino.
Strootman has been at Roma since moving from Feyenoord in 2013.