What do Arsenal need to fix first?

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LONDON — Arsenal have won one of their last 12 games in all competitions and are in freefall.

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Interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg hasn’t been told if he will be in charge until the end of the season, while there is no indiciation that a new manager will arrive anytime soon.

It is a colossal mess, as the Gunners are as close to the Premier League relegation zone as they are the top four. With so much going wrong on and off the pitch, where on earth do they start to fix things?

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Here are five things they need to focus on first, and although many will say the ownership needs to change, we all know that isn’t going to happen.


STICK WITH FREDDIE OR HIRE A NEW GUY

This is the biggest thing to sort out first. What direction are the club going in? Should the players prepare for a new manager in the next week or so? Or will they at least have the comfort of knowing Ljungberg will be in charge until the end of the season? Either way, it needs sorting. Now. Arsenal are still, somehow, in the top four hunt and are just seven points back. But they are also just seven points from the drop zone.

“As I’ve said to the club, for me it is a great, great honor to do this. Of course, Per [Mertesacker] is the academy manager and he’s doing two jobs in one go and I said I think it needs to be cleared up, to make a decision so everybody knows,” Ljungberg said. “That is something I’ve said but it is totally up to the club. I am very honored and I’m trying to do things as good as I can. I think it would be good to make a decision, regardless of what it is.”

Ljungberg is spot on. One way or another Arsenal’s players, staff and fans need some direction, at least in the short term. The easy option will be to give Ljungberg and his assistant coach Per Mertesacker the job until the end of the season then evaluate who is available. Sorting out who the manager will be until May could well settle things down, and Arsenal badly need that to happen. The way the fans were just disappointed rather than angry against Man City, plus left their seats at half time and just stuck around to watch City rather than their own team was a damning indictment as to how bad things have become. The ownership have a lot to answer for and making a firm and swift decision on the managerial situation will help everything else move forward.


FOCUS ON MIDFIELD SHAPE

Matteo Guendouzi was totally overrun in central midfield on Sunday and Arsenal’s decision to play a 4-2-3-1 didn’t work out. Lucas Torreira had a torrid outing and the duo who promised so much last season seem totally out of their depth this campaign. Finding a midfield shape which works and sticking with it is the way to go as Arsenal need more numbers in the middle, either with a 4-1-4-1 formation or a 3-5-2. There isn’t enough protection for their error-strewn defense and pragmatism should now be the focus if they’re going to get back on track and secure wins way at Everton and Bournemouth to put themselves back in the top four battle. With Chelsea and Man United the next two up after that, Arsenal can still salvage their season if they bring more structure to their entire team, and especially their midfield.


3-5-2 FORMATION

This will give them extra defensive solidity and their defenders who are actually fit will get extra cover. It has to happen. Going forward it will also allow Aubameyang and Lacazette to play together centrally, while Ozil could float about in the hole ahead of two more defensive minded central midfielders. With injuries to full backs, there could be issues out wide but Saka and Maitland-Niles (the only two fit options at full back) would be better suited to being allowed to push forward. 3-5-2 should be the switch.


GO FOR EXPERIENCE OVER YOUTH

At times like this it is time for experience to come into the team. Ljungberg pointed to Arsenal’s fans being proud of the young players on the pitch at the end of the game as five players 20 years old or younger (including three teenagers) were on show. Arsenal have to get their most experienced players on the pitch to grind out results. David Luiz and Alexandre Lacazette need to come in and the Gunners simply have to get as many players on the pitch who have handled this kind of situation before. The younger players are talented but they need to be eased into the team. This pressurized situation is far from ideal for them to make progress and it could damage them for the future. It is time for Arsenal’s more experienced players to stand tall, but first of all they need to be put on the pitch.


FINDING A ROLE FOR OZIL

He divides opinion but if Ljungberg wants Arsenal to be a fluid, attacking team, then Ozil needs to play a central role going forward. Ozil has started every PL game since Ljungberg arrived and that shows the faith the Swede has in him. Playing Ozil in the hole will be key and encouraging him to drop deeper and try to set the tempo for their attack is what needs to happen. Ozil was frustrated to be brought off against Man City, and rightly so. He didn’t feature that much going forward and Arsenal just couldn’t keep hold of the ball. Against teams like Everton and Bournemouth coming up, he has the quality to unlock opposition defenses. He should be given the chance to dig Arsenal out of this horrible situation.

Picking a favorite Premier League era player for all 20 current clubs

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Photo by Nick Potts - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images
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Surely you’ve seen the lists circulating for at least one sport during this coronavirus quarantine.

Who’s your favorite player from every team in a top league?

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We definitely want to see your lists, but won’t dodge the duty of putting together a 20-pack of our own.

The only two parameters are that the player spent the lion’s share of his career — or career so-far — with the team in question or had a significant historical moment with the club, and that he played during the Premier League era.

There will be the appearance of recency bias for some of these clubs whose PL existence doesn’t run back too far.

And there’s also the challenge that comes with certain players just striking our fancy at any given time.

Arsenal — It just has to be Thierry Henry.  The French magician elevated the beauty of the game, even if you didn’t like his particular club.

Aston Villa — Oddly enough as an American, I’m not going with one of the Brads (Freidel or Guzan). I’m also going with a player who’s playing just his second season with the club. Tyrone Mings is a fearless defender with an old-school ethic. One of the scariest players in the league today.

Bournemouth — Wanted to cheat and say Eddie Howe, but the Cherries weren’t in the PL when he was a player. I’ll take one of the two closest things to Howe on the current roster and that is Steve Cook (honorable nod to Simon Francis). Cook has appeared a record 329 times for the Cherries beginning at the League One level in 2011. Massive respect to a mainstay who isn’t even the first Steve Cook that shows up on a Google search.

Brighton and Hove Albion — I’m sure there’s a subset of Seagulls supporters who haven’t yet forgiven Glenn Murray for his time at M23 Derby rivals Palace, but I love that the 36-year-old is still bagging goals in his second 100-plus appearance stint with the club.

Burnley — Tom Heaton may be the most underappreciated keeper to don an England shirt, and he’s twice led the Clarets into the Premier League. Now in a different claret shirt, he’s not forgotten.

Chelsea — Love the helmet. Love the saves. Love the rock drumming and the post-soccer hockey career. Petr Cech, all the way. In time, though, this could become Cesar Azpilicueta or, for obvious reasons, Christian Pulisic.

Crystal Palace — Mile Jedinak. I loved the guy not just for being a tremendous and intimidating midfielder, but because he might’ve kept all sorts of items in his dense beard.

Everton — Come on. Too easy.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Leicester City — This one’s tricky via our rules, as he’s won the league with two different teams and has spent longer with the second one but N’Golo Kante made his name on the Foxes’ miracle title team. In time, he may be looked at as a player who revolutionized or at least brilliantly refined his position. If you must have another name, pretend I chose Kasper Schmeichel.

Liverpool — This one may surprise given the amount of attacking and eye-catching talent to roam Anfield, but there are few players I enjoyed watching more than Martin Skrtel. I once saw a cartoon image of him eating nails out of a cereal bowl and considered for a moment that it might be part of his diet.

Manchester City — Tricky one, this. James Milner at this point seems destined to be remembered as a Liverpool man, don’t you think? Ultimately, I’m going to overlook how slimy agent Dimitry Seluk tried to derail my love for Yaya Toure, one of the characters of the game with an almost unrivaled skill set. Also, the birthday cake thing is still pretty funny.

Manchester United — Roy Keane just over Nemanja Vidic.

Newcastle United — A tough one for me, who has found appeal with a number of players to don the black and white stripes. Alan Shearer’s legend helped shape my love for the game and Shay Given performing well above his size makes him high on the list. But for some reason the cerebral and physical play of club leader Fabricio Coloccini makes him my favorite player in the world. I didn’t say I was normal.

Norwich City — Shout out to Nathan Redmond, but I can’t get the early season heroics of 30-going-on-50 striker Teemu Pukki out of my mind here. Emi Buendia has a shot here if Norwich can stay up and he doesn’t bolt for another club.

Sheffield United —  ITough one here, as Blades spent only three PL season prior to this one and two were when I was in middle school. I like John Lundstram over club heroes Phil Jagielka and Billy Sharp.

Southampton — Tough one here as Saints have had so many players shine for them only to become firmly associated with other clubs. I loved Virgil van Dijk back to his Celtic days but he’s undoubtedly Liverpool at this point. Give me Adam Lallana and a pair of crossed fingers that he returns to St. Mary’s to remind us of the man who scored 59 times with 48 assists after coming out of the vaunted Saints academy.

Tottenham Hotspur — I’d love to force Clint Dempsey in here but that’s a Fulham man, man. And I’ve got a lot of time for Heung-min Son, too. But I’m going to give an edge to Robbie Keane over his strike partner Jermain Defoe.

Watford — Show me a man who looks like he enjoys sandwiches as much as the rest of us but has a century of goals between the Championship and Premier League and I’ll be challenged to say I like someone more than Troy Deeney. American bias, sure, but Jay DeMerit‘s story of being ignored by MLS sides out of college and knocking on doors around England en route to a Man of the Match performance in a Premier League promotion-clinching win is chest-thumping stuff.

DeMerit scores the opener versus Leeds(Photo by Barrington Coombs – PA Images via Getty Images)

West Ham United — Bit of a strange one here. Michael Carrick was a beauty and an academy guy but you’re not going to mistake him for anything other than Man Utd. I’m going with Sporting KC’s Kiwi center back Winston Reid as the player I’ve most admired during my time watching the Hammers.

Wolverhampton Wanderers — Big Raul Jimenez gets my nod. The best active player in North America.

WATCH: Robbie Mustoe’s All-Time Premier League defensive midfielders

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Selecting the five best defensive midfielders in the Premier League era is a massive challenge.

Few are better-suited for the gig than our own Robbie Mustoe.

Known now as one-half of The 2 Robbies, Mustoe put together a career with more than 200 Premier League appearances in the center of the park.

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Mustoe spent the lion’s share of his career with Middlesbrough, where he scored 12 top-flight goals. He also spent time with Charlton Athletic, Oxford United, and Sheffield Wednesday.

The five men he selected all played in this century, two remain active, and each has claimed at least one Premier League title.

See the video at the top of the page to learn their identities, and head here to watch Kyle Martino detail his top five entertainers of the Premier League era.

Transfer rumor roundup: Man Utd linked with 2 stars, Liverpool with CB

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Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
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Like most transfer windows since the exit of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United is being linked with approximately $7 billion worth of purchases.

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It should definitely be noted that the uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic and the financial toll it’s taken on clubs may stop any number of big fee moves from meeting completion.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is one of those players who match the ambition and pedigree of United, a complete midfielder capable of controlling the pitch.

Foot Mercato says that United is back in for Milinkovic-Savic after seeing a nine-figure bid rebuffed by Lazio last summer.

The 25-year-old Serbian has been with Lazio since moving from Genk in 2015, and he was an instant hit. He has 36 goals and 26 assists in 197 appearances, but the numbers that really shine are advanced stats. This season’s saw him average 1.6 interceptions, 1.3 tackles, two shots, and 1.2 key passes per game while connecting on 3.4 long balls per game.

He’ll certainly want to know he’s staying in the Champions League. Lazio is extremely well-positioned to qualify out of Serie A, while United sits fifth ahead of what should be a wild return to the PL fixture list.


The Sunday Express is linking United with Wolves star Diogo Jota, who did not exactly race to deny interest in joining the Red Devils.

Jota, 23, has 15 goals and six assists this season including a pair of Europa League hat tricks.

He joked that he couldn’t join United because he wears the same number as fellow Portuguese star Bruno Fernandes, but added, “It’s always good to see your name linked to clubs with a club of that stature but I also know that this is not the most important thing. Just look at what is happening now with this pandemic.”

It’s difficult to imagine Jota’s price tag would be less than $40 million, and Wolves have a chance to be involved in the Champions League next season.


Liverpool has now joined Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid in being linked with Sevilla center back Diego Carlos.

The 27-year-old Brazilian played one season for Estoril in Portugal before brightening his star with Nantes in Ligue 1.

This is his first season at Sevilla, and he has not found trouble adjusting to La Liga. Carlos has two goals this season to go with 1.2 tackles, 1 interception, and a gaudy 5.1 clearances per match (WhoScored).

Mourinho in hot water after park training session with Ndombele

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Tottenham Hotspur is said to be “very unimpressed” after Jose Mourinho led a training session for at least one player on Tuesday.

England is currently in lock down with “government-enforced measures meaning people can only go outside for food, health reasons or work if you cannot do it from home.”

Several reports say Mourinho ran Tanguy Ndombele through individual paces while Ryan Sessegnon and Davinson Sanchez jogged separately at Hadley Common in North London.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

“All of our players have been reminded to respect social distancing when exercising outdoors. We shall continue to reinforce this message,” said a Spurs spokesman in the report.

It’s irresponsible at best from Mourinho. Even if he felt he could skirt the government’s rules in a pandemic —  not a good idea at all — he has to have the presence of mind to recognize that he’s one of the most recognizable soccer faces in a soccer-mad country.