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.

Watch Live: Everton vs. Crystal Palace

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Wilfried Zaha starts up top for Crystal Palace after passing his late fitness ahead of Crystal Palace’s clash with Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Andre Gomes will make his Toffees debut after joining Everton from Barcelona in the summer — a hamstring injury has kept the Portuguese out of action thus far — while Yerry Mina, Everton’s other Barcelona buy, could make his debut from the bench.

LINEUPS

Everton: Pickford; Coleman, Zouma, Keane, Digne; Gueye, Andre Gomes; Walcott, Sigurdsson, Bernard; Richarlison | Subs: Stekelenburg, Bines, Mina, Davies, Tosun, Calvert-Lewin, Lookman

Crystal Palace: Hennessey: Wan-Biassaka, Sakho, Tomkins, Van Aanholt; Milovijevic, McArthurt, Kouyate; Schlupp, Townsend; Zaha | Subs: Guiata, Ayew Wickham, Kaikai, Kelly, Puncheon, Riedewald

Opposition to Wembley sale “bizarre” and led by “old men”

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Greg Dyke sees Shahid Khan’s capsized bid to buy Wembley Stadium as a massive missed opportunity for English soccer, and the former Football Association chairman is quite displeased by the “bizarre” opposition of the “old men” on the FA council.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

With an offer of more than $780 million on the table, Dyke believes that unprecedented — and otherwise impossible — investments could have been made to grassroots soccer that might just create a brighter future for the English game. If only it wasn’t for those meddling kids “the council is living in the past, as it always has done,” as he put it — quotes from the BBC:

“If I’d been chairman, I would have said it is the board’s decision.

“I don’t think the council is equipped to make this decision — that is what the FA board is for.”

Most notably, England is in desperate need of artificial playing fields up and down the country, as well as a tidal wave of newly licensed coaches to begin working at younger and younger age groups.

“The FA has only owned Wembley for 10 to 15 years, before that it was a private business.

“The idea you are going to lose something of value to Britain because it is not owned by the FA is the wrong one compared to spending [$784 million] doing what is desperately needed in this country and that is to spend money on grassroots facilities.

“If you want to have a step change in grassroots facilities in this country, you need this sort of money to be spent.

“It’s bizarre that the old men of the FA Council have stopped this.

“One of the tragedies of English football in recent years is that all the extra money that has come into the Premier League has by and large gone to players or agents, and not to football generally.”

Oftentimes, tradition and history come at the expense of revolution and progression, only to later realize that a golden opportunity has come and gone.

Agent says Usain Bolt has contract offer

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Usain Bolt’s agent claims that his client has received an A-League contract offer from Central Coast Mariners after spending more than two months on trial with the Australian club.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

The eight-time Olympic goal medalist, who’s 32 years old after retiring from track and field last year, scored twice in a Mariners exhibition last week. Now, his agent says he’s been offered an official contract — quotes from the AP:

“In response to the media stories, yes, Usain has been offered a contract. I do not want to make any further comment at this stage.”

Mike Mulvey, the Mariners manager, not only claims to be unaware of any such offer, but sounds rather dubious and unenthusiastic about the prospects of Bolt being a first-team player.

“You have a look at our front line today and you wonder whether he could get into any of those positions, wouldn’t you? I do appreciate how important this story is for the rest of the world.

“You’re just talking about speculation, I don’t know anything about what you’re talking about and that’s the honest truth.”

“We’re going to go back, have some dinner, have a little look at the game that’s on … then get on a plane tomorrow, go home and start preparing for Melbourne City next week. That’s the plan.”

La Liga: Messi breaks his arm; Real Madrid lose again

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona ended its slump and regained the Spanish league lead but there was little to celebrate as Lionel Messi broke his right forearm and will be sidelined for three weeks.

[ WATCH: Messi scores, assists, breaks arm in first 16 minutes ]

Also, Real Madrid lost again while suffering its worst scoring drought.

Messi scored and walked off injured in the first half of Barcelona’s 4-2 win over Sevilla at Camp Nou Stadium, while Real Madrid players and coach Julen Lopetegui were jeered off the field after they lost to Levante 2-1 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Messi was taken to a clinic, and Barcelona said he broke the radial bone. At the least, he will miss the Champions League match against Inter Milan on Wednesday, and El Clasico against Barcelona next Sunday.

“We will notice his absence,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “But we’ve played without him in the past. We will be prepared to overcome this.”

Messi was trying to reclaim the ball when he ran into the back of a defender and fell in the 17th minute. Trying to cushion his fall, his right elbow bent badly and he was in visible pain. Doctors wrapped his arm with bandages and the playmaker tried to continue but gave up.

“We shouldn’t let Messi’s injury affect us,” defender Gerard Pique said. “We have a team good enough to do well in the matches that we have ahead.”

Messi scored their second goal with a shot from outside the area in the 12th, about 10 minutes after Phillipe Coutinho opened the scoring. Luis Suarez added the third by converting a second-half penalty kick.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 9? ]

Sevilla replied through Pablo Sarabia, Ivan Rakitic increased Barcelona’s lead in the 88th, and Sevilla netted again thanks to Luis Muriel in injury time.

Barcelona struggled more than the scoreline showed, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen having to make a pair of remarkable double-saves, but the result was enough to give Valverde’s team a one-point lead over surprising Alaves.

Sevilla, which had won four in a row in the league, including 3-0 against Real Madrid, dropped to third place, two points off the lead.


Atletico Madrid, which drew at Villarreal 1-1, also was two back after nine matches.

Real Madrid was four points behind Barcelona, in fifth place.

Real Madrid fans ran out of patience after seeing their team suffer its worst scoring drought and lose for the fourth time in five matches.

Fans loudly jeered after Madrid reached 481 minutes without finding the net in the loss to Levante, which entered the game with the league’s third-worst defense.

Levante scored early with goals by Jose Luis Morales in the sixth minute and Roger in the 13th after a penalty awarded following a video review. Marcelo pulled one back in the 72nd.

Madrid began the match without Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, who are coming off injuries. It still created enough chances, striking the woodwork three times and having a goal by Mariano Diaz disallowed for offside in the final minutes. Marco Asensio also had a first-half goal disallowed by VAR.

Madrid finished with 70 percent possession and more than 30 attempts.

Local media immediately questioned whether Madrid should fire Lopetegui before El Clasico next weekend at Barcelona or give him a chance to try to save his job against the rival.

“Football matches are won by scoring goals and not according to who deserves to win,” said Lopetegui, who is only three months into his stint with the club after being fired from Spain’s national team.

Before El Clasico, Madrid hosts Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday in the Champions League to try to rebound from a 1-0 loss at CSKA Moscow.