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.

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

Paul Pogba contract
Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

Espanyol relegated
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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.