Is now the right time for Wenger to leave?

Leave a comment

Usually in this kind of situation the first question many ask is “why now?”

But almost unanimously the response when Arsene Wenger announced Friday that he will be leaving Arsenal at the end of the season was simply: “The time is now.”

[ MORE: Who will take over from Wenger?

Wenger, 68, has spent almost 22 years not only leading Arsenal to 10 major trophies but also reshaping the way English soccer developed. The Frenchman arrived in the Premier League in 1996 and revolutionized the game with his methods on and off the pitch as he created some of the greatest teams the PL, and the game, has ever seen with the “Invincibles” and all of the fantastic players who arrived in his first 10 years in charge.

[ MORE: Wenger’s Departure ]

But now feels like the right time for Wenger to move on. It is fitting that the end of an era will be as classy as the man himself. I’ve been lucky enough to talk to him and ask him questions over the years and he is someone who loves the game dearly and speaks with passion and intellect about so many things.

But, above all else, he loves Arsenal.

After leading Arsenal to 20-straight seasons in the top four and 19 in the UEFA Champions League, that run ended last season and the Gunners have now had their two worst seasons under Wenger back-to-back. They have regressed and even Wenger, a man who transformed Arsenal into a team admired around the world for their attacking play, knew his time was up.

With Wenger announcing his decision to step down with one year left on his current contract, it shows that he realizes fresh impetus is needed and the job of rebuilding Arsenal is not for him to lead.

Following two years of “Wenger Out” and empty seats starting to appear at the Emirates Stadium on a regular basis, this was what had to happen for Arsenal to move on from a legendary figure who kept winning FA Cups in recent seasons (three in the last five campaigns) to keep his success ticking over.

Wenger was totally committed to the club and put his own success to one side to help Arsenal negotiate the move from Highbury to the new stadium as players were sold and he turned down some of Europe’s biggest clubs. As he said in his statement, Arsenal will have Wenger’s “love and support forever” and he should have the stadium named after him and a statue in his honor.

He will now get the sendoff he deserves in the next few weeks as English soccer pays its respects to Wenger in the final five games of the Premier League campaign before it all ends on the final day of the season at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

Hanging over all of this is the chance for Wenger to ride off into the sunset and put Arsenal back in the Champions League for next season.

With a UEFA Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid coming up next week and the return leg on May 3, Wenger has the chance to reach a major final in Lyon on May 16 to see out his incredible time at Arsenal.

But then what?

There is talk that Wenger may remain at Arsenal in a different role and go upstairs and help the directors — he is particularly close with majority owner Stan Kroenke — but in the past he has shared his belief that he could well manage elsewhere when he left the Gunners.

The French national team? Paris Saint-Germain? Both seem like sensible options for Wenger, with perhaps the former the best fit for him. If a talented crop of players don’t deliver for Didier Deschamps this summer at the World Cup, you’d think that French Football Federation may make a managerial change.

Wenger’s legacy will be intact at Arsenal no matter what he does in the future and no matter what happens in the final weeks of this season. The sight of him struggling with a zipper on the sidelines, berating an official or smiling as he applauds another fine team goal are almost over.

The time was now for him to move on. And Wenger now leaves Arsenal in a much better place than when he took over almost 22 years ago as the Gunners will aim to get back into the top four and the Premier League title conversation with a new man at the helm.

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal will always be inextricably intertwined but he has made the right call at the right time. His class remains.

Merci, Arsene.

Short-handed Galaxy beat Impact after Ibrahimovic red card

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MONTREAL (AP) Playing a man down after Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic got a red card in the 42nd minute, the Los Angeles Galaxy got past the Montreal Impact 1-0 Monday on a goal by Ola Kamara.

The Galaxy (4-6-1) ended a four-game losing run. Montreal (3-9-0) has lost three in a row, all by shutout, with the last two coming at home.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Ibrahimovic was sent off after slapping Michael Petrasso, who had stepped on Ibrahimovic’s foot while marking him well away from the ball. After consulting video, referee Ismail Elfath showed Ibrahimovic the red card and Petrasso the yellow.

Both went down after the slap, and Ibrahimovic was limping as a trainer helped him off the field.

With 10 men, the Galaxy stayed back in the second half, looking for counterattacks.

In the 75th minute, substitute Emmanuel Boateng headed a ball forward that Kamara took on the run. He beat Marco Donadel and Jukka Raitala with a cut into the middle and scored his team-leading fifth goal on a low shot from inside the penalty area.

Montreal had some chances, including back-to-back shots in the 55th minute by Alejandro Silva and Raheem Edwards that were blocked by goalkeeper David Bingham.

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

Twitter/@Futbolestodo
Leave a comment

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

Epsilon/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).