Can Arsenal challenge for the 2014-15 Premier League title?

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Optimism is building at the Emirates Stadium as we hurtle towards the start of the 2014-15 Premier League season.

Can the Gunners really challenge for the title?

After Arsenal brushed aside a slightly under strength Manchester City 3-0 to win the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday, fans of the North London club are starting to get quite excited about the season ahead. Why not?

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Arsene Wenger has finally been allowed to splash the cash and has spent over $95 million this summer on four players who will strengthen his squad considerably. Plus, if his star players can stay healthy for the entire season then a charge to win their first PL title since 2004 may not be out of reach.

[RELATED: Agger to Arsenal?]

Last season the Gunners led for vast swathes of the campaign and up until January they looked like the real deal. However with UEFA Champions League games taking their toll, the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere missing several months out through injury, plus other teams improving as the season wore on, Arsenal had to settle for their customary fourth-place finish. However they did win the FA Cup last season, their first trophy in nine years, so the pressure is off as they have finally delivered some silverware to the Emirates Stadium. Bringing the PL title back is the next step, albeit it a huge one.

If they can start well this term, maybe, just maybe, North London will be hosting a PL title parade next May. Let’s break it down and look at reasons on both sides of the coin as to how likely a title triumph is for Wenger’s men this season.

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After winning the FA Cup and Community Shield, can the Gunners win the PL title this season?

Here’s three reasons why Arsenal can win the Premier League…

1. Alexis Sanchez – Signing from Barcelona for $50 million, the Chilean attacker could be the missing piece in the jigsaw for Wenger. With Walcott, Chamberlain and Ozil alongside him and Olivier Giroud up top, Sanchez will prove to be a menace for opposition defenses. If he can score 20 goals plus, the Gunners may just win it all. He has the pace, skill and, most importantly, the strength to succeed in the PL. A big claim: Sanchez could be the game-changer Arsenal have missed since Thierry Henry departed in 2007.

2. Players coming of age – I’m looking at you, Jack Wilshere. Okay, not just the English midfielder but Kieran Gibbs, Ramsey and Walcott are all expected to step up and continue to develop. Wilshere has looked in good shape this preseason and if he can stay fit, Arsenal’s engine room has a true leader. Ramsey is a magician who shone last season, while the likes of Gibbs and Walcott are capable of kicking their play up to the next level.

3. New found depth across the board – If you look through the spine of their side, Arsenal now have plentiful options everywhere. In goal David Ospina will challenge Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will get cover from Calum Chambers, Sanchez compliments Ozil and Walcott superbly, while Yaya Sanogo will battle it out with Olivier Giroud up top. Strength in depth indeed. That will help not only in the PL, but also in the Champions League.

…and here are three reasons why they won’t

1. Lack of defensive cover – With Thomas Vermaelen allowed to leave for Barcelona, Wenger now has a couple of options at center back but not many. As we said Chambers can step in to play with Koscielny or Mertesacker but he has been earmarked as a holding midfielder by Wenger. Rumors of a move for Daniel Agger seems to be a good fit for the Gunners. If either Mertesacker or Koscielny get injured, they are struggling for CBs.

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Walcott, and many other Arsenal stars, have been injured far too much in recent seasons.

2. Injuries will probably play a part, again – It always seems to hit the Gunners hard every single season. If it’s not Wilshere, it’s Ramsey. If it’s not Walcott, it’s Oxlade-Chamberlain. Just when Wenger looks to have assembled a ruthlessly efficient yet moderatley stylish side they start to drop like flies. Maybe there needs to be more protein in the meals dished out at their London Colney training ground… who knows. Arsenal fans will be praying their squad can stay fit and healthy.

3. Wenger’s insistence to not ‘shut up shop’ away from the Emirates – Last season the Gunners were smacked 5-1 by Liverpool, 6-3 by Manchester City and 6-0 by Chelsea away from home. In all three games Wenger’s side were undone early by sloppy mistakes in midfield and the back as they tried to play their way out of trouble. Wenger is one of the greatest influences the English game has ever seen, don’t get me wrong. But at times he has to set his side up to grind out boring 1-0 wins on the road. When they can master that, Arsenal are ready to life the PL title. We all love their expansive, flowing style of soccer but substance counts for so much. Much more than Wenger gives it credit for, especially away from home on a wet and windy Tuesday night.

Keita powers Liverpool past injury-hit Bournemouth

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Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah each had a goal and an assist as Liverpool blew out Bournemouth 3-0 at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

There was some bad news in the mix for both team’s already injury-hit center back corps: Nathan Ake and Dejan Lovren both left the match early.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Its lead over Leicester City is back up to 11 points before the Foxes play at 9 a.m. ET Sunday, while Man City is 14 behind the Reds before Saturday afternoon’s Manchester Derby.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored Liverpool’s first goal of the win.


Three things we learned

1. Keita shoots his shot (literally and figuratively): When Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool captured Naby Keita, it felt like the beginning of something special. Instead it’s been fits and starts, with plenty of reports saying struggles with the language and the system might be holding hims back.

Well, if he’s back to his Leipzig-infused best, then look out world, because Keita was simply marvelous in his first PL start of the season. He had his goal and his assist, combining so well with Salah, but also completed 89 of 94 passes, 110 touches, three key passes, five of eight duels won, three tackles, and two interceptions.

2. Ake injury a huge hit: Nathan Ake has been a force for a poor Cherries side this season, and his injury did not look good. With Chelsea now able to buy players and possessing a buyback clause on their former stud, was this the last we saw of the Dutchman in a Bournemouth jersey? It could be the difference between Bournemouth staying comfortably midtable and dipping into the relegation zone.

3. Lovren injury a worry: Whether Lovren misses a long time or just a bit is still a problem for the Reds, who are going to be taxed heavily with Joel Matip already out and matches all over the world in the coming weeks.

Remember that Liverpool isn’t yet through to the Champions League knockout rounds, and that Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez could need to play every minute including Tuesday’s massive trip to dangerous Red Bull Salzburg. The good news, of course, is that Joe Gomez at his best has not been a downgrade from Lovren.

Man of the Match: Keita.


Bournemouth had a moment in the 26th miniute, Dominic Solanke unable to find a deflected cross that worried Adrian.

The Cherries lost their best player to injury, and that seemingly opened the doors at the back. Nathan Ake was felled by a muscle strain.

Moments later, Oxlade-Chamberlain got on the end of a Jordan Henderson long ball and took advantage of a sleeping Aaron Ramsdale to make it 1-0.

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The visitors made a sub soon after the goal, Dejan Lovren exiting for Trent Alexander-Arnold to send Joe Gomez to center back.

That’s when the Reds got their second goal from Keita, via Salah’s lovely pass.

A bad mistake from debutant Jack Simpson allowed Keita to cue up Salah for a return gift, the Egyptian calmly slotting past a struggling Ramsdale.

Smooth Spurs slice through Burnley

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Tottenham Hotspur was at its very best in blowing Burnley out of the water with a 5-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Harry Kane scored twice and added an assist as Spurs moved into fifth place with 23 points, while Burnley slipped into 13th via goal differential on 18 points.

It is the first clean sheet for Jose Mourinho as Spurs boss, but this was all about the goals. Kane’s goal were both classy to join a sensational Heung-Min Son marker that had the Internet abuzz. Moussa Sissoko and Lucas Moura also scored, with Dele Alli getting two assists.


Three things we learned

1. Kane at his very best, Dele keeps up form: Harry Kane entered the game on pace for an 18-goal league season, which might surprise you given how quiet he’s been. There was no problem with the volume on Saturday, as he scored not one but two simply wonderful goals straight out of his career highlight reel. If Kane can return to dominant force status, than there is no reason to believe Spurs cannot challenge for a Top Four space.

And Dele Alli, what can you say? He was far from incredible, especially given how good Son, Kane, and Lucas performed, but another two assists on the day give him three goals and three assists in four PL matches under Mourinho.

2. Maradona cloned in South Korea: We know Son is very good. We didn’t learn that, but we did learn that people in the year 2019 are still capable of full-field, Maradona/Messi level dribbles. Holy smoke, Sonny.

3. Burnley abject again as Spurs get rare clean sheet: The Clarets were up against it, yeah, but this was another performance that Sean Dyche will find it hard to stomach. The goals conceded hurt, but there was absolutely zero threat against a Spurs team which hasn’t been at its best in defense. Burnley now has seven shots on target in its last three games, which is not a good total, and the defending on Sissoko’s goal was pitiful and oh-so-easy.

Then again, the idea with Mourinho is that things would tighten up at the back, and the Portuguese manager trusted the same back line (including Serge Aurier) in getting a much-needed zero on the home scoreboard.

Man of the Match: Kane.


This was all Spurs from moment No. 1, and we wouldn’t want to be the Clarets when Burnley boss Sean Dyche shows film and takes training; The defending was terrible.

But take nothing away from Spurs, who scored incredible goals.

First Kane scored one of two trademark goals from distance (the second just inside the 18), and Dele set up Lucas Moura for fine second goal.

The third goal was Son’s incredible dribble goal, which is going to be on loop and really should be a favorite for Goal of the Season.

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Kane struck again (at bottom), and Sissoko rolled in the fifth goal with a calm finish after a scything 1-2 with Kane between Burnley’s poor defenders.

Here’s is Kane’s second:

Watford, Crystal Palace play to feisty draw

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Watford and Crystal Palace played out a 0-0 draw a Vicarage Road on Saturday as the hosts squandered several chances to pick up their first home win of the season.

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Wilfried Zaha was involved in plenty of hefty of challenges, for and against, as Palace huffed and puffed but didn’t really get going in attack. Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr both went close for Watford, who had new manager Nigel Pearson watching on from the stands.

With the point Watford remain bottom of the team and have nine points for the season, while Palace are in seventh place on 22 points.

3 things we learned

1. Pearson already having an impact: This was so much better from Watford. Similar to their narrow defeat at Leicester in midweek,  they looked compact and solid defensively and Deulofeu was a menace underneath Deeney. Pearson watched on from the directors box tentatively throughout, as caretaker Hayden Mullins oversaw a solid display which should have yielded three points.

2. Rattled Zaha targeted: Wilfried Zaha and Watford mean one thing: Fouls. Zaha was clearly targeted by the Hornets and he went down on several occasions all game long, but was booked for a foul of his own and to his disbelief his calls for fouls were often overlooked. There is previous here as Zaha was the target for the home fans and players, and Roy Hodgson did his best to calm the Ivorian winger down. Eventually he did calm down, but he was rattled. After his fine displays in recent wins, Zaha was far from his best.

3. Sarr adds cutting edge: Palace had to bring in Jairo Reidewald for Jeffrey Schlupp at half time at left back to try and stop Sarr’s driving runs down the right flank. He came close to scoring to add to his goal at Southampton last weekend, and his power and pace perfectly complimented Delofeu’s trickery. If Watford can stay solid defensively, Deulofeu, Deeney and Sarr will give plenty of defenses problems.

Man of the Match:


Both teams went close early as Troy Deeney‘s scuffed effort was cleared by James Tomkins, James McArthur sent a volley wide of the far post and then Ismaila Sarr’s shot was deflected wide at the other end.

Watford took the game to Palace early on as Pearson’s arrival as their new manager on Friday, even if he wasn’t in the dugout, had an impact. Gerard Deulofeu was popping up time and time again and his deliveries from set pieces caused Palace problems.

Once again in a game between Palace and Watford it was Wilfried Zaha who was at the center of things as the players piled in after he was caught by several defenders as he was on the floor, then he was booked moments later before Craig Cathcart also received a yellow for fouling Luka Milivojevic.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Watford pinned Palace back in the second half as they peppered the goal and Deulofeu raced clear before smashing just wide.

The Spaniard then crossed for Sarr but his effort was saved by Vicente Guaita as the game opened up in the closing stages with Ayew firing just over on the counter and then Gary Cahill twice denying Sarr with brilliant blocks.

Andre Gray shanked a shot goalwards after more good work from Sarr, while Deeney went down in the box in stoppage time and wanted a penalty kick, as tempers flared late on with Zaha involved again.

In the end the two teams canceled each other out with Palace lackluster in attack and Watford disappointed not to take three points to lift themselves closer to safety.

Watch Live: The Manchester Derby

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Manchester United can send a message to the Top Four and lay down a marker for its manager when it visits Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

United enters the match on 21 points, eight back of losing Chelsea and two behind fifth place Spurs, while City looks to climb ahead of Leicester City ahead of the Foxes 9 a.m. ET Sunday visit to Aston Villa.

But really, this is about territory, and whether Manchester is blue or red for a few months.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Angelino, Rodrigo, D Silva (C), De Bruyne, Bernardo, Sterling, G Jesus. Subs: Bravo, Gundogan, Mendy, Mahrez, Cancelo, Otamendi, Foden.

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Williams, Young, Andreas, Mata, Greenwood.