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ProSoccerTalk’s Arsene Wenger roundtable

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Let’s talk about Weng, baby.

[ MORE: Arsene’s best Arsenal XI ]

So, it’s (almost) over. What has your reaction been to Wenger’s final weeks, in particular his goodbye to the Emirates on Sunday?

Joe Prince-Wright: It was a fitting farewell tinged with a little sadness to not see him finish on a high by winning the Europa League to make the Champions League again. He is a legend of the game and history will be kind to him. He changed British soccer and his impact will always be remembered. The emotional scenes at the Emirates summed up how fondly he will be remembered by Arsenal fans and neutrals alike.

Nicholas Mendola: There’s a good chance it’s my journey deep into my thirties, but I thought Sunday was wonderful. To see Arsenal’s attack flourish — cheers for the help, normally stingy Burnley — and then hear Wenger’s club-first, me-second speech was pretty great. As for the last few weeks, I’ll echo what Joe said: I was aching for Arsenal to at least make the Europa League Final, and for the French legend to lead his side against Marseille in Lyon as he says goodbye to Gunners. It would’ve been star-studded.

Kyle Bonn: It’s sad, but it’s time. I’m glad to see him so appreciated after years of abuse, because he deserves it. Still, this has been coming and is a necessary change for Arsenal.

Daniel Karell: It’s been a bit muted, up until the final home game which finished in a 5-0 shellacking of Burnley. Arsenal fans are still upset over the team’s failure to win a single road match in 2018 on the club’s way to its worst season in 22 years. The reception for Wenger, Per Mertesacker and some members of the backroom staff were a nice change of the negative atmosphere over the past 5-8 years that has clouded the future for Arsenal fans. That cloud appears to be lifted.

Don’t overthink it: What is the first thing you think of when you think of Arsene Wenger?

JPW: Beautiful football. Whatever you say about the recent years, Wenger has always stuck to his principles and has developed teams who are fantastic to watch going forward. Arsenal are known across the world as a team for purists and that’s because of Wenger. He’s a true teacher of the game. Also: the Invincibles.

NM: This is a bit out of left field, but I’ve heard from so many people who’ve told me that Arsene Wenger treated everyone at Arsenal with the same respect. Those things stick with me, and he could’ve operated with some kind of ego when you consider all he accomplished. Honorable mention: Nagoya Grampus Eight, getting in Jose Mourinho’s grill, and the smile on his face when Thierry Henry embraced him after scoring in the FA Cup off the bench in his Arsenal “redebut.”

KB: The Invincibles. That team should be and will be his legacy.

DK: The style of play. Wenger – for all his faults – fiercly believed in himself and especially in his players. There’s been multiple reports that the team never really prepared for opponents, instead just working on movement on and off the ball and building chemistry with teammates. Wenger preferred for his players to control play and pass their way through opponents, Barcelona style. Of course, while the team was able to do this, they also conceded simple goals. Anyways, it’s the silky smooth, beautiful football.

How long, if at all, will it take Arsenal fans to miss Wenger as their boss?

JPW: Not long. This feels like a very natural time to split and everyone needs a fresh start. Sure, some will miss him, but most Arsenal fans acknowledge now was a great time to move on.

NM: There’s a romance to his tenure that won’t disappear any time soon, but it depends whether they — American football comparisons — replace a Bill Cowher with a Mike Tomlin or if they replace Bill Parcells with Ray Handley (No offense, Ray Handley. I’m mostly talking age).

KB: They won’t – or, they shouldn’t given how much crap they flung in his direction for years. Most of it deservingly so. Wenger was stubborn in his final years in charge, and a change in scenery is good for everyone involved, so if the Gunners continue to decline from here, it’s because they made the wrong hire, not because Wenger left.

DK: I’ll give it at least 12 months. Arsenal fans, at least the Wenger Out faction, will likely be willing to sit through a rough season or two just to see something different, with the hopes that it could lead to greater success.

Look into your crystal ball: What are the next few years like for Wenger? And Arsenal?

JPW: I’d like to see Wenger take the France national team job after this summer. They have a plethora of exciting, young attacking players and it would be fantastic to see him do well at Euro 2020 or the 2022 World Cup with his home nation. For Arsenal, a struggle to finish in the top four on a yearly basis. It will take a long time for them to catch up to Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Man United and Man City.

NM: For Wenger, I suspect it depends on how big of a challenge he wants next. Is it taking PSG to the Champions League promised land or trying to take an upstart Ligue 1 or other side against a legendary power? Or is it time for international football (see last question). My guess? A reinvigorated Wenger leads a club to overachieve. As for Arsenal, well, if the rumors of what they plan on spending this summer are true, they may well finish sixth again (Sixth is the new fourth?).

KB: I wish I knew. I have my own opinions on where they should go from here, but I do not even pretend to know what this club has in mind. They have done nothing but surprise the last few years ago, and if there’s anything I can predict, it’s that it will continue to do so. What doesn’t help is the plethora of viable options on the table for them to choose from. First things first, the club needs to pick on a direction and philosophy, and then make a hire based on those answers, not the other way around.

DK: For Wenger? I think he’ll stay in management, returning to his native France. He may take a smaller club over, one where he can have more control than he would at a club like PSG or Lyon. For Arsenal? It will likely be up and down. If the Gunners really want to compete with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich (and Man City), they need to replace nearly their entire starting lineup. It takes time to build chemistry, and the new players will need time to settle.

If the season is replayed with a new manager, is Arsenal higher in the table? More bluntly put, how much responsibility does the manager bear for sixth place?

JPW: Nah, they’re about where they deserve to be. Their defense has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese and that’s been their Achilles heel for several years now.

NM: In 95% of cases, no (unless he magically knows how to stop an injured Aaron Ramsey from missing scoring draws with West Brom, West Ham, Liverpool, and Chelsea). This was down to personnel. And on the manager responsibility point, it’s really hard to say. Was Wenger responsible for not selling Alexis Sanchez and maybe Mesut Ozil in early August and replacing them with new talent? Was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang available in August?

KB: The manager bears a lot of responsibility. However, if the season is replayed, not much changes. The wounds of this season were fostered years ago in transfer policy and team makeup, not necessarily tactics.

DK: He bears 100 percent responsibility. Okay, maybe 99 percent. Of course, the players are on the field, but he’s the one who sets the tactics and determines who is signed. He’s failed overall on both aspects, though Aubameyang looks like a hit so far!

How badly has his legacy taken a hit?

JPW: It’s taken a hit but over time I think the damage done over the last few years will be repaired. Wenger is a legend and has achieved so many wonderful things at Arsenal. He should have left about five years ago… but then he added a few more FA Cups to set a new record.

NM: A little, but it will rebound if Arsenal doesn’t begin to spend. And it’s easy to forget how little they did while “paying off the new stadium debt.”

KB: It has taken a slight hit, but that was cemented over the last few years with club stagnation. This season doesn’t have a ton to do with that, only adds to the narrative. Wenger’s decline has been on the cards for a while, and this season doesn’t do much but prove a part to the whole.

DK: I think for all his achievements, you have to also mention that his final 12 years, his teams never reached the heights they climbed in the late 90s, early 2000s. An appearance in the UEFA Champions League final in 2006 was the last time Arsenal threatened to make a European final, or even play at a level close to that of the European giants.

Of all the names you’ve heard or read, who’s the best fit for Arsenal?

JPW: Nobody really stands out to me, which is a big problem. Diego Simeone would be great but I can’t see him leaving Atletico Madrid anytime soon. Honestly, someone like Liverpool’s assistant Zeljko Buvac would be a great fit. Low expectations, just like Wenger when he arrived, but someone who obviously has a fine tactical brain.

NM: Simeone, but it won’t happen (at least not this go-round). As Joe said, the Buvac move seems appropriate because Jurgen Klopp would’ve been the right call three years ago. I’ll shout out Patrick Vieira. Knows the culture, commands respect. Sorry NYCFC.

KB: I think Arsenal needs to make two hires. They need to hire a world-renowned name to follow Wenger up, take over the club for 2-3 years, make the necessary philosophical changes, attract good talent, overhaul the squad, and then depart for a younger, more long-term boss. Hiring the long-term solution now would be a massive mistake, because there are SO many changes that need to be made. It would be too much to bear for a manager in his first big job. Therefore, I think hiring Carlo Ancelotti or Diego Someone right now would be the right move. They would have the experience and the guts to make widespread changes needed, and someone like Sean Dyche or Eddie Howe can take over in 3 years when things have leveled out.

DK: Nobody? Personally, I think Arsenal should sign someone who can impose their style on the club and grow into the job.

Say he’d take the job: Would you like Arsene Wenger as USMNT boss?

JPW: Yes. That would be fantastic but I just can’t see it happening. Unfortunately.

NM: Every day and twice on Sunday. Tim Weah, Josh Sargent, and Christian Pulisic learned how to carve it up together under AW? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

KB: Yes. 100% absolutely. Wenger would be a great fit for the United States. It won’t happen, but I would sign up for that right here right now.

DK: Uh. Probably not. We need some help defensively, over here. I’m not sure if he could bring that.

Championship playoff final: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Fulham - Brentford
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Fulham – Brentford: Which West London Derby combatant will lay claim to a place in the Premier League at the end of Tuesday’s Football League Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium?

We can hardly wait to find out, as the 20th berth in the 2020-21 Premier League season and 22nd spot in the Championship will be decided after the richest game on earth.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europe ]

Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET Tuesday at Wembley Stadium.


Key players

Fulham leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 26 goals were the joint-most in the Championship and more than three times as many as Tom Cairney, second amongst the Cottagers. He’s healthy for the first time after missing the semis with a hamstring injury.

Brentford’s Ollie Watkins scored the same amount of goals as Mitrovic, tying for the league lead, and he’s joined by Said Benrahma’s 17 goals (fifth in the league) and Bryan Mbeumo (eighth). The latter have combined for 16 assists, too. The Bees can sting.

Their seasons

Brentford won a even-straight league games to surge into the mix for automatic promotion but lost their last two, meeting Fulham on 81 points.

As for the Cottagers, Fulham finished the season on a seven-match unbeaten run which included five wins

Their playoffs

Brentford overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to oust Swansea City in the semifinal, while Fulham’s first leg win was enough to outlast Cardiff City’s strong second leg in their semi.

Odds and ends

Brentford beat Fulham twice, 1-0 at Griffin Park and 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

The Bees are favored to win the match at +108 odds, while Fulham carries +265 odds of a win.

Prediction

Mitrovic’s availability is huge for a Fulham side hoping to break down the league’s second-stingiest defense. Brentford feels like it’s the superior side but Fulham has been here and Cairney even scored the goal to beat Aston Villa in the 2017-18 playoff final. That experience is an X-factor, but we’ll still call Brentford 2-1 winners.

How to watch Fulham – Brentford

Kickoff: 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Stream: ESPN+

How will Premier League clubs fare in Europe this month?

Champions League news
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Nearly five months is a long time to wait between rounds of a tournament, let alone legs.

Welcome to the 2019-20 UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues, where the competition continues this week after a long, pandemic-inspired delay.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europa ]

Who is best set up, aligned, prepared, and built for success?

There are certainly different questions to all parts of that question. Let’s dive into it.


Chelsea

Status: Down 3-0 to Bayern Munich after first leg at home
Next match: 3 pm ET Saturday at Allianz Arena

It’s not happening. We don’t like sounding definitive, especially with Christian Pulisic involved, but Bayern Munich conceding four times in a 3-goal loss at home seems bonkers even after a couple of weeks without game action.

The Blues are capable of scoring against anyone, yes, but this would be a bigger turnaround than even Liverpool versus Barcelona.

Longest of long shots.


Wolves

Status: Level 1-1 with Olympiacos after first leg away
Next match: 3 pm ET Thursday at the Molineux

Should Wolves get past Greek powers Olympiacos, they’ll face either Sevilla or Roma in a real scrap to meet the semifinals.

Wolves feel capable of beating anyone in the field, but this path is far from easy. Still, both Wolves and Manchester United can feel grateful to be in the top half of the bracket, with Inter Milan, Wolfsburg, and Shakhtar Donetsk in a dangerous bottom half.

On a round-to-round basis you wouldn’t vote against Wolves. Over a month, though, they feel less likely than the Manchester sides.


[ MORE: Big moves for Arsenal? ]

 

Wolves news
PIRAEUS, GREECE – MARCH 12: Mady Camara of Olympiacos FC is challenged by Joao Moutinho of Wolverhampton Wanderers (Photo by UEFA – Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Manchester City

Status: Leads 2-1 over Real Madrid after first leg away
Next match: 3 pm ET Friday at the Etihad Stadium

We know Pep Guardiola and his array of weapons are capable of beating anyone in the world, and Sergio Ramos’ suspension from the first leg is wonderful for City. Ramos is having one of those “Ballon d’Or if defenders could win it” seasons.

Having two away goals from the Bernabeu is even better. The bottom half of the UCL bracket, however, is a gauntlet and nothing like the top half. City would love to see Lyon hold off Juventus, but a win over either brings either Napoli, Barcelona, Bayern or — miraculously — Chelsea in the semifinals.

It’s a huge ask but this is a huge team.


Manchester United

Status: Leads 5-0 over LASK Linz after first leg away
Next match: 3 pm ET Wednesday at Old Trafford

United would have to self-destruct in order to miss out on the Europa League quarterfinals, where they’ll be favored whether they meet either Istanbul Basaksehir or Copenhagen. The semifinals will be even tougher, as Olympiacos, Wolves, Sevilla, or Roma.

The question here is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has shown some tactical acumen but also failed the Red Devils in the FA Cup semi against Chelsea. United really should be able to out-perform anyone left, even Inter Milan, but will Solskjaer outduel Antonio Conte or even Sevilla’s Julen Lopetegui?

Predictions, odds for Champions League, Europa League knockouts

Champions League odds
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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch all of the fixtures in the USA.


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)

JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: Here at NBCSports.com

Reports: Arsenal offers huge deal to Aubameyang, chases Partey, Coutinho

Arsenal transfer news
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Thinking about the resurgence of several big name Premier League sides makes the 2020-21 season tantalizing idea. Could Arsenal become a title fighter?

Manchester City, statistically-speaking, was already the most productive team in the league and Liverpool’s team an absolute monster of intensity that seemed to will good fortune on their rare bad days.

Manchester United was second only to City in Project Restart while Chelsea produced as many chances as any team now named City and now has better finishers. Tottenham improved as well — health can be a tactic in that it helps as much as any manager.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europa ]

What about Arsenal, though?

The Gunners now have a shiny trophy for Mikel Arteta’s resume after the former midfielder led the club to a record 14th FA Cup.

Arsenal is said to be offering Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang a contract that pays nearly $327,000 per week in a bid to convince the superstar that another year of the Europa League is fine.

A report from Football.London says that Arteta believes Aubameyang and a trio of other moves could help him replicate the 4-3-3 often implemented by former club Man City.

The report says that Arsenal is ready to recruit Willian, Thomas Partey, and Philippe Coutinho to supplement what’s already at the Emirates.

Arsenal is in a tricky situation because of how much promising young talent there is, but Arteta will have learned a thing or too from how Pep Guardiola convinced Phil Foden to buy into a longer development. And winning cures plenty.

Who would fit in the 4-3-3? Arsenal has a tremendous 1-2 punch in goal between Bernd Leno and Emiliano Martinez, and piles of questions at the back. William Saliba finally arrives from Saint-Etienne and Pablo Mari will return, too, while Arteta used Shkrodan Mustafi, David Luiz, Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, and Cedric Soares this season.

The middle part becomes a lot easier with Partey joining Granit Xhaka and Co.