Premier League 2014-15 preview: Arsenal

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Arsenal are set to make a title charge in 2014-15 after they started brightly last time out but faded badly. Arsene Wenger has spent big in the transfer market (nearly $100 million) and with Alexis Sanchez arriving up front, Gunners fans could have a new cult hero. Other top players such as Sami Khedira continue to be linked with a move to the Emirates as the frugal past has been cast aside.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Last season the North Londoners came close to shocking everyone as they lead the Premier League standings for over half the season. However a small squad, injuries and loss of form led to a dramatic capitulation which saw them hang onto fourth place late in the season as they managed to quell the threat of Tottenham Hotspur and Everton. Winning the FA Cup by beating Hull City, 3-2 in extra time, was the icing on the cake as Wenger signed a new deal after clinching his first piece of silverware in nine long years. More is expected this term.

Transfers In: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona, $50 million ) Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle, $20 million), Calum Chambers (Southampton, $18.5 million), David Opsina (Nice, $5.3 million),

Transfers Out: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea, Free), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City, Free), Nicklas Bendtner (Free), Johan Djourou (Hamburg, $4.2 million), Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad, Buy-back option terminated)

| Full PL schedule | Watch Arsenal live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

Last season: The Gunners finished fourth last season. That meant they qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the 18th straight season but it was a story of ‘what could have been’ for Arsene Wenger’s side as they led the Premier League up until January. Injuries, a loss of form and balancing a small squad took its toll but they did pick up a first piece of silverware in nine years, with the FA Cup in hand. Here is a recap of their 2013-14 season.

source: AP
Sanchez’s arrival could spark a new era at Arsenal.

Star player: Alexis Sanchez

Just like they did last summer by bringing in Mesut Ozil, Arsenal splashed the cash to bring in a genuine superstar. Sanchez, 25, has shone for Barcelona over the past few seasons and his performances for Chile during the World Cup showcased his supreme talent. His incredible pace, eye for goal and ability to play in a variety of attacking positions means he should slot in with Arsenal well. The big question mark is whether or not Sanchez adapts to the physicality of the Premier League straight away. If he does, he has all the attributes to be one of the top strikers in the league. Arsenal have been lacking that, Olivier Giroud’s purple patches aside, ever since Thierry Henry left.

Coaches’ Corner: Arsene Wenger

Many thought the 64-year-old Frenchman wouldn’t be in charge of Arsenal this season as he kept everyone waiting regarding his new deal. Now that Wenger is around for the foreseeable future, the Gunners can concentrate on improving the squad and trying to add more silverware to their collection. The longest-serving manager in the PL will continue to develop the beautiful flowing soccer he has fostered over the past two decades, while adding a steely core.

PST predicts: Arsenal have strengthened in key areas and will be a force at the top of the table. With Manchester City not spending much, Liverpool and Chelsea bringing in plenty of new players and the likes of Manchester United still figuring things out, Wenger’s men see themselves as serious title contenders. For the first time in a few years optimism levels are remarkably high around the Emirates Stadium. Expect Arsenal to put definitely in the top four at the end of the season, however a title may be just beyond them this season. Top four.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 7 — Spain, Portugal aim for wins

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Spain and Portugal got through the toughest match on their Group B dockets, against each other, but now need to stack some W’s.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s EURO champs open Wednesday’s World Cup action with a match against Morocco, and manager Fernando Hierro leads Spain against Iran to close out the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

In the middle, Uruguay looks to suck the drama out of Group A by joining Russia as 2-0 sides.

Below is Wednesday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group A
Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia: Rostov, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Portugal vs. Morocco: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Spain: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Fortunes up or down? 32 thoughts after first 17 World Cup games

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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All it took was one round of games for some favorites to be doubted, others to verify their status, and some underdogs to earn dark horse status.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

While there are valid reasons to make early judgments, it’s important to note that some perceived setbacks don’t change much while others put a serious crimp in tournament hopes.

Group A

Russia (2 games played) — Fortunes way up — Two resounding wins combined with early tumult in Group B could help Russia consider a quarterfinal spot.

Uruguay — Fortunes level — Jose Gimenez’s 89th minute winner may allow the CONMEBOL side to render its group finale moot by hammering Saudi Arabia.

Egypt (2 games played) — Fortunes way down — Could be out of the tournament should Uruguay get a point against lowly Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia — Fortunes down — Unsure anyone figured the Green Falcons as anything other than an obstacle, but their performance against host Russia was miserable.

Group B

Iran — Fortunes up — Carlos Queiroz would’ve circled the Morocco opener as a must-win. Mission accomplished, however it was done.

Portugal — Fortunes level — Needed a PK, goalie error, and wonder free kick to get a point from Spain. Still, got the point.

Spain — Fortunes down — Still look capable of imposing themselves on the tournament, but too many errors in their first outing.

Morocco — Fortunes down — Probably should’ve had a point against Iran, but would’ve wanted three anyway. Very disappointing and now a mountain ahead.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 15: Karim Ansarifard of Iran is challenged by Noureddine Amrabat of Morocco (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Group C

France — Fortunes level — Clearly the better side against Australia, didn’t inspire title confidence but could’ve easily nabbed a three- or four-goal win.

Denmark — Fortunes up — Despite being the second-best side against Peru, now can expect the knockout rounds by beating the Socceroos.

Australia — Fortunes down — France first was always going to be a struggle, but to fight so valiantly and fall to an own goal will be a mental hurdle ahead of Peru.

Peru — Fortunes down — Terrific energy and performance would’ve led to a win with any finishing luck, but getting a result from Denmark was very important. A loss presents a major challenge.

Group D

Croatia — Fortunes up — Its tactical options for the second match against Argentina are wide open after securing three points against Nigeria.

Argentina — Fortunes down — Forget control of the game and Lionel Messi’s 11 shots on target; Not getting full points against Iceland is a significant setback. A group stage without Messi is possible.

Iceland — Fortunes up — It remains hard to picture Iceland getting out of the group, but the UEFA side has now flummoxed Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in successive tournaments. Can they find a win against Nigeria to set up a wild final day?

Nigeria — Fortunes down — Group D was always going to be tough, but a 2-0 loss to Croatia means the margin of error is almost zero.

Group E

Serbia — Fortunes up — Forget how Serbia won, their fortunes have leapt due to Brazil drawing Switzerland.

Brazil — Fortunes down — Drawing their second-trickiest game could see Neymar and Co. in position to finish second in the group instead of first. The only silver lining is that Germany may also fail to claim its group and make runner-up a good thing for the Round of 16.

Switzerland — Fortunes up — Maybe Swiss supporters were expecting it, but a result against Brazil is a positive step for a team that took Argentina to extra time at the 2014 tournament but underwhelmed at EURO 2016.

Costa Rica — Fortunes down — Now needs to beat Brazil to have much hope of anything going into the final group match vs. Switzerland.

Group F

Sweden  — Fortunes level — Beating South Korea was nice and we understand the chemistry argument, but a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic would’ve feasted on the spoils offered in the opener.

Mexico  — Fortunes way up — El Tri is a very good tournament team, but if you had them beating Germany 1-0 in the opener you’re a better prognosticator than me.

Germany  — Fortunes down — Still favored to come out of the group and deep enough to repeat as champions, being unable to get a result from Mexico will only raise more questions about leaving Leroy Sane home (fair or not).

South Korea — Fortunes down — Would’ve wanted no less than four points from the Sweden and Mexico encounters, and has zero heading into the second against El Tri.

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA – JUNE 18: Andreas Granqvist of Sweden. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Group G

Belgium  — Fortunes up — Delivered expected dominance against Panama and could have a spot in the knockout rounds sewn up by the end of Day Two versus Tunisia.

England  — Fortunes up — There will not be Wayne Rooney questions about this tournament’s captain, as Harry Kane scored twice on a day he perhaps wasn’t at his best. Will clinch a berth in the knockout rounds by beating Panama next, you’d have to think.

Tunisia  — Fortunes slightly down — Needed to surprise England or Belgium to get out of the group, and still has a second opportunity after losing late to the Three Lions.

Panama  — Fortunes slightly down — Not sure anyone was expecting a Cinderella story, but even those will feel it more unlikely after a big loss to Belgium.

Group H

Japan  — Fortunes up — Not a bad team at all, but prospects were dim given the talent of the group. After beating Colombia in match one, there’s a house money feel to this one.

Senegal  — Fortunes up — Controversy aside, the Lions of Teranga deserved all three points against Poland and are in pole position to win the group.

Poland  — Fortunes down — Disappointing is an understatement leading into a match versus Colombia which could leave both on the outskirts with a match to go.

Colombia  — Fortunes down — Carlos Sanchez’s third minute red card didn’t ultimately doom them, but the task is tall with equally desperate Poland up next.