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Top Premier League storylines — Week 24

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It’s the first week of the Premier League season which follows a Manchester City league loss, so you know our top storyline of the week is going to begin with Pep Guardiola‘s men.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Just how big of a bounce back will there be for Man City?
Manchester City vs. Newcastle United — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC STREAM ]

The manager, who turned 47 on Thursday, saw Liverpool use a frantic second half spell to boost a 4-3 win and end hopes of an unbeaten PL season.

And while Jurgen Klopp‘s high press kept them off-kilter for most of the first half and had them rattled early in the second, City still came within a late free kick to finding a point.

Enter Newcastle, a club that flustered them at St. James’ Park last month and came within a Dwight Gayle-turned header of finding a point for Christmas.

So how angry is City after its first loss of the season? Maybe a better word is motivated, and we expect that City will hang a big number on Rafa Benitez‘s men considering the Spaniard isn’t likely to try to repeat what worked for Klopp.

Wobbly Burnley plays host to sound Manchester United
Burnley vs. Manchester United — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN STREAM ]

Jose Mourinho’s men head to Turf Moor with Alexis Sanchez expected to join their side any day and both Liverpool and Chelsea three points behind the Red Devils.

Believe it or not, though, the match is more pivotal for the hosts, who are in danger of slipping deep into the back of chasers after their stingy and resolute start to the season had the Clarets aiming for a Top Seven place.

Now Leicester is within three of the 7th place Clarets, and Everton is seven back with two big additions in place of need. If Burnley wants to stay in the race for seventh, it needs to get its first win in seven tries. Seven’s the number, you see?

United hasn’t allowed a goal in four matches, dating back to a 2-2 draw on Dec. 26… against Burnley.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Will the Gunners show signs of life after tumultuous week(s)?
Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on CNBC 
STREAM ]

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Arsenal’s first loss in a month turned “unbeaten in seven” to “one win in five,” and Arsene Wenger‘s men look set to lose Alexis Sanchez and have already watched last season’s second-leading scorer, Theo Walcott, skip town for Everton.

Meanwhile, Palace played the Gunners tight in a 3-2 loss on Dec. 28, and that was the Eagles’ only Premier League loss since a 1-0 defeat at Spurs on Nov. 5.

Is Liverpool going to stay motivated?
Swansea City vs. Liverpool — 3 p.m. ET Monday STREAM ]

On the surface this is silly, especially with Virgil Van Dijk happy to return to the fold. Yet Liverpool has a knack of playing down to its opponents. The Reds are coming off a major win over Manchester City and have the knowledge of a recent battering of cellar-dwelling Swans in their back pocket. Will they rise up on Monday? The national focus could help.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Aubameyang to Arsenal; Sturridge to leave

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Borussia Dortmund are not happy with Arsenal over Arsene Wenger‘s comments about their star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

[ MORE: Sanchez to United “likely”

The Gabonese striker, 28, was left out of their squad last weekend due to disciplinary problems and it is believed a fee of $76 million would be enough for Dortmund to sell the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season.

Arsenal have been linked with a move for the striker with Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United “likely” to happen, but when asked about Arsenal’s reported interest in Aubameyang on Thursday, Wenger was coy on any deal.

However Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, was not, as he hit out in a magazine interview.

“We find it disrespectful to speak about players of other clubs”, Zorc said. “There is no contact with Arsenal. We assumed that Arsene Wenger would have enough to do to take care of the performances of his own players.”

Dortmund’s manager, Peter Stoger, has since said he assumes that Aubameyang will stay and learn from his latest mistake, which was being late for a meeting, but reports in Germany state that the striker has been left out of Dortmund’s squad for their trip to Hertha Berlin.

Intriguing.

What could the forward bring to Arsenal if he did leave Dortmund? Goals. And lots of them. It has been reported that the Gunners could offer Olivier Giroud as part of the deal, which could soften the blow of Aubameyang’s exit for the Germany giants, and if there’s a chance this deal can get done, Arsenal should do it.

Despite issues with his behavior off the pitch, Aubameyang has always delivered on the pitch. He has scored 141 goals in 212 games in all competitions, including 21 in 23 games this season and 40 in 46 appearances last season.

With Sanchez on his way, Aubameyang’s arrival, and reuniting him with Henrikh Mkhitaryan (who looks set to join Arsenal from Man United) could get the Arsenal fans back on board (still a big maybe…) after a disastrous start to 2018 for Wenger’s men.


Daniel Sturridge is said to be interesting both Sevilla and Inter Milan.

The Liverpool forward, 28, is in serious jeopardy of not making England’s squad for the World Cup this summer as he continues to warm the bench at Anfield with Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane ahead of him in the pecking order. Jurgen Klopp just doesn’t have a need for Sturridge’s style of play and prefers the movement and industry of Firmino instead of Sturridge’s instinctive finishing.

According to Sky Sports, La Liga side Sevilla want to take Sturridge on loan for the rest of the season, while the BBC say that Inter Milan are also interested in a loan move for Sturridge.

The main issue here is that Liverpool are only interested in a permanent deal for Sturridge, who they value at $45 million. Given the fact that he has suffered multiple injuries over the past three seasons and has 18 months left on his current contract it is highly unlikely anyone will stump up that kind of cash, despite his obvious top-class finishing ability.

Sturridge will surely move on in January with his World Cup spot on the line. Sevilla are in the Champions League last 16 and in La Liga’s top four, while Inter are pushing for the Italian title. Either would welcome Sturridge’s predatory instincts and it appears that if the Englishman wants to stay in the PL he will have to settle for a move to a team in midtable or battling against relegation. A move abroad could be the smart play on his behalf.

Wenger: Sanchez likely to leave for United

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Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United is close to completion.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Sanchez is “likely to leave” for Jose Mourinho’s side, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan thought to be heading in the opposite direction plus a sizable transfer fee.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Crystal Palace on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Wenger revealed the deal for Sanchez is almost complete.

“I worked on transfers for 30 years so it is likely to happen, but at any moment it can break down,” Wenger said. “As long as it’s not over the line you have to accept it may not happen, these kind of things are not guaranteed. I have no problem with Sanchez’s attitude. He was in training fully committed. He is 29 years old and the next contract will of course be very important to him.”

So, there you have it. Sanchez to United is happening and with the numbers being mentioned, it’s easy to understand why he will leave. Sanchez will be paid $19.2 million per year, after tax, and he will also receive a $27.7 million signing-on fee and his agent will get $13.8 million.

United will get a new star No.7 in his prime and Sanchez getting a fresh start and being hungry to impress will certainly be music to the ears of Mourinho. Whether or not the Chilean international will have the same impact as Eric Cantona, who joined United in his late 20’s and helped led them to multiple PL titles, remains to be seen, but this deal does remind you of that circumstances. One player doesn’t make a team but a special player like Sanchez can make a heck of difference overall.

Wenger also spoke about the possibility of Mkhitaryan being part of the deal and it seems he is very keen on signing the Armenian international who almost joined the Gunners in the summer of 2016 before joining United instead.

“I like the player. We played many times against him when he was at Dortmund. He appreciated the quality of our games. The wages would not be a problem,” Wenger said.

It seems like everyone will be happy with this deal. Of course, Arsenal wanted Sanchez to stay and that’s why they didn’t sell him to Manchester City in the summer. Wenger couldn’t persuade him to sign a new deal and now, less than six months before he leaves on a free, they are getting a decent chunk of change and playmaker who, on his day, can unlock any defense in the world.

For United, Mkhitaryan is out of favor under Mourinho and they will get him off their wage bill, while they also get Sanchez in his prime and get one over on Man City where everyone thought he would end up.

All in all, this tricky situation seems to have worked out best for everyone, especially Sanchez and his agent.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Everton completes move for Walcott: ‘I’m dead excited’

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Montreal nabs Algerian DP ]

Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.