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Arsenal sign Nicolas Pepe for $87 million

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Nicolas Pepe is officially an Arsenal player.

The Ivory Coast winger, 24, has arrived for a club-record fee believed to be in the region of $87 million.

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Arsenal will pay this huge transfer fee in instalments, as previously their transfer kitty for this summer was rumored to be around $55 million.

Pepe was unveiled by the Gunners on Thursday and will wear the No.19 shirt, and his new manager Unai Emery seems incredibly excited to welcome the attacker to the Emirates Stadium.

“Nicolas is a highly-rated and talented winger who was wanted by many of the top teams in Europe,” Emery said. “Signing a top-class winger has been one of our key objectives in this transfer window and I’m delighted he’s joining. He will add pace, power and creativity, with the aim of bringing more goals to our team.”

Asked about his emotions upon signing for Arsenal, Pepe revealed that he has admired their French players from afar for many years and is delighted to arrive in the Premier League.

“Being here is very emotional because it has not been easy for me. I have come a long way and struggled a lot and so signing for this great club is a big reward,” Pepe said.

The Ivory Coast star burst onto the scene last season at Lille, scoring 22 goals in Ligue 1 as they finished second and qualified for the UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal’s attack will now boast Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Pepe, Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and youngster Eddie Nketiah. Talk about options.

“When I knew I was coming to Arsenal, I immediately thought of the French guys who play here,” Pepe said. “I thought of Ozil, the world champions, Lacazette, Aubameyang and many more. Of course, these are the players who sprang to mind because I used to watch them when I was at Lille. Also, Lacazette used to play for Lyon and so I have had the opportunity to play against him. It will be an honor to play alongside him.”

After hearing about this signing many will point to the fact that the Gunners have been trying to shore up their leaky defense for years, but that’s not Pepe’s problem.

One of the most exciting wingers in the game right now has arrived at Arsenal and this is a huge statement of intent from the club which finished fifth in the Premier League last season, agonizingly missing out on UCL qualification via the league and by losing in the UEFA Europa League final to London rivals Chelsea.

Majority owner Stan Kroenke has been lambasted for failing to spend big money at Arsenal in recent years but after spending a combined $200 million on transfer fees alone on Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang, can the Gunners faithful finally cut him some slack?

Probably not.

And that’s probably because Arsenal are still two defensive players away from being a real force in the Premier League this season and beyond. Kieran Tierney could arrive at left back, while the return from injury of Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding will boost their defensive options. But with Laurent Koscielny on his way out, the Gunners still look short of options defensively.

Still, it seems like Emery’s plan is now to win games 6-4 or 5-3 and neutrals everywhere will be keen to watch that with Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang in full flow as Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil tee them up.

One way or another, it is going to be a lot of fun to watch Arsenal play this season.

La Liga Roundup: Messi, Barcelona stunned by inspired Granada (video)

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Granada’s shocking 2-0 win over Barcelona and subsequent rise to the top of the table headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

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Granada 2-0 Barcelona

Not even Lionel Messi, who made his season debut on Saturday, was able to save Barcelona against a red-hot Granada.

Granada, who are off to their best start in their 88 years of existence, had a perfect night in front of their supporters, convincingly getting past a Barcelona that dominated possession, but lacked the offensive ingenuity needed to score.

Barcelona’s defense wasn’t noteworthily robust, either.

Two minutes in, the newly promoted side scored through a headed goal from Ramon Azeez, following a defensive turnover from Junior Firpo.

Unable to record a shot on target in the first half and looking to wakeup a dormant attack, Barcelona brought on wonderkid Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi at halftime. Despite the duo connecting on several occasion and generating a shot on target, it wasn’t enough to get past Rui Silva.

In the 66th minute, following video review, substitute Alvaro Badillo converted from the spot, handing Granada their third win of the season.

Atop of La Liga, Granada set their sights on Real Valladolid, while Barcelona, who are off to their worst league start in 25 years, host Villarreal at Camp Nou.

Atletico Madrid  0-0 Celta Vigo

For a second consecutive week, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid dropped points, drawing with Celta Vigo 0-0 at Wanda Metropolitano.

Tied with league leaders Granada and Sevilla with 10 points, the alarm bells are far from going off in Madrid. However, as Saturday’s performance showed, los Colchoneros are having trouble finishing chances this season, despite fielding an attack with the likes of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata.

In five games, Atletico have managed to score only five goals, six fewer than leaders Granada. Against Celta, Atletico registered 20 shots, five on target, but were unable to crack a stellar Ruben Blanco, who registered five saves.

Leveled with Granada and Sevilla, Atletico Madrid look to get back into winning ways as they take on RCD Mallorca. Elsewhere, Celta Vigo, who have won win after five games, host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Villarreal 2-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-0 Eibar

Almeyda, Wondolowski sent off in Quakes’ fall against Atlanta (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Melodrama took center stage in Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, as Matias Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza were all sent off on Saturday. Josef Martinez, six games away from tying Lionel Messi’s world record for most consecutive goals, left the field in 79th minute following an injury, ending his MLS-record run at 15 games. Playing with 10 players from the 34th minute onwards, the Quakes held on to the draw up until the 90th minute. Unmarked inside the box, Emerson Hyndman rocketed the ball past Daniel Vega, who recorded nine saves throughout the night. In stoppage time, Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was rewarded for his stellar performance with a goal of his own. With a game at hand, Eastern Conference leaders, NYCFC, are three points ahead Frank De Boer‘s side. The Quakes, on the other hand, have internal fires to put out as they have lost six of their last eight, and are only a point above the red line with three games to play.

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Great run by Espinoza, greater ball by Vega  — Daniel Vega and Cristian Espinoza were players that San Jose were desperately missing last season. This sequence says it all.

 

90′ — Emerson Hyndman wins it for the Five Stripes   — Hyndman, with no one near him, seals three points for the home side.

 

90′ + 2 — Martinez takes advantage of broken San Jose  — Martinez’s goal was only salt in San Jose’s fresh wound.

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Man of the match: Gonzalo “Pity”  Martinez

Goalscorers: Meram (4′), Guzan (27′ – OG), Hyndman (90′), Martinez (90′ + 2)

FIFA sees no obstacles for women to attend games in Iran

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ZURICH — Soccer’s governing body FIFA says an inspection visit to Iran has shown “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to lifting the country’s 40-year ban and letting women attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

After meeting government and soccer officials in Tehran this week, FIFA says it will work with Iran’s soccer body to also open domestic league games to female fans.

FIFA wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums which breaches international soccer statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a soccer stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

Ahead of Iran hosting Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10, FIFA says the visit on Thursday focused on “international relations, security and ticketing matters.”

Iranian officials were told of FIFA’s “firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely” with tickets sold to as many who wanted to attend.

FOLLOW LIVE: Atlanta v. Quakes, Galaxy v. Impact on a busy MLS Saturday

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Eight games in seven hours, now that’s a jam-packed MLS Saturday.

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Things kickoff with Matias Almeyda’s San Jose Earthquakes visiting red-hot Josef Martinez’s Atlanta United, and comes to a close in Los Angeles, where league leaders LAFC host Toronto FC and LA Galaxy, who look to continue moving up in the Western Conference standings, host Montreal Impact.

In between, the New England Revolution look to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as they welcome Kyle Beckerman and Real Salt Lake, while the Chicago Fire hope to jump level with the Revs in the standings as they take on FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium.

Saturday’s full MLS schedule

Atlanta United v. San Jose Earthquakes — 3:30 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Columbus Crew — 5 p.m. ET

New England Revolution v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET

FC Cincinnati v. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. ET

Sporting Kansas City v. Colorado Rapids — 8:30 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. Orlando City — 8:30 p.m. ET

LAFC v. Toronto FC — 10:30 p.m. ET

LA Galaxy v. Montreal Impact — 10:30 p.m. ET