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Arsenal’s Leno makes bold claim

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Arsenal fans to Bernd Leno: We’ll have what you’re having.

The Arsenal goalkeeper made a bold claim on Monday at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground, stating that he and his teammates still held the belief that the Gunners could finish the season in the top four, earning a place in next year’s UEFA Champions League group stage. While mathematically possible, Arsenal’s margin of error is razor-thin, with just one win in its last 13 games and the club currently nine-points back of fourth-place Chelsea.

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If newly-appointed manager Mikel Arteta could get Arsenal into next year’s Champions League, he’d instantly be a Coach of the Year favorite and may even have a bronze statue of himself commissioned by the club. That’s how bad it has become at the Emirates, and for this year, a fourth-place finish may truly feel like a trophy.

“Of course, because there are still many games,” Leno told the London Evening Standard. “We play against all the top six. We have a lot of opportunities to win against them. We still believe. It is in our hands. We have to show [the right] mentality, we have to play good football and I think we will have opportunities.”

Speaking of Big Six opponents (and assuming we’re still including Manchester United in this discussion), Arsenal and Arteta get two of them in Chelsea and Man United before New Years Day comes and passes. Arsenal still has an away match at Chelsea, is away to Tottenham, away to Man City and home  against Leicester City, Liverpool and Sheffield United to come. Should Arsenal do it, they’ll have to make an impressive turnaround with a current unbalanced and unsettled squad.

Emery writes letter to fans, club after sacking

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Arsenal published a letter ostensibly written by Unai Emery on Friday, in which he thanked the club for his chance to manage in the Premier League and urged Arsenal fans to back the players.

It’s a rare moment of class and gratitude from an outgoing manager, who usually has nothing nice to say about the club that’s called time on his or her job earlier than expected. In this case, Emery succinctly summed up his last 18 months at Arsenal, from taking over with high expectations to the club’s recent struggles both in the Premier League and in the Europa League.

With a previous track record of success at Sevilla, and at least winning league titles at PSG, it was expected that Emery could help take Arsenal back into being one of England’s top teams, one challenging for the title. And yet, replacing Arsene Wenger proved more difficult that expected.

It has been an honor to be the Arsenal head coach.

To all the fans, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for helping me to understand and feel the greatness of Arsenal. To all of you who have supported us from every corner of the globe, all of you who have come to the Emirates, all of you who have waited in the rain and cold just to greet me after a game. I want to tell all of you that I have worked with passion, with commitment and with effort.

I would have liked nothing more than to have achieved better results for you.

I also want to send a message of gratitude to all Arsenal employees for the way they have treated me. The greatness of Arsenal is in every director, executive, employee, assistant and volunteer.

In particular, I want to highlight Ivan Gazidis, who welcomed me to the club, and Raul Sanllehi, Edu and Vinai Venkatesham for their respect, companionship and help. Until the very last minute I have been treated with honor and honesty. And of course, I send my sincere gratitude to the Kroenke family, for their trust.

It has been a year and a half full of emotions, of great moments and some other more bitter ones, but not a single day has gone by without me stopping to think about how lucky I have been to work for this club with these players and their professional and personal qualities.

They have always honored the shirt they wear. They deserve your support.

I had already experienced a lot in football, but I have enjoyed and learned a lot in England, in the Premier League, about respect for professionals and about the purity of football.

My best wishes always.

COYG

Xhaka to miss Arsenal clash with Leicester

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For the second-straight Premier League match, and fourth in all competitions, Arsenal will be without its now-ex captain, Granit Xhaka.

Still dealing with the fallout from Xhaka’s disconcerting exit from Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace and his follow-up half-apology, Arsenal manager Unai Emery revealed on Friday that Xhaka would miss Saturday’s top-6 clash with Arsenal traveling to face Leicester City.

[READ: Top PL Storylines for Week 12]

Xhaka had his club captaincy stripped away from him earlier this week, and while the British media loves to jump to conclusions, there’s certainly a possibility that Xhaka has actually played his last match as a Gunner, driven out by hateful messages from supporters in response to his rough run of form this year.

“I spoke with him,” Emery said of Xhaka. “I spoke with him on Tuesday about how he’s feeling now and how he is in his mind. He’s working well, he’s training well, but he said to me that he’s not feeling good enough at the moment to play. We are going to wait.”

Xhaka’s mental and emotional stability may be teetering, and it’s certainly best for him to take some time now to reevaluate his career and where he wants. to be.

In the meantime, while Xhaka’s situation plays out, it leaves Arsenal with just two first-choice central midfield players, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Joe Willock could potentially help out there as well, or even David Luiz in an emergency situation. That position on the field should be important this weekend, with Youri Tielemans and Wilfrid Ndidi both having great seasons.

Pepe: I hope to play more with Auba, Lacazette

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Arsenal winger Nicolas Pepe may have had his breakout moment on Thursday after scoring two tremendous free kicks to lead Arsenal to victory.

The two Pepe strikes off the bench helped Arsenal to a 3-2 win over Vitoria SC of Portugal, overcoming a 2-1 deficit and a performance that seemed heading towards defeat at home. It’s been a struggle for Pepe early on in London, as he admitted in an interview with the Telegraph, but things could be turning around as Pepe adjusts to life in the Premier League.

It certainly helped Arsenal and Pepe that Alexandre Lacazette returned from an siz-week ankle injury and played 75 minutes on Thursday, and with Pepe getting regular Premier League minutes with teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, it’s only a matter of time before we see a Pepe-Laca-Auba trio up front, which could be a top-3 Premier League attack on paper.

“We have played very little together but we get on well, we are all French [speaking], Pepe said of Aubameyang and Lacazette. For us, it is to understand each other. I hope we will play more together.

“As soon as I arrived they [Lacazette and Aubameyang] helped me. I talked a lot to them. Matteo [Guendouzi] too. I also manage to talk to the other players because it is important to learn the language to communicate with everyone.

Later in the interview, Pepe added what could be the most important aspect of his adjustment: the trust and blessing of his manager, Unai Emery. The Spaniard has come under a lot of scrutiny this season with Arsenal struggling at both ends of the pitch, but Emery has never wavered in his faith of Pepe. In 12 matches for Arsenal so far, Pepe has three goals and three assists in all competitions, including the two against Vitoria. The speedy French-born, Ivory Coast International looks to finally be finding the confidence and form that made him one of the top goal scorers in Ligue 1 last season, and what helped him become a high profile transfer to Arsenal in the first place.

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger used to comment that it takes at least six months for a player to settle into the Premier League, so fans will have to stay patient as Pepe continues to adapt. However, with the breakneck speed of the Premier League, Pepe could be able to take his game to new heights.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.