Where it went wrong for Emery at Arsenal

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There were many highs and lows of Unai Emery‘s stewardship of Arsenal FC, but arguably the moment where things turned for the worst came away from the perfectly manicured grass at the Emirates Stadium.

Heading into the summer, it was clear that Arsenal needed more help defensively. Emery’s signings of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi were a good sign, showing that Arsenal was committed to finally plugging a hole in defensive midfield that hadn’t been filled since Patrick Vieira – former coach Arsene Wenger always preferred a Jorginho type passer in that position, but they’d be overrun against every big-six opponent.

[READ: Who are the favorites to replace Emery at Arsenal?]

But at centerback, the team was woefully overmatched. Shkodran Mustafi looked like a shell of himself, Laurent Koscielny was still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the run up to the 2018 World Cup, and prospect Rob Holding suffered a torn ACL, meaning he was out for the season.

So the last thing Emery could afford was losing one of his best remaining centerbacks, in maybe the worst way possible. And yet, that’s essentially what happened.

Koscielny returned to training on July 5, and per the Guardian, made it clear that if he didn’t have a new contract by next week, or perhaps at least some progress on a new deal, he would be holding out. That meant the Arsenal club captain wouldn’t be traveling with the squad to the U.S. for preseason training.

This seemed to take Arsenal’s leadership by surprise. In the 2018-2019 Premier League season, Aaron Ramsey and the club weren’t able to meet in the middle, and so Ramsey let his contract run out and freely traipsed to Juventus. But Ramsey never made a fuss on the training pitch over his contract negotiations. He was a professional on and off the field and let his play do the talking.

Koscielny, on the other hand, wasn’t having it. Perhaps emboldened by his stature at Arsenal and that a new manager was at the helm – would he have done this against Wenger? – Koscielny never got on the plane to America. One month later, he completed a permanent transfer to Bordeaux, and Emery never appeared to recover as Arsenal manager. Before the end of the calendar year, Arsenal fired Emery.

The Koscielny case – and other similar recent mishaps by Emery, such as the captaincy fiasco and freezing out Ozil only to bring him back in recently – paints a picture of Emery as a brilliant tactician with average to below average man management skills. We have that here in the U.S. There are plenty of brilliant minds who coach football and basketball, but devising clever plays is worthless if you can’t get your team to understand the plays and execute them. What makes coaches like Bill Belichick and Steve Kerr successful is getting the buy-in from their players and managing them along the way. Tactics is only half the battle.

On paper, even with a creaky defense and a young midfield, this Arsenal team shouldn’t be languishing in ninth place. But it was clear as the weeks went on that Emery was essentially powerless to stop the sieve of goals into Arsenal’s net. Each week it was a different culprit, whether David Luiz, Sokratis, new signing Kieran Tierney or Calum Chambers. Under another manager, perhaps those four could raise there level. Under Emery, with everyone seemingly playing just for themselves, their levels sunk below the opposition.

At the same time, despite the $87 million Arsenal committed to spend on new signing Nicolas Pepe to go with stars Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they didn’t click in attack as often as they should have. Aubameyang continues to score but his goals often grab a point or a late, often undeserved win, for the Gunners. They were not blowing teams apart even with their vast array of talented attackers.

Emery wasn’t all bad at Arsenal. He brought positivity back to the Emirates Stadium in the 2018-2019 season with his new energetic signings like Guendouzi and Torreira. Fans won’t soon forget the 4-2 win at home over Tottenham, where the roof nearly blew off on Torreira’s wonderful second half goal. There was also wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, plus Napoli and Valencia in the Europa League, but Arsenal was struggling in the Premier League around the time of the latter two wins.

Off the field, by all reports Emery was a true gentleman to everyone at the club. And although some disgustingly made fun of his accent, Emery always tried to communicate in English when he could have easily just brought along a translator for every interaction. He tried his best to integrate himself in the club and in England.

But this season, Emery could never find his mid-season momentum again from last year, and things began falling quickly. Emery will certainly get another opportunity to coach in top-flight football, and perhaps he’ll eventually learn from his mistakes. However, it’s a second-successive coaching failure in which Emery lost control of the locker room due to poor man management skills, and his firing was ultimately inevitable.

Michael Bradley re-signs with Toronto FC

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Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley has re-signed with the Major League Soccer franchise.

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Bradley, 32, saw his previous contract run out at the end of the 2019 season but he has now agreed a new deal with the Canadian side and Toronto have squeezed him into their salary cap by using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM).

During his six season stint so far in Toronto, Bradley has led the team to three MLS Cup finals as TFC stunned MLS with a run to the final against Seattle in 2019. They lost on that occasion but beat Seattle in 2017 and Bradley’s displays, along with that of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and now Alejandro Pozuelo have seen Toronto become one of the most consistent teams in MLS.

Explaining his reasons for signing a new deal in Toronto, Bradley revealed that he wants to take them onto bigger and better things.

“I feel so attached to the city of Toronto, the club, the team. I love it here and I am really proud of what we’ve been able to do over the past six years,” Bradley said. “Beyond the success, I am equally as proud of the mentality and identity this club has taken on. The relationship between the club and the city, the club and the fans are both very special and I’m proud to have played a part in that. What we have in Toronto doesn’t exist everywhere. My family and I are so happy to remain in Toronto and we’d like to thank everyone at Toronto FC for ensuring that this process was done quietly and professionally behind the scenes. I’m looking forward to continuing to play in the biggest games and competing for trophies every year.”

Bradley still has plenty left in the tank, as last season showed, and despite rumors that he would link up with his father, Bob Bradley, at LAFC, he is staying in Ontario.

That’s great news for Toronto FC as despite plenty of criticism from USMNT fans over recent years, Bradley has continued to deliver consistency and leadership at BMO Field.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings have landed.

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Matchweek 16 followed a similar pattern to recent weeks as players from Liverpool, Leicester City, Spurs and Man United dominated our top 20 with so many games played over the last seven days.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1.  Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – Even
2. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – Up 7
3. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – New entry
4. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – New entry
5. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Up 6
6. Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle) – New entry
7. Jonny Evans (Leicester) – New entry
8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 4
9. Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) – New entry
10. Danny Ings (Southampton) – New entry
11. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man United) – New entry
12. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Down 2
13. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester) – Even
14. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – Down 11
15. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 10
16. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – Down 3
17. Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) – Down 1
18. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry
19. Diogo Jota (Wolves) – New entry
20. Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal) – New entry

Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year

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Who else could it be? Christian Pulisic has been named the USMNT player of the year for 2019.

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The Chelsea star, 21, excelled for club and country over the past 12 months and after taking a few months to settle into life in England, he’s now taking the Premier League by storm on a weekly basis.

Pulisic has now won this award for a second time after first winning it in 2017 and he becomes the youngest player in U.S. men’s national team history to win the award twice.

His achievements over the last 12 months are numerous, as he dragged a struggling USMNT to the 2019 Gold Cup final and also became the youngest player to reach double figures in goals for the USMNT.

MLS veteran Sacha Kljestan signs with hometown LA Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan has signed with the LA Galaxy as a free agent.

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The 34-year-old U.S. national team contributor officially returned to his native Southern California on Wednesday.

Kljestan has scored 49 goals over 10 MLS seasons in a career that began as the fifth overall pick by defunct Chivas USA, the Galaxy’s former stadium partners. After a successful five-year stint with Belgium’s Anderlecht, he spent the past five seasons with New York Red Bulls and Orlando City.

The Huntington Beach native also has made 51 appearances for the U.S. team, playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Kljestan will provide veteran leadership for a Galaxy roster in transition after the departures of its top two goal-scorers: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Uriel Antuna.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports