Petr Cech’s Arsenal arrival — the final piece for a real Premier League title challenge?

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As the 2015-16 Premier League season gets ready to spread its wings this weekend, Pro Soccer Talk is getting you ready with a week full of projections, lists, news and views.

Yet again, this year’s Premier League title figures to be a four-horse race featuring all the usual suspects from the top of the table year after year — Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, in a totally alphabetical, non-preferential order.

[ MORE: Season previews of all 20 PL teams

For a number of years, the narrative surrounding Arsenal was that they play beautiful football — perhaps too beautiful — and lacked the necessary experience, guile and defensive nuance to grind out ugly, tight games against the league’s other top teams.

The summer arrival of longtime Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech does two things for Arsene Wenger’s side ahead of the 2015-16 season: 1) gives the Gunners one of best — still — veteran goalkeepers in the league (13 major trophies won in 11 seasons at Chelsea), a position which has been in constant flux since Jens Lehmann’s first departure in 2008; and 2) automatically guarantees a more organized defensive unit capable of making in-game adjustments on the fly without the directives of Wenger.

[ MORE: Best possible starting lineups for all 20 PL teams | Top 5 PL goalkeepers

Recent history shows that to win the PL, a team must possess an elite defensive unit capable of conceding far fewer than a goal per game, or a lethal attack capable of averaging close to or more than two goals per game. Arsenal’s best hope of winning the league this season is with the former (36 goals conceded in 2014-15 — four off the pace of league winners Chelsea — while scoring just 71 — 12 off the pace of high-scoring Man City).

Of the last 13 Premier League-winning sides, all 13 won the title on the back the league’s stingiest defense and/or highest scoring attack. Of the 13, four possessed both a league-leading defense and attack (Arsenal – 2004; Chelsea – 2006; Man United – 2008; Man City – 2012), while four (Man United – 2003, 2009; Chelsea – 2005, 2015) possessed just the league’s best defense, and the other five (Man United – 2007, 2011, 2013; Chelsea – 2010; Man City – 2014) the most potent attack.

[ MORE: Predicting the final league standings — Who wins? CL places? Relegation? ]

source: Getty Images
Petr Cech, 2011-12 Champions League winner

Since winning their last league title in 2004, Arsenal have topped the charts in any of the above categories just once — the 2004-05 season when they outscored the next highest-scoring team, Chelsea, by 15 goals, but finished second to the Blues, 12 points off the title.

While his most basic duty a Arsenal net-minder will be to save the shots and command his 18-yard box in a way that Wojciech Szczesny, David Ospina, Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia were unable to do for the Gunners, Cech’s biggest impact on the current Arsenal team will be found in the confidence and acumen passed down to Arsenal current crop of promising young defenders, like Calum Chambers, Gabriel Paulista, Kieran Gibbs and Hector Bellerin.

With Cech in goal, you almost have to believe that Arsenal are capable of defending opposition sides at an unparalleled level and finishing the 2015-16 season right back where they find themselves now, at the very top, albeit only by virtue of alphabetical order.

Everton’s Silva: ‘It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score’

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Like in the two games leading into Friday night, Everton have done their part in creating clear-cut chances.

They haven’t done their part in finishing, however. A major point of concern for manager Marco Silva following his side’s 2-0 loss against Aston Villa. From the BBC:

“It is really difficult to see how we can lose this game when we create so many chances to score. It is a tough place to play football.”

The Toffees have now outshot all three opponents they’ve faced this season (34-21), but have only a goal to speak for their attacking dominance. Against Villa, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Theo Walcott squandered ideal chances in the first and second halves, respectively. In the minutes following his Everton debut, Alex Iwobi was the closest to converting for the visitors, hitting the post in the closing minutes of the match.

Silva, as critical as ever before, acknowledges that despite his team succeeding when it comes to creating chances, they desperately need to move the ball past the white line.

“The most difficult thing is to create and when you do you have to put the ball in the net,” the 42-year-old added. “It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score and of course we should score more. Against Palace we created lots of chances to score and didn’t and again today.”

With a challenging bout against Wolves at Goodison Park next on the schedule, the Portuguese will certainly look to tinker his attack to improve the team’s poor conversion rate. Despite falling to score 10 yards in, Iwobi contributed positively for Everton at Villa Park. Moise Kean, still adjusting to the rigors of the league, can be another prudent option to consider.

Luckily, Everton have time – and a match against Lincoln City midweek – to weigh their options. Silva, as he clearly explained at Villa Park, would want the goals to come in sooner rather than later.

Villa’s Wesley hopes to ‘continue like this’ after scoring first goal

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Anwar El Ghazi was the x-factor Friday night, giving every Aston Villa supporter in attendance at Villa Park the excuse to roar at the top of their lungs following his composed finish in the dying seconds of stoppage time.

But about an hour earlier, Villa’s $28-million striker, Wesley, gave the same supporters a reason to believe that they had a chance against Everton, and, most importantly, that Villa made the right decision in securing his signature just months ago.

[ MORE: Recap | Highlights ]

With a timely run and a well-paced strike, the Brazilian opened his Premier League and Aston Villa account. Something manager Dean Smith knew was bound to happen. From the BBC:

“Wesley is not rewarding me but this performance was very good tonight. I believe in him, I have watched him for a while at Club Bruges, playing in the Champions League so I know the calibre of player we were bringing in. You can’t judge someone after two games.”

Prior to Friday, Wesley was less effective than expected in the claret and blue, recording only two shots on target in his first 164 minutes in the league. Smith was swarmed with questions about the striker’s ineffectiveness as the pressure continued to pile on.

Against Everton, however, with the Villa struggling to keep possession and most playing through frenetic counter attacks, the 22-year-old made the most out of the small number of chances he saw. 21 minutes in, he scored. A couple of minutes later – if it wasn’t for a superb last-second tackle from Everton’s Yerry Mina – the Brazilian would have had a brace.

When he wasn’t aiming for goal, the striker was effectively displacing Everton’s back four with his clever runs and brawny hold-up play. One could tell that the Brazilian was playing the game to his strengths, in peace.

“I am very happy tonight, what a performance from the team,” Wesley said after the match. “We worked hard, played very well and we hope to continue like this week by week then we will see what happens.

“The manager knows me, he sees me everyday working hard and the supporters know me too. I keep calm, I know my qualities and today you saw that I can do.

“I hope to continue like this, the last two games were very difficult but now I have to help my team with goals.”

Time will tell if Wesley will continue on the same path, but after a slow start, its quite crystal clear that everyone at Aston Villa is behind the Brazilian striker.

Late El Ghazi goal seals Aston Villa victory over Everton

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With three points under their belt and Villa Park rocking like never before, it now feels like Aston Villa are finally back in the Premier League.

Pinned back the majority of the second half, trying to conserve a 1-0 lead, Anwar El Ghazi‘s last-gasp goal sealed the deal for Villa, edging Everton 2-0 on Friday.

Wesley‘s cathartic welcome to the Premier League 21 minutes in gave Dean Smith‘s side the room to breathe, despite being behind the ball the majority of the match.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Four things we learned

1. Certainly not the case last time they featured in the Premier League, Villa now have the luxury of boasting game-changing choices off the bench like El Ghazi, who can come in and finish things off.

2. Three matches in, and the Toffees’ glaring void is a clinical finisher up top. They’ll need to find a solution, sooner rather than later.

3.  In the 30-minute cameo, Alex Iwobi displayed that he can turn out to be a difference-maker for Everton this season, if utilized properly.

4. On a good night, there aren’t many stadiums that roar louder than Villa Park.

Man of the Match


Jota, positive for 77 minutes on the right side of the midfield, combined time and time again with Villa right back Frederic Guilbert for the greater good of creating energetic counters. The Spaniard’s first assist of the season came in similar fashion, when Wesley finished off his precise through ball.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Everton, like in the first half, imposed themselves on the home side, dominating control of the ball. A lack of fishing and creativity in the final third, however, complicated things for Marco Silva‘s side. As the clocked ticked, the ingenuity was nowhere to be found.

Shortly after coming on, Iwobi put forward the clearest chance Everton had experienced all night. The substitute’s shot, though, struck post, denying any chances of a brilliant debut by the former Arsenal man.

Villa continued to sit back with its four-man backline and Douglas Luiz right above as the No. 6, while remaining attentive on when to spring forward and take advantage of an unbalanced Everton.

El Ghazi surprised many, riffling a shot from 25 yards out. Pickford, vigilant as ever before, calmly blocked it out of danger.

Right before stoppage time, the Toffees were a couple of feet from walking away from Villa Park with a vital point. Theo Wolcott, however, failed to keep his strike leveled, skying the ball well over the bar.

Just minutes later, substitute El-Ghazi showed those watching how to finish, leading Villa to their first Premier League win since 2016.

AT HALF: Wesley scores first goal for Aston Villa

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With pressure certainly on, Wesley scored his first Premier League goal, which has Aston Villa 45 minutes out of their first points since their return to the big stage.

Following a sublime through ball from Jota, the Brazilian didn’t shy away from slotting the ball past Jordan Pickford and into the back of the net.

[ STREAM: Aston Villa – Everton ]

Such timely run and clinical finish showcased by the 22-year-old put into perspective why Villa were willing to shell out $28 million for the striker this summer.

Welcome to the Premier League, Wesley.