Getty Images

Wenger’s Best XI as Arsenal manager

1 Comment

In his 22 years as Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger has seen more than his share of talented players grace the field in an Arsenal kit.

From Thierry Henry and Robert Pires to Lee Dixon and Tony Adams, some of legends of the Premier League have spent some of their best years playing for Arsenal, leading Wenger to three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.

No less than 222 players have played under Wenger, from the Invincible greats to one-time American youth product Frank Simek and the latest debutante, Konstantinos Mavropanos.

Looking back at the last 22 years, it’s difficult to select just 11 players, but we at Pro Soccer Talk have done our best to select the defining best XI for Arsenal in the Arsene Wenger era.

Bench: David Seaman, Tony Adams, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny Freddie Ljungberg,  Gilberto Silva, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Sylvain Wiltord, Robin Van Persie

The core of the squad is made up of players from the Invincibles era, when Arsenal went 49 games unbeaten, including winning the 2003-2004 Premier League title without a defeat.

Goalkeeper: Jens Lehmann

The man who eventually replaced Oliver Kahn as the German National Team goalkeeper, Lehmann enjoyed a second wind with Arsenal after spending the first 15 years of his career mostly in Germany (outside of a year with AC Milan). Lehman saved Juan-Roman Riquelme’s penalty kick to qualify for the 2006 UEFA Champions League final, though he was sent off early for a tackle outside of the box.

Left back: Ashley Cole

Although he left for greater glory with London rivals Chelsea in 2006, from almost his debut with Arsenal, Cole was one of the best left backs in the league, bombing forward on the attack but also skilled and pacey enough to get back and defend, especially in one-on-one situations.

Centerback: Sol Campbell

After making the move across North London, Campbell was a rock for the Gunners, leading them to the Champions League final as well as the Invincibles Premier League title. In a way, the hard-as-nails defender who could play out of the back was ahead of his time. If he had been playing today, he’d likely be valued as highly as Virgil Van Dijk.

Centerback: Kolo Toure

It’s hard to remember but for a short time, Kolo was the more well-known Toure brother, as part of his impressive exploits for the Gunners. As with a lot of Arsenal players, Toure was plucked from the Ivory Coast for just around $200,000 and sold to Manchester City for $21.7 million. (And by the way, Wenger admitted he regrets missing out on signing Yaya, who was once on trial with Arsenal)

Right back: Lauren

Another rock solid defender who could also attack down the wing, Lauren played a crucial role in unseating Lee Dixon from the Arsenal lineup and leading the Gunners in their glory years. Lauren won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups.

Holding midfielder: Patrick Vieira

The Frenchman was the rock, the Dwayne the Johnson in midfield for the Gunners, and you can argue that without him Arsenal has never been the same. After he was signed for $4.5 million from AC Milan in 1996, Vieira went on to become Arsenal captain and the club’s leader on and off the field, before departing for Juventus in 2005.

Central midfielder: Cesc Fabregas

Debuting at 16, Wenger’s support for Fabregas allowed one of the best playmakers in the Premier League to blossom in front of our eyes. In the 2009-2010 Premier League season, Fabregas scored 15 goals and added 13 assists. After a slightly down year (three goals, 11 assists) by his standards, he moved to Barcelona, eventually winning the UEFA Champions League, despite just failing to break into the stacked midfield of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

Left wing: Robert Pires

The Frenchman’s exploits caused oohs and aahs to fall out of the mouths of Arsenal fans as he dribbled through opponents at will, scoring the occasional goal as well to keep defenders honest. The Premier League Player of the Year in 2002, Pires was a core piece in Arsenal’s success in the early-to-mid 2000s, but departed after the Champions League defeat.

Right wing: Marc Overmars

Winner of two Premier League titles, the Dutch winger displayed excellent technical ability in addition to his pace, making him a constant threat for defenders. After signing from Ajax, Overmars made more than 100 appearances for the Gunners before he left in a big-money move to Barcelona.

Trequartista/Second Sriker: Dennis Bergkamp

The Dutchman never had blazing speed, but he didn’t need it. One of the greatest players to ever grace the Premier League, Bergkamp was at times impossible to defend, deftly making the ball go wherever he wanted and leaving defenders, and goalkeepers in his wake. Bergkamp spent his last 11 seasons as a professional with the Gunners, scoring 84 goals with 97 assists in league play.

Striker: Thierry Henry

Arguably the greatest player in the Premier League era for Arsenal – if not the whole league, Henry was an absolute revelation after Wenger signed him from Juventus and turned him into a striker. In eight seasons with the Gunners,  Henry scored 175 league goals with 74 assists, helping take Arsenal to two league titles and a Champions League final. He won the Premier League golden boot four seasons and was twice the player of the year.

Let us know who you’d have in your Arsene Wenger best Arsenal XI in the comment section below.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Spurs snag Clarke, Arsenal eyeing French youngster

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a number of reports across England, Tottenham may have secured its first new player signing in 511 days, rumored to have completed a deal for Leeds United winger Jack Clarke.

The BBC reports that Clarke has flown south to London for a medical and that the $12.7 million deal is finalized. The report states there are further, unspecified add-ons to that base payment should they trigger.

The 18-year-old made 25 appearances for the Leeds first-team last season, scoring two goals assisting two more as they reached the playoff semifinal. Clarke’s arrival will mark the first Tottenham signing since Lucas Moura joined in January of 2018, famously failing to sign a player last summer to much criticism, before making a run to the Champions League final during the season.

Arsenal is reportedly after a pair of transfer targets, one on either end of the pitch.

First, more concretely, reports indicate that the Gunners are set to bat the signature of young French defender William Saliba. The 18-year-old currently plays for St. Etienne and saw significant playing time last season, bagging 16 league appearances good for over 1,200 minutes as he helped the club secure a Champions League place with a fourth-place finish, aided by the third-best defensive record in the league.

According to an ESPNFC report by Julien Laurens, the two clubs have reached an agreement for Saliba in the range of $28 million, with the Gunners beating Tottenham and PSG to the punch. Saliba will stay at St. Etienne on loan next season as he looks to continue developing at his boyhood club.

The Gunners are reportedly also following Monaco winger Keita Balde, with the Senegal international currently on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. The 24-year-old spent last season on loan at Inter, where he racked up 24 Serie A appearances – mostly off the bench – scoring five goals and assisting three more.

Reports in Italy indicate that while Inter had the option to buy at the end of the loan spell, they declined as they believed the $38 million price to be too expensive. With Monaco struggling mightily this past season and in serious flux, it’s likely that Balde could move on and help the French club gain funds to reinvest.

Balde found the back of the net in Senegal’s opening AFCON match, a 2-0 win over Tanzania, marking his fourth international goal in 24 caps.

Another African on international duty is Kalidou Koulibaly, whose future is still under serious speculation.

Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti said Wednesday – completely joking, mind you – that he won’t even return from his vacation in Canada if the club sells Koulibaly. That won’t stop the two Manchester clubs from having a go, and to this point Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis has held firm that only a bid that reaches his $154 million release clause will pry him from the Italian side.

Koulibaly wouldn’t be drawn into speculation about his future when approached at the tournament in Africa, saying, “I don’t know [if I’ll still be at Napoli next year], I think so, but I have to play the AFCON and then after that I’ll go back to Napoli.”

Manchester United has been much closely linked with Koulibaly than Manchester City, but it may be difficult to convince him to switch with the Red Devils not participating in the Champions League next season.

Everton is reportedly in the hunt for Juventus striker Moise Kean according to the Liverpool Echo, with the 19-year-old breaking out last season with The Old Lady. He scored six goals in 13 appearances down the stretch of the season, coming into the squad after the club had all but secured the league title.

While he is a big strike prospect for Juventus, the club is somewhat crowded at the position with Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, and Mario Mandzukic at the position. The club surely could take its time bringing him along, but apparently a disciplinary issue while with the Italy U-21 team at the Euros this summer has added to the club’s concern, along with his hesitation at signing a new contract. Kean’s current deal expires next summer, so this would be the time to cash in on his high-rising stock.

The report states it would cost around $34 million to land the youngster and Ajax is also in the mix.

Women’s World Cup mascot costume stolen from Parc des Prince

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to reports in France, first by news outlet LCI, the World Cup mascot Ettie had its mascot stolen from Parc des Princes in the early morning hours of last Friday, June 21.

L’Equipe reports the mascot costume has subsequently been recovered and police are investigating.

The reports state that a group of five somehow entered the Paris stadium between 4 and 5 a.m. local time, proceeding to walk around and even play a game on the Parc des Princes pitch before leaving the stadium carrying two large bags that contained the mascot costume. After missing for the weekend, the costume was reportedly returned to a lawyer’s office in Paris on Tuesday in anonymous fashion.

Thankfully, since the costume has been returned, Ettie will be able to make an appearance while the United States takes on host nation France at Parc des Princes in a highly anticipated quarterfinal match on Friday.

The L’Equipe report says that very little was been discernible on the Parc des Princes security camera footage, and police have appealed to the public for assistance. FIFA describes Ettie as “a young chicken with a passion for life and football.” Ettie is the daughter of Footix, the rooster mascot of the 1998 World Cup also held in France.

Toni Kroos wants to retire at Real Madrid

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After signing a contract extension in May that runs through 2023, which he said at the time is “probably my last big contract,” Toni Kroos doubled down on that statement, saying he’d like to retire at Real Madrid and will not move to another club as his career winds down.

Speaking to German publication Bild about a new film that documents his life, Kroos said that the end of his current contract is hopefully going to be the end of his career, on his own terms.

“When I am aged 33, that would be a good age to retire,” Kroos told Bild’s subscription service Bild+, as quoted by Marca. “My contract duration was chosen consciously. At 33, that would be a good age to hang up the boots. I will have the opportunity at that moment to choose if I want to do something after that.”

Obviously, it’s possible that something out of his control will take place forcing him to finish his career elsewhere, but he expresses his admiration for Los Blancos and says that he hopes his career will last long enough to ride out his contract and hang up his boots at the club he loves. “Signing for Real Madrid is the best thing I could have done, I will never play in the United States, China or Qatar.”

Kroos also emitted a typical athlete mentality, saying he hoped to make Bayern regret selling him in 2014, something he believes he’s been successful doing. “For me, it was already clear at the time of the transfer that Bayern made a mistake with my sale,” he said. “It’s true that [Bayern president] Uli Hoeness has made it public of late – and it’s a testament to his greatness that he addresses it that way.”

Kroos has won three Champions League titles with Real Madrid as well as a La Liga title since moving to the Bernabeu.

Follow Live: Africa Cup of Nations – Group play reaches round 2

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The first round of group stage matches is complete and now the slate reracks for teams to truly take control of their Africa Cup of Nations destiny.

[ LIVE: Africa Cup of Nations scores ]

Host nation Egypt takes the field for a second time as they meet Democratic Republic of Congo in the late match in Cairo, while Nigeria has the chance to secure advancement as they play Guinea, and Uganda can push Zimbabwe to the brink of elimination.

Egypt and Uganda can each secure passage to the knockout stage through Group A if both should win, while a loss for either side would complicate matters.The host nation will be looking for a better attacking display after Mohamed Salah was isolated in the narrow opening round win over Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Congo DR likely did not expect to be facing elimination this early, with a team that sports West Ham’s Arthur Masuaku, former Premier League midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu, and Porto’s Chancel Mbemba.

In Group B, Nigeria can secure passage to the knockout phase with a win. The clear dominant side in a collection of countries that includes Guinea, Madagascar, and Burundi, Nigeria looked sluggish in its opener and will require a more complete attacking display to convince supporters they can challenge for the Cup.

2019 Africa Cup of Nations schedule – Wednesday, June 26

Group A
Uganda v. Zimbabwe – 1 p.m. ET
Egypt v. Congo DR – 4 p.m. ET

Group B
Nigeria v. Guinea – 10:30 a.m. ET