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Wenger misses press conference; Arsenal injury update

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Arsene Wenger was absent for his press conference on Thursday morning as the Arsenal boss was said to be feeling ill and had lost his voice.

Steve Bould, his assistant, stepped in for Wenger ahead of Arsenal’s home game against Stoke City on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and the former Arsenal center back revealed they will be playing their strongest team and not prioritizing their UEFA Europa League last eight tie next week.

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Bould gave an injury updated on Jack Wilshere and Alexandre Lacazette, with the former injured on England duty but he has been back training with the Gunners as they aim to secure sixth place in the Premier League table with a 16-straight home win against lowly Stoke City.

“Jack trained yesterday so he’s OK. Everybody else has come back as far as we’re aware. We’ll find out a bit more this morning, but Jack was OK yesterday,” Bould confirmed.

Bould was also asked if Lacazette, who injured his knee in February, would make his return to the Arsenal squad ahead of their key Europa League quarterfinal against CSKA Moscow next Thursday.

“That, I don’t know.  He trained yesterday but whether he’ll be involved at the weekend or not, I’m not entirely sure,” Lacazette said. “It’s important for him to have as much training and match time as we give him. I’m not entirely sure [whether he’ll be involved on Sunday], so I can’t give you an answer. Sorry!”

Wilshere shaking off an injury will be good news for Arsenal’s fans as many would have feared the central midfielder was set for yet more time on the sidelines.

Yes, missing England’s friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy was a blow for Wilshere, but it’s likely he will still be in Gareth Southgate‘s squad for the World Cup this summer. With his contract running out on July 1, Wilshere’s future at Arsenal remains uncertain but there’s no doubting that he’s now one of the first names on the team sheet.

As for Lacazette, he has scored nine times in his debut season in the PL at Arsenal but the Frenchman was going through a bit of a lean spell before he was injured and the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January seemed to knock him down the pecking order slightly.

Having the clinical Frenchman back for a pivotal spell in the season will no doubt be a big boost and it seems likely he could jump off the bench on Sunday to get some key minutes.

The Europa League is Arsenal’s main aim now as they aim to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

[ MORE: Steffen to England? ]

FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

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The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.

Friday

Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)

Saturday

Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End

Sunday

Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD

Transfer rumor roundup: Japan, South Africa strikers to Premier League

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Percy Tau’s name isn’t yet widely known outside of South Africa, what with Bafana Bafana absent from the World Cup.

But the 24-year-old Mamelodi Sundowns winger may soon get to test his skills on a much bigger stage.

[ USMNT: More accolades for Pulisic ]

Tau, who has five goals in 12 caps, will reportedly join Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League if a medical goes well, with Sky Sports saying it’ll will be the biggest transfer fee yet for a South African Premier League player.


Yoshinori Muto could be bringing his 25 caps to the Premier League.

The 26-year-old striker made just one appearance at the World Cup, but has had a nice run with Mainz since joining from FC Tokyo. He’s bagged 23 goals in 71 appearances.

Bild report says there have been no formal offers for Muto, but that Newcastle United and West Ham are interested in the striker. Newcastle badly needs a striker, but West Ham has been spending money and Magpies owner Mike Ashley hasn’t green lit much in recent seasons.

Open Cup draw postponed as Portland protests LAFC win

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The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw is not going as planned, as the Portland Timbers protest the roster of victorious LAFC.

[ RECAP: Four USOC semifinalists minted ]

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Houston were the other sides to get a place in the final four teams.

LAFC’s victory had already been marred by Adama Diomande‘s claims of a racial slur hurled his way, and now their victory may be in question altogether as U.S. Soccer issued a press release saying Thursday’s scheduled draw was postponed.

From a U.S. Soccer press release:

The decision comes as a result of a protest filed by the Portland Timbers in relation to the number of foreign players fielded by Los Angeles Football Club during Wednesday night’s Quarterfinal at Banc of America Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.

The rule says a maximum five players without green cards can be in the 18. Portland started only two Americans, Jeff Attinella and Zarek Valentin, but have green cards for many others and rules are rules.

Will the Timbers take a semifinal berth via protest?