Season Preview: Arsenal to return to top-4?

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Arsenal at a Glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 13 – last in 2003/2004 season.

FA Cups: 13 times, last in 2016/2017.

League Cups: 2

FA Community Shield: 15 (last in 2017).

Top Four Finishes: 20-in-a-row between 1997 and 2017.

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It’s a new era at Arsenal.

After 20 years at the club, Arsene Wenger stepped down at the end of last season, in which Arsenal failed to break into the top four for a second consecutive season, allowing for a fresh set of eyes to come in and manage the side. In comes veteran Spaniard Unai Emery, who perhaps couldn’t live up to expectations in France but certainly beat the odds over and over again with Sevilla and Valencia in Spain.

Emery’s attention to detail and defensive focus could pair well with Arsenal’s wonderful abundance of creative, playmaking midfielders. But based on Arsenal’s preseason performances, there’s still plenty of work to be done at both ends of the pitch.


Arsenal will finish top four because….the new signings gel and add strength in depth to what is an already very strong squad. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hits the ground running in his first full-season at the club with 20 or more goals, partnering at times with Alexandre Lacazette or trading spots with him between the heavy workload of matches. More importantly, the summer signings of Sokratis, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Stephan Lichtsteiner help shore up Arsenal’s leaky defense after a few months of struggles to start the season. Torreira, affectionately called “pac-man” for his ability to eat up attackers all over the field, morphs into the best defensive midfielder Arsenal has seen since the days of Patrick Vieira.

Arsenal will miss out on the UEFA Champions League because….defensive problems remain. While the team is beautiful in its attack, Emery is left pulling all the hairs out of his head wondering why Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis can’t figure out how to play together and defend as a unit. With Laurent Koscielny set to miss a large chunk of the season coming back from his torn Achilles injury, Arsenal miss his defensive leadership. In addition, both Lacazette and Aubameyang struggle to score in the big games, making Arsenal fans continue to suffer as the team fails to live up to expectations.

Best possible XI: List the team’s strongest lineup for this season when everyone is fit

———————Leno———————-

—-Bellerin—-Mustafi—Sokratis——Kolasinac

—————Torreira——-Xhaka——————

——-Mkhitaryan——Ramsey———-Ozil——

———————Aubameyang———————

Transfers In: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Matteo Guendouzi (Lorient, $9.1 million), Lucas Torreira (Sampdoria, $34.4 million), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen, $25 million), Sokratis (Borussia Dortmund, $23 million)

Transfers Out: Per Mertesacker (retired), Santi Cazorla (Villarreal, free), Jack Wilshere (West Ham, free), Jeff Reine-Adelaide (Angers, undisclosed)

Ranking their offseason: A-

Arsenal found itself outside the Champions League for the second straight season, and with a new manager entering, the club could have been in for a rough summer. Instead, it’s been very good so far by all accounts. Arsenal spent strategically and already, Guendouzi looks like a strong signing, having performed well as a holding midfielder in multiple preseason matches. Leno looks like the future goalkeeper the Gunners have been wanting with Torreira and Sokratis shore up a creaky defense. In addition, the Gunners were able to hold on to Aubameyang, Lacazette, and though his future is still up in the air, Aaron Ramsey so far. Through preseason, it’s clear that Arsenal needs to work more defensively, but in terms of the attacking side they’re looking good enough to start the season.


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Star player: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: The French-born Gabon International was a star both domestically and in Europe for Borussia Dortmund. If he can produce at his old level, Arsenal will be just fine.


Coaches’ Corner: Unai Emery: The 48-year-old manager comes from Paris Saint-Germain, where he gained valuable experience coaching some of the biggest names in world football. But the majority of his coaching success has come in Spain. With Valencia and Sevilla, Emery constantly beat expectations and helped his side play better than the sum of its parts. If he can pull that off for Arsenal, he will quickly win over fans. 

PST predicts: After a strong offseason, Arsenal look set to return to the club’s old glory as a regular top-four team. The spine of the squad was improved, which should give players like Mesut Ozil, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi the freedom to attack down the wings and through the heart of the opponent’s defense. The new manager should refresh the player’s attitudes and deliver a fitter, more defensively-sound squad, which will help in terms of getting back in the Champions League. Arsenal may still be a bit away from challenging for a league title, but they’re not that far off.

Arsenal beat PSG in Singapore

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Arsenal beat Paris Saint-Germain 5-1 in Singapore on Saturday, with Mesut Ozil opening the scoring, Alexandre Lacazette scoring twice then Rob Holding and Eddie Nketiah added a goal each as the Gunners finished their preseason in the Far East in style.

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Unai Emery will have been impressed with his team in their International Champions Cup encounter in front of over 50,000 fans, most of whom were supporting Arsenal, while Thomas Tuchel’s PSG were missing several stars after the World Cup but their youngsters showed flashes of promise throughout.

PSG played well early on but Arsenal took the lead as Ozil, captain for the day, finished calmly from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s cross.

Young midfielder Matteo Guendouzi impressed as Arsenal dominated possession but PSG had some half chances with USMNT teeenager Tim Weah going close twice.

Christopher Nkunku almost scored a beauty as he wriggled free of the Arsenal defense and clipped the crossbar with his effort. Gianluigi Buffon saved well from Aubameyang and the Arsenal striker also had a goal disallowed in an open game.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan should have doubled Arsenal’s lead but hit his shot straight at Buffon. The Gunners almost made it 2-0 before the break as Shkodran Mustafi headed off target.

In the second half substitute goalkeeper Enzo Martinez saved well from Nkunku’s long-range free kick. Then Weah won a penalty kick as his pace saw him glide past Sead Kolasinac who tripped the USMNT forward in the box. Nkunku sent Martinez the wrong way from the spot to make it 1-1.

Arsenal then made plenty of substitutes and they made an instant impact with Emile Smith-Rowe, on his 18th birthday, whipping in a lovely cross to the near post which Lacazette flicked home superbly. Four minutes later it was 3-1 as Lacaztte nodded home off the post to score his second in quick succession.

Weah then caused more problems on the break with his pace over the top but his effort was blocked and then Joseph Willock curled towards the far corner for Arsenal but PSG substitute Sebastien Cibois saved well.

Late on Cibois denied Reiss Nelson well and from the resulting corner Holding crashed home a long-range header into the top corner to make it 4-1, then Nketiah made it 5-1 with the last kick of the game with a fine finish across goal to wrap things up in style.

Next up for Arsenal: an ICC clash against London rivals Chelsea in Dublin on Aug. 1 as Emery continues to prepare for his first season in the English game.

Saturday friendly preview: Top Premier League teams all in ICC action

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Saturday serves up a jam-packed slate of friendlies as the Premier League opener is less than two short weeks away. Here’s a quick overview of what to watch for as the teams take the field in preparation for the start of the league season.

Arsenal vs Paris Saint-Germain

Unai Emery continues his run-up to his first official match in charge of Arsenal, and the regulars are seeing plenty of the field. In their last International Champions match, a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid precluded a hideous penalty shootout where three of four Gunners to take failed to find the back of the net. Still, the performance was promising as the Gunners held 61% possession and put six shots on target.

Now, Emery takes on his former club as they face off against Thomas Tuchel and PSG. There is a defensive setup to be earned, with Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, and Calum Chambers all battling along with new signing Sokratis for two central defensive spots. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will hope to see their names on the scoresheet as the preseason moves on, held off it in the ICC opener.

Manchester United vs. Liverpool

They say preseason performances mean nothing, but don’t tell that to Jose Mourinho. Manchester United’s preseason has been criticized heavily, with lackluster performances and sluggish buildup have fans worried for the upcoming campaign. One bright spot has been Alexis Sanchez who has looked far more comfortable in a Red Devils shirt than he did following his move last winter.

Another positive has been Ander Herrera, who is excelling in a Jose Mourinho setup. The midfielder has proven solid cover to the defensive back line while also providing dangerous distribution up front.

Meanwhile, Mo Salah did nothing to quiet the excitement for his second season in Liverpool red, scoring just over a minute after coming on as a second half substitute in Liverpool’s comeback ICC win over Manchester City. Virgil Van Dijk also looks every bit the record signing he was, and the Reds look primed for another exciting season. This could be a fun one at the Big House.

Chelsea vs Inter

The Blues have begun their preseason tour of the globe, but they are devoid of significant talent with World Cup performers yet to join the squad. They met Perth Glory in Australia, now face Inter in France, and then head to Dublin to play Arsenal in a true trip around the globe.

Maurizio Sarri has plenty of work to do, but a positive has been new signing Jorginho, who came over from Napoli alongside his boss. Cesc Fabregas also looked sharp against Perth Glory, but Kurt Zouma is injured and remains in London.

Bayern Munich vs Manchester City

Man City makes its third and final appearance in the ICC after a pair of losses to Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. Like Chelsea, the City preseason squad is ravaged by World Cup participants, left with a youthful group of backups. New signing Riyad Mahrez was on hand to start and play 74 minutes in the loss to Liverpool, Leroy Sane came on in the second half to score a goal, and former Chicago Fire and NYCFC striker Jack Harrison showed well. Otherwise, there is little of note in the City squad besides a chance for Bernardo Silva, Patrick Roberts, and Phil Foden to get some minutes in a bid to impress and earn first-team minutes this season.

Barcelona vs Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs heads to the Rose Bowl to take on Barcelona in ICC action. The La Liga giants receive their first preseason action, and in the squad is new signing Malcom.

For Mauricio Pochettino, he has a somewhat strong squad in the United States, but they are devoid of just the English stars that reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and still giving fringe players plenty of chances to impress. Christian Eriksen is in tow despite his appearance in Russia this summer, and American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers is seeing significant time at the back. Midfielder Lucas Moura is hoping to give Pochettino something to think about, scoring a brace in the 4-1 win over Roma last time out and looking to compete with Eriksen and Dele Alli for midfield playing time. Serge Aurier is also receiving important minutes as he returns from a serious knee injury and hopes to compete with World Cup hero Kieran Trippier.

Leicester City vs. Udinese

The only Premier League team in action Saturday outside of the ICC, Leicester City meets Italian side Udinese in Austria’s Worthersee Stadion. The players are dealing with serious heat and humidity in central Europe, and they all have to play sidekicks to Austrian international Christian Fuchs who has drawn significant attention on their preseason tour. Still, the squad is strong, with World Cup participants such as Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfried Ndidi now with the team and participating in full training, set to see time in the match.

Key takeaways: Emery’s first Arsenal press conference

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Unai Emery was unveiled as the new head coach of Arsenal on Wednesday and the Spanish coach spoke to the media at the Emirates Stadium soon after the news was official.

[ MORE: Emery “first choice” ]

The former PSG, Sevilla and Valencia coach spoke in limited English and answered some questions in his native tongue as he explained his vision for the Gunners AW (after Wenger) while sat alongside Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis.

Below is a look at five key takeaways from Emery’s first presser as Arsenal officially have a new boss for the first time in almost 22 years.


Emery was Arsenal’s “first-choice” replacement for Wenger

Gazidis revealed that there was an eight-man shortlist for the job and all eight were interviewed and kept their hats into the ring until the end. Emery was also the unanimous “first choice” selection and was interviewed on May 10 before being recommended to the board on May 18, then flying to Atlanta, Georgia, on May 22 to meet with Stan and Josh Kroenke before meeting the media. The fact that Mikel Arteta had seemed such a strong contender until Monday was perhaps a smokescreen before Emery was selected. The Spaniard has an impressive resume and no coach in Europe has won more than his eight major trophies in the last five years, which included three successive Europa League titles at Sevilla. At the age of 48 he has worked at huge clubs with big expectations and has delivered at each, apart from PSG being chucked out of the Champions League last 16 to Barcelona and Real Madrid in the last two seasons.


The style of play will remain similar but “intensive pressing” will arrive

And this is maybe the main reason why Emery was first choice. Tactically Emery is quite different to the style Wenger created at Arsenal and there can be some clear, and healthy, progression while still sticking with the possession-based style.

Asked about Arsenal’s possession-based game and some of the counter-attacking tactics he has used during his career, Emery seems keen to not tweak too much with the way the team plays currently but he is further aligned to the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino with the way he sets his teams up.

“In my career I am very demanding of myself as well as the people at the club and the players. The history here is one thing, they love to play with possession of the ball,” Emery said. “I like this personality and when we don’t have the ball I want a squad to play with intensive pressure. Two important things are position of the ball and pressing when you haven’t got it.”

High-pressing with plenty of possession? Sign me up to watch that.


There will be funds to spend

In the media there’s been a figure of around $75 million being available for Emery to spend this summer on building a new squad. Although Gazidis wouldn’t confirm if that was true, he did state the following when it comes to money being spent on new players.

“We don’t discuss our finances publicly but we run ourselves on a very clear and transparent model. Anyone who wants to look at our accounts can do so. All of the money has always been available to our manager and that will carry on,” Gazidis said.

Okay, that was a little tetchy but it does mean there should be some significant funds available to spend if the past two years are anything to go by with Granit Xhaka, Shkodran Mustafi, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all arriving. Emery’s main area of concern will be in central midfield and in central defense, so, not much changes in terms of their main needs, recruitment wise.


Small changes to the squad are coming up

When asked if the likes of Jack Wilshere will stick around despite being out of contract on July 1, Emery was quite eager to focus on the bigger picture.

That said, the Spanish coach said that there will be changes but didn’t seem to think plenty of ins and outs were needed.

“We think we need change, little things, a little players but I don’t want to talk individually about the players. This is a big team and today I want to work and speak globally for the squad,” Emery said. “This is a big project and I am proud to be here and to work after Arsene Wenger. We want to work on this club together. I know my ambition and my passion and to know how I want to grow up with Arsenal. All the conversations I have had with the club shows we share the same vision for the club.”

Emery hailed Mesut Ozil as “one of the biggest talents at Arsenal” but you have to wonder if Ozil and others will align with Emery’s tactics as he enjoys setting up solid defensively and hitting opponents on the counter.


His English isn’t great, which may be a good thing

Props to Emery for having a go at speaking in English and taking questions but it is clear that it will take quite some time for the Spaniard to express himself fully in the English language. And that may actually work in his advantage. Remember Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, then Tottenham? The Argentine didn’t have a single press conference in English for his first 18 months in the Premier League and that allowed him to absorb the culture and feel his way into the PL. Emery is already way ahead of Pochettino in that respect and even if Arsenal’s fans are looking for instant answers in every single press conference, it’s unlikely Emery will deliver them simply because he has yet to master the English language. That could well lead to more patience from fans (these are Arsenal fans though) and Emery will be able to give simpler answers due to the fact that he won’t be able to understand what a lot of journalists are asking. Or at least that’s the way he can play it when tough questions come around early on…

Three things learned: City win League Cup

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LONDON — Manchester City breezed past Arsenal 3-0 in the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, as Pep Guardiola won the first piece of silverware in England.

A first half goal from Sergio Aguero put City ahead and then they stepped on the accelerator in the second half with goals from Vincent Kompany and David Silva doing the damage to clinch a fifth League Cup for Man City.

Here’s what we learned from a one-sided final as the runaway Premier League leaders showed their class and won their first trophy for two years, since they won the League Cup in 2016.


KOMPANY DOMINATES AUBAMEYANG

In four of Man City’s last five domestic cup finals at Wembley, Vincent Kompany has been instrumental in their success. Many believed Kompany would be the Achilles heel for City in this final as he came up against the languid and elusive figure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Kompany probably hasn’t let Aubameyang out of his back pocket just yet…

The Belgian skipper has now led City to success in three League Cup finals, while winning one FA Cup in 2011 and losing the final in 2013 to Wigan. Across those five finals who has played the full 90 minutes on each occasion and has led by example with City conceding just three goals across the five games and he was named Man of the Match in the penalty shootout victory over Liverpool in 2016.

Kompany, 31, put in a dominant defensive display on Sunday with one moment in the first half summing up his renewed fitness and showed a glimpse of his past dominance. Aubameyang raced clear on goal, taking a decent first touch to move into the penalty box but Kompany came across and cleanly gained possession as a roar of approval reined down from Man City’s supporters from behind the goal.

At the start of the second half Kompany smashed a shot towards goal which deflected just wide as he sunk to his knees and looked to the heavens. Later on he raced clear down the right wing after a free kick, dribbled past two defenders and then won a corner as he was serenaded by their fans. From that corner he tapped home Ilkay Gundogan‘s shot as he jumped in with the fans to celebrate in style.

So many stars have come and gone since Kompany signed for City in 2008 just ahead of Sheikh Mansour’s purchase of the club, but the sight of the Belgium skipper lifting a sixth trophy as City skipper will warm the hearts of City’s fans everywhere.


OLD GUARD DELIVERS FOR GUARDIOLA

Pep Guardiola’s 13th trophy as a manager will possibly be one of his easiest.

The Spaniard failed to deliver silverware in his first season in charge of Man City and following their shocking FA Cup exit earlier this week at third-tier Wigan, the naysayers were having a field day.

13 points clear atop the table with a game in hand, Guardiola will win at least two trophies this season and they’re favorites to win the UEFA Champions League.

Sergio Aguero loves playing against Arsenal as he scored his fifth goal in as many games against the North London club. The Argentine notched his 30th goal of the season with a delicious lob early on, making the most of a mistake from Shkodran Mustafi, before Kompany popped up with the second and Silva delivered a killer third.

With Guardiola spending big in the past two years since he arrived in Manchester, three of the old guard delivered the goals which gave him his first piece of silverware.

Kompany, Silva and Aguero may not be around for much longer but Guardiola has them to thank for creating a smooth, successful transition for his all-conquering regime.


ARSENAL FINALLY CRUMBLE AT WEMBLEY

Wembley has been a happy hunting ground for Arsenal in recent years, winning three FA Cups in the last four seasons.

That caught up with Arsene Wenger‘s men on Sunday.

In truth Arsenal were outclassed by Man City in the second half as they hung with them in the first 45 minutes but had no answer when City came out flying in the second half.

The Gunners were lackluster in attack as Aubameyang was marshaled expertly, plus Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were all sloppy in possession. Defensively they looked shaky as Mustafi made a huge mistake, plus David Ospina hardly inspired confidence.

Overall, it was a woeful display from the Gunners who face Man City on Thursday in the Premier League.

There are 27 points between City and Arsenal in the Premier League table and another heavy defeat in four days could increase the pressure on Wenger further.