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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Arsenal

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In the eyes of Arsenal’s fans the 13-time champions of England have had a rough stretch the past decade, failing to add to the three Premier League titles Arsene Wenger delivered in his first eight years in charge of the Gunners.

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One of the best supported teams in England, and worldwide, their glistening Emirates Stadium is a beacon of all that’s right about modern day soccer.

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Hampered with the cost of that stadium for so long, Arsenal were unable to give Wenger significant transfer funds and he had to sell key players over the past decade. That time has now passed with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and now Granit Xhaka arriving for big money but with more money spent comes bigger expectations and Arsenal’s fans are perhaps the most expectant fans in the land.

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Anything other than a title this season will be seen as a disappointment as their failure to overtake surprise champs Leicester City last season led to protests from fans against Wenger and the board even though they finished in second place and qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the 19th-straight season. In the offseason Arsenal’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis has reaffirmed the Gunners’ stance that they will not spend vasts sums of money to take on their PL rivals. That’s not what Arsenal’s fans will want to hear.

Why Arsenal will sweep all before them and win a first PL title since 2004: If Ozil runs the show and the likes of Olivier Giroud, Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all stay fit then the Gunners can have a real go. They’ll also need Petr Cech to have the season of his life in goal and Laurent Koscielny to dominate the defense with Per Mertesacker out injured. Too much to ask?

But they’ll probably just finish fourth by the skin of their teeth: Because, well, this is Arsenal, and this is the most likely outcome. Most likely we will see a misfiring Giroud, then Sanchez will do down injured and their defense will fall apart away from home. We’ve been here so many times before. Kudos to Wenger for delivering top four finishes for 20-straight seasons but in all honesty finishing in the top four this campaign would be a huge achievement. Revamped Man City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool will all push them hard.


Best possible XI

—– Cech —–

— Bellerin — Mertesacker — Koscielny — Monreal —

—- Wilshere — Xhaka —-

— Ozil — Ramsey — Sanchez —

—– Giroud —–


Transfers In: Granit Xhaka ($39.5 million, Borussia Monchengladbach), Rob Holding ($2.6 million, Bolton Wanderers), Takuma Asano (Undisclosed, Sanfreece Hiroshima)

Transfers Out: Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky (All released), Issac Hayden ($3.1 million, Newcastle United), Wellington Silva (Undisclosed, Fluminense)

Last season: The Gunners did their usual. They looked capable of winning the title up until February but then crumbled before recovering to finish second behind Leicester.

FBL-ENG-PR-ARSENAL-LIVERPOOL
(Photo by Getty Images)

Star player: Mesut Ozil – He tore apart the PL at times with 19 assists last season and after a good rest this summer he’ll aim to do the same. Penny has finally dropped for the playmaker in England. If it clicks again with Sanchez and Ramsey, those three could be devastating.

Coaches’ Corner: Arsene Wenger is still around but the longest-serving manager in the Premier League could be facing one of his toughest seasons to date. Fan unrest towards the end of the 2015-16 campaign proved he’s on a short leash and with just one year left on his contract the 66-year-old will have to exceed expectations this season (never easy at Arsenal) to get a bumper new deal. Sure, he will probably decide when he will leave Arsenal which is what upsets fans most, but just look at what’s happened to Manchester United and Chelsea in recent years with the constant chopping and changing of bosses. Be careful what you wish for, Arsenal fans.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal reacts during the Emirates FA Cup sixth round match between Arsenal and Watford at Emirates Stadium on March 13, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

PST predicts: A top four finish for Arsenal and they will be in the hunt for the title. The experience of last season will hold them in good stead and if Xhaka hits the ground running they finally have a midfield enforcer who can protect their back four and allow their silky playmakers to pour forward. Getting in a world-class striker remains the difference between Arsenal finishing in the top four and being clear favorites to win the title.

Everton reportedly set for sale of $28M Lookman

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Will Everton regret its failure to find the right fit for Ademola Lookman at Goodison Park?

The Toffees are set to sell the 21-year-old striker to RB Leipzig this summer for just $8 million more than they paid Charlton for her services, according to Sky Sports.

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Lookman scored five goals with four assists in a half-season loan for RBL in 2018, but could not find regular feature time for the Toffees upon his return.

Yes, the $28 million is still a decent fee, but Lookman is an English striker with U-20 World Cup-winning experience, and was given just three starts from his 21 appearances in the Premier League for Marco Silva‘s men last season (posting two assists in 601 minutes.

Lookman prefers to play left wing, but also operates on the right. Everton has Richarlison, Bernard, and Theo Walcott amongst a relatively deep wing corps.

The stats seem to show that Lookman simply had trouble getting the ball at Everton in comparison to RBL. Maybe he needs to be a bigger part of the show, and we’ll find out whether he can do that with Tyler Adams and Co. in Leipzig.

De Gea hopes for Manchester United captaincy

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Given his seemingly biannual links to returns to Spain and bigger paydays, it might be a bit of a surprise to hear Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea preach up the badge.

Aside from a stumble late last season, however, the 28-year-old has been a dynamo at Old Trafford for several managers.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

He’s also been through the wringer from his early days struggling to find his form in the Premier League, and now has 362 appearances in the Red Devils shirt to go with trophies from the PL, FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League.

So, yeah, he’s qualified to lead. And as we wait for United to announce his new expensive contract, De Gea is speaking out on his delight in captaining the team and hopes of doing so on a full-time basis.

From Sky Sports:

“I need to show that on the pitch and try to help the young guys know what Manchester United means and that’s important. We have to improve a lot. We are Manchester United; we need to fight for trophies.

“When you put on this badge, that’s what it means – fight for everything, give your best and bring the team again to the top.”

Is there a case to be made for anyone else on the current roster? Probably not, at least not in the form of players who will be expected to suit up nearly every match.

Chicago adds 2010 World Cup qualifying hero Bornstein

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There’s probably part of you who thinks Jonathan Bornstein is on an MLS staff somewhere, that he’s about 46 years old, and the news that he’s joined the Chicago Fire means he’s taken a coaching role like Josh Wolff (who is only 42. Don’t age shame).

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And we’ll admit that “Chicago adds Jonathan Bornstein” gave us similar vibes, because, hey, didn’t this cat score an amazing, World Cup berth-clinching goal against Costa Rica at RFK in 2009? Yes! He was! I was there with my sister and a couple of buddies, and it was awesome.

Bornstein was, however, just 25 then and a member of Chivas USA (That was an MLS team, young bucks). Bob Bradley drafted him out of UCLA and turned him into a left back.

Now 34 and still a left back, Bornstein spent 2010-present outside of the United States. He’s played in Mexico for Queretaro, Tigres, and Atlante, as well as Israel last season with Maccabi Netanya. He won a Copa MX, a Supercopa MX, and an Apertura title while south of the border.

From Chicago-Fire.com:

“We began pursuing Jonathan back in January but, unfortunately, his insertion into the lineup made him too invaluable to his former club,” said Chicago Fire President and General Manager Nelson Rodrίguez. “In addition to providing a steady presence and competition on the field, we believe Jonathan will be an excellent mentor for our younger players.”

As a returning USMNT international, even no caps since 2011, Chicago had to send $50,000 to Columbus for the top spot in the allocation order.

Bornstein will hope to help Chicago turn around a miserable season which began with such promise. Chicago has been extremely unlucky this season, with a difference of minus-11.7 between expected goals and goals scored.

And I will continue to remember nearly throwing my beverage miles into the air from the upper deck at RFK. Thanks for the memories, Jonathan.

Barcelona exec on Neymar: “We aren’t looking at it”

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Neymar’s reported discontent at Paris Saint-Germain has caused rumors to fly this summer about if he could leave, and where any potential destinations could be.

His old club Barcelona is thought to be a major contender to rescue the Brazilian superstar from his misery, but that may be dead in the water after Barcelona vice president Jordi Cardoner again claimed the club has no interest in his return.

“The president already spoke about it,” Cardoner said from Tokyo where the club is in preseason. “There is no Neymar saga. There is a lot of talk and he doesn’t appear happy there but we aren’t looking at it.”

This is not the first time Cardoner has gone public to deny Neymar rumors. Even as far back as last October, Cardoner said “No one on the Barcelona board has talked about the possibility of bringing back Neymar, right now we can’t talk about it because no one has even mentioned it.”

Cardoner is not the only Barcelona member talking down a potential Neymar return. New arrival Antoine Griezmann also made statements claiming the club would struggle to make it happen even if they wanted to. Speaking about possibly linking up with Neymar with Barcelona, the former Atletico Madrid striker spoke highly of Neymar’s playing ability, but admitted it would take some significant time to complete. “We have to get it done first because it is a difficult transfer, but he is a great player,” Griezmann said from Tokyo.

Neymar has had a troubled past 12 months, facing rape charges in Brazil, suspensions in both European and domestic French competitions, and even taking Barcelona to court last year for payments he believed he was owed.