Mesut Ozil

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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.

Report: Arsenal working on Aubameyang extension

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According to a report by Matt Law of The Telegraph, Arsenal is “confident” of securing a new contract for in-form frontman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang that would tie him to the club long-term and monetarily incentivize the club’s craving for a Champions League return.

Aubameyang’s contract expires in the summer of 2021, and with two years remaining on his deal, the club wishes to lock him down for the future and avoid any messy transfer rumors brought on by a near-expiring contract. It’s quite frankly surprising that his name was not mentioned more this summer, as the two-year mark is typically when rumors begin to fly, especially for a player in such fine form.

The Gabon international for the Premier League Golden Boot last season with 22 goals and bagged eight more in 12 Europa League appearances as the Gunners progressed to the final. While Arsenal famously doesn’t often negotiate extensions with players over the 30-year-old mark – at least during Arsene Wenger‘s tenure – it’s clear that Aubameyang is a vitally important player to the squad, and any return to the Champions League hinges on his strike abilities.

The Telegraph report claims that Arsenal has reflected this in its offer to Aubameyang, reporting that while the striker only makes around $242,000 per week at the moment, far below Mesut Ozil‘s $425,000 per week deal, fulfilling a Champions League incentive in his proposed new deal could see Aubameyang reach the German’s wage total. This sees Aubameyang potentially realize a massive payday in his near future while also allowing Arsenal to maintain fiscal responsibility with the club missing out on Champions League paydays going on three consecutive seasons.

That jives with what Unai Emery said this past weekend, confirming that the club is working on extensions for both Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, saying those negotiations are “one issue now, that the club is working on.”

Arsenal brass has been vocal about its struggle with deploying a squad capable of reaching the Champions League while playing successive seasons in the lower tiered Europa League. Board member Josh Kroenke, son of owner Stan Kroenke, even said this summer, “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.”

Gunners’ new Head of Football Raul Sanllehi is reportedly the one leading negotiations, and one year into his tenure has done well to both make Arsenal a force in the transfer market and also be creative financially to keep the Gunners afloat while they search for a return to the promised land.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Burnley

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Arsenal host Burnley on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as both teams aim to stay perfect after wins to open up the new season.

The Gunners won 1-0 at Newcastle last week, while Burnley hammered Southampton at home, and Unai Emery’s men are red-hot favorites to make it two wins from two as their attacking stars start to find their groove.

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In team news Arsenal start David Luiz and Dani Ceballos, while Alexandre Lacazette returns from injury. Henrikh Mkhitaryan drops to the bench and club-record signing Nicolas Pepe is also named as a sub. Mesut Ozil misses our through illness.

Burnley start with the same team that beat Southampton 3-0 last weekend, as Jay Rodriguez and Aaron Lennon are handy attacking options to have on the bench.

LINEUPS

Ozil, Kolasinac available for Arsenal

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery will have two new starting options to consider this week, with the thankful return of Mesut Ozil and Saed Kolasinac.

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After a security scare last week kept Ozil and Kolasinac from traveling north to face Newcastle, Arsenal confirmed that the pair will be available for selection against Burnley this Saturday at the Emirates Stadium.

“Am I pleased that they’re back? Of course,” Emery told reporters at a press conference. “For us, for me, first they’re a person and second they’re a player. We’re continuing our way with all the players who are ready with us and consistent every day in training. They came back on Tuesday and it’s the circumstance I told you. Mesut was sick yesterday but today is getting better. When they are training regularly every day and consistent every day it’s good news for us because we can choose them to help us in matches – and the first match is Saturday.”

Ozil and Kolasinac were victims of an attempted carjacking in July, though Kolasinac bravely fought off the offenders after jumping out of the car. However, a new threat emerged last week that was concerning enough that Arsenal felt it was safer to keep the pair in London.

According to Emery though, aside from Ozil recovering from illness, the pair feel safe at the training ground and are mentally ready to play.

“We are 100 percent with them,” Emery said, referring to the club being confident they are ready to play. “The mentality is now on focusing on us, for training and matches.”

The return of Ozil and Kolasinac gives Emery more pieces to use heading into the match with Burnley. Against Newcastle, Emery went with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Nacho Monreal at left back and youngsters Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson starting in attacking midfield. Kolasinac could easily slot in at left back or even left wing back if Monreal stays in as a third defender, while Ozil can of course play anywhere along the front line.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Ozil after a rocky first year under Emery. Ozil went from being almost the first name on the teamsheet under Arsene Wenger to second-choice due to his lack of defensive prowess under Emery. Perhaps, with the German National Team in the rear-view mirror for Ozil, he has remodeled his game somewhat this preseason and is ready to contribute on both ends of the pitch.

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.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

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.