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Arsenal and the rut of consistency

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As the Gunners battle down the home stretch, a familiar fight brings familiar worries.

Arsenal has finished 3rd or 4th in the Premier League for 10 straight seasons. As the 2015/16 season hits the home stretch, the Gunners are fighting tooth and nail just to click the turnstile to 11 straight. They have not finished worse than 4th in the Premier League since 1996. The endless argument of consistency vs. success wages on at the Emirates, with no end in sight.

Arsene Wenger is an Arsenal legend. Nearing the conclusion of his 20th season in charge of Arsenal, the 66-year-old Frenchman does not have a single true failure on his managerial resume, yet he’s been dubbed a “specialist in failure” by Jose Mourinho.

Consistency is a Catch-22 that Arsenal and Wenger are both struggling to deal with. They are consistently consistent, a predictable machine, and it’s tearing them apart.

But to dissect the true issue with Arsenal, one must dive deeper than that. While the finishing position for the Gunners has been ultimately predictable each season, the route to the final destination has been dotted with moments of panic and uneasiness at the worst of times.

Fans have called for the dismissal of Arsene Wenger, but theres plenty of risk involved (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Fans have called for the dismissal of Arsene Wenger, but theres plenty of risk involved (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Take this year’s results. The club has put together an impressive record against the top teams domestically, with four wins, five draws, and two losses against the table’s current top seven, and an unblemished record against the others in the top four. The problem moments have come against teams Arsenal should beat – the teams Manchester City and Leicester City are beating up on. Of Arsenal’s six losses this season, four have come against teams in 8th (Southampton), 10th (Chelsea), 14th (West Brom) and 15th (Swansea).

And therein lies the failure Arsene Wenger has come to specialize in. Not all-out disaster, but compartmentalized catastrophes. Arsenal continues to be uncomfortable in the most comfortable moments. Last season, they finished in third, four points behind Manchester City. Where did those four points go? Two losses to Swansea City (finished 15th) and one to Stoke (finished 9th) were the culprits. The year before that, they fell to Aston Villa (finished 15th) on opening day, ultimately finishing three points back of Chelsea in third place. Going back even further to 2012/13, they lost to Norwich City (11th) in October and had disappointing draws against Southampton (14th), Aston Villa (15th), Fulham (12th) and Stoke City (13th) en route to 4th place finish, two back of Chelsea.

The Gunners have never shied away from the big moments, the big games, or the important pieces. It’s part of the reason they’ve managed a Champions League place for so many consecutive years. Just this season, they’ve bagged six points against Leicester City when few others have managed to decipher the Foxes. They’ve had goals in the 77th minute and 76th minute to pull level in the North London derbies and earn valuable points against arch-rivals Tottenham.

But even on a smaller scale, the slip-ups are inevitable. The Mirror posted an article lamenting the inability of the club to finish the chances Mesut Ozil has produced this season, the argument hinging on his assist-to-chance-creation ratio this season. But upon closer inspection, it isn’t all that horrible. Ozil has created 277 chances since the start of the 2013 season, of which just 32 have been put away for goals, a rate of 11.5%. That’s not very good, but when compared with the rest of the league, it’s not all that awful either. West Ham’s Dimitri Payet this season has a chance-conversion rate of 10%, while Willian‘s is at a paltry 7%, likely a major factor in Chelsea’s massive struggle this campaign. The Mirror makes a valid point that the finishing at the Emirates is not championship quality, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. But this does:

Expected goals spread out across an entire season calculates the probability of a team to win, lose, or draw based on the differential in chances created by Arsenal vs. their opponents. When boiled down, it means Arsenal is struggling at times not only in front of net but on the other end of the pitch too, allowing opponents to score on chances that are deemed poorer. Ultimately, this proves that the Gunners are disappointing across the board, a microcosm of their experiences the past few seasons.

Arsene Wenger's consistency has slowly transformed him into a polarizing figure (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Arsene Wenger’s consistency has slowly transformed him into a polarizing figure (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Injuries have also been a culprit for their moments of demise the last few seasons, and it’s an excuse they’ll beat to death, but where is the line? Arsenal’s been one of the best teams in the Premier League for years, so calling them “failures” is more complicated. They have been championship quality at times but not when spread out across the larger sample size of a single season. It’s easy to understand why the Arsenal front office is hesitant to risk the consistency that’s brought 19 straight Champions League berths and possibly a 20th to come. The allure of an elusive title is more than enticing, but having seen Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool in recent seasons, the peril also stares the Gunners in the face.

That risk is what likely keeps Arsene Wenger his job. Consistency has saved the Frenchman from failure. Consistency has also been the root of his disappointment. How much longer can the Gunners stand being good but not great? The lines between success and failure have been blurred at the Emirates, and questions remain about what’s best for the club going forward.

Man City – Leicester: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Man City – Leicester: Pep Guardiola will have just 13 first-team players at his disposal when Manchester City hosts Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 am ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

MAN CITY – LEICESTER STREAM LIVE

With a combination of injuries and confirmed cases of COVID-19 currently ravaging an already-thin squad, City have no choice but to tread water and simply stay afloat in the coming days and weeks as they attempt to reclaim the Premier League title from Liverpool. It’s a difficult position to be in, no doubt about it, and Leicester should present a tricky challenge for Guardiola and Co., without the likes of Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan, among others.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Man City and Leicester spent much of the 2019-20 season second and third — and third and second — in the PL table, each looking up at Liverpool miles and miles ahead, before winding up second and fifth, respectively. City won each of the two meetings last season — 3-1 at home in December, and 1-0 away in February.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Man City – Leicester this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Man City – Leicester (INJURY REPORT)

Aymeric Laporte makes the bench for City and Oleksandr Zinchenko is available but Bernardo Silva (thigh), Gabriel Jesus (undisclosed), Sergio Aguero (knee), and Joao Cancelo (foot) are out.

James Maddison is on the bench for Leicester City.


What they’re saying: Man City – Leicester

Pep Guardiola, on Man City’s injury issues: “With the situation we have right now, we need players from the academy. We have just 13 players fit. With the problems we have up front, he will stay with us. We will use him. We cannot forget, like with Phil, he is only 17 years-old. He has a lot of things to improve. We cannot anticipate the progress of every young player. We’ve had Phil, Eric, Liam and we have Cole Palmer, who will be an exceptional player. We congratulate the academy. I am the last step, but before there are a lot of people in the club working for this and it is a big success for them.”

Brendan Rodgers, on how to improve Leicester: “Firstly, we have a number of young players who can improve. Last season, we showed lots of real potential in the squad. I always felt that two things would help us to improve and continue to develop this process. One of those was time. That means time to work with the players who are here, making them better year on year, particularly the young players. They will have gained from the experiences of last season — good and bad. Time will improve James Maddison. Time will improve Harvey Barnes. Consistency will make us better as well. That will come with the introduction of quality.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Perhaps a bit surprisingly given their ongoing injury issues, City (-350) are heavy betting favorites with Leicester checking in as massive underdogs at +850. The draw (+480) might just make for the perfect speculative wager this weekend.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Man City – Leicester

City struggled to put away Bournemouth in the League Cup on Thursday, and will have largely the same group of players available on Sunday. Facing Leicester will be a significant increase in quality of opposition. Leicester might just get something out of this one and do Liverpool an early-season favor in the process. Man City 1-1 Leicester.


How to watch Man City – Leicester stream and start time

Kickoff: 11:30 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Benfica boss: Man City’s Otamendi “could be involved in Dias transfer”

Dias to Man City
Photo by Pedro Fiúza/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Benfica boss Jorge Jesus expects Ruben Dias to skip town, likely to Manchester City, pending a last-minute turn of events.

He’s hoping that Nicolas Otamendi will head back the other way, validating rumors this week that City had been dangling the Argentine in a hope to land Dias or Sevilla back Jules Kounde.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news ]

Jesus saw academy grad and Portuguese national teamer Dias score in a 2-0 win over Moreirense on Saturday, a goal the defender described as emotional in a nod to a possible departure.

The manager admitted that a Dias sale became likely when Benfica bowed out of the UEFA Champions League and was drawn into a discussion on Otamendi, whose value is being challenged by his lack of import at the Etihad Stadium.

“Otamendi is a Manchester City defender who could be involved in the Ruben [Dias] transfer. He already showed his ability at FC Porto, he plays for Argentina and has been a regular starter most years at Manchester City.

“He has stopped starting now and if it hadn’t been for that, maybe he wouldn’t have been included in this possible transfer.

“Of course, he’s a player we’d like to have. The player who joins us will have to be understand that my ideas are completely different from those at Manchester City.”

So that’s something.

Dias would combine with Aymeric Laporte and/or Nathan Ake to continue City’s center back revolution. John Stones and Eric Garcia are also currently at City with Otamendi and last season’s makeshift center back Fernandinho.

Bamford nods Leeds past Blades in goalkeepers’ duel

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Sheffield United – Leeds United: Patrick Bamford’s late goal gave Leeds an entertaining 1-0 win over Sheffield United in a day dominated by strong goalkeeping at Bramall Lane on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Leeds moves to 2W-1L on the season and keeps its first clean sheet after allowing seven goals through two matches.

Blades are now 0-3 and have not scored a goal.


3 things we learned: Sheffield United – Leeds United

1. (Mostly) Stymied! Leeds has been involved in two 7-goal thrillers and Blades were without two longtime starters at center back, so goals were on the menu. What was served? Enticing, small plates. The football was good but the finishing not there for most of the affair.

2. Bamford perseveres: Chance after chance came for Bamford, who looped a header over the goal and saw another good effort saved by Ramsdale before he pounded a header inside the far post with mere minutes to play.

3. Ramsdale shines: Blades goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was just okay last season with Bournemouth so it was a bit surprising to see the price tag attached to him. He looked the part on Sunday, making six saves including two inside of the box and would’ve been Man of the Match had Bamford not won their day-long duel.

Man of the Match

Bamford


Sheffield United – Leeds United recap

Leeds was bright and ready, a dynamic long pass to Jack Harrison undone by a rough touch and Blades goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale making a save on an advanced Luke Ayling.

At the other end, John Lundstram hit a shot wide in the sixth minute to signal intent from the hosts.

Illan Meslier made a terrific save in the 29th when David McGoldrick’s cute flick to Lundstram was saved in the heart of the six.

Ramsdale made a good save on Stuart Dallas eight minutes later, both teams finding openings to shoot.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Bamford popped a header over the goal in the first half and challenged Ramsdale to win a corner in the 56th minute.

Basham cleared a Stuart Dallas chance off the line five minutes later, the opportunities certainly real and dangerous.

Bamford found his winner in the 88th, Leeds grabbing a second win on the season off a cross from ex-NYCFC man Jack Harrison.

Tottenham – Newcastle United: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Tottenham – Newcastle United: Can Newcastle United score an upset against travel-weary Tottenham Hotspur in North London on Sunday (Watch live at 9 am ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)?

Spurs have gone from London to Bulgaria to Southampton to Macedonia and are now back in London for Sunday’s match-up with a Newcastle team that surprised them at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a little over a year ago.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Spurs bent Shkendija in Europa League play on Thursday, with Heung-min Son posting a goal and two assists over 90 minutes. Harry Kane and Giovani Lo Celso came off the bench in what could be a sign of Jose Mourinho’s intent for Sunday.

Newcastle has been off since Wednesday’s 7-0 demolition of 10-man League Two side Morecambe in the League Cup. Steve Bruce did the trick without fitness-question Allan Saint-Maximin as well as rested Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson.

STREAM TOTTENHAM – NEWCASTLE UNITED LIVE

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham – Newcastle United this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Tottenham – Newcastle United (INJURY REPORT)

Sergio Reguilon makes the bench for Tottenham, but the big news is that Dele Alli has been left off the 18 altogether.

Miguel Almiron finally gets his place back in the Newcastle XI, but it’s only because electric winger Allan Saint-Maximin missed out through injury. Jamal Lewis (eye) makes the bench after a scary injury at the foot of Yves Bissouma, while Andy Carroll heads to the bench for Joelinton.


What they’re saying: Tottenham – Newcastle United

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho on Tanguy Ndombele’s 90 minutes versus Shkendija: “He played very well. Of course in a game where I can imagine our percentage of ball possession was very, very high and our percentage is high he feels obviously much more comfortable. However, even without the ball he had recovery, he had duels, he had defensive transition. It was a really positive game from Tanguy, really happy.

Newcastle’s Steve Bruce on meeting Spurs: “We can’t think we can go and play against the top teams and match them just in a game of football. We have to do something different, tactically. We did it well against the top teams last year. Let’s hope we can do the same again this year.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Newcastle United is not expected to get anything out of this, +600 to win and +360 to take a point compared to Tottenham’s -225 to win.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Tottenham – Newcastle United

The Magpies can take some hope from Palace’s consecutive wins away to Manchester United, but Spurs should deliver the goods. Questions about Saint-Maximin’s fitness even if he does play ask even more, as does the fact that Steve Bruce has been keeping Miguel Almiron on the bench to start matches. Throw in Bruce versus Mourinho and it’s safe to expect Spurs to overcome their travel-weary legs and post a 3-1 win.


How to watch Tottenham – Newcastle United stream and start time

Kickoff: 9 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com