Unai Emery

Emery impressed with versatile Ceballos as Arsenal stays perfect

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Despite the score line, Unai Emery can be fairly happy with Arsenal’s performance in a 2-1 defeat of Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

On midfielder Dani Ceballos, though, Emery will be very pleased.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-1 Burnley ]

The Real Madrid loanee was the easy Man of the Match, his silky skill on the ball and quality industry endearing himself to Arsenal faithful. From Football.London:

“It’s to use his quality in the best position in our team. I spoke with him before coming here, it’s to play as an eight and a No.10. He started like a 10 but changed with Willock. He can feel better on the pitch.”

Emery will be less than pleased with his defense, who allowed a goal to early season Golden Boot candidate Ashley Barnes.

“We won in our moments we did the difference for 2-1. A lot of moments we couldn’t impose our gameplan because they pushed and their gameplan was a struggle for us.”

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Wolves all open season

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There will be no shortage of headlines Sunday as Chelsea travel to Old Trafford to commence their era under Frank Lampard and American superstar Christian Pulisic. The mouth-watering bout will be only one of three matchups, however.

A new-look Arsenal – without Mezut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac – will start to write its own story, with Steve Bruce‘s Newcastle as the first chapter’s antagonist. Meanwhile, Leicester City will look to take advantage of a well-traveled Wolverhampton Wanderers, who have been busy qualifying for Europa League ahead of the Premier League’s start.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Arsenal v. Newcastle — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With a slew of new signings – including record signing Nicolas Pepe – and an instructional, yet painful year behind them, Unai Emery‘ second time around is expected to offer bigger and better things for Arsenal. A trip to St. James Park is first on the menu for the Gunners. Injuries and fitness setbacks in mind, Arsenal will look to hit the ground running with their undeniable high-power attack, while fielding a once familiar foe in the backline – David Luiz.

Newcastle, on the other hand, will start from zero under Steve Bruce. There isn’t a healthy amount of optimism behind the Magpies, but new seasons always call for a new set of hopes. At home, Newcastle biggest wish will be to smash paradigms from the get-go.

Wolves v. Leicester City — 9:00 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

Wolves are taking advantage of their head start: the Europa League. Thus far, in two rounds of qualification play, Wolves have outscored opponents 10-1, something that will surely benefit Nuno Espírito Santo’s side when they travel to King Power Stadium. Raul Jimenez, Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves all look in midseason form already, too. There’s no better scenario for the West Midlands’ side to prove their legitimacy than a season-opening victory against the Foxes.

But the same goes for Leicester, who will look to make a statement against one of the two sides that edged them to that same European position. The Foxes will certainly miss Harry McGuire, but Brendan Rogers’ men have enough pieces to make up for the lost quality.

Chelsea v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

There’s arguably no better way to wrap up the first weekend of a new campaign: Chelsea v. Manchester United at the Theatre of Dreams.

On Chelsea’s end, the storylines fit the expectations. Club legend Frank Lampard kickstarts his coaching era with the Blues, while American sensation Christian Pulisic makes his Premier League debut – following a $73 million move from Borussia Dortmund to London last January. No Eden Hazard this time around for this new-era Chelsea, who will look to challenge the likes of Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham for the league title in the months to come.

Having added the likes of Maguire – the most expensive defender in history – Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Daniel James, the Red Devils are hoping for a better season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who they finished sixth with last year. With Romelu Lukaku long gone in Italy at Inter Milan and no immediate replacement coming inline, all eyes are on 21-year-old Marcus Rashford. Will he and his teammates show up against Chelsea? Or will Lampard – this time as a coach – walkaway from Old Trafford with a grin on his face?

The stage is set..

Emery admits Arsenal is working to sign Pepe, others this window

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery all but confirmed reports that Arsenal is in the process of reportedly smashing its transfer record to sign Nicolas Pepe.

Speaking after Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Lyon back home in London for the Emirates Cup, Emery said that Arsenal is currently working to improve the squad, and mentioned that Pepe is one of many players that the club has a possibility of signing this summer.

[READ: Is Arsenal gambling with big summer spending spree?]

“We are working, the club, and also thinking about how we can improve,” Emery said, via Arsenal’s website. “There are different players on the table with the possibility that we can achieve their signature. Pepe is a very good player and also we are thinking only of players who can really, really improve this squad and also give us some different conditions to improve. The same, we are working for the last few weeks and before starting the season in the first match in Newcastle, our aim is to get the best team with the best players in our squad.

Arsenal has made three signings to the first team this summer, but one, William Saliba, won’t be in the team until next season. The other two, Gabriel Martinelli and Dani Ceballos, while talented, don’t have the same name recognition and gravitas or potential as a player like Pepe. The Ivory Coast winger scored 22 goals to go with 11 assists in Ligue 1 last year, making him a Best XI candidate for the league over the course of the season.

On Friday, reports across England stated that Arsenal had a bid of around $100 million agreed to sign Pepe, and all Arsenal needed was for Pepe to agree personal terms with the club. Napoli had been another reported destination for Pepe this summer as Lille looks to cash in on their 24-year-old star.

In his press conference, Emery also was asked to address why it seems Arsenal is signing attacking players when there is a real need to upgrade in defense.

“We are deciding how we can improve,” Emery said. “At the beginning we were thinking to do one player to achieve the possibility to sign, but only if we can really, really improve this position. It’s one centerback, one midfielder and one winger and we are going to (try) to do that. We are thinking the same. I want a team that is better than last year, so the players can achieve a lot being with us this season. Also we have a very good team. Only the players that can improve and help the squad [will be brought in].”

Of course, with the signing of Saliba, Arsenal has acquired a centerback this summer. Yet, because Saliba is on loan with Saint-Etienne for the rest of this season, it doesn’t help the Gunners now as it looks to break back into the top four, an increasingly difficult challenge year over year. The return or Calum Chambers (loan) and Rob Holding (ACL tear) don’t exactly strike fear into opponents or confidence into Arsenal fans hearts.

But perhaps there’s a late trick up Emery’s sleeve, a transfer he’s been working on privately that can go through before the Premier League transfer window shuts on August 8.

 

Arsenal gambling big with summer spending spree

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Just two measly weeks ago, Arsenal board member Josh Korenke – son of owner Stan Kroenke – told the public, “It’s no secret that we have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now. That’s a fact. And one that we’re figuring out how to face internally at the moment.”

His words were in response to an open letter from Arsenal supporter groups that claimed the club’s “approach to both buying players and paying wages looks uncoordinated and appears to lack strategy.” Days later, despite media claims that the club is operating on a summer budget of just $50 million, the Gunners were reportedly smashing the club transfer record for Lille winger Nicolas Pepe. So what gives?

There’s no other conclusion: the club is betting on itself. The Pepe transfer tells the story, as the club has deferred much of the payments to installments over the course of the year, hoping to ease the immediate financial burden with the budget currently strapped.

The decision to spend future funds now is a dangerous risk, but could pay off should the club reach the Champions League. Kroenke explicitly said the team is currently operating on a Champions League wage budget, despite beginning a third consecutive season outside Europe’s top competition. It’s clear that three Europa League seasons in a row is beginning to have an effect on the operating costs at the Emirates. Adding a club-record transfer fee plus wages competitive to lure Pepe to the Emirates seems counter to a logical resolution, but by betting on the team, the front office is pushing the team forward in an ambitious and positive direction.

Undoubtedly, there’s huge risk involved with such a push. Should the Gunners yet again miss out on the Champions League either by a top four finish in Premier League play or by winning the Europa League, there could be disastrous consequences. The Premier League television money is free-flowing, but going another year without Champions League prize money and media rights could be disastrous for the current financial structure.

One questionable decision is the choice to bolster the attack rather than patch up the defensive line, an area the club struggled mightily with at times last year. With captain Laurent Koscielny pushing to leave the club, it leaves Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, and Konstantinos Mavorpanos as the only healthy central defenders, with Rob Holding still recovering from his ACL tear suffered, although he is expected to return soon. On the flanks are Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, Ainsley Maintland-Niles, and Hector Bellerin, with Calum Chambers versatile enough to play anywhere along the back or in midfield.

Is that a Champions League defensive unit? It’s hard to see how it would be, yet Arsenal has decided to splash the cash up front and hope they can outscore teams enough to reach the promised land. Other than Pepe, the Gunners spent money on winger Gabriel Martinelli, an 18-year-old Brazilian, and young defender William Saliba who was sent back on loan to St. Etienne.

The Gunners have taken a calculated risk, one they believe to be beneficial to the long-term health of the club. Should it pay off, Arsenal could be set up for a long stay near the top of the Premier League with a young attacking core and some youth at the back as well. But if they miss, the financial detriment to the club could be even more devastating than what they are set to potentially gain, as Financial Fair Play could be a factor down the road if Champions League riches never arrive.

Arsenal sign French starlet William Saliba

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Despite a slow summer transfer window, Arsenal have landed a center-back for the future. 

The north London side announced the arrival of French starlet William Saliba, 18, from Ligue 1 outfit Saint-Etienne on a “long-term contract”. The highly-rated defender will have to wait for his Emirates Stadium debut, however, as he’ll spend the upcoming season on loan with his former club. 

“We’re delighted William is joining us,” manager Unai Emery told the club’s official website. “Many teams wanted him but he decided he wanted to come to us and be a part of our future. He will stay in France next season for more experience and then we look forward to him joining our group.” 

It’s believed the Gunners shelled out $33.6 million for the France youth international and beat Tottenham Hotspur to the signature. 

Saliba made a name for himself last season in League 1, featuring 16 times – 13 starts – for his boyhood club, specifically in the latter stages of the season. It’s expected that the upcoming campaign will call for Saliba to feature heavily for Les Verts and gain further experience before joining the Gunners during the summer of 2020. 

With a long-term vision in mind, Saliba’s arrival is hope for a more optimal center-back situation at Emirates Stadium, which Emery desperately failed to have last season. The Spanish boss fielded mainly compatriot Laurent Koscienly and Sokratis Papastathopolous as the central duo in the backline, with Shokdran Mustafi finding himself on the bench more often than not, 23-year-old Rob Holding injured and Calum Chambers on a season-long loan at Fulham.

Saliba becomes only the third signing of a sluggish summer for Arsenal, who have added midfielder Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid and 18-year-old winger Gabriel Martinelli from Brazilia side Ituano. Although, Arsenal can decide to spend more than the reported $60 million transfer kitty they have with about two weeks left in the transfer window. 

It is pretty typical of Arsenal to finally sign a new center back, but then send him straight out on loan…