Jürgen Klopp

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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.

The 2 Robbies: Spurs thrash Everton on Kane’s historic day and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle break down Tottenham’s 4-0 win over Everton thanks to a Harry Kane brace (0:45), Chelsea’s scoreless draw with Leicester (12:30) and run through some crucial results at the bottom half of the table (19:20). Plus, a preview of Liverpool-Man City (26:15) and the latest on Alexis Sanchez’s future with or without Arsenal (33:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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VIDEO: “Really proud” Klopp reacts to win

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Saying he’s always more a fan than a manager, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp joined the NBCSN crew pitch side at Anfield after the Reds’ 4-3 win over Manchester City and admitted an equalizer wouldn’t have killed him.

(Easy for him to say, because we think he would’ve lost his mind).

[ RECAP: Liverpool 4-3 Man City | 3 things ]

“I know 4-3 up and we all know our nice ability to give a game a little more exciting, but I was not bothered because I thought if they score another one the game is still outstanding,” he said.

“I’m really proud and I think maybe 3-4 people in the world didn’t see that match and if they see the result they know exactly what they missed. We deserved to win, but they deserved that it was close. Two fantastic teams mixing their skills with attitudes. I loved it.”

Before joining Arlo White, Lee Dixon, and Graeme Le Saux, the manager also offered a pair of piping hot takes.

[ MORE: Pep reacts ]

Klopp was asked about starting Loris Karius‘ performance on City’s first goal, and the meaning of the victory for his team. He didn’t hesitate to name drop a certain recently-transferred attacker.

Here are a few more memorable lines, from the BBC:

“Yes of course it’s the corner where he was. You showed it to me. People always find the hair in the soup. Loris knows it. The Man City goalkeeper probably caused Salah’s goal but nobody will talk about that.

“We will see what it gives us for the rest of the season. To score four in the week after Phil Coutinho leaves the club is a big statement.”

He’s feeling pretty darn good. Liverpool’s off to Swansea City a week from Monday in a match which will be well- monitored for intensity.

Klopp: “Coutinho was desperate” for Barcelona move

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In the wake of Philippe Coutinho‘s $192-million transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona, the Brazilian’s now former manager, Jurgen Klopp, has spoken openly and honestly Coutinho’s “insistence” and “desperation” to leave Anfield.

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

Klopp has also revealed the “great reluctance” felt by all at the club as the brilliant, world-class midfielder moves to Spain — quotes from LFC.com (read the full statement here):

“It is with great reluctance that we — as a team and club — prepare to say farewell to a good friend, a wonderful person and a fantastic player in Philippe Coutinho.

“It is no secret that Philippe has wanted this move to happen since July, when Barcelona first made their interest known.

“Philippe was insistent with me, the owners and even his teammates this was a move he was desperate to make happen. Despite that, we managed to keep the player here beyond the summer window, hoping that we would be able to persuade him to stay and be part of what we are looking to do.

“I can tell the Liverpool supporters that we, as a club, have done everything within our means to convince Philippe that remaining part of LFC was as attractive as moving to Spain, but he is 100 per cent certain his future — and that of his family — belongs at Barcelona. It is his dream and I am now convinced there is nothing left at our disposal to change his mind.

“Philippe has made a fantastic contribution to this club over his five years of service and as disappointed as we are he doesn’t want to extend that, the relationship we have for him means with a heavy heart we wish him well.”

Credit must be given to Coutinho, who remained patient and professional from September to December, as he never threatened to boycott training or make himself available for games. His performances this season, particularly over the last month or two, have been nothing short of sensational, and only served as further confirmation that he’s Barcelona-caliber player.

Liverpool have already announced they will present fans who bought Coutinho’s no. 10 jersey for the 2017-18 season (from the official club shop and/or website) a voucher to receive a new shirt, stating the gesture “reflects the exceptional circumstances behind the player’s departure.”

Klopp hails Van Dijk’s “dream” debut, Reds’ fighting spirit in FA Cup

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Virgin van Dijk has begun, on day no. 1, proving himself to be worth the world-record (for a defender) transfer fee ($100 million) which Liverpool paid to sign him from Southampton last week.

[ MORE: Liverpool, Man United advance thanks to late winners ]

The 26-year-old Dutchman made his Liverpool debut on Friday — in a Merseyside derby, no less — and helped the Reds to a third-round FA Cup victory over local rivals Everton by scoring the game-winning goal six minutes from full-time.

[ MORE: Mourinho hits back in ongoing feud with Conte ]

After the game, Van Dijk spoke of the immense pride he felt playing for Liverpool, and the joy that comes along with scoring the winning goal in a game like that — quotes from the BBC:

“What a night. It was thoroughly deserved, it felt amazing to be out there. The goal is very special for me and my family. Playing at Anfield for Liverpool is a dream for every player. To score a goal is even more special.”

Jurgen Klopp — Van Dijk’s new manager and perhaps the happiest man in the world at finally landing a star defender — was equally delighted to see the nine-figure man made an immediate impact; even more importantly, though, the fight and spirit on display in “a difficult game” on what was “not the night for brilliant football” — quotes from the BBC:

“It was for sure not the best piece of football for 95 minutes but a proper fight. I’m delighted with the attitude we showed again, it was a difficult game. It was not the night for brilliant football, to play through. You would love to see that but Everton defended well. They played football, a big difference to the last game between us to be honest.

“The equaliser was the worst protection I ever saw in my life. It made no sense at all. We were all in the wrong direction. But when you make mistakes in football you have to react and we did again. It was nice that Virgil Van Dijk could score in his first game, a brilliant header. I am really happy.

“In front of the Kop, makes it even better. In Germany, we say cup games have different laws and it was like that — there was an extra push form both sides.”