Kieran Tierney

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Arsenal ‘too scared’ of Watford in collapse

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Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka admitted the Gunners were “too scared” of Watford as they collapsed in the second half.

Leading 2-0 at half time thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal were totally outplayed in the second half as Watford roared back to draw 2-2 at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

Speaking after the game, Xhaka said the Arsenal players were not confident enough to see out the game.

“No-one wanted the ball. In the end we are happy to take a point,” Xhaka said. “We didn’t show our game in the second half, we were too scared… Every team in the Premier League is strong enough to score but you have to keep calm, to show good character, to be mentally strong. We weren’t today.”

If only this was a rare occurrence for Arsenal.

Under Unai Emery their defensive collapses have been frequent, and this issue even dates back to Arsene Wenger‘s final few seasons in charge.

Arsenal were their own worst enemies on Sunday.

Instead of playing the ball out of dangerous areas they tried to play short goal kicks time and time again and were caught in possession on several occasions. David Luiz gave away a penalty kick, Xhaka and Mateo Guendouzi were overrun in central midfield in the second half and in the end they were lucky to grab a point.

Trying the same things time and time again and expecting different results is just bonkers, and that is what this Arsenal squad is going.

Luiz, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Xhaka are players Arsenal have built their defensive core around, and the same issues keep cropping up when they are in the team. Adding Luiz to the mix after losing Laurent Koscielny was a risk and it seems like a move which will backfire for the Gunners.

It is true that defenders Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are all close to returning from injury, so when that happens perhaps we will see a newfound defensive solidity and things will improve.

Then again, it’s likely neutral everywhere will be grabbing their popcorn whenever Arsenal play this season because you’re guaranteed entertainment at both ends of the pitch.

PL Sunday Preview: Bournemouth hosts Everton; Arsenal visits Watford

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The Premier League’s Matchweek 5 is going to keep on giving, with two matches lined up for Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Bournemouth v. Everton — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Following a sluggish start, an up-to-speed Everton, powered by Richarlison, Alex Iwobi and Moise Keane, look to continue on the same path, with similar speed. 

In their first league starts, Keane and Iwobi contributed positively in the Toffees’ three-goal performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Couple Marco Silva‘s new arrivals with Richarlison and Gyfi Sigurdson, and the side’s current attacking prowess is what the side desperately needed when the season first kicked off. It now seems like Everton’s lucrative investments on their attack is paying dividends.

With Bournemouth’s defensive struggles in mind, things can be worse than a trip to the southern tip of England for Everton.

Despite a win against Aston Villa earlier this season, injury-ravaged Bournemouth are struggling to stay afloat. In their last three league matches, the Cherries have allowed 18 shots on target, seven goals. The attack isn’t compensating for the lack of defensive stability either, scoring four goals in the team’s five competitive matches this season. 

There is a small silver lining for Eddie Howe and Co. ahead of Sunday, though. Midfielder Lewis Cook, 22, is slated to make his Dean Court return, following a lengthy injury.

INJURIES: Bournemouth —  OUT: David Brooks (ankle), Dan Gosling (hip), Charlie Daniels (knee), Arnaut Danjuma (foot), Junior Stanislas (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Simon Francis (knee), Lloyd Kelly (ankle) | Everton  — OUT: Jonas Lössl (calf), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: None


Watford v. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

For a second time at Vicarage Road, the Quique Sanchez Flores era is on. 

The 54-year-old’s official return to Watford comes after three years away in Spain and in China. This time, though, the stakes are much higher and the room for error is much slimmer. The table says it all.

With only a point to their name after four bouts, the Hornets are quickly morphing into the league’s bottom dwellers. Will the Spaniard be able to overturn a disastrous defense and a lackluster attack that has only produced two goals? Unlike other teams in the league, Watford’s manager has a nearly-healthy team, and is only a few weeks away from regaining captain Troy Deeney from a knee injury.

That said, there is a stack of work to be done, and taking on Arsenal and Manchester City back-to-back is probably not going to help Watford’s frail state.

Coming in, Arsenal aren’t as feeble as their counterparts, but their confidence (and standing on the table) can use some help, following a loss to Liverpool and a draw to Tottenham in their last two league matches.

The Gunners, who in three weeks will play seven matches, will be without Alexandre Lacazette, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang becomes the team’s lone center-forward option with experience. Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney, too, are not expected to dress on Sunday, although manager Unai Emery hinted that their returns are imminent (a defensive boost, in theory).

Given their far-from-ideal situation, improvement is not something Arsenal are going to shy away from on Sunday against a transitioning and vulnerable Watford.

INJURIES: Watford —  OUT: Troy Deeney (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Craig Cathcart (thigh) | Arsenal  — OUT: Hector Bellerín (knee), Kieran Tierney (groin), Alexandre Lacazette (ankle), Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin); QUESTIONABLE: None

Lacazette ruled out through injury

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Well, that excitement about seeing Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Pepe playing together didn’t last long, did it?

Arsenal have confirmed that star striker Lacazette will be out until October with a left ankle injury.

Lacazette, 28, has been playing through the pain but in a statement on Friday the north London club confirmed he will miss the Premier League game at Watford on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and the rest of this month.

“After assessments to an ongoing ankle issue, we have advised that Alex will need to rest and strengthen his ankle to regain full fitness. Alex has been playing through this injury for several weeks. He is likely to be back in action in October.”

How big of a blow is this to Arsenal?

They have Aubameyang and Pepe up top, so should be set for a goal threat, but Lacazette’s sharpness in and around the box has been evident early in the season as he scored against Tottenham and Burnley and his ability to pop up with a goal when Arsenal need it most will be missed.

This injury update also explains why Emery left Lacazette out of the team against Liverpool.

The Frenchman has been nursing this problem for quite some time and has battled through the pain barrier, but now is not the right time to take a risk with his long-term fitness. It is a marathon, not a sprint, as Arsenal’s top four hopes and possible UEFA Europa League glory hinge on a fully-fit Lacazette delivering 20-25 goals.

Defensively the Gunners have Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Dinos Mavropanos back in full training, so there is good news on that score, but Emery will be frustrated that he cannot unleash his full-strength attack on Watford, Aston Villa and Manchester United in their next three PL games.

PL Sunday Preview: Everton hosts Wolves; Tottenham visit Arsenal

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Saturday’s action was jam-packed, but two more fixtures are left to be settled in Matchweek 4 on Sunday.

[ MORE: Liverpool play ‘perfect’ game against Burnley | Highlights ]

Everton v. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Having lost to Aston Villa 2-0 in their last Premier League bout, Everton went into their midweek League Cup match against Lincoln City with one objective in mind: to resuscitate a dead attack. They did so, winning 4-2 with a pair of goals from attacking players such as Alex Iwobi and Richarlison. No more than ever, the Toffees, who have only scored a goal in three matches despite registering 34 shots, will hope to implement the same levels of productiveness at Goodison Park.

Wolves, however, are hungrier than ever for their first taste of three points this season. Despite having drawn the first three bouts of the season, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side proved to be too much for Torino in a two-leg series midweek, qualifying for the Europa League group stage for the first time in nearly 40 years. With the excitement that comes from a feat such as returning to European competition coupled with striker Raul Jimenez’s fine scoring form, there are zero doubts that Wolves have the upper hand on the majority of teams in the league when it comes to momentum. For now, that joy has yet to seep into Premier League play, but it could be just around the corner.

INJURIES: Everton —  OUT: Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh); QUESTIONABLE: None | Wolves  — OUT: None; QUESTIONABLE: None


Arsenal v. Tottenham — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

After what was an abysmal loss to a lowly Newcastle, Spurs march into Emirates Stadium in this season’s first North London derby with their heads down. It was not anticipated for Mauricio Pochettino and Co. to be in a conundrum this early, but that’s reality for Tottenham. Only in their first match (against Aston Villa) did the North London side register more shots on target than their competition. If one digs deeper, the offensive woes are only surface problems for the side. Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen are reportedly one foot out the door with moves lined up away from Tottenham. And if Spurs fail to find their groove on Sunday, a loss to rivals Arsenal will only make matters worse.

Arsenal come in with a fresh loss under their belts, too. A defeat at Anfield against a record-setting Liverpool, however, is a different story. In his second season at the helm, Unai Emery holds a better record after three games than during his first time around.

Conveniently, against Tottenham, in what is the fiercest match of a young season for Arsenal, Emery hopes to rely on Mesut Ozil for the first time this season.

“We need him,” Emery said ahead of Sunday’s North London Derby. “And [ we need] him first to be consistent in training, to be available in each match. For example last week he wasn’t ready to play 100% in Liverpool. This week he is getting better with each training [session] and I think physically he is now better. He is closer to helping us. We need him because he is a different player in our team. He can help us with his quality.”

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Hector Bellerin (knee), Rob Holding (knee), Konstantinos Mavropanos (groin), Kieran Tierney (groin); QUESTIONABLE: None | Tottenham  — OUT: Tanguy Ndombele (thigh), Kyle Walker-Peters (hamstring), Juan Foyth (ankle), Ryan Sessegnon (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Eric Dier (hip)

Premier League Preview: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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  • Top of the table: 1st-place Reds host 2nd-place Gunners
  • Liverpool won 5-1 at Anfield last season
  • Both sides nearing full fitness but a few injuries linger

Thanks to one half of north London, Liverpool enter Matchweek 3 atop the Premier League table. To maintain their two-point lead on two-time defending champions Manchester City, they must knock off the other half of north London, Arsenal, who also double as the PL’s second-place side 180 minutes into the campaign, at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

When the margins between champions and runners-up are as fine as one point, every clash with a fellow top-six side could ultimately prove to be the difference maker in the title race. Yes, even in the third week of the season.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Neither side was overwhelmingly dominant in picking up a 2-1 victory last weekend — Liverpool away to Southampton; Arsenal at home to Burnley — though the Reds were coming off a midweek trip to Istanbul for the UEFA Super Cup and the Gunners are still in the process of working club-record signing Nicolas Pepe into the team as well as bringing Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac back into the fold.

Dani Ceballos, on the other hand, has hit the ground running and appears set to become a hugely influential figure for Arsenal, even if he only spends one season at the club before returning to Real Madrid. The Spanish midfielder made his first start in the win over Burnley and provided assists on both goals, scored by Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Injuries/suspensions

Liverpool: OUT – Alisson (calf), Nathaniel Clyne (knee); QUESTIONABLE – Naby Keita (hip)

Arsenal: OUT – Kieran Tierney (groin), Hector Bellerin (knee), Rob Holdin (fitness); QUESTIONABLE – Mesut Ozil (fitness), Grant Xhaka (back)


Projected lineups

Liverpool: Adrian – Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson – Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum – Salah, Firmino, Mane

Arsenal: Leno – Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac – Torreira, Guendouzi, Ceballos – Aubameyang, Lacazette, Pepe


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp, on the early-season challenge of facing Arsenal: “We have to be brave, have to play your own football, you have to try to keep possession, you have to be direct. There are a lot of things to do and consider, against a very strong opponent. That’s why I’m really looking forward to it. It’s the early part of the season but these games will come up anyway. Now it’s pretty early and we have to show we are ready again.”

Unai Emery, on testing his side against Liverpool: “We really are in a very good position, but we only played two matches in the Premier League. We know it’s only the beginning but we can be positive and optimistic for that match and wishing to show our moment against them, but knowing that it is going to be difficult but it is a very big challenge and a very big opportunity for us to do something.”


Prediction

While Arsenal spent big in the summer, they didn’t actually address their team’s biggest area of need: the defense. Thus far, it hasn’t mattered, against Newcastle United and Burnley. Liverpool are, shall we say, slightly more prolific going forward and will cause the Gunners considerably greater problems — particularly Salah anytime he gets isolated one-on-one with Ainsley Maitland-Niles. A 2-0 victory for Liverpool which is far more comfortable than the final score would suggest.