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Koscielny refuses to go on Arsenal’s US tour

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Arsenal’s captain Laurent Koscielny has refused to travel with the team on their preseason tour of the USA.

Koscielny, 33, has one year left on his current Gunners deal and the likes of Rennes, Bordeaux and Lyon in his homeland want to sign him.

It is believed Koscielny asked to be released from his contract a year early to head back to France, but that request was turned down and Arsenal’s captain has now decided to take this drastic step.

Arsenal have slammed Koscielny in an official statement, as the club have now opened disciplinary proceedings against the French international.

“Laurent Koscielny has refused to travel to the US for our pre-season tour. We are very disappointed by Laurent’s actions, which are against our clear instructions. We hope to resolve this matter and will not be providing any further comment at this time.”

Flying out to California on Thursday, Arsenal will play against the Colorado Rapids in a friendly, then take part in the International Champions Cup with games against Bayern Munich in Los Angeles), Fiorentina in Charlotte and Real Madrid in Washington D.C. before heading back to the UK.

Koscielny’s decision to not turn up for preseason will surely see him stripped of the captaincy, but it also gives Unai Emery an unwanted headache. Last season Emery dealt with Mesut Ozil being unhappy and the Spanish coach was all about unity and having a collective spirit following Arsene Wenger‘s departure.

This decision from Koscielny will no doubt have a huge impact on the locker room.

Shokdran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Callum Chambers, Dinos Mavropanos and Sokratis are Arsenal’s current options at center back, but there’s no doubt Koscielny would have been a starter alongside Sokratis this season.

The Gunners are closing in on a deal to sign French youngster William Saliba from Saint-Etienne for $34 million then loan him back to the Ligue 1 club. Considering this situation with Koscielny, they may try and keep Saliba for the upcoming season instead.

Koscielny has been a fans favorite since he arrived in 2010 and his rise from the lower French leagues to the Premier League and UEFA Champions League while also captaining Arsenal is a great story.

However, in recent years injuries have hit him hard and although nobody really points the finger towards him with regards to Arsenal’s recent defensive frailties, Koscielny has been to blame with some major errors.

Arsenal should probably cut their losses here and let Koscielny leave on a free, as overall he’s been a good servant to the club and they are unlikely to receive that much for him in terms of a transfer fee. Then again, you cannot let one player dictate your transfer dealings as they sets a poor precedent.

What a mess. Koscielny hasn’t conducted himself well here, and Arsenal putting this out in the open has escalated the seriousness of the situation.

Report: Benitez ‘increasingly likely to quit’ Newcastle United

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Newcastle United is going to make one more push to keep fan-loved manager Rafa Benitez, but it’s not looking good for his future on Tyneside beyond June 30.

The Telegraph says Rafa Benitez is likely to walk away from Newcastle United when his contract expires at the end of the month.

[ MORE: USMNT faces T&T for first time since Couva ]

It’s another fight over money, for the most part, with owner Mike Ashley also involved in multiple takeover reports. And Benitez is reportedly subject to a $15 million per-year offer from Asia.

Benitez has been told he will have around ($77 million) in this summer’s window and can also raise money from player sales. But, although exceptions could be made, he was also warned that the club could not sanction long-term deals for players over the age of 28, particularly as he was only considering a one-year extension himself.

That last part makes sense, especially if Benitez were to saddle the Magpies with a long-term deal on a player he favors but may not be the next guy’s cup of tea (Salomon Rondon).

Additionally, the Evening Chronicle has a number of big names linked with taking Benitez’s place, including former French boss Laurent Blanc, recently freed AC Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso, and David Moyes. Believe it or not, Arsene Wenger is also mentioned should Ashley be willing to spend more (so maybe mentioning him is a bit much).

Blanc or Gattuso is believable, and might be palatable for the currently disgusted supporter base, but hiring an ex-Sunderland failure in Moyes would likely send an already livid group through the roof. Then again, the organization did twice hire Joe Kinnear.

Carl Robinson on Alphonso Davies, MLS, and what’s next for him

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Canada named its Gold Cup squad this week, but you didn’t need to check a list to know one name was included on coach John Herdman’s list: Alphonso Davies, the 18-year-old Bayern Munich youngster who scored his first Bundesliga goal this March.

The Canadian teen hasn’t necessarily been top of mind this side of the Atlantic since his transfer; He’s being brought along slowly by Bayern, and didn’t quite get the publicity worthy of his immense talent while with Vancouver in Major League Soccer, either.

[ MORE: 3 key battles in UCL Final ]

So what should we expect from Davies at the Gold Cup, as the 18-year-old looks to build off a 3-goal performance at the 2017 edition which labeled him the youngest goal scorer in tournament history? Pro Soccer Talk asked the man perhaps most responsible for Davies’ development, former Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson, as part of a wide-ranging interview that touches on Davies, Tyler Adams, the future of MLS, and his desire to get back in a manager’s chair.

A former Norwich City, Toronto FC, and Welsh national team mainstay, Robinson is eight months removed from his first foray into management. From 2013-18 with Vancouver, Robinson led the ‘Caps to the MLS Cup Playoffs thrice, earning 50-plus points on all three occasions, and the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals once. He also became part of a select group to win the Canadian Championship as a player and as a manager.

PST: Let’s start here, how did you go about the development of Alphonso Davies with Vancouver?

Carl Robinson: “I used a plan that Arsene Wenger had with Aaron Ramsey, having known Aaron through the Wales set-up. When Aaron moved from Cardiff to Arsenal at age 17 for six million quid, he couldn’t understand why after every fourth game he got left out no matter how well he played. When he went to speak to the manager, the manager explained to him that this is what he’s done with young players, whether Cesc Fabregas or whomever.

“I used that, not letter of the law, but I used that plan with Alphonso. When I sensed a little drop off in training, I’d leave him out. People thought he should play every minute of every game, but I disagreed. I knew the fans wanted to see him as a wonder kid, but I knew the right plan for him. We tried to keep him away from the media, because he needed to concentrate on his football only. Looking back on it, it was the correct way of dealing with it and all credit to him for understanding.”

PST: At 16, he was being linked with Chelsea, Liverpool, reports even went as far as a reported trial with Manchester United. How did Bayern Munich become his destination two years later?

Robinson: “There were lots of rumors, but nothing ever concrete. The summer of 2018, everything went pretty quickly. A number of clubs explained their interest. Some were serious, some were very serious, and some weren’t serious because when a top club like Bayern Munich comes in, it alerts the other top clubs.

“Bayern did their homework. They watched the player, met the player, got references from people around him, then sat down with him and his representatives and laid down a five-year plan for him. In that plan was opportunities with first and second team, and that’s what people don’t understand with young players. It’s not just about what they do on a Saturday in front of 30,000 people. It’s what they do off the field. It’s what they do from Monday to Friday.

“When I saw the plan from Bayern Munich, and Alphonso saw it, it was an unbelievable opportunity for him. He’s been part of lifting two trophies but there’s still a lot left for his development. There are a lot of fantastic players in Bayern’s U-23 side who haven’t gotten a chance. He’ll have a fight on his hands but he’s got the right mentality to do it.”

PST: It can be difficult for those of us in MLS or American soccer circles to get a gauge for what we should expect from our phenoms, from Landon Donovan to Christian Pulisic to Diego Lainez? What should we be looking for when it comes to Davies? What’s his ceiling?

Robinson: “How good is he? He has got the potential to be an exceptional player. He’s a very good player at the moment, but I’ve seen players with huge potential. Ravel Morrison with Manchester United, Tyler Adams with the Red Bulls. It can go different ways.

“Tyler was in the German Cup final, Alphonso wasn’t in the 18. Tyler’s more suited now because of his positional awareness. The key element for Alphonso is attacking players are judged on outputs, goals and assists. He’s not judged on he worked really hard. Midfield players we can talk about pass location, covering ground, how hard they work, because Tyler’s as good as there is in relation to that.

“Alphonso needs to take his game to the next level when it comes to scoring goals and making assists. And Bayern will help him with all that. He was able to beat players in MLS with his power and his pace, but there are going to be players in the Bundesliga who have his power and his pace.

“Again, I don’t get carried away with saying he’s a superstar already. His football over there will make him a superstar. He’s still got a lot of work ahead of him but he has the mindset and mentality to get there for sure. Look at (Liverpool’s) Harry Wilson and (Chelsea’s) Mason Mount at Derby, there are high value players who are playing in the Championship, so he needs to find regular football. He might need to go on loan. He may break in with Robben and Ribery leaving.

“It’s going to take him some time to adjust, but there might be a bigger upside at the end of it if he can get himself into a rhythm, a groove, and play to a level in which I know he can get. Knowing the kid, and probably being a bit biased, he can make it. But there are also better players than him who have not reached their potential, so I think Bayern is a wonderful place for him.”

PST: MLS is a lot different then 2007, when you arrived from Norwich City and became TFC’s Player of the Season. What’s changed most? What’s your overall take on the league?

Robinson: “Back in 2007, there was a lot of hullaballoo with David Beckham arriving a week after I came over. Since then we’ve had Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, David Villa… The league has grown dramatically. The insertion of high level DPs has been important. It’s made people sit up and take notice. The addition of TAM money, even though it’s complicated and like Monopoly money, is increasing the quality over the squad.

“The way they’ve tried to build it slowly is correct. There still should be a big focus on development with the USL teams, which will help the Major League Soccer teams grow, and academies as well. It’s probably grown quicker than I thought it would, but now people don’t want to see it stagnate. That probably means more investment, and more TAM and more DPs. Given the new CBA, they have to figure out the way to do it right.”

PST: So there’s no denying your debut foray into management was a success in Vancouver. For a club spending in the bottom half at best to be a regular threat to host home playoff games… that’s pretty decent. Your numbers compare with the bigger American names in coaching: Vermes, Berhalter, Vanney. What’s next?

Robinson: “I’ve taken a much needed break. I wanted to spend more time with my family. I have two children, ages 17 and 11, and I missed a lot of their growing up because the commitment of being a player, coach, and manager. This is 24-7. I needed that time with them.

“But I’m still watching more football and traveling everywhere. Learning is paramount and I’ve been able to do that more. Spending time with other managers has been refreshing and valuable. There are also some excellent people within MLS clubs that have been great with me. You earn respect and trust. 10 years over here has been great. I know MLS inside out now. Although rules are always changing… These things don’t change. I’ll start to look at opportunities I feel are right. There have a number of conversations I’ve had with a people and teams in different countries, but what I’ve said to my family is I’ll take the right opportunity, not any opportunity. Being a manager for five years and inside one club for seven you understand how it works, and what you need to be successful  I’m looking forward to wherever my next challenge. I’m in no rush but I know my passion is football.”

PST: One more odd note. Your playing resume reads like a list of teams who were playoff-bound or promoted this year: Norwich, Sheffield United, Sunderland, Portsmouth, Wolves. Do you still root for all of them? Any more than the others?

“I follow all my former teams. I have friends and respect for them all. I still follow Red Bulls, Toronto. Wolves staying in the PL is a great opportunity. Norwich & Sheffield United getting promoted, that’s brilliant. Sunderland, that’s heartache. I know the Mackem fans will be absolutely devastated. Portsmouth too. What you learn in football is taking nothing for granted although people have short memories. I genuinely believe where I’m at at the moment, there’s a reason. What I do next, there’s a reason.”

Wenger hints he may be retired from management

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It’s been a year since Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal departure was announced, and the legendary manager remains on the sidelines.

Whether by his choice or not, Wenger has spent the year away from soccer, instead vacationing and being a studio TV pundit in France. In his latest public comments, Wenger hinted that while he still plans to return to a role in soccer, he likely won’t be a club manager anymore.

“I thought I will come back into management very quickly, but I enjoyed taking a little distance,” Wenger told the BBC. Now I’m at a crossroads.”

Per the BBC, Wenger later added: “You will see me again in football. As a manager… I don’t know.”

In the weeks and months after Wenger was effectively forced out of Arsenal after 22 seasons, Wenger repeatedly said that he had many offers to return to management, and it was only a matter of time before he’d accept one of these offers. And yet, it’s been a year and Wenger remains on the outside, perhaps a clear sign that today’s soccer has passed him by, and unless he wants to move to the Middle East or another soccer outpost, he won’t be able to get a top job in Western Europe.

Despite his acrimonious exit, Wenger still supports the Gunners and had some thoughts on the team’s season, as well as the club’s run to the Europa League final.

“I miss competition and I miss Arsenal because I left my heart in there,” Wenger said. “I gave my life to this club for 22 years. Every minute of my life was dedicated to this club and I miss the values we developed inside the club.

“I support Arsenal. It will be forever my club.”

Season Review: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal

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The 2018-19 Premier League season is officially in the books, and while we know who finished where, it’s time to discuss who did (or didn’t) live up to expectations.

[ REVIEW: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester & West Ham ]

Manchester City are champions; Liverpool are record-breaking runners-up; Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal round out the top-five, in the order.

[ REVIEW: Burnley, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Crystal Palace & Watford ]

Arsenal

Finishing position/points total: 5th / 70 points
High point: Beating Tottenham back in December might be the greatest single accomplishment of Arsenal’s season, which says a lot about where the club is today.
Low point
: Three straight defeats — to Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City, by a combined score of 9-3 — at the same time Tottenham were tripping over their own feet and leaving the door wide open for a top-four heist.

Our opinion: Arsene Wenger left, but did anything really change around the Emirates Stadium?
Star player
: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Most memorable goal
: The goal that wasn’t — Aubameyang’s 91st-minute penalty kick against Spurs — was one of many moments that wound up being the difference between fourth and fifth.

Manager grade: Unai Emery: C+
Hopes for next season
: In a perfect world for Arsenal, Spurs won’t sign a player for the third straight transfer window and Arsenal will have signed a soon-to-be world-class replacement for the departed Aaron Ramsey, at which point Arsenal could accidentally finish above Spurs for the first time in four seasons.


Tottenham Hotspur

Finishing position/points total: 4th / 71 points

High point: Reaching the Champions League final is the obvious answer, but we’re only talking about the PL here. Finishing the season’s last game with 11 upright players was quite the accomplishment given Spurs’ season-long injury crisis.
Low point
: Predictably, a club that signed no new players in the summer, and is still competing in the Champions League, ran out of gas down the stretch. Spurs won just three of the final 12 games, while losing seven.

Our opinion: Mauricio Pochettino has proven himself to a miracle worker year after year, and he deserves better from chairman Daniel Levy.
Star player
: Harry Kane
Most memorable goal
: Son Heung-min didn’t score his first PL goal until the end of November, but it was worth the wait and kicked off a brilliant second half of the season for the South Korean.

Manager grade: Mauricio Pochettino: A-
Hopes for next season
: If Spurs sign some players in the summer — hardly a given — the existing core has yet another level (or two) to reach. They’re as likely as anyone else to solidify their place as the third-best side in the PL.


Chelsea

Finishing position/points total: 3rd/ 72 points

High point: Starting the season unbeaten in their first 12 games, though in hindsight the early-days discussion of a three-horse race for the title was premature and misguided.
Low point
: Losing 3-1 to Spurs to break the unbeaten start was bad, but losing 6-0 to Man City (just days before losing in the League Cup final to them) was worse.

Our opinion: For a team with just one capable midfielder (N'Golo Kante) for the vast majority of the season (Ruben Loftus-Cheek came on strong once given a chance to play), finishing third almost seems like an overachievement.
Star player
: Eden Hazard
Most memorable goal
: Hazard is irreplaceable, which Chelsea will quickly find out if he leaves this summer.

Manager grade: Maurizio Sarri: B-
Hopes for next season
: If Hazard can be convinced to stay another season — until the transfer ban has passed — they’ll scrap for a top-four place again. If he leaves and Christian Pulisic is the only player they can register, it could be a long season.


Liverpool

Finishing position/points total: 2nd / 97 points

High point: How about the 30 games that they won? Or, the 37 games that they didn’t lose?
Low point
: The lone league defeat, to Manchester City at the start of January, comes to mind.

Our opinion: Finishing with 97 points is bafflingly impressive, but conceding just 22 goals in 38 games is equally impressive. To match Man City step for step all season was something not many thought the Reds could do. 97 points would have won the title in all but two seasons — last season and this season.
Star player
: Virgil Van Dijk
Most memorable goal
: You’ll notice it doesn’t say “best” or “favorite” goal. Divock Origi‘s 96th-minute winner was stranger than anything else.

Manager grade: Jurgen Klopp: A+
Hopes for next season
: They’re still young and awaiting breakout seasons from Naby Keita and Fabinho. If either of those players ascend to PL stardom next season, they could very well end City’s run.


Manchester City

Finishing position/points total: 1st / 98 points

High point: Leroy Sane’s game-winning goal to top Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. Without it, Liverpool might have never lost the lead in the title race.
Low point
: Losing three of four games during the December holiday period to fall seven points behind Liverpool.

Our opinion: The team that broke ever conceivable PL record last season, then went out and signed a player of Riyad Mahrez‘s ability, bordered on unbeatable once again. Though slightly more defensively fragile this season, Pep Guardiola‘s men are worthy champions.
Star player
: Raheem Sterling
Most memorable goal
: Vincent Kompany‘s winner against Leicester City in the penultimate game of the season, with Liverpool two points ahead after playing earlier in the weekend. He’ll never ever score another one like it.

Manager grade: Pep Guardiola: A+
Hopes for next season
: Newsflash: They’re going to be good again, and again, and again. Here’s hoping for another brilliant title race between City and Liverpool, one with even more many twists and turns.