Tomas Rosicky

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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Arsenal

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In the eyes of Arsenal’s fans the 13-time champions of England have had a rough stretch the past decade, failing to add to the three Premier League titles Arsene Wenger delivered in his first eight years in charge of the Gunners.

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One of the best supported teams in England, and worldwide, their glistening Emirates Stadium is a beacon of all that’s right about modern day soccer.

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Hampered with the cost of that stadium for so long, Arsenal were unable to give Wenger significant transfer funds and he had to sell key players over the past decade. That time has now passed with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and now Granit Xhaka arriving for big money but with more money spent comes bigger expectations and Arsenal’s fans are perhaps the most expectant fans in the land.

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Anything other than a title this season will be seen as a disappointment as their failure to overtake surprise champs Leicester City last season led to protests from fans against Wenger and the board even though they finished in second place and qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the 19th-straight season. In the offseason Arsenal’s chief executive Ivan Gazidis has reaffirmed the Gunners’ stance that they will not spend vasts sums of money to take on their PL rivals. That’s not what Arsenal’s fans will want to hear.

Why Arsenal will sweep all before them and win a first PL title since 2004: If Ozil runs the show and the likes of Olivier Giroud, Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all stay fit then the Gunners can have a real go. They’ll also need Petr Cech to have the season of his life in goal and Laurent Koscielny to dominate the defense with Per Mertesacker out injured. Too much to ask?

But they’ll probably just finish fourth by the skin of their teeth: Because, well, this is Arsenal, and this is the most likely outcome. Most likely we will see a misfiring Giroud, then Sanchez will do down injured and their defense will fall apart away from home. We’ve been here so many times before. Kudos to Wenger for delivering top four finishes for 20-straight seasons but in all honesty finishing in the top four this campaign would be a huge achievement. Revamped Man City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool will all push them hard.


Best possible XI

—– Cech —–

— Bellerin — Mertesacker — Koscielny — Monreal —

—- Wilshere — Xhaka —-

— Ozil — Ramsey — Sanchez —

—– Giroud —–


Transfers In: Granit Xhaka ($39.5 million, Borussia Monchengladbach), Rob Holding ($2.6 million, Bolton Wanderers), Takuma Asano (Undisclosed, Sanfreece Hiroshima)

Transfers Out: Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky (All released), Issac Hayden ($3.1 million, Newcastle United), Wellington Silva (Undisclosed, Fluminense)

Last season: The Gunners did their usual. They looked capable of winning the title up until February but then crumbled before recovering to finish second behind Leicester.

FBL-ENG-PR-ARSENAL-LIVERPOOL
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Star player: Mesut Ozil – He tore apart the PL at times with 19 assists last season and after a good rest this summer he’ll aim to do the same. Penny has finally dropped for the playmaker in England. If it clicks again with Sanchez and Ramsey, those three could be devastating.

Coaches’ Corner: Arsene Wenger is still around but the longest-serving manager in the Premier League could be facing one of his toughest seasons to date. Fan unrest towards the end of the 2015-16 campaign proved he’s on a short leash and with just one year left on his contract the 66-year-old will have to exceed expectations this season (never easy at Arsenal) to get a bumper new deal. Sure, he will probably decide when he will leave Arsenal which is what upsets fans most, but just look at what’s happened to Manchester United and Chelsea in recent years with the constant chopping and changing of bosses. Be careful what you wish for, Arsenal fans.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal reacts during the Emirates FA Cup sixth round match between Arsenal and Watford at Emirates Stadium on March 13, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

PST predicts: A top four finish for Arsenal and they will be in the hunt for the title. The experience of last season will hold them in good stead and if Xhaka hits the ground running they finally have a midfield enforcer who can protect their back four and allow their silky playmakers to pour forward. Getting in a world-class striker remains the difference between Arsenal finishing in the top four and being clear favorites to win the title.

EURO 2016, Copa America Today: USMNT stares down Messi, history; Groups B, C decided

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Tuesday is decision day on two continents, with the intensity level burning hot in the United States of America.

Jurgen Klinsmann and the United States men’s national team have the chance to become legends in their country by knocking off Lionel Messi and Argentina to reach the Copa America Centenario final.

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Over at EURO 2016, the first two magic numbers for third-place teams is set, and they are five and/or plus-1. That’s because the third place finishers in Groups A & B — Albania and Slovakia — are set, meaning a better finish than Slovakia earns a knockout round place for a third-place team.

Slovakia finished with four points and an even goal differential, meaning five points with do the trick, or four points and a positive GD.

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Five matches today. Five! What a day for our sport around the globe.


Essential reading: PST talked with USMNT legend Landon Donovan on the Copa America semifinal, his generation’s legacy and his broadcasting career. … Croatia’s been fined six figures for its fans’ throwing flares and causing in-stadium mayhem at EURO 2016.

ICYMI: Roy Keane is cool with Irish players doing whatever it takes to get to the knockout rounds. … Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey led Wales to the EURO’s Group B title, while England stuttered to a second-place finish.


EURO 2016, Game 29: Ukraine vs. Poland

When: Tuesday, Noon ET

Where: Stade Velodrome in Marseille

Live updates: NBCSports.com

Ukraine is out, but will relish the chance to play spoiler to Poland. That result would still need to meet Northern Irish success versus Germany to cost Poland the knockout rounds, but Poland will also be aiming for the group title. It needs to make up a goal of difference on Germany.


EURO 2016, Game 30: Northern Ireland vs. Germany

When: Tuesday, Noon ET

Where: Parc des Princes in Paris

Live updates: NBCSports.com

Little known Northern Ireland was favored to finish close to last in the entire tournament, but a defeat of Ukraine has it in the discussion to advance to the knockout rounds. What it will need is a point or better against powerful Germany, which hopes to kick on offensively through Thomas Muller.


EURO 2016, Game 31: Czech Republic vs. Turkey

SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE - JUNE 17: Tomas Rosicky of Czech Republic gives a supporter his shirt following the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D match between Czech Republic and Croatia at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on June 17, 2016 in Saint-Etienne, France. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

When: Tuesday, 3 p.m. ET

Where: Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens

Live updates: NBCSports.com

The Czechs need a win and a Croatia loss, preferably either being multi-goal, to finish in the top two. Turkey needs a win by as many goals as possible and help to be one of four third-place teams to go through.


EURO 2016, Game 32: Croatia vs. Spain

When: Tuesday, 3 p.m. ET

Where: Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux

Live updates: NBCSports.com

A draw would put both sides through, though Croatia would love to beat Spain to snare Group D. Remember, the path to the final is much easier by winning this particular group.


Copa America, Game 29: United States vs. Argentina

When: Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET

Where: NRG Stadium in Houston

Live updates: NBCSports.com

No, it’s on the stage of a World Cup, but the United States can engineer one of the top results in the history of the men’s national team with Lionel Messi and Argentina having sauntered into Texas. The Yanks will be without Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya and Bobby Wood, but it was always going to be a test. Landon Donovan thinks it’ll be tight. Do you?

Injuries strike critical players as Rosicky, Modric both potentially done at Euro 2016

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Both Croatia and the Czech Republic are staring down the gun barrel as the final round of fixtures in Group D play approaches, and both could be without arguably their best outfield players come Tuesday.

Croatia could be without Real Madrid lynchpin Luka Modric as they take on Spain needing just a draw to ensure a spot in the knockout stage, while the Czechs are in a much more dire position and will most certainly miss captain and spark plug Tomas Rosicky for however far their tournament takes them.

Modric tweaked his groin in the second half of Croatia’s 2-2 draw against the Czechs on Friday, a game which saw the Croats leading 2-0 until Modric was withdrawn, at which point they collapsed amid fan unrest in the stands. He is likely to miss the final group stage game against Spain, and would be questionable from that point on.

On the other side of things, the Czechs have already ruled Rosicky out for the rest of the tournament as he suffered a torn thigh muscle in that same match. Team doctor Petr Zeman told media that Rosicky will need three to six weeks to recover, ruling him out at least until mid-July and possibly affecting preseason. Rosicky does not have a club yet after his contract at Arsenal was not renewed.

These injuries could have a large effect on how things shake out in Group D. Spain leads with a perfect six points, and they will take on Croatia who sits in second on four points. Should Spain defeat a Modric-less Croatia, that would leave the Czechs with an opportunity to take second place with a win over point-less Turkey. It’s highly likely a third-placed team with four points would advance, so even if Croatia drops to third – or if the Czechs win but don’t get the help they need – that team would almost certainly move on. Turkey could also finish third should they beat the Czech Republic without its captain, but advancing with three points would be a more unlikely scenario.

Euro 2016 Dark Horses: What teams, players will surprise?

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We all know about France, Germany, Spain, and the other heavyweights at the Euros this season. But what about those less talked about?

Here are some teams and players you may want to know about when the time comes for them to shine:

TEAMS

Just off the top: Poland

Any team with Robert Lewandowski is dangerous, but Poland is so much more than that. A hair off the elite group of teams in Europe, this team is as top to bottom as it comes. For starters, the goalkeeping talent on the Polish squad might be the deepest in Europe alongside Germany. Wojciech Szczesny was the third-best goalkeeper in Serie A last season, just a tick behind superstars Gianluigi Buffon and Samir Handanovic according to Squawka. He might not even start, with Swansea’s Lukasz Fabianski and Bournemouth’s Artur Boruc nipping at his toes. Grzegorz Krychowiak’s growth at the holding midfield position has changed the team’s tactical philosophy entirely. Lukasz Piszczek is in top form, voted to the Bundesliga team of the season this campaign. This squad has it all, and should give Germany and others all kinds of trouble.

Christian Fuchs has 75 caps for Austria (Photo: Getty Images)
Christian Fuchs has 75 caps for Austria (Photo: Getty Images)
[ MORE: PST writers predict Euro 2016 ]

Under the radar: Austria

Portugal may seem like the Group F favorites, but that group is probably more up for grabs than most, and Austria has a serious chance to top it. Austria bombarded through European qualification, with just one draw on an otherwise unblemished record. Unfortunately, three losses in five friendlies since have dampened the mood, but don’t ever count Austria out. This team can defend with the best in Europe, with Leicester City rock Christian Fuchs on the left and Aleksandar Dragovic – already with 47 caps at age 25 – in the middle, plus the do-it-all David Alaba likely in front of the back four. Stoke City workhorse Marko Arnautovic is the creative force on the wing, while Zlatko Junuzovic does the dirty work in the middle, and Mark Janko finishes them off. Austria could do some serious damage if the squad plays to its potential.

[ EURO PREVIEWS: Group A | B | C | D | E | F ]

Out of nowhere: Albania

There’s nobody the casual fan has ever heard of on this squad, and with Albania in its first-ever major tournament, they’re largely being counted out of a Group A bunch with France, Switzerland, and Romania. If you think those three have an easy one on the cards, think again. A high-pressing bunch that relies on a host of top-flight experience at the back, Gianni De Biasi could surprise a few. Captain Lorik Cana – with 90 caps to his name – saw significant time at center-back for FC Nantes this season and has played for Marseille, Lazio, and PSG in the past. Alongside him will likely be Cologne defender Mergim Mavraj, and Ansi Agolli on the left, who will become the first Azerbaijani Premier League player to feature in the Euros. Albania’s high press, led by striker Sokol Çikalleshi, could put a few big names out of their element.

PLAYERS

The young gun: Renato Sanches

The 18-year-old has already beaten Cristiano Ronaldo at one thing, becoming the youngest Portuguese player to travel to a major tournament, and there’s surely more to come. A Marcus Rashford-esque type rise, Sanches just made his Benfica debut in November. Since then, he’s made a $40 million move to Bayern Munich and now he could see significant time in a European Championship. He’s so good, some officials have apparently questioned if he’s really only 18. With five caps to his name, all off the bench, the central midfielder could soon overtake Danilo or Joao Moutinho in the middle of the field for years to come.

[ MORE: Which PL stars are at EURO 2016?]

The midfield engine: Vladimír Darida

At 25 years old, the Czech midfielder runs and runs and runs, and then runs some more. Unfortunately, he plays alongside national legend Tomas Rosicky in the midfield, who seems to get all the credit. Darida is a workhorse, and at just 5′ 6″, he can often get lost in the shuffle. Nothing stands off Darida’s stat sheet, with an 82% pass completion rate and a poor tackling record at Hertha this season, but he created 35 chances and scored five goals in league play this season, and that was enough to generate rumors of a move to Real Madrid, which he brushed aside. The Czech Republic is in a very difficult group, and if Pavel Vrba’s squad is to advance past Croatia and Turkey, they will need Darida to play a starring role.

The experienced vet: Mehmet Topal

With 59 caps, it’s hard to buy into a “dark horse” label for the 30-year-old central defender. Yet, with Turkey another one in the Group D mix, they will need Topal and another grizzled vet in Hakan Kadir Balta to be playing their best at the back. Obviously Spain is the favorite of the bunch, but with an attacking-minded Turkish squad grouped with defensively sound

Kingsley Coman has just five caps for France, but was a key player for Bayern Munich this year (Photo by Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images)
Kingsley Coman was a key player for Bayern Munich this year (Photo: Getty Images)
Czech and Croatian sides, Topal will need to win the war of attrition that will be a staple of Group D. This is a contract year for Topal as well, with his Fenerbahce deal coming to an end this summer. There have been rumors of a move to Tottenham, but he’ll need to earn a dotted line to sign in France.

Getting over the hump: Kingsley Coman

France is all about the next generation now. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial have taken all the headlines, yet all 20-year-old Kingsley Coman has done is win. Still somewhat of a raw talent, Coman went on loan from Juventus to Bayern Munich (beat that loan move) and played a crucial role in their Champions League run, bagging two goals and six assists across eight Champions League games. Coman is an electric talent down the flanks and the perfect heir to Franck Ribery’s throne, but surrounded by flashier players at both club and country, he still hasn’t become a household name. Yet superstardom could be in his future if he feeds enough goal-starved mouths (see: Giroud, Olivier) during a European championship run in his home country.

Premier League roundup: Gunners overtake Spurs, Man City fourth

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Despite the title and relegation race having been run, the Premier League season still sent us off with plenty of entertainment and a bit of North London Derby drama on Sunday.

Arsenal rose above Spurs for the 21st straight season thanks to a pair of relegated sides: rampant Newcastle United and a listless Aston Villa.

Arsenal 4-0 Aston VillaRECAP

Olivier Giroud scored a hat trick and Arsenal added a late own goal as the Gunners rose above Spurs on the table for the 21st straight season. It was an emotional goodbye for longtime captain Mikel Arteta and stalwart veteran Tomas Rosicky.

Newcastle United 5-1 Tottenham Hotspur — RECAP

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Georginio Wijnaldum (L) of Newcastle United celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mate Moussa Sissoko (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur at St James' Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Spurs conceded the final three goals with Newcastle down to 10 men, and Mauricio Pochettino‘s charges eventually gave away second place in the Premier League.

Where was this Newcastle team in 2016? Rafa Benitez gave St. James Park a show in its last Premier League match for at least a year, with Georginio Wijnaldum scored two goals to go with one each for Rolando Aarons, Daryl Janmaat and Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was sent off for an abhorrent tackle on Kyle Walker.

Manchester United – Bournemouth — POSTPONED

A suspicious package caused Old Trafford to be evacuated and the match postponed. More details to come.

Swansea City 1-1 Manchester City — RECAP

Kelechi Iheanacho‘s eighth goal of the PL season was all Man City needed to clinch a Top Four spot (barring a ridiculous scoreline when United-Bournemouth is played). Andre Ayew’s free kick deflected off Fernando for Swans’ goal.

West Brom 1-1 Liverpool — RECAP

Salomon Rondon gave the Baggies an early lead, but Jordon Ibe nabbed an equalizer at the Hawthorns. Liverpool could’ve risen to 7th with a win, while the Baggies finish 14th.

Chelsea 1-1 Leicester City — RECAP

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Danny Drinkwater of Leicester City is closed down by Bertrand Traore of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on May 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The hosts gave former manager Claudio Ranieri and his Foxes a guard of honor, then went out and drew them. Cesc Fabregas converted a penalty for the Blues, while Danny Drinkwater scored for the champions.

Everton 3-0 Norwich CityRECAP

USMNT and Everton hero Tim Howard kept a clean sheet in his final match at Goodison Park, which saw the Toffees trounce relegated Norwich City in their first game without manager Roberto Martinez. Kevin Mirallas, Leighton Baines and James McCarthy netted for Everton.

Southampton 4-1 Crystal Palace — RECAP

Saints got goals from Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle,Ryan Bertrand and Steven Davis to qualify for the UEFA Europa League after winning five of their last six games to finish the season. Jason Puncheon scored for Palace, who finished miserably after a hot start but still have an FA Cup final. Is Alan Pardew‘s job in jeopardy if they lose?

Stoke City 2-1 West Ham United — RECAP

The Hammers were more dangerous all day, but Stoke took its chances well as Mame Biram Diouf and Giannelli Imbula scored second half goals to lift the Potters to a come-from-behind win. Michail Antonio scored for the visitors.

Watford 2-2 Sunderland — RECAP

Jack Rodwell and Jeremain Lens twice gave Sunderland the lead, with Sebastian Prodl and Troy Deeney equalized in Quique Sanchez Flores’ final game in charge of Watford. The Black Cats sealed promotion at midweek by thumping Sunderland.