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How Arsenal can launch a Premier League title bid

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The title is tricky. Surely some would see words flipped to read, “How can Arsenal launch a Premier League title bid?” but we digress.

It’s seemingly easy to be critical of Arsenal in years past, as Arsene Wenger has a knack for explaining away perceived failures in the transfer market and Top Four laurels have felt the full weight of 13 years worth of rest.

This season, however, there’s reason to be optimistic about Arsenal from Day One. Wenger’s survived a solid 25 weeks of “Will he or won’t he?” that felt about as long as Ross and Rachel or whatever other sitcom love connection you want to reference?

[ MORE: Premier League summer transfers, so far ]

Remember when Chandler flew a plane with the “Ross Out” banner over the coffee shop or whatever? That was the awesome.

Anyway, Wenger went ahead and bought a world-class striker in the form of Alexandre Lacazette and a beast of a back in Sead Kolasinac, both who did their best to appear the real deal in Arsenal’s win over Chelsea in Sunday’s Community Shield battle at Wembley.

Consider that the Gunners’ ill-fated season last season saw injuries, constant turmoil regarding Wenger’s future, and the twin Alexis Sanchez/Mesut Ozil contract conversations that felt about as persistently annoying as their boss’ destiny.

The point is that the drama is almost certainly going to be lower, and the competition a bit easier. But it’s the UEFA Europa League that’s going to be the main obstacle in Arsenal’s hopes of reclaiming a Premier League title. Put plainly: Premier League teams entering at the group stage rarely bow out of the competition early.

Southampton was bounced last year, the first PL side to fail to advance in some time, and still nearly made it out of the group stages of the Europa League last season despite not finding their form in the competition. Manchester United advanced, as did Liverpool and Spurs the previous season, and Spurs and Everton the year before that. Swansea’s done it, Newcastle, too.

[ MORE: Predicted XIs for all 20 PL clubs ]

Point is: Southampton is very much an outlier, and Arsenal will likely be contending with the Europa League well into the winter. With the Round of 32 being played in February — and let’s face it: once you’re six wins from something shiny and an automatic UCL slot, the fight will go on — Arsenal’s depth is going to be tested again this season.

So first and foremost the Gunners are probably — and this is not one for the advanced stats crowd — Arsenal is going to have to be a bit lucky with injuries. It’s best XI looks pretty dynamite, and putting Lacazette up top to feast off the spoils of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is going to lead to some wins even if the Gunners’ back line completely spits up on its collective tight red shirt.

The keys for Arsenal’s hopes of a title bid?

— A return to form for Hector Bellerin.

— Less moments of mayhem from Granit Xhaka.

— A quick adjustment to the league for Lacazette (He’ll figure it out, but how fast?).

— Resolution one way or another on Ozil and Sanchez’s future.

— Be near the top by February, when the PL fixtures read: home Everton, at Spurs, home Man City. Then hold serve at home, and ride the energy of one of the league’s best derbies.

It’s a long shot to say Arsenal will contend for the crown, but Wenger is a good manager and I was asked whether it’s possible, not probable. Several scenarios exist that put Arsenal into the conversation. While the class of the league seems to be Chelsea, Man City, and Manchester United, ruling out the Gunners seems foolish when it’s reasonable to think the chips could fall their way.

Hertha Berlin slams racist abuse of under-23 player Ngankam

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BERLIN (AP) Hertha Berlin has condemned apparent racist abuse of its under-23 player Jessic Ngankam from Lokomotive Leipzig fans during their fourth-division game on Friday.

Hertha says on Twitter that, “Ngankam was subjected to racist hostility during the game against Lok Leipzig. As a club, we are completely behind Jessic . The incident was also noted in the match report and a preliminary investigation has since been launched by the league. Lok Leipzig have already given their own statement on the incident. (hash)notoracism”

Hertha executive board member Paul Keuter says the club should have reacted sooner to the alleged abuse, “but nobody should doubt our commitment against racism.”

Hertha player Jordan Torunarigha wrote on Twitter the club is “100% against racism and one shouldn’t argue over why my club is just giving a statement now.”

The 19-year-old Ngankam, who is black, told broadcaster MDR that he was targeted with monkey chants by some fans in the visiting supporters’ block and that he was called an “ape” by an opposing player.

“Of course you’re trained not to react or show emotion. But it still hits you,” Ngankam told MDR. “Insults are unfortunately an everyday occurrence in football, and I can put up with them. But racist abuse is a no-go.”

Lokomotive criticized the abuse on its website, where it reminded its own fans that it has players within the club with roots in 32 countries.

“Only two colors interest us – (club colors) blue and yellow,” Lokomotive said. “Racism has no place among us and everyone knows that! If there are still people who call themselves blue-yellow fans and can’t comprehend that, then it must be clear that (Leipzig district) Probstheida is no place for them.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Champions League permutations: Who needs what?

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Here’s a quick reminder of how many teams from each group have already reached the last 16:

Group A: Paris St-Germain (winners), Real Madrid (runners up)
Group B: Bayern Munich (winners), Tottenham (runners up)
Group C: Manchester City (winners)
Group D: Juventus (winners)
Group E: None
Group F: Barcelona (winners)
Group G: RB Leipzig
Group H: None

And here’s what teams in each group need to do to advance:

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk will reach the last 16 if they win at home against Atalanta, while both Atalanta and Dinamo Zagreb can still reach the last 16 with wins.

Group D
Atletico Madrid will secure their spot in the last 16 if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow at home, but if they draw or lose and Bayer Leverkusen win at home against group winners Juventus, the German side will go through.

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg will reach the last 16 if they beat Liverpool at home, while the reigning UCL champions need just a point to make it to the knockout rounds. However,  if Liverpool lose they will be out unless Napoli lose at home to Genk too or if Liverpool score four away goals or more and only lose by one goal (eg a 5-4 loss) combined with a Napoli defeat they will go through. Napoli need a point in their final game at home against Genk to reach the last 16.

Group F
Inter Milan will make the last 16 if they beat Barcelona at home but if they don’t win then Borussia Dortmund will go through by bettering Inter’s result. Dortmund host Slavia Prague at home.

Group G
Leipzig have already qualified and will finish top of the group with a win. Zenit will reach the last 16 if they win away at already eliminated Benfica, while Lyon can qualify if they better Zenit’s result from the final game.

Group H
Chelsea know they will reach the last 16 with a win at home to already eliminated Lille. Ajax only need a draw to make the last 16, while Valencia need a win at Ajax to advance. Chelsea will also reach the last 16 if they draw against Lille and Ajax beat Valencia.

Champions League score predictions: Matchweek 6

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The sixth and final matchday of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage is here, and two of the four Premier League clubs needing to avoid defeat to go through.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Fans of Liverpool and Chelsea will both be sweating ahead of their group stage finales.

Below we predict the scores for all 16 UCL games taking place over the next two days, with Tottenham heading to Bayern Munich able to rest players,  while reigning champions Liverpool head to Jesse March’s Salzburg needing a draw to advance but the hosts will go through with a win.

As for Chelsea, they host Lille needing a win to secure their route to the last 16 and a draw could be enough if Valencia lose to Ajax, while Man City travel to Dinamo Zagreb already confirmed as group winners.

Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg 3-5 Liverpool
Napoli 3-1 Genk

Group F
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Slavia Prague
Inter Milan 2-2 Barcelona

Group G
Lyon 2-1 Leipzig
Benfica 0-2 Zenit

Group H
Chelsea 1-1 Lille
Ajax 2-2 Valencia


Wednesday

Group A
PSG 3-0 Galatasaray
Club Brugge 1-2 Real Madrid

Group B
Bayern Munich 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Man City

Group D
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Juventus
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

MLS teams learn opponents for CCL last 16

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The draw for the last 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League took place late Monday and some intriguing clashes have been set up to kick off the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

2019 Supporters’ Shield champs LAFC face Liga MX’s Club Leon, while NYCFC fave San Carlos from Costa Rica, 2019 MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders square off with Honduran side Olimpia, the Montreal Impact face Costa Rica’s Saprissa and Atlanta United also have Honduran opponents in Motagua.

Fans of MLS teams will not need reminding that Liga MX have dominated this competition, with a team from Mexico winning this competition each season since 2006.

Below is the schedule in full for the knockout rounds of the tournament, which begin in mid-February.


2020 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Leg 1: Feb. 18-20; Leg 2: Feb. 25-27. First team listed hosts Leg 2.

  1. Atlanta United (USA) vs. Motagua (HON)
  2. Club America (MEX) vs. Comunicaciones (GUA)
  3. Cruz Azul (MEX) vs. Portmore United (JAM)
  4. LAFC (USA) vs. Club Leon (MEX)
  5. Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Alianza (SLV)
  6. NYCFC (USA) vs. San Carlos (CRC)
  7. Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Olimpia (HON)
  8. Montreal Impact (CAN) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

Quarterfinals

Leg 1: March 10-12; Leg 2: March 17-19. Winner of odd-numbered Round of 16 game hosts Leg 2.

  • Winner 1 vs. Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs. Winner 4
  • Winner 5 vs. Winner 6
  • Winner 7 vs. Winner 8

Semifinals

Leg 1: Apr. 7-9; Leg 2: Apr. 14-16. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner 1/2 vs. Winner 3/4
  • Winner 5/6 vs. Winner 7/8

Final

Leg 1: April 28-30; Leg 2: May 5-7. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner SF1 vs. Winner SF2