Wenger ahead of Arsenal protests: “Banks demanded I signed for five years”

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Arsene Wenger has a message for Arsenal fans ahead of widespread protests planned from the home fans at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday as they face Norwich City (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra).

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After 20 years in charge Wenger, 66, wants to remind Gunners fans of his commitment to their future as it is claimed he turned down Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona in order to safeguard the future of Arsenal.

He believes the current criticism of him and his team is unjust, despite Arsenal not winning a Premier League title in 12 years and seeing their title dreams turn into a top four scramble in the closing months of this season with Tottenham and Leicester City above them.

In regards to Arsenal’s move to the Emirates Stadium and the complicated financial deal to get it over the line, Wenger had the following to say to the media (courtesy of the Guardian) ahead of what promises to be a difficult day for him.

“When we built the stadium the banks demanded I signed for five years,” Wenger said. “I did it. Do you want me to tell you how many clubs I turned down during that period? I have shown I am committed.

“The banks wanted the technical consistency to guarantee we had a chance to pay back [the loan],” Wenger added. “I did commit and I stayed, under very difficult circumstances. So for me to find [his critics] are reproaching me for not winning the championship during that period I think is a bit overboard. I accept criticism but I think that it is a bit too far.

“When we built the stadium, we knew we’d have five to seven difficult financial years where we had to pay the money back: we had to be three years in the Champions League out of five and have an average of 54,000 people [to meet costs], and we didn’t know we would be capable of that. We had to sell our best players every year to survive but we didn’t do three years out of five in the Champions League. We did five out of five. Now the club is in a stronger position and we can compete again with our main opponents.”

Arsenal fans, do you agree with Wenger on this?

Many aren’t disputing the fact that Wenger has his hands tied as the likes of Robin Van Persie, Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas moved on to help finance the move to the Emirates, but they want success. They’ve had over a decade of hearing Wenger talk about how finances have dictated that the team can’t compete for trophies. They showed their disdain last week by staying away in their thousands from the 2-0 win over West Brom. 

[ MORE: Empty seats galore at the Emirates mean big problems

The protests on Saturday will be against Wenger, but only because he’s a focal point of the club. The main criticism will go against Arsenal’s board and majority shareholder Stan Kroenke for failing to invest heavily in the squad and make any managerial change which is needed.

Arsenal seem highly likely to finish in the top four for the 19th-straight season and qualify for the UEFA Champions League. That achievement under Wenger should not be understated, especially as we see giants like Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool struggling to finish in the top four in recent seasons.

The biggest issue is, even if Wenger was to move on this summer, who is a a better option than him right now? Maybe that’s the biggest point of contention for Arsenal fans. They are stick between a rock and a hard place.

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT closes out group v. Panama

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It’s a fully-changed starting XI for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it closes out the group stage against Panama at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga start together in the backline, Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup up top, and Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis feature on the wings alongside Altidore. Ten of the 11 players now ply their trade in MLS, including the Gonzalez, who recently moved to Toronto FC.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Panama in Kansas City]

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

Must-See Goal: Wayne Rooney v. Orlando City

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Wayne Rooney just scored the most amazing goal in Audi Field’s young history.

In the 10th minute of D.C. United’s match against Orlando City SC on Wednesday evening, Rooney noticed Orlando’s Brian Rowe straying way off his line. And so, with an audacious but accurate attempt, Rooney let fly from 65 yards and SCORED. Just check this goal out below.

[FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Panama]

Rooney took advantage of a crazy bounce and with his literal first touch, unleashed a thunderbolt that Rowe couldn’t catch up to. It automatically becomes one of the top contenders for the MLS Goal of the Year, and should make it on every top ten countdown this evening and tomorrow.

Benfica: Atletico Madrid make $143 million bid for Felix

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The legend of Joao Felix appears to have reached full market value potential.

The 19-year-old Portuguese striker is coming off a breakout year for Benfica, and now the Portuguese giants have received an impressive $143 million offer from Atletico Madrid for Felix. The club confirmed the offer in a statement on its website, stating it was analyzing the deal. Felix has a $136.5 million release clause in his contract, but it appears the additional $7 million is in processing costs.

[READ: Kroos wants to retire at Real Madrid]

Felix was outstanding at Benfica last year, scoring 15 goals with seven assists in 26 league games and three goals and one assist in five Europa League game. Felix has already made his international debut for Portugal.

If confirmed, Felix would become the fifth-most expensive transfer in world history, and the second-most expensive transfer for a teenager behind Kylian Mbappe.