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David Luiz is already Arsenal’s lovable new leader

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David Luiz is a lover.

He’s a man who enjoys the beautiful things in life and exploring all that the world has to offer. In the same way he marauds all over the pitch, Luiz is just as adventurous taking in new surroundings.

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The way he plays reflects his personality. Courageous, full of energy and a little unpredictable. Chatting with him is both enjoyable and full of surprises.

Ahead of their trip to Sheffield United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) his attitude is very much: ‘Why not me? Why not us? Let’s do this!’

Over the international break Luiz, 32, traveled with his fiancee and mom to Rwanda, in partnership with Arsenal’s sponsor Visit Rwanda, as he visited the African country which has transformed itself over the past 25 years after it was torn apart by genocide in 1994.

Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Luiz was humbled as he paid his respects to the victims of the genocide against the Tutsi. He was in a reflective mood as he discussed the work Rwanda has done to get to this stage.

“After 25 years you can see how things have improved and how people have love for their country and you can feel love from the people,” Luiz said of Rwanda’s rebuild. “I am in love with this country and I will recommend Rwanda to all of my friends to take a trip, and I’m going to be here again, for sure.”

Luiz is a people person. There’s no other way to put it.

From leading celebrations with teammates during and after games, to sticking his head out of his car window as he drives through London to sign autographs and pose for photos, he just loves life.

“I feel a connection because I’m a guy who likes to feel a connection from the people. They are so friendly, they respect you and the way they look at you, they want you to feel at home,” Luiz said of his trip around Rwanda.

During his time in the African country he also visited Volcanoes National Park and planted new indigenous trees as he was mesmerized by its beauty.

The boy from Brazil had never stepped foot in a jungle before, and he and his family got the chance to meet the endangered Mountain Gorillas up close in their natural habitat after a long trek through Rwanda’s jungles.

“I am Brazilian, but I never had the opportunity to walk in a real jungle!” Luiz said. “To see the gorillas so near with my family and experience the wildlife, the culture and do something completely different. It was amazing to see all of the gorillas with their babies, their families. It was incredible. For me it has been an emotional trip in a positive way.”

Luiz is an emotional, thoughtful person and his passion for not just football but life shines through when you chat to him. He has a keen interest in helping the environment in any way he can and wants to leave behind a better world.

His summer arrival at Arsenal raised plenty of eyebrows and he has always been a bit of a wildcard, but his experience was supposed to gel the defensive unit together. It was a big deal for him to leave Chelsea, where he was expected to be a key player under Frank Lampard, but he is certainly glad he swapped London giants.

“I really love the spirit of the club. Everyone loves the club and loves to work at this club. I love people,” Luiz explained. “To see everyone who works in the kitchen, everyone who works on the pitch, they are all in love with the club. This is amazing because this is what I enjoy and I enjoy to be with these kind of people.”

The people at Arsenal aside, have the Gunners got the players to improve things defensively and finish back in the top four after a three-season hiatus?

Luiz bristles a little when asked if Arsenal can improve enough defensively to finish in the top four this season.

“We talk about this with every single club. Arsenal is no different,” Luiz said. “I think Unai is working very well with the plan to defend and then the plan to attack. I always say, defending starts with the strikers and through the whole team, and you can see with modern football that the goalkeeper is now like a No. 6. We are going to try and improve, we are already doing well and the last few games have showed that we are stronger in a defensive way. I want this club to improve in every part of the game.”

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Luiz’s game has evolved over the years. His marauding runs from center back aren’t as often as they once were but that doesn’t mean his swashbuckling style has disappeared forever.

We have already seen Luiz take chances on the ball and bring his Brazilian flair to Arsenal’s defense, especially on the ball with goalkeeper Bernd Leno. Is Luiz, the oldest player in Arsenal’s squad, going to change his game now?

“It is the same. But this year my game depends on the team. I have to be someone who can adapt in a quality way, especially because I am a specialty player,” Luiz said. “You have to feel the moment. We need to play games, we need to win trophies. Everything was good where I was at clubs winning titles, so I can’t think in a different way. I want to win titles with Arsenal. I want to improve and adapt myself for the style of Arsenal, as a club and how the manager wants us to play. I think we can do that together.”

Luiz has settled in very quickly at Arsenal.

He is popular with his teammates and  scored the winning goal last time out in the Premier League, a deft header as the Gunners edged past Bournemouth 1-0.

“I’ve had a good relationship with players at all of the clubs, big clubs, I’ve been at during my career. I’m trying to do what I’ve done everywhere. I am working hard to improve myself and the team to have the ambition to win titles. I think this club deserves to shine again,” Luiz said. “We have an amazing team, amazing coaching staff, I think we can have this ambition and this as a goal. And then to achieve these kind of things you need to work hard.”

The hard work never stops for Luiz. He comes across as a professional, humble man, even if his lively demeanor on the pitch and off it can be misconstrued as overconfidence.

When asked if Arsenal can win the Premier League title this season, Luiz’s tone changed from being the fun-loving, mercurial defender we all know to being all business.

The man who has won the Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, Europa League (twice), three FA Cups and  French and Portuguese league titles wants more silverware.

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He wants it with Arsenal and after starring in Chelsea’s surprise title win in 2016-17 under Antonio Conte, could he help the Gunners pull off an even bigger shock to launch a title push as extreme darkhorses this season?

“For me, if you start something, and we’ve just started the Premier League and all of the competitions, if you don’t think you can win the competition then you won’t start anything in your life,” Luiz said in a defiant manner. “The ambition has to be there, the dream has to be there. Also, you have to be humble and have the humility to understand how you can achieve this kind of thing. This is what you have to do every single day. To understand the plan, to work hard and understand that if you have the opportunity you have to give your best. After that, if you don’t achieve you have to understand why you didn’t achieve these kind of goals. But my vision, my ambition and my will is always to fight for the title. And between the club, the players and the coach, we have the possibility to fight for the title.”

Luiz is a many of many layers. He can be the joker, the thinker and the ultimate professional. All at the same time.

Arsenal will need him to be all of the above, and to be at his best on the pitch, if they’re going to seriously challenge Liverpool and Man City for the title this season. That may not happen, but with Chelsea, Man United and Tottenham all in transition, the Gunners all of a sudden seem to have the edge in the top four battle.

Luiz is up for the challenge and his distinguished career proves he will often prove you wrong and surprise you at the same time.

Just like in Rwanda, Luiz is eager to be a big part of the process and help the development and progress of Arsenal’s youngsters any way he can as they currently sit in third.

“I think we’ve started really well and we just lost one game in the Premier League. I think the team is improving and now we are in third in the table but we want to finish this season fighting for the title,” Luiz said. “This is our goal. I’m trying to my best for the team and for every single player and I’m so happy to be here with all of the talent we have in the club.

“Myself, as a senior play, I have over 600 games in my career, so I’m going to help the young players develop a lot and help the team… I think I’m continuing that role. I’ve been doing that the last few years already and to have the pleasure to do that. I’ve been doing that because it’s a pleasure and I like to see them enjoy improving and finding out the importance of how to play the game. I’ve played a lot of games in my career, and the only game I haven’t played in is the World Cup final, so I want to enjoy this as much as I can.”

Watching Luiz play is never boring, and Arsenal aren’t either.

In many ways this is a match made in heaven.

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
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How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

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Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

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As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

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In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

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City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

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In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”