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It’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button

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John Cross of the Mirror wrote yesterday that this is the worst Arsenal team in 20 years. He’s right, and that means it’s time to blow the squad up.

Sitting in 6th and coming off an embarrassing 2-1 loss at 13th placed Bourneouth, there is no quick fix to return this club to Champions League caliber, having slowly emaciated through years of poor transfer policy and miserable contract management.

Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, and even Jack Wilshere could all potentially leave this summer for zero return, the loss of prime talent at the height of its monetary value. Even if Sanchez does leave this January, which looks likely, he’ll leave for a cut-rate price.

In recent years, Arsenal has failed to prepare for the stark decline of defensive stalwarts Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, left with Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, and occasionally an out of position Nacho Monreal at the back. In Holding’s five Premier League starts this season, Arsenal has conceded 11 goals; Chambers has started the last four games, with just one win and seven goals conceded.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

It doesn’t end there. With Francis Coquelin failing to live up to his sky-high potential shown early in his career, the Gunners brought in Granit Xhaka, who has been utterly useless, succeeding more at reducing his side to 10 men than he has in providing defensive cover or possessional strength. The 25-year-old Swiss is rated the 21st-best midfielder in the Premier League this season according to Squawka’s player ratings, behind guys like West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucore.

Hector Bellerin has declined for two seasons straight. Petr Cech looks all of his 35 years old, leaving fans longing for Wojciech Szczesny, who has performed his backup duties to Gianluigi Buffon to perfection (six goals conceded in 10 Serie A appearances). Lucas Perez lasted one season before being shipped out on loan. Mohamed Elneny can’t even beat out Xhaka for a starting spot. Gabriel Paulista was a flop; Mathieu Debuchy too.

The miserable squad makeup has forced youth products Alex Iwobi, Chuba Akpom, Yaya Sanogo, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles into spot starts over the last few years, with none of the above able to grab a foothold among Premier League competition.

Meanwhile, on the outgoing side, the club has sold players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who has been revived under Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. They let Szczesny leave for Italy. Even back to the Robin Van Persie sale in the summer of 2012, they handed a top talent to a Premier League rival where he won a title. Arsenal hasn’t broken its record sale since shipping Marc Overmars to Barcelona in 2000 for $49 million, proving they can’t cash in on top talent when necessary. Allowing Alexis Sanchez to leave for pennies on the dollar (if anything) is a disaster of epic proportions, but not the first – they held onto players like Lukas Podolski too long, eventually saying goodbye far past peak value for little return.

And so, the Gunners have no other option. They must completely blow up the squad and start over. It will take some time, it will take heavy investment given the lack of assets at the club, and it might take a painful season or two. But it is what must be done. They only need to look north to Anfield to get a solid blueprint of what a top club grinding out a successful rebuild looks like.

Liverpool was in the same situation in 2015. The squad was aging, the transfer policy was poor, and aside from a 2nd place finish the year before which masked some of the problems plaguing the club, they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League since 2010. So, Fenway Sports Group blew the whole thing up. They sold Raheem Sterling, who would take years to finally blossom under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, for top dollar. They saw Steven Gerrard, Luis Enrique, and Pepe Reina out. They got rid of failures like Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic. They used money from the painful but necessary sale of Luis Suarez to bring in Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. They swung and missed on Christian Benteke, but righted that wrong quickly and got most of their money back. They brought in a veteran grinder in James Milner on a free. Eventually, smart money was spent on Emre Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mohamed Salah, and they found a gem in Philippe Coutinho for just $16 million.

The key however, through all that, was the home run hire of Jurgen Klopp, who has had plenty of growing pains in the Premier League, but is the perfect manager for a rebuild. A loyal and enigmatic character who grooms young players brilliantly, Klopp has mixed cheap veterans with promising youngsters with amazing touch, and can tactically mask squad weaknesses with the best of them. The Reds still have a ways to go as they slowly climb the ladder to perennial Champions League contender, still sporting massive holes at defense and goalkeeper, but shrewd decision-making at the top now has Liverpool with the resources to patch holes while still allowing the stars of the squad to shine.

No rebuild is perfect, and no rebuild is without pain and mistakes, but it is preferable to the alternative in the long-run. Manchester United has been able to avoid a full-on squad nuke when left in a similar position after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, but only because of near-unlimited resources and the hiring of managers who mask deficiencies with short-term band-aids such as negative tactics which infuriate supporters and yet fail to achieve the heights the club once reached on a regular basis.

It’s clear that Arsenal must follow Liverpool’s example and sacrifice a few battles to win the war. The first step is letting go of Arsene Wenger and finding someone to lead them through the muck and still be there on the other side. While Carlo Ancelotti would be a big-name get, he wouldn’t fit a long-term plan as snug as someone like Diego Simeone.

The next step – which is no cake walk – would be to retool the squad without many assets of value on hand. Players like Jack Wilshere must be retained, while recent transfers Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac have shown enough promise and work rate to build around. The rest are expendable, and departures are required to both raise funds and provide turnover. Aaron Ramsey would be a rare example of someone who could net a solid return while also proving replaceable, as would Hector Bellerin at just 22 years old. Expired has-beens over 30 in Koscielny, Mertesacker, and Debuchy are all immediately out the door despite minimal return, while keeping Olivier Giroud and Nacho Monreal would provide valuable veteran leaders who can still produce on the field.

These aren’t all the answers, and it can’t all be done at once, but it’s a starting point. As is, the Gunners are slowly bleeding out, and instead of layers and layers of gauze, upper management should invest in wide-scale surgery for the long-term health of the club.

Premier League Preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool

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  • Huddersfield last beat Liverpool in 1959
  • Reds won both 3-0 last season
  • Liverpool winless in four across all comps
  • Reds also unbeaten on PL season

There are few endeavors in which the following sentence can accurately describe time: It’s been both a bit more than 675 minutes and also 56 years since Huddersfield Town last scored a goal against Liverpool.

The Terriers will try to change that, of course, when injury-hit Liverpool visits the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

The exhaustive web site LFChistory.net tells us that Huddersfield Town carried a 1-0 lead into halftime at Anfield on April 7, 1962, only to see Bill Shankly’s home side equalize and earn a draw.

Since then, the Terriers and Reds have squared off just seven times, and Liverpool has kept its sheets clean (aside from the dust of age). The scores over the ensuing half century-plus? 4-0, 0-0, 2-0, 0-1, 0-2, 3-0, and 3-0.

The good news for the Terriers is there have only been two of those matches in the 21st century, though they were both last season.

The other good news is that the international break was especially menacing to Liverpool, as Virgil Van Dijk, Naby Keita, Mohamed Salah, and Sadio Mane were all injured and only Salah and Van Dijk trained on Thursday.

The bad news is seemingly everything else. The Terriers have not looked much like the side that impressed in last season’s return to the Premier League.

David Wagner‘s men are winless through eight matches and have managed a joint-worst four goals while allowing the second-most goals in the Premier League (17).

What they’re saying

Huddersfield Town’s Erik Durm on Jurgen Klopp’s role in his development: “Jürgen had a big influence on me; he was the first one who told me to start in a defending position because I was a striker before. He came into training and told me ‘I want you to be a defender, left or right-back’, so he had a big influence on my career. I’m very happy that he made this solution and that he saw that I could play in this position.”

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp on rarely used, $57 million Fabinho“Everyone asks you constantly, why doesn’t he play? There’s one reason, no other. Another player fits better in the slot. As long as there’s a player ahead who is fresh then it’s about the new player to close the gap. It always took time. When you do close the gap, go and make us better. That’s the plan.”

Prediction

This one is way trickier than you’d think. On a normal “Welcome back from international break,” I’d advocate expecting Huddersfield Town to keep it close and maybe even squeeze a point out of it. But Liverpool has been itching to get back on the field, and a bunch of players will see this as an opportunity to make a statement. Reds 3-0 (again).

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Week 9 of the Premier League season is here and the international break is finally over. Hurrah!

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-1 Leicester City – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Manchester City 3-0 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM ]

Huddersfield 1-3 Liverpool – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Everton 3-1 Crystal Palace – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Chelsea 2-1 Man United – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Bournemouth 2-2 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

West Ham 2-3 Tottenham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

 

Cardiff City 2-1 Fulham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Newcastle United 2-1 Brighton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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The Premier League is back after the international break, and Week 9 of the 2018-19 season kicks off with a cracker at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Manchester United. Let’s do this.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Cardiff City vs. Fulham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool – NBC [STREAM

Sunday
11 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

How will Chelsea, Man United line up?

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Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho in very different situations with their respective clubs.

[ MORE: 3 key battles ]

Sarri has yet to taste defeat as Chelsea boss since arriving from Napoli in the summer, with the Italian coach steering Chelsea to joint-top of the Premier League table playing an exciting, mezmerising brand of soccer with Eden Hazard leading the charge.

As for Jose Mourinho, his future at Man United has been questioned on multiple occasions already as they’ve accrued just 13 points from their opening eight games of the season amid plenty of haphazard defensive displays.

[ MORE: Sarri – “Man United have best squad in PL” ]

Below is a look at the potential starting lineups for both teams on Saturday in west London, with a few injury concerns for each coach to contend with.


Chelsea’s projected starting XI

—– Kepa —–

—- Azpilicueta —- Rudiger —- Luiz —- Alonso —-

—- Kante —- Jorginho —- Kovacic —-

—- Pedro —- Giroud —- Hazard —-


Man United’s projected starting XI

—– De Gea —–

—- Young —- Smalling —- Bailly —- Shaw —-

—- Fred —- Matic —-

—- Martial — Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —– 


Evaluation

Chelsea’s main problem is whether or not Mateo Kovacic will be fit enough to start in midfield, as Ross Barkley has picked up a small knock which is a blow after his fine recent displays for club and country. Cesc Fabregas could come into Chelsea’s midfield if neither are fit, while the only real selection dilemma is whether Willian or Pedro will start out wide in support of Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud. Sarri’s back four picks itself after a strong start to the season, while Olivier Giroud gets the best out of Hazard and he will get the nod ahead of Alvaro Morata.

For Man United, they have plenty of injury issues to contend with and that is mostly in midfield. Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Scott McTominay are all struggling with knocks, with Ander Herrera has been rushed back to be a part of the squad for Saturday. You would think that Mourinho would be a little more defensive when it comes to his lineup given United’s defensive issues this season, so having Fred and Matic (one of whom may do a man-marking job on Hazard) in central midfield makes sense. Alexis Sanchez may not start after his late arrival back from the international break, with Anthony Martial set to start again out wide as Jesse Lingard has been out through injury.