Premier League Preview: Aston Villa vs. Arsenal

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  • Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 15 Premier League visits to Villa Park, winning eight and drawing seven.
  • Villa have made their best start to a season since 1998-99, when they also had 10 points after four games.
  • Villa have more points (10) than shots on target this season (six). They have had fewer shots on target than any other side in the division. (BBC Sport)

On Saturday, around 9:45 am ET, an oddly interesting matchup will occur at the Villa Park when high-flying Aston Villa faces Arsenal, who haven’t enjoyed the best fortune recently. The game will be televised on NBCSN.

Paul Lambert’s side has found itself as one of the surprise teams in the early Premier League season, alongside Swansea City, both squads occupying the second and third place spots in the table.

Villa is coming off an noteworthy 1-0 victory over Liverpool last week, and have notched wins against weaker opponents, Hull City and Stoke City. Austrian forward Andreas Weimann has spearheaded the offensive efforts of his team, leading the team with two goals and also notching an assist. Philippe Senderos has barely shown his deficiencies, as the center back has aided the Lions to measure three clean sheets in their opening four games.

Arsenal, though, didn’t expect the slow beginning to their 2014-15 BPL campaign, having failed to win in their last four league games to stand at seventh place in the table.

The squad’s goal is to make a championship run, and they will look to get back on that track after a 2-0 Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park this past Tuesday. Mesut Ozil, one of the most tactically-gifted footballers in the world, hasn’t played his finest recently, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Carzola are pushing hard to seize playing time. Luckily, the Gunners big signing of the summer, former FC Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez, has stepped up and scored three goals this season. He’s created the most scoring chances on the team as well.

Match Absences: Villa captain Ron Vlaar doesn’t seem in position to take the pitch on Saturday, since he’s still battling the calf injury that kept him sidelined v. Liverpool last week. Striker Libor Kozak is recovering from a broken leg, while Christian Benteke, a vital piece to the Villa, has come back to training, eyeing a return in the near future.

Arsenal will likely welcome back Calum Chambers and Mathieu Flamini, with Jack Wilshere the questionable man to play following an ankle knock against Dortmund. Mathieu Debuchy (ankle), Olivier Giroud (foot), Serge Gnabry, Theo Walcott (knees), Nacho Monreal (back) and Yaya Sanogo (hamstring) are all listed as “out” for the Gunners.

What they’re saying:

Villa boss Paul Lambert on Philippe Senderos (Lichfield Mercury):He’s always been a steady centre half and I liked him at Fulham last season. I always thought he was consistent. Philippe is a great professional and a top, top pro who does everything right. He’s got a pedigree behind him and has played at three World Cups, played for Arsenal, Milan and Valencia. Coming here I knew he could handle it. We got [Senderos] on a free and just look at his performances for us.”

Gunners midfielder Miguel Arteta on Dortmund loss (The Guardian): “We encouraged them by giving the ball away so many times in very difficult positions when the team was open. I am very disappointed because we knew their strengths, what we had to avoid and what we did was encourage them to play the way they wanted. They broke on us five or six times in the first 10 minutes when we gave the ball away. It’s not good enough. The accuracy when we were taking the ball and trying to play was missing.”

Prediction: Arsenal is the more talented team in this match, plain and simple. But there’s been something about Aston Villa in these opening weeks of the Premier League, so it’s difficult to assume that Wenger will achieve an easy three points. This one has a strong possibility of the victor winning by a one-goal difference.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.

Clark County “declines to prosecute” Ronaldo for rape

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Cristiano Ronaldo will not face sexual assault charges for a June 2009 incident in the United States, attorneys say.

An American woman filed a civil lawsuit against the Juventus superstar last year, claiming that Ronaldo forced himself upon her while she was in a prone position in his hotel room.

[ MORE: Bayern keen on Zaha ]

Ronaldo had expressed belief that he would be cleared of the claims, and claimed that graphic documents produced by German publication Der Spiegel were altered and fabricated.

Las Vegas police issued a warrant in a bid to get Ronaldo’s DNA, and the DA’s office says the woman’s refusal to name her attacker stopped them for collecting “vital evidence.” The woman reached a civil settlement with Ronaldo in 2010.

From News3LV.com:

“Based upon a review of the information presented at this time, the allegations of sexual assault against Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the D.A.’s office said. “Therefore, no charges will be forthcoming.”

Bayern Munich kicking the tires on big Zaha bid

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A sensational report is linking Wilfried Zaha not just with a move away from Crystal Palace, but a move clear of the Premier League altogether.

90min.com says that Bayern Munich has turned to Zaha, having been rebuffed in their pursuit of Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.

Palace wants $100 million for Zaha, but so far has only received a $50 million offer from Arsenal for his services. Reports Monday said Arsenal is upping its bid, and offering a loan of Reiss Nelson as a make-good. Palace has had good Fortune with loans from the big boys of the PL, in particular with Ruben Loftus-Cheek two seasons ago.

A lot of this makes sense for all parties, apart from Sane, and it will be interesting to see if the report brings a bigger bid from the Gunners.

Zaha is a sensational player, and has created chances year-after-year for the Eagles. He wants to taste the Champions League, but Palace is not willing to let him go for (much) less than its asking price given its sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United.

Bayern will spend less on Zaha than it would on Gareth Bale or Sane, and get a determined player who is very much in his prime. Zaha would also get the chance to showcase himself with actual breathing room on the pitch, thanks to Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, and others.

And Palace, of course, will end up with between $80-100 million and the knowledge that it won’t need to mark Zaha on a Premier League pitch. More importantly, the money raised from Zaha and Wan-Bissaka will allow them to strengthen at nearly every position (above what they have now, not above AWB and Zaha).