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Emery’s use of attackers may be his Arsenal downfall

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When the Premier League season began, many joked that Arsenal was built to try and outscore teams 3-2 each week over 38 weeks.

It was a nod to the Gunners’ extraordinary attacking prowess and limited defensive additions. Arsenal had signed three defenders in the summer, one who wouldn’t arrive until the following season (William Saliba*) and another who would miss some time with injury (Kieran Tierney).

The third was David Luiz.

So it isn’t surprising that the Gunners are still allowing goals. It is surprising that they are not scoring more, and perhaps a bit stunning that the expected goals table says that Unai Emery‘s men aren’t even hard luck victims.

Arsenal has scored 16 goals and allowed 15 through 11 match days, but the xG table says the North London outfit has actually finished a bit better their chances and been worse on the other end (15 xG for, 17 xGA).

Luiz has made several head scratching errors to go with his wonderful long passes and forays forward. He’s a player capable of both the ethereal and the tragic, not unlike Granit Xhaka, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that a move across London.

There are plenty of reasons to be upset with the defense, of course, and it’s one thing if that anger is put at the board instead of Emery. The league-worst 7.7 interceptions per game points a bit to the tactics, but there’s no question the Gunners have made mistakes above field level even if the Laurent Koscielny exit to Bordeaux caught them by surprise.

But what should be damning is what Emery has been unable to do with an unbelievable batch of attackers. Given Nicolas Pepe to go with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the tactician has not been able to find a way to play them together. Breakout teens Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka were both used over unused sub Pepe on Saturday despite the Ivorian not playing in the midweek League Cup loss to Liverpool.

Don’t get us wrong, both players are exciting pieces for the future, but the decision is so short-sighted (let alone that Emery put on Saka for Lucas Torreira with a one-goal lead and 17 minutes to play. Perhaps coincidental but no surprise tha it was 1-1 three minutes later).

Some if not many have argued that Pepe has been a disappointment since arriving in a mega money deal from Ligue 1, and the 24-year-old’s three goals and three assists in exactly 800 minutes in all competitions certainly aren’t eye-popping from a player who scored 22 and 11 in 3300 at Lille last season.

Yet Pepe is capable of the sensational, as evidenced by his pair of free kick goals in 15 minutes off the bench in the Europa League on Oct. 15. He’s third in the PL in successful dribbles (34) and is the 19th ranked player by SofaScore and 24th in WhoScored’s ratings. That’s the best of any Arsenal player, with Aubameyang 38th and 62nd according to both sites, respectively.

And stats say Pepe has been somewhat unlucky in PL play to boot, with one actual goal to go with 3 expected goals. His xG plus xA per contest is below only Lacazette and level with Aubameyang.

Arsenal is ninth in the PL in key passes, with 12.9 per game. Pepe’s 1.7 are behind only Mesut Ozil, whose sample size is two matches.

Look at this pass from Pepe to Lacazette between three bodies to set up Arsenal’s first goal in its memorable North London Derby comeback. It’s just one example, sure, and all players need time to integrate to a new league and culture, but not using a healthy Pepe for 180 minutes should never happen even with the five-pack of attackers.

*A silver lining for Arsenal fans: Saint-Etienne boss Claude Puel is furious with his club for selling the 18-year-old Saliba, calling him the “best player” on the team. He’s coming, eventually, even if Real Madrid are reportedly trying to find a way to hijack the sale/loan.

Pogba, Rashford, Kane, Son all declared fit

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Previously injured stars are set to return in force when the Premier League restarts, hopefully sometime in June, with Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Heung-min Son have all been declared fit.

Man United and Tottenham have been handed a huge boost in their bid to finish in the top four of the Premier League, as these star attackers would have likely missed the rest of the season had it finished as planned on May 17.

That said, as Jose Mourinho told our partners Sky Sports, being free from injury is one thing but being match fit is another.

“I cannot say in this moment they are ready to play because one thing is to recover from an injury, and another is to be ready to play football,” Mourinho said. “In Harry’s case, I think for about five months he hasn’t played, but all of them are not injured any more. They are training, and training is what it is at the moment, training has a lot of limitations. We cannot compete, we cannot do one versus one, we have to keep a certain distance, we cannot compete.”

“Harry Kane, Son, Bergwijn, Sissoko, all of them are fine. I think with a couple of weeks of normal training, when the authorities tell us we can train normally I think in a couple of weeks, the boys will be ready to play, of course not in the maximum of their potential, I think nobody can do that in this moment. For us, of course, it is a great feeling, because we finished the period with that defeat at Leipzig, where we were really, really in trouble to have 11 players, including attacking players, and in this moment (Erik) Lamela, Son, Dele (Alli), Harry Kane, Bergwijn, everybody is fit now.”

Mourinho will now be delighted that Premier League clubs have voted unanimously to resume contact training as he can step things up. With Spurs seven points off the top four as thing stand, they will need a storming finish to have any chance whatsoever of finishing in the top four. Can they do it? Sure. They face Arsenal, Leicester and Man United in their final nine games but the rest look pretty winnable.

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Speaking about Man United, they remain firmly in the top four hunt as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea.

Asked about the availability of Pogba and Rashford, Solskjaer told MUTV that they are almost ready to roll.

“They’re looking good, they’ve joined training now and they’ve done everything the other boys have been doing. No reaction so far, touch wood,” Solskjaer said. “When we get started, it looks like we can have a full squad to choose from.”

Simply put: when the Premier League returns it will be with a full compliment of stars for the final nine games of the season.

That will be a sight to behold, as several stars will have been glad to have had time to recover so they can help their clubs at the business end of the season.

NWSL announce return; first pro league in US to restart play

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The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) will return to play on June 27 with a new exciting tournament, becoming the first professional sports league in the U.S. to announce a date to return to action.

Did somebody say tournament soccer? That’s right, things are about to get very fun in the NWSL season as the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup has arrived.

All nine NWSL clubs will feature, as a 25-game tournament will by held in Utah from June to July to mark the 2020 season.

Each NWSL club will play four games in a preliminary round in Herriman, Utah to determine seeding, with the top eight teams then moving on to the quarterfinals as the tournament will become a knockout competition.

The semifinals and final will then be held at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with the Championship match to take place on July 26. The tournament is hosted by Utah Royals FC owner Dell Loy Hansen, as all housing, training, and competition needs for the league’s nine teams will be taken care of in Utah as an “NWSL Village” will be created to control the environment for players and staff.

NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird confirmed all games will be played in empty stadiums, while adding that they are excited to mark the return of pro soccer, and sports, in the USA.

“As our country begins to safely reopen and adjust to our collective new reality, and with the enthusiastic support of our players, owners, as well as our new and current commercial partners, the NWSL is thrilled to bring professional soccer back to the United States,” Baird said. “This exciting month-long tournament will showcase our league’s talented players and provide our fans the type of world-class entertainment they’ve come to expect from the NWSL.”

The NWSL were in preseason and due to start the 2020 regular season on April 18 but that was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Per the league statement, health and medical officials at each club have worked tirelessly over the last nine months to come up with a safety protocol.

“Each player, official, and essential staff member will be tested 48 hours prior to departure for Utah and upon arrival and will be subject to consistent testing, temperature readings, and symptom review throughout their stay in Utah.”

The NWSL is leading the way for professional soccer, and sports, to return to the US in some format this summer.

With the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS all exploring similar options of hosting games in a tournament format in fixed, neutral sites, all eyes will be on the NWSL to see how they pull it off.

Premier League clubs vote for contact training return

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Premier League clubs voted unanimously to return to full contact training as a key step on the road to restarting the 2019-20 season arrived.

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The league released a statement confirming that clubs are now allowed to return to contact training and said they are on track to restart the season when it is safe to do so.

It is hoped the Premier League could return as early as June 12 but it has been reported that date could be pushed back by at least one week with managers wanting more time to work on the fitness of their players after over two months off.

The Premier League season was suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This vote is a big, big step in the final 92 games of the season actually being completed as players and managers now appear comfortable with the strict safety protocols in place after a week back training in small groups at training grounds. Plus, if they are happy to resume contact training then they are essentially happy to resume games, as long as strict health and safety protocols remain in place.

Here is the statement from the Premier League in full:


Premier League Shareholders today voted unanimously to resume contact training, marking another step towards restarting the Premier League season, when safe to do so.

Squads are now able to train as a group and engage in tackling while minimising any unnecessary close contact.

The Premier League’s priority is the health and wellbeing of all participants.

Strict medical protocols are in place to ensure the training ground is the safest environment possible and players and staff will continue to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.

Stage Two of the Return to Training protocol has been agreed following consultation with clubs, players, managers, the PFA, LMA and the Government.

Discussions are ongoing as work continues towards resuming the season, when conditions allow.


The Premier League confirmed over the weekend that from 1,744 tests on players and staff across the first two rounds of COVID-19 tests, eight positive tests have been recorded with players from both Watford and Bournemouth confirmed to have the virus.

Several Premier League stars and managers have revealed their angst about returning to training but those fears seem to have evaporated, for the most part, as contact training resumes.

What’s next?

Premier League clubs are due to meet on Thursday to discuss a possible restart date and a curtailment plan, just in case unexpected obstacles arise over the next few weeks.

Make no mistake about it, a return to contact training is a huge step forward for the Premier League restarting.

PSG’s Mbappe praises Klopp, Liverpool in recent interview

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This is going to delight the Anfield set.

Paris Saint-Germain mega striker Kylian Mbappe has admitted admiration for the way Liverpool plays, as conversations continue regarding his future.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Mbappe, 21, may be the most valuable commodity in the world given his position, accomplishments, and skill set. For France, he has a World Cup to go with 34 caps, 13 goals, and 10 assists. For PSG and Monaco combined, he’s scored 117 goals and 65 assists in 180 appearances.

He doesn’t turn 22 until December.

But there’s long been a thought that the World Cup winner will eventually have to leave PSG to cement his legacy given the relatively shallow competition in the league.

“This season, Liverpool have been a machine in the Premier League,” he told The Mirror. “They have made winning look easy but the truth is that it is never easy. Performances like they have been having don’t just happen.

“To be as ruthless as they have been would come from lots of hard work in training and from having a very good manager.”

Liverpool fans will be nodding along, beckoning the center forward with arms extended and hands waving him to them.

Real Madrid has often been the rumored destination, and we’ve argued that there’s no fee too high for this player considering how many years he has ahead of him.

With transfer fees possibly ducking low this summer after a wake-up call from the coronavirus, could Liverpool upgrade its dangerous front three with one of the top center forwards in the game?

The fact that the Reds reportedly negotiated a percentage of jersey sales into their new apparel deal could help, because it’s easy to imagine red Mbappe jerseys all around the world.