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Will Arsenal pay the price for not spending big?

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Ahead of the new Premier League season Arsenal’s fans should be filled with optimism.

Should is the key word there.

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Last season they finished second in the PL, their highest finish since 2005 which came a season after they last won the PL in 2004. Despite a second place finish and keeping their team together, there’s a lingering sense of dissatisfaction among their fans.

Unlike many of the other PL giants, the Gunners don’t have a new manager coming in ripping things up and starting a fresh. There’s stability, star players and promising youngsters and, of course, Arsene Wenger.

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Wenger is entering his 21st season in charge of Arsenal but his contract runs out next summer. Wenger, 66, has work to do to get a new deal but it’s the same old story. He won’t have anywhere near as much money to spend compared to his rival. He signed central midfielder Granit Xhaka for $40 million this summer but he’s unlikely to be given another $40-50 million to spend in the final 23 days of the summer transfer window on a clinical finisher he desperately needs.

That’s just the way it is at one of the best run clubs on the planet.

Speaking ahead of the new campaign Arsenal’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis said something their fans probably didn’t want to hear, even though they know it’s reality.

“We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money. We have to be very careful, very selective,” Gazidis said. “We would not be successful if we simply went out into the transfer market and tried to outgun our competitors.

“We’re run in a self-sustaining way, and a way that we believe in, because we believe it gives us certainty for the future and enables us to plan our future with confidence. That means we can’t afford to make huge mistakes in the transfer market. We can’t afford to outgun competitors that have far more money to splurge on transfer fees than we do. So we have to be very careful, very selective about how we do things.”

So, why Chelsea, Manchester City, especially Manchester United, and even the likes of Liverpool spend big this summer, Arsenal is running the risk of being left behind by their rivals.

For now, they’re more than good. With Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Xhaka, Petr Cech and Olivier Giroud they have game changers. Their prudent policy of spending big on one player each summer has seen them build up a solid squad and they should challenge for the title this season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal (R) and Ivan Gazidis, CEO of Arsenal (L) in discussion as they sit in the stands prior to the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Arsenal and Olympiacos at the Emirates Stadium on September 28, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Yet this summer, like last summer, was the time to kick on. While their rivals continue to be in transition — Man United, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool have all been at that point in the last 12 months, some of them longer than that — Arsenal has played it safe rather than taking advantage of a prime opportunity.

They blew it last season. Every knows it. Leicester City were worthy winners of the Premier League trophy but we all know that Arsenal has the better squad if you look at the individuals and key additions would’ve stopped them dropping silly points.

Yes, the Emirates Stadium is wonderful. Yes, for so long they paid that debt off and now revenue levels are ever-rising. But Arsenal is walking the fine line between running the club as a business and as a club. At its core, the point of setting up a club is to win every game you compete in. Right?

Apart from two FA Cups, Arsenal hasn’t won much in the last 10 years. Yes, they’ve finished inside the top four for the last 20-straight seasons under Wenger which is a remarkable level of consistency. However, as we saw towards the end of last season on social media, at stadiums and in the street, Arsenal’s fans spoke loud and clear calling for Wenger to be fired and asking for a change of policy at boardroom level.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Arsenal legend Ian Wright tells fans to protest ] 

They are frustrated because it seems like nothing will ever change and many would warn Arsenal’s fans that they should be careful what they wish for if they truly want Wenger out. Ask fans of Liverpool and Manchester United. In recent years they would’ve loved the kind of consistency and stylish play Wenger guarantees.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 30: Arsenal supportes hold banners 'Time For Change' during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at The Emirates Stadium on April 30, 2016 in London, England (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

The problem is, it is difficult to know what the ambition is for Arsenal this season.

They currently have a center back crisis. Per Mertesacker is out long-term. Gabriel just went down. Laurent Koscielny isn’t fully rested from EURO 2016. Shouldn’t Wenger be spending big on an area he needs to strengthen anyway? Nope.

On the opening day of the season youngsters Callum Chambers and Rob Holding (he’s never played a game in England”s top-flight) could line up against Liverpool. If Arsenal lose big and their defensive issues aren’t addressed, we could see similar protests return before the month of August is out.

Maybe Arsenal’s fans ask too much of their club to go out and spend hundreds of millions on new players like Man City and Man United continue to do. That big spending won’t happen but there is some middle ground here. Arsenal’s fans are ambitious and many would argue their board and club doesn’t match those ambitions.

It’s hard to argue with financial sensibility in a time of huge spending and players going for around $100 million each. It really is. But it’s not hard to imagine that Arsenal can push the boat out a little more to take advantage of the instability of their rivals over the next 2-3 years. Due to frugality, they’ve already missed the chance to win more trophies over the past 12-18 months.

Can they afford to not spend big this summer and risk falling further behind in the next 12 months and beyond?

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.