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.

Newcastle takes three points at Sheffield United

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Allan Saint-Maximin and Jonjo Shelvey scored goals and VAR made its presence felt as Newcastle United toppled Sheffield United 2-0 at Bramall Lane on Thursday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Its Newcastle’s fifth result from six following a loss to Chelsea, while Sheffield United sees the end of its seven-match unbeaten run.

The Magpies pull into 11th place with 19 points, two spots below the Blades on goal differential.

Sheffield United meets Norwich City on Sunday, when Newcastle hosts Southampton.


Three things we learned

1. Blades make rookie mistake in VAR era: The linesman’s flag was raised when Andy Carroll flicked a header into the Blades final third, but Shelvey kept running onto the ball and referee Stuart Atwell allowed play to continue into the 1v1 chance between the midfielder and Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson. Shelvey passed around Henderson and into the goal, the backstop apparently spotting the flag and assuming the call. Big mistake, as VAR negated the linesman’s flag.

2. Bruce rewarded for lineup risk, and ASM breaks down the door: Manager Steve Bruce pulled the plug on big money striker Joelinton‘s automatic spot in the Starting XI, installing veteran center forward and hometown hero Andy Carroll in that spot. Carroll was solid with Saint-Maximin and Miguel Almiron on his flanks, and won the pivotal assist in the second half.

Saint-Maximin is either the league’s best dribbler or a fixture in the debate, but he’s been unable to find the back of the goal whether through fine saves or misfired shots. Raise your hand if you had 50-50 header for his first Premier League marker. Didn’t think so. If this busts down the door, look out.

3. Magnificent Martin deserves a rest: Newcastle backstop Martin Dubravka was the biggest factor in the result, as the Slovakian national team goalkeeper was at his shot-stopping best. He was stopping all of the Olivers, with fine stops on McBurnie and Norwood in the first half and a well-controlled box in the second 45.

Man of the Match: Dubravka — Respect to Carroll, but the keeper made six saves on the night for a richly-deserved clean sheet.


[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

A deflection off Miguel Almiron forced Martin Dubravka into a fine reaction stop in the sixth minute.

Newcastle then had the ball for a spell without real threat, as Blades’ Oli McBurnie’s curl wide in the 15th minute was the next moment of danger for either side.

The Magpies scored soon after, Saint-Maximin rising high to thump a header inside the post after Andy Carroll laid off for Javi Manquillo‘s cross.

McBurnie then forced an incredible save out of Dubravka when George Baldock sent a terrific cross into the heart of the box.

Almiron gave away a dangerous free kick in first half stoppage time, but Dubravka was again there for a two-handed parry of Oliver Norwood‘s rip.

VAR made its voice heard in the 71st minute, when it ruled that

Everton must think bigger than retread replacement for Silva

Photo by Richard Sellers - PA Images via Getty Images
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Marco Silva is out as Everton manager, the Toffees turning the page on a disappointing execution of their ambitious vision.

Despite plenty of investment, Silva’s Everton wasn’t able to do much of anything good and now sits in the Premier League’s Bottom Three after 15 match days.

[ MORE: Everton sacks Silva ]

Silva’s men finished eighth in the league during his first season, but the best he can say about his truncated sophomore campaign is that the club are into the League Cup quarterfinals.

So what will Everton do now? Well, Duncan Ferguson is in charge for the Toffees’ Saturday visit from Chelsea, though the club has vowed to “swiftly” find their next full-time boss.

Frankly, the club could do its next man a favor by taking its time, as the post-Chelsea fixtures are Manchester United, Leicester City in the aforementioned cup fixture, and Arsenal.

Back on topic, what the Toffees should do is appoint a man with vision. While it would be tempting to slide into the comfortable slippers that are David Moyes, appointing him or some Sam Allardyce or Mark Hughes type would be another step in the wrong direction.

That’s because this is truly an opportunity for the right coach to take the club in a tremendous direction. Everton might be in the drop zone, but its talent is a mile ahead of true relegation candidacy.

Whoever is hired — and this is why Big Sam is probably holding aloft a boombox outside Goodison Park — is going to “save the Toffees” and earn another season at the helm. Allowing that to be some retread would be a mistake.

Rafa Benitez isn’t going to come to Goodison Park because of his relationship with Liverpool, but a a manager of his ilk should very much be in play. The Toffees boast a still-improving star forward in Richarlison and two proper fullbacks in Lucas Digne and Djibril Sidibe.

Richarlison is 22, Alex Iwobi is 23, and Moise Kean just 19 and adapting to a new country. Defenders Yerry Mina, Mason Holgate, and Michael Keane are all under 26. A manager who can develop and fine tune talent will have a field day with this roster. Imagine Dominic Calvert-Lewin reaching his potential.

Their 9.1 shots allowed per game is a figure bettered by only Man City and Chelsea. The side has been prone to allowing those shots to be dangerous ones, but there’s every reason to believe that fixing their fourth-worst goals conceded total should happen soon given some adequate goalkeeping performances.

Jordan Pickford is England’s No. 1, but hasn’t been right for the Toffees. Logically, he’ll get back to at least average and start stealing some points. The goals are going to keep coming, and likely increase with the wins; Everton is eighth in the xG table.

The Premier League is better when Everton is a good side. The Toffees are not going to be relegated this season, and need to approach that hiring with that mindset. Get someone worth believing in, not just blind hope and a nod to the past.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Brighton, Sheffield Utd v. Newcastle

Photo by Harriet Lander/Copa/Getty Images
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Matchweek 15 of the 2019-20 Premier League season wraps up on Thursday, with two more midweek clashes featuring two mid-table sides, and two more from much nearer to the relegation zone, in action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

First up, PL new boys (and 9th-place side) Sheffield United will host 14th-place Newcastle United, who sit just two points outside the relegation zone ahead of kickoff. 45 minutes later, 10th-place Arsenal will host 16th-place Brighton & Hove Albion in Freddie Ljungberg’s first home game as Arsenal interim manager.

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The schedule for Thursday’s two games is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


2:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Newcastle United [STREAM]
3:15 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Brighton & Hove Albion [STREAM]

Marco Silva fired by Everton

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Marco Silva has been fired as manager of Everton, making him the fourth Premier League manager to lose his job in the last 16 days.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Silva reported for a regular day’s work at Everton’s training ground on Thursday, a day after suffering a 5-2 defeat to local rivals Liverpool, all while a conference call was expected to take place involving the relevant figures: owner Farhad Moshiri, chairman Bill Kenright, chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale and director of football Marcel Brands.

15 games into the 2019-20 PL season, the Toffees currently sit 18th in the league table with less than a point per game — relegation territory — on the back of three straight losses and just four wins all season. Silva’s only victory since mid-October came against fellow bottom-four side Southampton nearly a month ago.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

It’s not just the number of losses for Everton (now up to nine) on the season thus far, but many of the sides to which they’ve lost (newly promoted Aston Villa, 12th-place Bournemouth, newly promoted Sheffield United, 11th-place Burnley, 16th-place Brighton & Hove Albion and 19th-place Norwich, to name a few) that forced them further and further down the table and made relegation a semi-serious threat, at least for the time being.