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Arsenal confirm Mikel Arteta as new boss

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The worst kept secret in soccer is now out.

Mikel Arteta is the new head coach of Arsenal.

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The deal for the Spanish coach was confirmed by the Gunners on Friday as he’s signed a three-and-a-half year deal to lead the north London club, and the first game he will oversee will be against another of his former clubs, Everton, at Goodison Park on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Arteta, 37, was the former club captain at Arsenal and left them in 2016 to take up a position as part of Guardiola’s coaching staff at Manchester City. He won two FA Cups while leading the team, and many of the current Arsenal squad (including Hector Bellerin and Mesut Ozil) were his former teammates.

“This is a huge honor. Arsenal is one of the biggest clubs in the world. We need to be competing for the top trophies in the game and that’s been made very clear to me in my discussions with Stan and Josh Kroenke, and the senior people from the club,” Arteta said. “We all know there is a lot of work to be done to achieve that but I am confident we’ll do it. I’m realistic enough to know it won’t happen overnight but the current squad has plenty of talent and there is a great pipeline of young players coming through from the academy.”

Josh Kroenke, speaking on behalf of Arsenal’s board and owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, added that Arteta “knows our expectations and those of our fans around the world are high and we are confident he can play a lead role in taking the club back to the levels we all demand.” Kroenke also thanked Freddie Ljungberg for his professionalism during his time as interim boss over the last three weeks.

During Arteta’s time as Pep Guardiola‘s assistant coach at Man City they won the Premier League twice, the FA Cup and two League Cups as they’ve dominated the domestic game. Asked by reporters about the situation, Guardiola confirmed that City will keep the same backroom staff they currently have and wished Arteta well.

“We stay with the same people who are here,” Guardiola said. “He decided to move there and when you have a dream you cannot stop it, you have to follow your dreams. Arsenal was important to him. He finished his career there, they’re one of the biggest clubs in the country, and I wish him all the best. I’m pretty sure he’ll do an excellent job.”

So, that’s it then. Arsenal have their new manager after firing Unai Emery last month. Ljungberg had been in interim charge in recent weeks but the Gunners displays had dipped even lower and the entire club needed a lift. Arteta’s arrival will do that, as the young coach has respect and love from everyone connected with Arsenal.

But is he the right man for this mammoth job?

Only time will tell but the big takeaway from his time at Man City is that he was Guardiola’s general on the training ground. A lot of Man City’s success over the past few seasons has been attributed to the work Arteta did day in, day out on the training pitch and how much the squad of players respected him.

The former Barcelona, PSG, Glasgow Rangers, Everton and Arsenal midfielder was a silky smooth player during his playing days and his transition into the coaching game has been just as effortless. When injuries hit him hard during the latter stages of his career, Arteta had plenty of time to plan for his next step. Returning to Arsenal will be a dream come true for him, but he knows that the hard work now begins.

With star players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang linked with moves away and the defensive issues persisting, Arteta’s first focus will be on gelling the squad and improving the defensive structure. But being a disciple of Arsene Wenger and now Guardiola, we can expect his Arsenal team to play with a certain swagger and panache.

Arteta is an Arsenal man. But will he be a success? The last few years as Guardiola’s assistant have given him a great base to build from but there’s no doubting this is a huge challenge to get the Gunners back into the top four, then challenging for trophies.

Watch Live: Man City v. West Ham

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Manchester City looks for a reaction in its first match after the UEFA sanctions were announced as they host West Ham at the Etihad on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Citizens will want to finish this season strong given the future uncertainty surrounding the club, and with Leicester City nipping at their heels, a strong performance will be imperative. Man City sits just a single point above the third-placed Foxes and a poor result could leave them vulnerable for when the two meet on Saturday.

[ STREAM LIVE: Man City v. West Ham ]

Man City’s lineup sees John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, and Fernandinho all sat on the bench. Nicolas Otamendi partners with Aymeric Laporte at the back with Rodri covering them in midfield. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva start in the middle with Bernardo Silva in the attacking midfield role, while Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero both start up front.

The match is massively important for West Ham as well, with the Hammers sitting 18th in the Premier League table a point off safety. The Hammers counter Man City’s attacking lineup with three at the back as Declan Rice provides cover per usual and captain Mark Noble partners with Tomas Soucek in midfield.

LINEUPS

Man City: Ederson; Walker, Otamendi, Laporte, Mendy; Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva; Bernardo, Jesus, Aguero.

West Ham: Fabianski; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Masuaku; Rice, Soucek, Noble; Snodgrass, Antonio.

Solskjaer admits Rashford’s season may be over, Euros in jeopardy

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted Wednesday that Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford suffered a setback in his recovery from a stress fracture in his back, and that he may not return before the end of the Premier League season. In addition, Solskjaer admitted there is a chance that Rashford’s availability for England in this summer’s Euro 2020 tournament could be in jeopardy.

Speaking ahead of United’s visit tomorrow to Club Brugge in Europa League action, Solskjaer said that he hopes Rashford can make a return, but that it’s certainly in question as he will be out “another few months definitely.”

[ MORE: McTominay, Lindelof back fit ]

“It will just be touch and go towards the end [of the season],” Solskjaer said. “Hopefully we can get through this tournament and prolong the season. It takes time, I’m not a doctor. I was hoping he would recover quicker than what it looks like he’s going to be out for.”

When asked about his potential availability for selection at the Euros this summer, Solskjaer said, “If he’s not fit enough he won’t go.”

It seems that Manchester United expected Rashford to be back “He had a scan and it was maybe more severe, that fracture, than what we hoped for and expected, he felt fine the few days before that. And I’ve never had anatomy in school, so I didn’t know it just takes that time to recover.”

[ MORE: Neymar upset with PSG for extra rest ]

News of a potential injury to Rashford cropped up during the Premier League match against Norwich City game on January 11, when he was withdrawn after 59 minutes. Solskjaer admitted later that Rashford needed rest, but decided to risk the 22-year-old England international anyways against Wolverhampton Wanderers in an FA Cup replay four days later, a decision he later came to publicly regret. Rashford came off after just 16 minutes and it was later announced that he had aggravated his injury from a single stress fracture to a double stress fracture.

After the Wolves match, Manchester United announced a 2-3 month timetable for Rashford’s return, meaning he could be back by late March or early April. Now it seems he could be done for the year, and England’s Euro adventure may suffer as well.

Braithwaite to Barcelona imminent, could debut Saturday

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Barcelona is taking the controversial step of signing Leganes striker Martin Braithwaite outside the January transfer window, reportedly set to trigger his $19.4 million release clause. According to a report by ESPN, Braithwaite has already agreed to terms and will join the club immediately, possibly soon enough to make his debut on Saturday against Eibar.

The Catalan club was given an exception by La Liga after Ousmane Dembele was ruled out for the season, leaving the squad with just three healthy first-team forwards in Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati. The injury to Dembele, which follows a long-term injury spell for Luis Suarez, led La Liga to allow Barcelona 15 days to sign a forward outside the window, provided it was either a free agent or a player already registered in the Spanish top flight.

Reports from all over Europe state that Barcelona attempted to negotiate with Leganes, but they held out for Braithwaite’s full release clause and Barcelona had little choice but to relent. The ESPN report states that Barcelona had come to an agreement with Getafe for Angel Rodriguez but Barcelona manager Quique Setien stepped in with a preference for Braithwaite due to his positional flexibility.

The controversial part of the situation is that Barcelona somewhat put itself in this spot by offloading forwards Abel Ruiz and Carles Perez in the January window without replacing them, and now have been saddled with an injury crisis. Many are upset that a big club like Barcelona is being bailed out by La Liga while Leganes suffers the loss of its leading scorer having already seen  Youssef En-Nesyri depart in the January window. Guillem Ballague reports that Leganes will appeal to La Liga for its own exception to sign an emergency player but as the rules stand, they cannot add a replacement for Braithwaite. The league office can authorize exceptions on a case-by-case basis, which they did for Barcelona, although policy has been to grant exceptions for long-term injuries.

The 28-year-old has scored eight goals across all competitions this season while Leganes has struggled at the bottom of the table all year long. They currently sit 19th in the La Liga table, two points clear of safety.

McTominay, Lindelof return to Man United training

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Off the heels of a statement win at Stamford Bridge, Manchester United has more good news coming its way as both Scott McTominay and Victor Lindelof returned to Red Devils training on Wednesday.

Ahead of Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 matchup against Club Brugge in Belgium, McTominay’s return represents a massive boost for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who has been forced to piece together a makeshift midfield for the last two months. McTominay has been missing since suffering a knee injury on Boxing Day.

The 23-year-old has been one of the Premier League’s most improved players this season, anchoring the Red Devils midfield both with and without the aid of Paul Pogba. In the seven Premier League matches without McTominay, Manchester United has lost three games and been shut out four times, although a number of other injuries to key players have likely contributed to that as well.

Lindelof missed the Chelsea win through illness but is set to make his return as well. The 25-year-old Swede is considered Manchester United’s best defender and was absent for the disappointing 2-0 loss to Burnley in late January through illness as well, but is reportedly fully recovered by now.

United has struggled with injuries all season, with the likes of Pogba, Marcus Rashford, and Mason Greenwood all sidelined at the moment. No reason was given for the latter’s absence, with Greenwood an unused substitute at Stamford Bridge over the weekend.