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Arsenal gambling big with summer spending spree

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Just two measly weeks ago, Arsenal board member Josh Korenke – son of owner Stan Kroenke – told the public, “It’s no secret that we have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now. That’s a fact. And one that we’re figuring out how to face internally at the moment.”

His words were in response to an open letter from Arsenal supporter groups that claimed the club’s “approach to both buying players and paying wages looks uncoordinated and appears to lack strategy.” Days later, despite media claims that the club is operating on a summer budget of just $50 million, the Gunners were reportedly smashing the club transfer record for Lille winger Nicolas Pepe. So what gives?

There’s no other conclusion: the club is betting on itself. The Pepe transfer tells the story, as the club has deferred much of the payments to installments over the course of the year, hoping to ease the immediate financial burden with the budget currently strapped.

The decision to spend future funds now is a dangerous risk, but could pay off should the club reach the Champions League. Kroenke explicitly said the team is currently operating on a Champions League wage budget, despite beginning a third consecutive season outside Europe’s top competition. It’s clear that three Europa League seasons in a row is beginning to have an effect on the operating costs at the Emirates. Adding a club-record transfer fee plus wages competitive to lure Pepe to the Emirates seems counter to a logical resolution, but by betting on the team, the front office is pushing the team forward in an ambitious and positive direction.

Undoubtedly, there’s huge risk involved with such a push. Should the Gunners yet again miss out on the Champions League either by a top four finish in Premier League play or by winning the Europa League, there could be disastrous consequences. The Premier League television money is free-flowing, but going another year without Champions League prize money and media rights could be disastrous for the current financial structure.

One questionable decision is the choice to bolster the attack rather than patch up the defensive line, an area the club struggled mightily with at times last year. With captain Laurent Koscielny pushing to leave the club, it leaves Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, and Konstantinos Mavorpanos as the only healthy central defenders, with Rob Holding still recovering from his ACL tear suffered, although he is expected to return soon. On the flanks are Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, Ainsley Maintland-Niles, and Hector Bellerin, with Calum Chambers versatile enough to play anywhere along the back or in midfield.

Is that a Champions League defensive unit? It’s hard to see how it would be, yet Arsenal has decided to splash the cash up front and hope they can outscore teams enough to reach the promised land. Other than Pepe, the Gunners spent money on winger Gabriel Martinelli, an 18-year-old Brazilian, and young defender William Saliba who was sent back on loan to St. Etienne.

The Gunners have taken a calculated risk, one they believe to be beneficial to the long-term health of the club. Should it pay off, Arsenal could be set up for a long stay near the top of the Premier League with a young attacking core and some youth at the back as well. But if they miss, the financial detriment to the club could be even more devastating than what they are set to potentially gain, as Financial Fair Play could be a factor down the road if Champions League riches never arrive.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.