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Cazorla returns to field for first time in almost two years

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Arsenal fan favorite Santi Cazorla saw his time with the Gunners come to an unceremonious end this summer. He had struggled for almost three full seasons with an ankle injury that continued to baffle doctors.

At one time, it got so bad that doctors told him he was lucky to walk again. Now, Cazorla is doing much more than walking.

The 33-year-old Spaniard, who is training with his old club Villarreal this summer after the expiry of his Arsenal contract, returned to the field for the first time in 636 days when he entered in the 67th minute of Villarreal’s friendly against Segunda B side Hercules.

Beaming with a massive smile, Cazorla received a hearty reception from the home Villarreal fans at the Mini Estadi on his enterance to the match. The match eventually ended in a 1-1 draw.

Cazorla posted on Twitter a week ago to say how happy he was to “feel like a footballer again” while training with Villarreal and said while there’s “much more work ahead” he has “more enthusiasm than ever.”

The Spaniard made 180 appearances for Arsenal across all competitions during his six-year stint in the Premier League, providing fluid creativity at the front of the Gunners’ attack, but the last three seasons were a nightmare. First a knee injury kept him out nearly the entire second half of the 2015/16 season, and then he ruptured his Achilles in October of 2016. It was not a standard recovery, eventually requiring a total of eight operations. A nasty infection required more surgery, forcing doctors to graft tendons from his left arm into his foot.

Gunners fans may not see him at The Emirates again, but they will be happy to know Cazorla has crossed a major hurdle in his attempt to return to the field competitively.

How can Chelsea, Arsenal challenge for the title?

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There are just 24 days until the 2018/19 Premier League season kicks off.

So, now seems like a good time to continue to focus on what the big boys need to do in order to challenge for the title and the top four.

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We’ve already focused on the top two from last season and what each of Manchester City and Manchester United need to do to get better, and Tottenham and Liverpool’s quest to remain among the top four.

But what about London giants Chelsea and Arsenal? They both finished outside the top four last season and they both have new managers heading into the new campaign.

Will Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery adapt quickly to life in England? Or will the London rivals struggle to rebuild and reach the top four as they’ll both play in the UEFA Europa League?

Below we analyze the situation for both Chelsea and Arsenal and their biggest needs for the season ahead.


Chelsea


Arsenal

Emery insists Ramsey a key piece, wants contract situation resolved

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While he’s nowhere near the high-profile superstar that Alexis Sanchez was for Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey presently finds himself in the exact same position in which his former Chilean teammate sat this time last year: fewer than 12 months remaining on his contract, and unsure where he would be playing in a year’s time.

[ MORE: Southgate “the backbone of this team; the man’s a gentleman” ]

It can be argued that Arsene Wenger and Co., completely botched Sanchez’s contract and eventual transfer saga — the Gunners got Henrikh Mkhitaryan when Sanchez left for Manchester United — and Wenger’s replacement, Unai Emery, is keen to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself on his watch — quotes from the Guardian:

“I am very happy with him. Every training is with the ambition I want, working with quality and the competitive spirit I want. I want to work with him. His future is a question for the player and club. I said to Ivan, Raul and Sven [Gazidis, SanllehĂ­ and Mislintat, the collective dealing with contracts and transfers] he’s an important player for me.”

[ MORE: Mahrez, Man City share no. 1 goal: win the Champions League ]

Emery has also offered up some insight into his conversation with another former Arsenal player, Jack Wilshere, while prompted the longtime Gunners midfielder to leave the club this summer and sign for West Ham United on a free transfer.

“It was a very good conversation very directly together. I explained to him my opinion and how I wanted to create the team and could not be sure to say to him he is going to play into the XI. He explained to me the decision is not easy for him but he wanted to chose the best option for him. I know this player is important for the supporters and grew up here in Arsenal, but I don’t give him one position in the starting XI and for that he chose to leave. I also respect this.”

What will Guendouzi bring to Arsenal?

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Arsenal continue to add new talent over the offseason as Unai Emery’s fifth signing as the new Gunners boss was confirmed on Wednesday.

Matteo Guendouzi is on board.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The 19-year-old French midfielder is highly-regarded in his homeland after breaking through at FC Lorient in Ligue 2 following his time spent at Paris Saint-Germain’s academy.

Guendouzi joins Arsenal a day after promising Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira completed his $35 million move from Sampdoria, and he joins fellow new recruits Stephan Lichsteiner, Bernd Leno and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Speaking about his $10 million arrival at Arsenal, the French U-20 international has high hopes for his future after revealing Arsenal is “the side I’ve wanted to join since I was a child” and is the team that is “closest to his heart.”

“My hope is to become a top player here at Arsenal. A lot of great players have played here. I want to become part of the club’s history and to achieve great things here. I want to win titles, titles, titles,” Guendouzi said. “I want to establish myself here, which would be amazing. Winning silverware, as I said, is very important to me and winning things here at Arsenal would be incredible.”

What can we expect from Guendouzi? Well, first up, his hair game is incredibly strong. I mean, that is a seriously impressively hairdo. Carlos Valderrama, eat your heart out.

But on the pitch he will bring tough-tackling and an impressive range of passing from a holding midfield role. Think, a slightly less flamboyant David Luiz and that is what to expect from Guendouzi.

Emery believes he will challenge for minutes in the first team straight away and given the departure of Jack Wilshere plus the likes of Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka having to prove themselves all over again, having a young, tenacious holding midfielder is something Arsenal have been crying out for.

“We are delighted Matteo is joining us. He is a talented young player and a lot of clubs were interested in him,” Emery said. “He has big potential and gained good first-team experience last season with Lorient. He wants to learn and improve and will be an important part of our first-team squad.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Mahrez to Man City nearly complete, Arsenal adds Torreira, and more

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Riyad Mahrez is finally getting his big money move.

According to multiple reports in England, Mahrez is closer than ever to completing a long-reported $80 million transfer move to Manchester City, where he’ll join the Premier League champion as it looks to repeat in the league and finally win the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

The Leicester City midfielder, who is reportedly expected to sign a contract worth $13.8 million per season, was left behind in England as Leicester City traveled to Mahrez’s native France for preseason training. The Telegraph reported the move could be completed by this weekend.

It’s a big move for both Mahrez and Leicester City, adding a proven Premier League attacking star that will add to the squad’s depth, while bringing in more funds for Leicester City to spend on improving its roster. Unfortunately for Leicester, it’s another blow in breaking up the 2016 Premier League championship side, which has since lost both N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater, though Jamie Vardy has remained.

Here’s some more transfer news from across the Premier League and Europe:

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