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.

De Gea signs new Man United contract

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Dave stays.

David De Gea has finally signed a new contract at Manchester United.

After months of talks, the 28-year-old has agreed to a new four year contract, which also includes the option to extend by another year.

Reports suggest that De Gea could earn up to $434,000 per week, making him the best-paid goalkeeper on the planet.

Speaking to the club website about extending his stay at Old Trafford, De Gea was delighted to finally sign the deal and remain in the Premier League after reported interest from both Juventus and Real Madrid.

“It has been a privilege to spend eight years at this great club and the opportunity to continue my career at Manchester United is a genuine honor,” De Gea said. “Since I arrived here, I could never have imagined I would play over 350 games for this club. Now my future is fixed, all I want is to help this team achieve what I believe we can and win trophies again, together.

“As one of the senior players in the squad, I want to support and lead in any way that I can to assist the younger players, so they know what it means to play here. I still feel that I have so much more to achieve at the club and I truly believe that Manchester United can build on the club’s tradition of success and reward our fans for their support. I am committed to continue repaying the fans for all of the care that they’ve shown me during the good times and the bad.”

That last line is key here. De Gea and United have had plenty of wobbles over the past six months, with the Spanish goalkeeper making some big errors at the tail end of last season as they dropped out of the top four race in disappointing fashion.

There is no doubt these lengthy contract negotiations played their part in De Gea’s dip in form, but there’s also no doubting his supreme quality as one of the best goalkeepers on the planet.

Nailing him down to a new long-term deal was a necessity and United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be relieved that it’s done. To replace a goalkeeper of De Gea’s quality would’ve cost the Red Devils at least $100 million, and this is a massive reward for DDG after his years of exceptional play.

He arrived in 2011 and has become one of the best goalkeepers on the planet, as he won four of the last six club Player of the Season awards.

A fully focused De Gea is wonderful news for United, as their defense is improving with two clean sheets and just four goals conceded so far this season.

Along with Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, all of a sudden this United defense has a very settled look to it.

Mane: Feud with Salah is over

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Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are friends again.

Sort of.

Following Mane’s angry reaction to not being passed the ball by Salah in their win at Burnley before the international break, there were concerns that the relationship between the two star forwards would impact their play on the pitch.

But speaking to French outlet Canal+ after their 3-1 win against Newcastle United on Saturday, Mane put a lid on the matter.

“With Salah? It’s forgotten,” Mane said. “Sometimes you have to say things face to face. These are things that happen in football, sometimes it happens that I am not given the pass. But we have reconciled and become the good friends we were before.”

That’s that then.

Salah posted the following video ahead of the weekend, which says it all.

Mane scored twice on Saturday to continue his stunning start to the season, so it hasn’t impacted his form. But Salah, the Egyptian King and darling of Anfield, has come out of this worse.

Liverpool fans, generally, were on Mane’s side in this disagreement and the Senegalese attacker has been applauded for his response.

Will this impact Salah’s confidence and the fluidity of Liverpool front three? Probably not.

As Mane said, these things happen in football but it does prove that despite all of the success something has been brewing behind-the-scenes at Liverpool.

Arsenal “too scared” of Watford in collapse

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Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka admitted the Gunners were “too scared” of Watford as they collapsed in the second half.

Leading 2-0 at half time thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal were totally outplayed in the second half as Watford roared back to draw 2-2 at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

Speaking after the game, Xhaka said the Arsenal players were not confident enough to see out the game.

“No-one wanted the ball. In the end we are happy to take a point,” Xhaka said. “We didn’t show our game in the second half, we were too scared… Every team in the Premier League is strong enough to score but you have to keep calm, to show good character, to be mentally strong. We weren’t today.”

If only this was a rare occurrence for Arsenal.

Under Unai Emery their defensive collapses have been frequent, and this issue even dates back to Arsene Wenger‘s final few seasons in charge.

Arsenal were their own worst enemies on Sunday.

Instead of playing the ball out of dangerous areas they tried to play short goal kicks time and time again and were caught in possession on several occasions. David Luiz gave away a penalty kick, Xhaka and Mateo Guendouzi were overrun in central midfield in the second half and in the end they were lucky to grab a point.

Trying the same things time and time again and expecting different results is just bonkers, and that is what this Arsenal squad is going.

Luiz, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Xhaka are players Arsenal have built their defensive core around, and the same issues keep cropping up when they are in the team. Adding Luiz to the mix after losing Laurent Koscielny was a risk and it seems like a move which will backfire for the Gunners.

It is true that defenders Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are all close to returning from injury, so when that happens perhaps we will see a newfound defensive solidity and things will improve.

Then again, it’s likely neutral everywhere will be grabbing their popcorn whenever Arsenal play this season because you’re guaranteed entertainment at both ends of the pitch.

Galaxy hammer Sporting KC; Zlatan: “I’m the best ever in MLS”

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LA Galaxy smashed Sporting Kansas City 7-2 on Sunday, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick then called himself the best player in MLS history.

Just a casual Sunday for Zlatan, then…

Ibrahimovic, 37, scored a hat trick as LA raced into a 7-1 lead after falling 1-0 behind early on as Felipe Gutierrez scored both of Sporting’s goals.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Ibrahimovic was typically humble after his hat trick which means he now holds the record for the highest scoring season in Galaxy history with 26 goals.

“I think I am the best ever to play in MLS. And that’s without joking,” Ibrahimovic said. “Scoring goals is easy, you just have to be like Zlatan and it’s coming.”

Zlatan is now two goals behind Carlos Vela in the race for the Golden Boot in MLS with four games remaining, and he’s now scored 48 goals in 52 games since arriving in MLS.

Joe Corona, Uriel Antuna and Sebastian Lletget grabbed the Galaxy’s other goals as they won for the first time in five MLS games to boost their chances of making the playoffs in the congested Western Conference.

With the defeat Sporting KC’s hopes of reaching the playoffs is all but over.

Check out the highlights in full below. It will take quite a while to sort through the nine goals, so set down and soak in Zlatan’s brilliance.