Arsenal’s newfound fighting spirit continues to lead rebound

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LONDON — With Arsenal languishing outside of the top four, dumped out of the UEFA Champions League in humiliating fashion, the future’s of star players uncertain and protests gathering considerable steam against Arsene Wenger, the Gunners hit rock bottom last Spring.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

For the first time in his 21-year reign Wenger’s time appeared to be over. Arsenal had to hit rock bottom to start the climb back to the top.

Many will scoff at the assumption that beating Leicester City 4-3 in a pulsating, yet error-riddled game, on the opening day of the 2017-18 Premier League season means Arsenal will now win the title and sweep all that lay before them. That likely won’t happen but the Gunners have shown that they’re now at least up for the fight.

[ MORE: Giroud lauded by Wenger

So many times in the past Arsenal rolled over in the face of adversity with the club synonymous with the finest play in the land but no substance to back it up. There are signs the fighting spirit is returning. It has taken time to rebuild the confidence but a win in this fashion will do wonders for belief.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk when he believes things started to turn around, Wenger pointed towards the fine finish to last season which gave his team the confidence to continue their fight back from the depths of despair.

“I am convinced that when we won 10 of the last 11 games in the Premier League [last season], we won against Man City in the semifinal and the FA Cup final against Chelsea and overall I am convinced that the team is focused and I see that every day in training,” Wenger told Pro Soccer Talk.

On Friday the odds were stacked against Arsenal even though they were the clear favorites to beat Leicester.

Their star man, Alexis Sanchez, was out injured and has yet to play in preseason. They were missing Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker in defense. Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil had been struggling with knocks and with 23 minutes to go he was forced into a huge defensive reshuffle which saw a winger at right back, two left backs at center back and a right back at left back.

Despite all of that Wenger, who must be praised for chucking on Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey who proved pivotal, was delighted with the spirit of his team and pointed to the chances they created rather than the slack defending which Leicester punished ruthlessly.

“We kept going and the spirit of the team was absolutely outstanding,” Wenger said. “Overall you could saw we were punished on every single mistake tonight by a Leicester team who was very efficient going forward. You could see that this team has quality and is used to playing together. 70 percent possession. We had 27 shots on goal and Leicester had three shots on target and scored three goals. That shows your how efficient they are.

“If you look at it from a neutrals point of view, for a first game it was a top quality game. You want the Premier League to be the best league in the world, I think it has to produce this type of game to produce interest and quality. People will say we conceded three goals, yes, but we scored four as well, the game was of quality.”

Arsenal have always had quality but now they appear to have the required spirit to dig deep and grind out results from improbable positions. That quality will serve them well in a season which will push them to their limits with a PL title push augmented by a Europa League campaign. The Thursday-Sunday grind is no joke.

Nobody is laughing at Arsenal anymore, at least not right now.

Momentum continues to build with Arsenal now winning 12 of their last 13 Premier League games, plus picking up the FA Cup and Community Shield at Wembley.

The “Wenger Out” brigade are eerily quiet. For now.

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.


Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Ryan —–

— Montoya — Webster — Dunk — Burn —

—– Propper —– Mooy —–

— Trossard — Gross — Alzate —

—– Maupay—–

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

Premier League social media
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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.

 

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.