Season Preview: Arsenal to return to top-4?

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Arsenal at a Glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 13 – last in 2003/2004 season.

FA Cups: 13 times, last in 2016/2017.

League Cups: 2

FA Community Shield: 15 (last in 2017).

Top Four Finishes: 20-in-a-row between 1997 and 2017.

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It’s a new era at Arsenal.

After 20 years at the club, Arsene Wenger stepped down at the end of last season, in which Arsenal failed to break into the top four for a second consecutive season, allowing for a fresh set of eyes to come in and manage the side. In comes veteran Spaniard Unai Emery, who perhaps couldn’t live up to expectations in France but certainly beat the odds over and over again with Sevilla and Valencia in Spain.

Emery’s attention to detail and defensive focus could pair well with Arsenal’s wonderful abundance of creative, playmaking midfielders. But based on Arsenal’s preseason performances, there’s still plenty of work to be done at both ends of the pitch.


Arsenal will finish top four because….the new signings gel and add strength in depth to what is an already very strong squad. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hits the ground running in his first full-season at the club with 20 or more goals, partnering at times with Alexandre Lacazette or trading spots with him between the heavy workload of matches. More importantly, the summer signings of Sokratis, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Stephan Lichtsteiner help shore up Arsenal’s leaky defense after a few months of struggles to start the season. Torreira, affectionately called “pac-man” for his ability to eat up attackers all over the field, morphs into the best defensive midfielder Arsenal has seen since the days of Patrick Vieira.

Arsenal will miss out on the UEFA Champions League because….defensive problems remain. While the team is beautiful in its attack, Emery is left pulling all the hairs out of his head wondering why Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis can’t figure out how to play together and defend as a unit. With Laurent Koscielny set to miss a large chunk of the season coming back from his torn Achilles injury, Arsenal miss his defensive leadership. In addition, both Lacazette and Aubameyang struggle to score in the big games, making Arsenal fans continue to suffer as the team fails to live up to expectations.

Best possible XI: List the team’s strongest lineup for this season when everyone is fit

———————Leno———————-

—-Bellerin—-Mustafi—Sokratis——Kolasinac

—————Torreira——-Xhaka——————

——-Mkhitaryan——Ramsey———-Ozil——

———————Aubameyang———————

Transfers In: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Matteo Guendouzi (Lorient, $9.1 million), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria, $34.4 million), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen, $25 million), Sokratis (Borussia Dortmund, $23 million)

Transfers Out: Per Mertesacker (retired), Santi Cazorla (Villarreal, free), Jack Wilshere (West Ham, free), Jeff Reine-Adelaide (Angers, undisclosed)

Ranking their offseason: A-

Arsenal found itself outside the Champions League for the second straight season, and with a new manager entering, the club could have been in for a rough summer. Instead, it’s been very good so far by all accounts. Arsenal spent strategically and already, Guendouzi looks like a strong signing, having performed well as a holding midfielder in multiple preseason matches. Leno looks like the future goalkeeper the Gunners have been wanting with Torreira and Sokratis shore up a creaky defense. In addition, the Gunners were able to hold on to Aubameyang, Lacazette, and though his future is still up in the air, Aaron Ramsey so far. Through preseason, it’s clear that Arsenal needs to work more defensively, but in terms of the attacking side they’re looking good enough to start the season.


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Star player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: The French-born Gabon International was a star both domestically and in Europe for Borussia Dortmund. If he can produce at his old level, Arsenal will be just fine.


Coaches’ Corner: Unai Emery: The 48-year-old manager comes from Paris Saint-Germain, where he gained valuable experience coaching some of the biggest names in world football. But the majority of his coaching success has come in Spain. With Valencia and Sevilla, Emery constantly beat expectations and helped his side play better than the sum of its parts. If he can pull that off for Arsenal, he will quickly win over fans. 

PST predicts: After a strong offseason, Arsenal look set to return to the club’s old glory as a regular top-four team. The spine of the squad was improved, which should give players like Mesut Ozil, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi the freedom to attack down the wings and through the heart of the opponent’s defense. The new manager should refresh the player’s attitudes and deliver a fitter, more defensively-sound squad, which will help in terms of getting back in the Champions League. Arsenal may still be a bit away from challenging for a league title, but they’re not that far off.

USMNT Player Ratings from win over Ecuador

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team extended its clean sheet run to 180 minutes under the new coach with a 1-0 defeat of Ecuador in Orlando on Thursday.

[ RECAP: USMNT 1-0 Ecuador ]

The longtime Columbus Crew coach handed notable chances to several MLS mainstays who stood out in January camp, but also re-introduced Christian Pulisic to the fold.

The results were mixed, but the win was deserved as the U.S. did not allow much danger to reach Sean Johnson’s cage.

LINEUPS

Sean Johnson — 6.5 — Had to catch, what, one ball? Still, nice for him to get a clean sheet.

Tim Ream — 7 — A couple of dicey moments, sure, but the man with the captain’s band stood out at left back not just for his assist but his aggression in pressing high up the left flank.

John Brooks — 6.5 — Not much to do, but effective when needed with a win-saving stop. Here’s hope the thigh injury isn’t a notable one. Intelligent and accurate in his passing out of the back.

Aaron Long — 6 — His passing was a bit off early, and that will need to be better at the back of Berhalter’s defense, but overall he was composed and well-drilled.

Tyler Adams — 7.5 — Given he was playing an unusual position with immense responsibility (right), Adams deserves a lot of credit for keeping his motor high over 90 minutes. He only attempted two dribbles, staying in his shoes and venturing wide and forward on occasion. A very promising sign for an ambitious move by Berhalter. That’s a lot of green over there, and green is good —>

Wil Trapp (Off 59′) — 5.5 — He’s not supposed to be the guy who stands out in a game, and should be known for doing the little things, but he’s still not standing out from the pack as someone who should keep Michael Bradley or Tyler Adams from the center of the park.

Weston McKennie (Off 68′) — 5 — Potentially scary injury aside, he will have much better days for the U.S. than this and certainly didn’t show chemistry with Trapp. Second guessing is easy, but flipping McKennie and Adams might’ve been the play.

Paul Arriola (Off 77′) — 6 — An energetic, productive night on the wing takes a hit due to his inability to finish the match’s best scoring chance (even if the save was legit).

Christian Pulisic (Off 62′) — 7 — Not at his sharpest, but still quite lively in producing many American attacks. Had an memorable moment working over Antonio Valencia near the end line.

Jordan Morris (Off 68′) — 6 — Still learning how to be a winger, but a decent and industrious effort for the Seattle Sounders man.

Gyasi Zardes — 7 — It was the goal that did the trick for him over 90 minutes, and it was good to see the Columbus Crew man score a USMNT for the first time since 2016.

Subs

Michael Bradley (On 59′) — 6.5 — Quick decisions and possession-aiding passes with precious few mistakes (See Opta chalkboard from MLSSocccer.com at right).

Sebastian Lletget (On 62′) — 6 — Has to be a bit more careful in his own half, but we’d like to see him get a start against Chile.

Cristian Roldan (On 66′) — 5 — Sloppy with the ball in a short stint.

DeAndre Yedlin (On 66′) — 6 — Busy and ready to produce chances from the right side.

Jonathan Lewis (On 77′) — N/A —

Zardes goal pushes controlling USMNT past Ecuador

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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  • Yanks have not allowed goal in 3 matches under Berhalter
  • Pulisic returns to USMNT set-up
  • MORE: McKennie stretched off
  • Zardes scores deflected winner off Ream feed
  • American control ball, but struggle in final third

Gyasi Zardes scored his seventh international goal and first since the Copa America Centenario as the USMNT handed Ecuador a 1-0 defeat at Orlando City Stadium on Thursday.’s

The win marks the third clean sheet victory in three tries for USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who leads the Yanks against Chile on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

The U.S. came out of the gates flying, connecting passes with their wings and fullbacks sitting very wide to stretch the surface.

When Ecuador did collect the ball, the Yanks pressed very hard and won it back.

Industry and speed was the story of the USMNT game, with Christian Pulisic and Jordan Morris leading the way in forcing the match on Ecuador.

Weston McKennie did some heavy lifting in nice combo play with Pulisic and Gyasi Zardes for a chance that was just missing the finishing touch from Paul Arriola (and got a nice save).

Pulisic was felled by a hard foul just inside the Ecuador half in the 55th minute, but carried on and Paul Arriola took a yellow for fouling Jefferson Orejuela in response.

Michael Bradley entered the match for Trapp in the 59th minute, and Pulisic exited for Sebastian Lletget three minutes later.

McKennie then suffered a painful ankle injury and eventually accepted stretcher help to get to the bench.

Zardes put the U.S. ahead when his powerful strike from atop the 18 took a huge deflection off the calf of Robert Arboleda and looped over the head of a flailing Alexander Dominguez.

The play began when Sebastian Lletget’s pressing pushed a poor Ecuadorian clearance to USMNT left back Tim Ream, who spotted Zardes in the middle of the Ecuador half.

USMNT, Schalke mid McKennie stretchered off with ankle injury

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Schalke and USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie limped off the pitch during the second half of a friendly against Ecuador on Thursday in Florida.

McKennie appeared to twist his ankle shortly after being called for a foul in the match, which stood 0-0 at the time.

[ MORE: Hazard, Real, and the back-up plan ]

He left the match with trainer help, and was eventually carted to the bench while seated on a stretcher.

A key piece of the program’s future, the 20-year-old midfielder has been a utility knife in the Bundesliga, playing everywhere from right back to left mid.

Only six players have played more league minutes for Schalke than McKennie, who earned his eighth cap on Thursday.

Making the case: Raheem Sterling as PL Player of the Year

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Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined someone making this case in a rational manner any time soon.

I especially didn’t think it would be me.

But as the Premier League takes a deep breath ahead of the stretch run, I’m going to have to say it.

[ MORE: JPW ranks the candidates ]

Raheem Sterling has been the best attacking player in the Premier League this season, and quite possibly the best player period.

Whether he earns the nod over defender Virgil Van Dijk is another story altogether, as it will probably comes down to wins and losses and one or two titles, but consider how deadly, consistent, and deadly consistent Sterling has been since the start of the season.

Of the four Premier League players who’ve accounted for some combination of 24 goals and assists, Sterling gets the least amount of positive publicity. Eden Hazard has largely been the Chelsea attack, Sergio Aguero has tied the PL hat trick record, and Mohamed Salah is riding his 2017-18 season through a remarkable cold snap of form.

But there’s Sterling, with 15 goals and nine assists in the second-fewest minutes of the bunch (Aguero).

How about these numbers — via WhoScored.com — in 2,149 league minutes?

Sterling is also averaging a tackle and .6 interceptions per match, the best of the bunch, while committed the fewest bad touches per game (most remarkable considering his second touch haunted him for several seasons).

A concession: For what it’s worth given the above stats, Hazard is easily in second of the bunch if not competing directly with Sterling. But Sterling hasn’t been a part of underachieving teams for three different managers, so we’ll abide.

There are two things going against Sterling, neither of which are his fault. The first is that Man City’s dominance of last season and run back into a title right this season has people imagining that the feast of talent at the Etihad Stadium makes numbers an afterthought; That is to say that Sterling, Aguero, and the Silvas (not to mention Leroy Sane) aren’t producing much more than their theoretical replacements.

And maybe there’s something to that, but here’s how important Sterling’s production has been to City.

In Premier League matches in which Sterling neither scored, assisted, nor drew a penalty, City has four wins, two draws, and four losses. When he has, that mark is 17-0 (He sat out wins over Huddersfield Town, Burnley, and Watford to complete Man City’s 24W-2D-4L record).

Aguero, for his part, racked up nine of his goals in three matches. I’m not here to hat trick shame, but Sterling feels a less replaceable part of Pep’s team.

The second thing going against Sterling is a bit more nefarious, linked to articles and conceptions about his gun tattoo or hairstyles. This part, hopefully, doesn’t require us to refute it.

Van Dijk has been phenomenal, and as a longtime defender admirer — those who can’t do it, love those who do it well — I’d be thrilled to see him join N'Golo Kante in non-scorers to claim such an honor.

But VVD was also on the scene for a moment that encapsulates what Sterling has become to City’s attack. He’s arguably been this season’s Leroy Sane, and coincidentally cues up the German with this incisive pass from well outside his office for the January winner against Liverpool.