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Top Premier League storylines – Week 35

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It’s a short Premier League weekend with the FA Cup taking place, but all eyes will be on the Emirates Stadium after Friday’s stunning news.

Arsene Wenger begins his farewell tour at Arsenal this Sunday as the Gunners host a London derby against West Ham United.

[MORE: Arsene Wenger’s legacy

Arsenal aims to finish season on a high
Arsenal vs. West Ham —  8:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN

The decision to step down has taken attention away from Arsenal’s defeat last Sunday when Newcastle came back from a one-goal deficit to defeat the Gunners, 2-1. Perhaps with the manager on his way out, Arsenal’s players will be extra motivated to end the season on a high note. If Arsenal continue to slip up, it could be out of Europe entirely, as the club sits just two points above seventh place.

For West Ham, a win would all but ensure the club’s place in the Premier League next season, but the club currently sit just six points above the relegation zone, and with the team going through a rough past few months, every point gained at home or away counts.

Does a guard of honor await Manchester City?
Manchester City vs. Swansea City —  11:30 a.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN

By virtue of Manchester United’s defeat last Sunday, Manchester City became officially Premier League champions-elect.

The club will get to raise the trophy officially at the end of the season, but for now, it appears Swansea City will be the first club to show its respect to Man City’s dominance throughout the season with a guard of honor. Man City is still chasing more Premier League records, but Swansea City, just four points above the drop zone, needs this win more.

Relegation scrap on tap
Watford vs. Crystal Palace —  10:00 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN

It’s a proverbial six-pointer as Watford, about as far north you can go in the London area, takes on Crystal Palace in south London in a key relegation battle.

Just three points separate the two sides, but a win for Watford would push the club up to 40 points while a win for Palace would put the Eagles even on points with the Hornets at 37 each. Interestingly, via the Premier League, “Watford are winless in their last six home meetings with Crystal Palace in all competitions (D3 L3), since a 2-0 victory in the Championship in February 2009.”

Stats behind Wenger’s time at Arsenal

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When you manage for nearly 22 years, you’re sure to accumulate numerous statistical milestones.

Arsene Wenger holds the record for most Premier League games managed (823), FA Cups won (7) and of course, his incredible run of 49 games without defeat with the 2003/2004 Arsenal invincibles team.

[MORE: ALL COVERAGE OF ARSENE WENGER’S DEPARTURE]

Our friends at Opta have put together some statistics together on Wenger’s achievements over his time at the club that spans three decades.

Arsene Wenger’s Career (as of April 20, 2018)

Titles

Premier League 🏆🏆🏆

FA Cup 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆

Community Shield 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆


Games Managed

Premier League – 823 games, 473 wins, 199 draws, 151 losses, 57.5% winning percentage

UEFA Champions League – 177 games, 83 wins, 41 draws, 53 losses

FA Cup – 109 games, 73 wins, 22 draws, 14 losses

League Cup – 73 games, 42 wins, 9 draws, 22 losses

UEFA Cup/Europa League – 23 games, 14 wins, 5 draws, 4 losses

UEFA Champions League qualifying – 14 games, 13 wins, 1 draw, 0 losses

Community Shield – 9 games, 6 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss

(more…)

Wenger plays down hype over Arsenal’s Europa League title chances

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Call it keeping his team grounded or suppressing expectations, but Arsene Wenger is refusing to consider Arsenal favorites heading into its UEFA Europa League quarterfinal matchup against CSKA Moscow.

As the last Premier League club left in the competition, Arsenal are currently the favorites in England to take the title, but Wenger didn’t want his players to get ahead of themselves.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

“We don’t live in dreamland, we are in a quarter-final and we have to be very realistic and go step by step and give everything to go through in the quarter-final,” Wenger said. “Then we’ll see.”
To say it’s been a tough season for Arsenal and its fans is an understatement.
The club are set to finish outside the top-four in the Premier League for the second consecutive season and the club has won just four Premier League games this calendar year (out of ten). Fans are staying away from the Emirates Stadium in droves to protest the current state of the club, which seems to be on the brink of crisis after every defeat.
Considering the context, perhaps this wasn’t the best time for Wenger to lower expectations on what has already been a disappointing season by Arsenal’s old standards. You can forgive fans for dreaming of silverware in Europe, something that has eluded Arsenal during its years in the European Cup and Europa League.
Arsenal faces CSKA Moscow on Thursday’s first leg at the Emirates Stadium, and we’ll see if Arsenal can get off to a great start like it did against AC Milan in the Round of 16.

Wilshere could have left Arsenal last August

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It’s hard to imagine an Arsenal team without Jack Wilshere on the books, but it nearly came to be during last summer’s transfer window.

Speaking openly in England’s training camp this week, Wilshere detailed how Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger approached him one day in August and told him the England international wasn’t in Wenger’s plans.

“It was an honest conversation,” Wilshere told The Guardian. “It had been boiling up for a while. Everybody knew I had a year left on my deal and had been out on loan, got injured and wasn’t really in his plans. He just said: ‘At the moment we are not going to be offering you a contract so, if you can get one somewhere else, you can go.’”

Wilshere said that he looked around but ultimately wanted to win his place back in the Arsenal first team, and he did so by November, after mainly playing in the Carabao Cup and UEFA Europa League through the first three months of the season.

This week, Wilshere earned a recall to the England National Team for the first time since the Three Lions’ disastrous defeat in Euro 2016 to Iceland and he’s played 31 appearances this season in all competitions, the most since the 2013-2014 season, showcasing a new-found fitness level.

That being said, Wilshere hasn’t found the form for Arsenal that earned him plaudits in the past from Xavi Hernandez. Wilshere looked off the pace in Arsenal defeats to Tottenham, Ostersunds and Manchester City in February, failing to make an impact in his central midfield role.

Wilshere has three months left on his contract, and while he said it wouldn’t be a distraction, the longer his future is unresolved, surely it will be in the back of his mind.

We had a sneak-peak in 2016-2017 with Wilshere playing on-loan at Bournemouth. Perhaps next season we’ll see Wilshere playing away from the Arsenal colors again. This time, on a permanent basis, unless Wenger changes his mind.

Wenger deflects criticism on his job as manager

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Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem too worried about his job prospects for the coming year, despite Arsenal losing its past two games, including a 3-0 drubbing to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final.

Speaking ahead of a second matchup with Man City, this time in the Premier League, Wenger said it’s his “last worry” to think about whether he’ll be in charge of Arsenal next season. Arsenal has lost six of its 12 matches in 2018 and sits 27 points behind Man City, and perhaps more importantly, 10 points behind Tottenham for the final UEFA Champions League place.

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“I’ve turned the whole world down to respect my contracts,” Wenger said. “My position is the last worry I have at the moment. My worry is to get the team focused and ready for tomorrow’s game.”

Wenger is facing new calls for him to be sacked from the Arsenal fans, and there were even reports after the horrid display at Wembley on Sunday that Arsenal would review this summer whether it would keep Wenger for the second year of the two-year contract he signed in May 2017.

We’ve already wrote that it’s time for Arsenal to hit the reset button, but Wenger isn’t hearing the criticism, saying he’s “amazed” he keeps getting asked questions about his contract situation.