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Wenger’s Best XI as Arsenal manager

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In his 22 years as Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger has seen more than his share of talented players grace the field in an Arsenal kit.

From Thierry Henry and Robert Pires to Lee Dixon and Tony Adams, some of legends of the Premier League have spent some of their best years playing for Arsenal, leading Wenger to three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.

No less than 222 players have played under Wenger, from the Invincible greats to one-time American youth product Frank Simek and the latest debutante, Konstantinos Mavropanos.

Looking back at the last 22 years, it’s difficult to select just 11 players, but we at Pro Soccer Talk have done our best to select the defining best XI for Arsenal in the Arsene Wenger era.


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Atletico Madrid 1-0 Arsenal: Costa downs Gunners again, Atleti into Europa League final

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Diego Costa is yet again the scourge of Arsenal, even after having departed the Premier League.

The former Chelsea man bagged the game’s only goal as Atletico Madrid beat Arsenal 1-0 at the Estadio Metropolitano to send the Spanish side through to the Europa League final in Lyon on a 2-1 aggregate score. On the other end, the vaunted Atletico Madrid defense completely stumped Arsenal, leaving them with little to show for their 90 minutes of running in Spain.

Atletico had the best early chance six minutes in as Diego Costa shrugged off Nacho Monreal and shot from a tight angle, but David Ospina got down low to make the save. The Gunners were forced to make a chance moments later as captain Laurent Koscielny went down in a heap with a non-contact injury, holding his ankle and screaming in pain. He was stretchered off and replaced by Calum Chambers, and it was eventually confirmed that he suffered a torn Achilles.

The injury sucked much of the early life out of the game, and it devolved into a physical midfield battle. The rest of the first half was cagey, with Atletico understanding that they only needed to keep the scoreline clean to advance. Meanwhile, the Gunners held nearly 60% of the first-half possession, but produced precious little in front of the Atletico net. Alexandre Lacazette had a half-chance for Arsenal after 25 minutes, but couldn’t pull the trigger.

Down the other end, Atletico had a few small chances. Antoine Griezmann missed by inches on what would have been a stunning strike seven minutes before the half-time whistle. Then, just moments before the half-time whistle, the game snagged its first moment of glory. Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak launched the ball deep down the field, and after a few ping-pong touches, Diego Costa burst forward past Hector Bellerin and grabbed a breakaway opportunity, finishing past Ospina to put Atletico 1-0 up in first-half added time.

Things opened up in the second half with Arsenal still needing a goal, now to force extra time. Their best chances of the second half came on the hour mark as a cross from Mesut Ozil was just out of reach of a stretching Lacazette. Then moments later Granit Xhaka forced a fantastic save by Oblak on a low shot towards the bottom-right corner. Substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan volleyed towards the net two minutes after coming on but ripped it just inches over the bar.

Costa continued to prove dangerous through the final portion of the game, finding himself on the end of a number of late chances to put the game away. As the game waned, the Gunners had less and less to offer and appeared to be both exhausted and out of ideas. It was all Atletico in the final few minutes, with Fernando Torres coming close and forcing an Ospina save.

Laurent Koscielny suffers torn Achilles in Europa League semis

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Arsenal defender and captain Laurent Koscielny‘s season and World Cup is in serious doubt after the 32-year-old suffered what appeared to be a serious injury in the opening 10 minutes of the Gunners’ Europa League semifinal match against Atletico Madrid in Spain.

Under no contact with the play nowhere close, Koscielny went down in a heap on the pitch grasping his ankle and screaming in pain. Diego Costa, nearby in his striker position, immediately signaled for the bench, as did a number of surrounding players. Koscielny was eventually stretchered off after receiving treatment on the pitch, all the while grimacing and yelling in serious pain.

All initial signs pointed to a torn Achilles, and that was confirmed by Arsenal before the game was even concluded.

The 32-year-old has been nursing an Achilles problem for years after being diagnosed with chronic tendonitis, and it came out last year that he would require daily treatment on his ankle to keep his career alive. “I have some problems,” he said in May of 2017. “Now it is better. I know it is a difficult injury because you need to work every day on this. Every morning I have my treatment for my Achilles and I know I need to do this to the end of my career.”

His current injury will require approximately a six-month recovery period.

Koscielny has not played much of late, with just one Premier League appearance since March 5th, but was on the field for the first leg against Atletico Madrid and was culpable for the visitors’ late goal at the Emirates that changed the course of the matchup. The Frenchman has dipped in form this season after serving as one of the premier defenders in the English top flight for much of his career.

The injury is ill-timed should it be proven as serious, as the World Cup is this summer and Koscielny remains an important part of France’s international squad. Koscielny announced in November that he would be retiring from international duty following this summer’s tournament, and now he has been robbed of his swansong. France does have the depth to deal with a serious injury to Koscielny, as they still have Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Kurt Zouma, and Presnel Kimpembe to fill in at center-back, among others.

Not only does an Achillies injury spell the end of Koscielny’s season and possibly his international career, it could also have serious ramifications on his future at Arsenal. Koscielny, at 32 years old and appearing to be on the decline, could be on thin ice at the Emirates. A new manager is due in next season with the departure of Arsene Wenger, and Koscielny’s contract expires in the summer of 2020. The club could choose to sell the Frenchman this summer, or he could prove on the outside of the squad looking in and eventually come to a mutual agreement to negate the rest of the contract. Much remains to be seen on how the immediate future will play out for Koscielny.

Beyond the glitz, France has problems to solve before World Cup

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PARIS (AP) France’s attacking soccer can be compared to an All-Star basketball game: showy moves, flashy individual skill and outstanding finishing.

Up front France boasts Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, two of the world’s three most expensive players, and the 2016 European Championship’s top scorer in Antoine Griezmann.

When everything comes together, it’s a joy to watch but, behind the glitz, France has significant problems to resolve before its World Cup campaign begins on June 16.

As Euro 2016 runner-up, France will rightly be considered among the favorites in Russia. But rivals will marvel at the ease with which Colombia pierced France’s feeble defense and overran its tentative midfield on Friday. Trailing 2-0, Colombia rallied to win 3-2 in a tactical master class of positional switches and pressing which flummoxed France coach Didier Deschamps.

France showed similar frailties against World Cup winner Germany in November, twice squandering the lead in a 2-2 draw. Both times, France fluffed chances because of some complacent finishing – trying to score highlight-reel goals – and was then ruthlessly punished.

It is particularly worrying for Deschamps, who places high importance on tactical discipline, commitment, leadership and risk-free defending. Those were hallmarks of France’s triumphant teams at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 tournaments – with the combative midfielder Deschamps as captain – but they were missing against Colombia on Friday.

“We have to do more in terms of attitude, energy and playing with more heart,” France captain Hugo Lloris said. “We have to give more.”

In adding that Colombia “maybe has less talent but is a real team” Lloris highlighted the glossy veneer and soft underbelly of his side.

Striker Olivier Giroud criticized a lack of “aggression and determination,” adding it was important to understand why France was missing such “crucial values.”

Deschamps has another friendly, away to Russia on Tuesday, before he names his 23-man World Cup squad. He will then have three matches left to iron out evident flaws in his side, including a lack of leadership, lapses of concentration in defense, and a misplaced sense of superiority when dominating games.

“When things are going well, we’re capable of doing very good things. When things get tense we’re a lot more vulnerable,” Deschamps said. “It’s also a question of character, perhaps we are too self-satisfied and the highest level doesn’t forgive that.”

France’s second-half capitulation against Colombia was not just tactical; it was also because Les Bleus had no leader to spark a response.

France’s long-standing captain is goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. While there is no doubt over Lloris’ position as No. 1 – the Tottenham goalie is among the most consistent in the Premier League and has nearly 100 international caps – his position on the field works against him in communicating with his team.

Lloris has long been considered too soft-spoken and lacking enough of a vocal presence. Deschamps complained his side lacked aggression against Colombia, and he may question why he’s sticking with Lloris as captain when he is anything but aggressive, both in his body language and communication.

France plays such scintillating attacking football that its defenders must sometimes be tempted to put their feet up and admire it. Unfortunately, at times they seem to do just that.

Deschamps is still trying to decide on his best center back pairing: Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane alongside either Barcelona’s Samuel Umiti or Arsenal’s 50-cap veteran Laurent Koscielny. He went with Varane and Umtiti against Colombia and it was thoroughly unconvincing.

Forward Luis Muriel regularly got behind Varane, and Umtiti clumsily gave away a late penalty, from which Colombia made it 3-2.

But bringing Koscielny back in won’t solve everything, either. While he is a fine reader of the game, and one of the best ball-playing center halves around, Koscielny has a habit of giving away penalties and his man-marking can be poor.

Right backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Pavard are attack-minded but so are left backs Layvin Kurzawa and Lucas Digne. Against Colombia, Sidibe and Digne raced forward almost at will, leaving gaping holes behind them for Colombia to exploit.

With N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi, the last position Deschamps should worry about is midfield.

However, Pogba has fallen out of favor at Manchester United and looks out of form. Against Colombia, Deschamps paired Kante and Matuidi as holding midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation, but they were at times completely overrun when Colombia countered on the break.

A 4-3-3 formation – Kante holding with Pogba and Matuidi either side – appears to offer more protection. But Pogba’s tactical indiscipline means he often drifts out of position and, while he’s among the world’s most expensive players, Deschamps may be better off using him as a substitute.

Instead, Deschamps could opt for a 4-3-3 with Bayern Munich’s Corentin Tolisso, who is far more disciplined and a crisp passer with a good eye for goal. He scored 14 for Lyon last season, including long-range strikes, and has found the net several times for Bayern. Tuesday’s match against Russia could prove important for Pogba’s chances of starting France’s World Cup opener against Australia.

Pogba, Lloris, Kante named to France squad for March friendlies

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A sextet of Premier League players will be donning the shirt of Les Bleus next week as France brings its squad together one last time before the 2018 World Cup.

Manchester United pair Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, Chelsea pair N'Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud, Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris were all named to Didier Deschamps 24-man squad for a pair of friendly matches this month. France hosts Colombia on March 23 in Saint-Denis before traveling to Saint Petersburg to face Russia on March 27.

Sevilla’s Wissam Ben Yedder and Atletico Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez earned their first senior France callups, but notably new Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte was left off the list.

Other notable absences are Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette, Man City’s Benjamin Mendy and Chelsea’s Tiémoué Bakayoko, each of whom are out injured. These friendlies are the last before the end of the season, when Deschamps will have to call in his preliminary squad, and players will fight it out for the final 23 places on the plane to Russia.