PL preview: Arsenal vs. Liverpool

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  • Top-four hopefuls have struggled of late
  • Arsenal seek revenge for embarrassment in August
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to Arsenal

The top-four credentials of both sides will be put to the test on Friday, when Arsenal host Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium in a battle of fifth versus fourth in the Premier League (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

While the two sides enter Friday’s primetime clash in identical form — two straight draws against far lesser opposition, followed by slump-busting victories last weekend — recent history hugely favors Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds in facing Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners. Liverpool have won the last three PL meetings between the two sides, by a combined score of 11-4. That dominance was most recently exhibited in the 4-0 thrashing at Anfield back in August.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

In each of those three games, it was Liverpool’s rabid, incessant pressing and quick counter-attacking which continuously frustrated and dismantled Arsenal. That strategy has only been strengthened by the arrival and emergence of Mohamed Salah, who’ll likely go down as the PL’s signing of the season, as the Egyptian has amassed a league-leading 14 goals through the first 18 games this season. Having recently rotated the other three members of the Reds’ “fab four” attacking quartet — Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino — Klopp’s side will be fresh and on the front foot from the opening whistle.

Arsenal, meanwhile, will be just 72 hours removed from their League Cup quarterfinal victory over West Ham United, and in the midst of another mounting injury crisis. As such, star attackers Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were rested on Tuesday. Midfielder Aaron Ramsey and forward Olivier Giroud are both out with absolute certainty, while defender Shkodran Mustafi remains a doubt now six weeks into his recover from a thigh injury.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Week 19 ]

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (hamstring), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (achilles); RETURNING: Shkodran Mustafi (thigh) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Nathaniel Clyne (back); QUESTIONABLE: Joel Matip (thigh), Daniel Sturridge (illness)

What they’re saying

Wenger, on Liverpool’s attacking options: “I have to analyze that well and you have to guess a little bit who will play. It is not always the same — it depends on their personnel. They have plenty of offensive players and, looking at them recently, they have changed a lot their teams so it is difficult to guess. But I will try to see what I do. For me, the most important thing is we turn up with a positive performance. We have been strong at home and it is important we continue to dictate our game at home.”

Klopp, on defending proactively: “We are a team that are very offensive-orientated, but that doesn’t mean you have to give any space away. The boys did well in different systems, which I really like because that’s the biggest improvement, but only because they now do the jobs more often. But even against Bournemouth, which was obviously an impressive performance, when Jermain Defoe hit the post, that’s not good defending. It was a good pass, but it should be defended. Not by the center-halves — earlier. Then keeping the line for the offside or if you’re a bit deeper you have to react in the situation differently.”

Prediction

Over the last year or so, Wenger has shown a willingness to adopt rigid, defensive tactics for big games against irresistible attacking sides. He would be wise to do so against Liverpool and avoid another lopsided beatdown. 1-1 draw.

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.

[ MORE: De Gea wants captaincy ]

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).

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

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.