Calum Chambers

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Top PL storylines: Matchweek 2

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The Premier League season is officially under way and already Manchester City is on top of the table after just one week, having taken down West Ham by a blistering 5-0 scoreline that could be even more.

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With the first week under our belt, here are the top storylines as clubs look to keep the ball rolling, or in the case of teams like the Hammers, Norwich City, or Watford, turn their fortunes before falling too far behind.


Chelsea looks to build on midweek showing

  • Chelsea v. Leicester City, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

For long stretches of the midweek Super Cup, Chelsea looked the better side against Liverpool. While the Champions League title holders eventually won the match on penalties after a 2-2 draw, the Blues look much improved from their opening week drubbing at the hands of Manchester United.

Frank Lampard still has improving to do as a manager, indicative of his slow reaction to a second half surge by Liverpool, but the Blues boss could hand Christian Pulisic his full Premier League debut after leaving the American on the bench against Manchester United. It’s not perfect, and Chelsea has a long way to go to be a truly competitive force at the top of the Premier League table, but marketable improvement at this stage in the season is always a welcome sight.


Spurs gets crack at defending champs

  • Man City v. Tottenham, Saturday, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC

Tottenham began its new season with a 3-1 comeback win over newly promoted Aston Villa, and while it took time for the Champions League finalists to gain a foothold in the match, the final result will encourage Spurs fans as they get an early shot at Manchester City. It’s likely a little too early for Giovani Lo Celso or Ryan Sessegnon to make a full debut, but Tanguay Ndombele got off to a good start with a goal against Villa and the new-look Spurs will likely provide Man City a serious test.

City was explosive against West Ham as Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus were both spectacular, but Bernardo Silva could be brought into the side after finding the substitutes bench in the opener, as could Sergio Aguero.


Early relegation six-pointer?

  • Norwich City v. Newcastle United, Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

Many Premier League projections, including some of our own here at Pro Soccer Talk, have Norwich City and Newcastle both in various stages of the relegation picture. It’s possible that this early match could prove vital in helping shape the bottom of the table.

If so, the matchup could be an entertaining one. While these two sides combined for just one goal between them last weekend, they were both positive going forward in spells. The last four matchups between these two teams have produced a total of 24 goals, and the last time they faced off in Premier League competition, they were both eventually relegated. It may be early, but they all count the same.


Arsenal stars could return

  • Arsenal v. Burnley, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac still have safety and security issues to sort out – a worrying prospect for players just looking to ply their trade on the pitch – but they’re back in Arsenal training and could return to the matchday squad after missing out on the opening weekend.

With the pair potentially in the fold, it will give the Gunners a boost after looking bright but wasteful in the early 1-0 win over Newcastle. Ozil could come in for Reiss Nelson while Kolasinac would replace the deputizing Nacho Monreal. David Luiz could also make his Arsenal debut with Calum Chambers possibly making way, giving Arsenal a much more complete lineup than last week. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the game’s only goal in the season opener, and he is tipped to strike many more times this season in a likely Golden Boot challenge.


Wolves looks to again trouble Manchester United

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Manchester United, Monday, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Manchester United looked stellar in the opening weekend against Chelsea, but they’ll take on a pesky foe in Week 2 as they look to keep the momentum going. Wolves picked up four points off Manchester United last season as they proved difficult for many top sides to deal with throughout the season.

Most importantly, the Red Devils will need to deal with Raul Jimenez who has picked up where he left off last season with four goals in Europa League play to start the campaign, although he – along with the rest of the Wolves squad – was held off the scoresheet in the Premier League opener against Leicester City. That 0-0 draw was drab as Wolves appeared tired after early European play, but the home side will feel they can hit Manchester United on the counter Monday as they did a number of times last season.

Report: Koscielny agrees terms with Bordeaux

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In the blink of an eye, Laurent Koscielny has gone from one of Arsenal’s longest-serving players to potentially leaving the club this week.

[READ: Premier League season previews]

According to L’Equipe, Laurent Koscielny has agreed terms with Bordeaux, and is set to undergo a medical on Tuesday to determine if the transfer will go through. Koscielny is going into the last year of his contract at Arsenal, and he’s essentially walking out from  Arsenal during preseason.

Upset at not being offered a better new contract, the 33-year-old, who turns 34 in September, refused to go with Arsenal on its tour of the U.S. this summer.

Koscielny has been a key member of Arsenal’s squad since joining in 2010 from Lorient. He was a regular starter every year since then until April 2018, when he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon. Since then, though he’s returned to the field, he has seemed to be a step slower than before, which is understandable.

Even so, it’s a huge blow to Arsenal. The Gunners have spent millions so far upgrading their squad in midfield and attacking areas, but defense is a huge question mark and the club hasn’t been successful signing a new player yet.

With the Premier League transfer window ending on Thursday, will Arsenal have time to sign a replacement? Or will Rob Holding and Calum Chambers he asked to take a huge jump in their careers and lead this team back to the Champions League.

Emery admits Arsenal is working to sign Pepe, others this window

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery all but confirmed reports that Arsenal is in the process of reportedly smashing its transfer record to sign Nicolas Pepe.

Speaking after Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Lyon back home in London for the Emirates Cup, Emery said that Arsenal is currently working to improve the squad, and mentioned that Pepe is one of many players that the club has a possibility of signing this summer.

[READ: Is Arsenal gambling with big summer spending spree?]

“We are working, the club, and also thinking about how we can improve,” Emery said, via Arsenal’s website. “There are different players on the table with the possibility that we can achieve their signature. Pepe is a very good player and also we are thinking only of players who can really, really improve this squad and also give us some different conditions to improve. The same, we are working for the last few weeks and before starting the season in the first match in Newcastle, our aim is to get the best team with the best players in our squad.

Arsenal has made three signings to the first team this summer, but one, William Saliba, won’t be in the team until next season. The other two, Gabriel Martinelli and Dani Ceballos, while talented, don’t have the same name recognition and gravitas or potential as a player like Pepe. The Ivory Coast winger scored 22 goals to go with 11 assists in Ligue 1 last year, making him a Best XI candidate for the league over the course of the season.

On Friday, reports across England stated that Arsenal had a bid of around $100 million agreed to sign Pepe, and all Arsenal needed was for Pepe to agree personal terms with the club. Napoli had been another reported destination for Pepe this summer as Lille looks to cash in on their 24-year-old star.

In his press conference, Emery also was asked to address why it seems Arsenal is signing attacking players when there is a real need to upgrade in defense.

“We are deciding how we can improve,” Emery said. “At the beginning we were thinking to do one player to achieve the possibility to sign, but only if we can really, really improve this position. It’s one centerback, one midfielder and one winger and we are going to (try) to do that. We are thinking the same. I want a team that is better than last year, so the players can achieve a lot being with us this season. Also we have a very good team. Only the players that can improve and help the squad [will be brought in].”

Of course, with the signing of Saliba, Arsenal has acquired a centerback this summer. Yet, because Saliba is on loan with Saint-Etienne for the rest of this season, it doesn’t help the Gunners now as it looks to break back into the top four, an increasingly difficult challenge year over year. The return or Calum Chambers (loan) and Rob Holding (ACL tear) don’t exactly strike fear into opponents or confidence into Arsenal fans hearts.

But perhaps there’s a late trick up Emery’s sleeve, a transfer he’s been working on privately that can go through before the Premier League transfer window shuts on August 8.

 

Arsenal gambling big with summer spending spree

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Just two measly weeks ago, Arsenal board member Josh Korenke – son of owner Stan Kroenke – told the public, “It’s no secret that we have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now. That’s a fact. And one that we’re figuring out how to face internally at the moment.”

His words were in response to an open letter from Arsenal supporter groups that claimed the club’s “approach to both buying players and paying wages looks uncoordinated and appears to lack strategy.” Days later, despite media claims that the club is operating on a summer budget of just $50 million, the Gunners were reportedly smashing the club transfer record for Lille winger Nicolas Pepe. So what gives?

There’s no other conclusion: the club is betting on itself. The Pepe transfer tells the story, as the club has deferred much of the payments to installments over the course of the year, hoping to ease the immediate financial burden with the budget currently strapped.

The decision to spend future funds now is a dangerous risk, but could pay off should the club reach the Champions League. Kroenke explicitly said the team is currently operating on a Champions League wage budget, despite beginning a third consecutive season outside Europe’s top competition. It’s clear that three Europa League seasons in a row is beginning to have an effect on the operating costs at the Emirates. Adding a club-record transfer fee plus wages competitive to lure Pepe to the Emirates seems counter to a logical resolution, but by betting on the team, the front office is pushing the team forward in an ambitious and positive direction.

Undoubtedly, there’s huge risk involved with such a push. Should the Gunners yet again miss out on the Champions League either by a top four finish in Premier League play or by winning the Europa League, there could be disastrous consequences. The Premier League television money is free-flowing, but going another year without Champions League prize money and media rights could be disastrous for the current financial structure.

One questionable decision is the choice to bolster the attack rather than patch up the defensive line, an area the club struggled mightily with at times last year. With captain Laurent Koscielny pushing to leave the club, it leaves Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, and Konstantinos Mavorpanos as the only healthy central defenders, with Rob Holding still recovering from his ACL tear suffered, although he is expected to return soon. On the flanks are Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, Ainsley Maintland-Niles, and Hector Bellerin, with Calum Chambers versatile enough to play anywhere along the back or in midfield.

Is that a Champions League defensive unit? It’s hard to see how it would be, yet Arsenal has decided to splash the cash up front and hope they can outscore teams enough to reach the promised land. Other than Pepe, the Gunners spent money on winger Gabriel Martinelli, an 18-year-old Brazilian, and young defender William Saliba who was sent back on loan to St. Etienne.

The Gunners have taken a calculated risk, one they believe to be beneficial to the long-term health of the club. Should it pay off, Arsenal could be set up for a long stay near the top of the Premier League with a young attacking core and some youth at the back as well. But if they miss, the financial detriment to the club could be even more devastating than what they are set to potentially gain, as Financial Fair Play could be a factor down the road if Champions League riches never arrive.

Arsenal sign French starlet William Saliba

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Despite a slow summer transfer window, Arsenal have landed a center-back for the future. 

The north London side announced the arrival of French starlet William Saliba, 18, from Ligue 1 outfit Saint-Etienne on a “long-term contract”. The highly-rated defender will have to wait for his Emirates Stadium debut, however, as he’ll spend the upcoming season on loan with his former club. 

“We’re delighted William is joining us,” manager Unai Emery told the club’s official website. “Many teams wanted him but he decided he wanted to come to us and be a part of our future. He will stay in France next season for more experience and then we look forward to him joining our group.” 

It’s believed the Gunners shelled out $33.6 million for the France youth international and beat Tottenham Hotspur to the signature. 

Saliba made a name for himself last season in League 1, featuring 16 times – 13 starts – for his boyhood club, specifically in the latter stages of the season. It’s expected that the upcoming campaign will call for Saliba to feature heavily for Les Verts and gain further experience before joining the Gunners during the summer of 2020. 

With a long-term vision in mind, Saliba’s arrival is hope for a more optimal center-back situation at Emirates Stadium, which Emery desperately failed to have last season. The Spanish boss fielded mainly compatriot Laurent Koscienly and Sokratis Papastathopolous as the central duo in the backline, with Shokdran Mustafi finding himself on the bench more often than not, 23-year-old Rob Holding injured and Calum Chambers on a season-long loan at Fulham.

Saliba becomes only the third signing of a sluggish summer for Arsenal, who have added midfielder Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid and 18-year-old winger Gabriel Martinelli from Brazilia side Ituano. Although, Arsenal can decide to spend more than the reported $60 million transfer kitty they have with about two weeks left in the transfer window. 

It is pretty typical of Arsenal to finally sign a new center back, but then send him straight out on loan…