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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.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game ] 

We‚Äôve 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

Thierry Henry leaves TV job to focus on managerial career

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Thierry Henry has walked away from his lucrative television punditry job in the UK in order to focus all of his time and energy on his “long-term ambition to become a football manager.”

[ MORE:¬†Transfer rumor roundup: Bale’s future in Madrid; Chelsea’s makeover ]

Henry spent the last four years in punditry after retiring as a player in 2014. He most recently took time away from the television studio to work his other professional gig: assistant manager for Belgium at the 2018 World Cup.

“Over the last 4 years I have had some extremely rewarding coaching experiences in football,” he said in a series of posts from his Twitter account. “These experiences have only made me more determined to fulfill my long term ambition to become a football manager.

“It is with sadness, therefore, that I have decided that I must leave [Sky Sports] to enable me to spend more time on the pitch and concentrate on my journey to achieving that goal.

“I would like to thank everyone at Sky for making me feel so welcome and at ease throughout my time with them, and I wish them all the best for the future. Great memories.”

[ VIDEO: What do Liverpool, Spurs need this summer? ]

Indeed, Henry, 40, has made no attempts to conceal the fact he would like to become a top-tier manager in the future, and he has remained quite dedicated to that objective in taking on the job of assistant to Robert Martinez beginning in 2016.

It’ll be fascinating to see who give Henry his first opportunity as a first-team manager. Will he go straight into the Premier League based on name recognition alone? Perhaps the Championship, where Frank Lampard leads Derby County? Or, will he take a path similar to that of his former teammate, Patrick Vieira, whose first managerial post was in MLS ‚ÄĒ where Henry played four and a half seasons for New York Red Bulls ‚ÄĒ before making the jump to Europe, landing at Ligue 1 side Nice?

The likeliest scenario, however, is as follows: through one of his invaluable personal contacts in the game, Henry will land a job as a no. 2 at a European club and be constantly linked ‚ÄĒ similarly to Mikel Arteta at Manchester City ‚ÄĒ with a move elsewhere every time an intriguing job comes open.

Anderson arrives: Can Pellegrini unlock West Ham’s potential?

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West Ham United has sealed another impressive deal, adding $48 million winger Felipe Anderson from Lazio.

It’s a club record deal from the Irons, whose ambitions have been short-circuited in recent seasons by stop-start play under Slaven Bilic and David Moyes.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

Now Manuel Pellegrini is in charge, and has made a series of purchases including Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, Issa Diop, and Jack Wilshere amongst others.

Anderson was fantastic for Lazio last season, though he was part of a loaded attack with Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto, and Sergej Malinkovic-Savic.

Now the challenge is gelling quickly inside a short window. As we’ve seen in the past with markedly changed mid-table sides — see: Everton’s 2017-18 season — hitting the ground running is key.

Players have been convinced of West Ham’s ambition. Here’s the latest, Anderson,¬†from WHUFC.com:

‚ÄúWest Ham is a club with a lot of tradition, lots of great players have played here, like Bobby Moore, Carlos Tevez and Di Canio. They were great players and idols here, and I‚Äôm aiming big, who knows, maybe I could hit their heights and be a legend here too.‚ÄĚ

But turning that into on-field success and in-room culture has been a challenge. The move to London Stadium didn’t help, and managerial instability has been anything but a boon to the Irons. There have been plenty of self-inflicted wounds, too.

West Ham’s lineup could be frightening, even in the face of injuries to Andy Carroll (surprise!) and Winston Reid. But managing egos new and old is a challenge, which is why the Pellegrini hire could be a masterstroke.

Consider this possible XI from Pellegrini, who largely operated his Manchester City with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 with two holding/defensive/deep-lying center midfielders (There have been rumors West Ham could sell Cheikhou Kouyate).

There are a lot of options for Pellegrini’s front four. Anderson and Yarmolenko both prefer right wing, while Arnautovic likes the left but has proven adept as a center forward if Pellegrini becomes the latest manager to eschew the idea of Javier Hernandez up top. Manuel Lanzini‘s injury does seem to put Wilshere in the No. 10 role.

Fabianski

Fredericks — Diop — Balbuena — Masuaku

Obiang — Kouyate

Anderson — Wilshere — Yarmolenko

Arnautovic

So the ingredients are there, with Aaron Cresswell, Pablo Zabaleta, and Jordan Hugill joining Chicharito in keeping training competitive.

But Pellegrini will have to navigate a culture that saw a seedy finish to the season, with protests and ugly incidents amongst supporters and players on the field in London.

And he does seem the man for the job. But if he can’t do it… well, stay tuned.

World Cup Most Disappointing XI players

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With the final around the corner, we here at ProSoccerTalk already put together a list of our World Cup Team of the Tournament. With stars like Luka Modric, Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane, and K’Golo Kante headlining the list of players performing at the highest level on the biggest stage, the summer has no doubt proven as exciting as ever.

[ MORE: PST Writers pick their World Cup Best XI ]

However, there’s always another side of the coin. Many top teams disappointed heavily this summer, and with that comes poor individual performances from those expected to have a major impact. This summer has seen players who may have slipped from stardom to obscurity due to age or poor form. So who was the most disappointing? Some of us here put together a starting lineup of players who have underwhelmed compared to expectations.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Teams such as Germany, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina are heavily represented, as are other European nations like Denmark, Switzerland, and Poland who would have expected to perform better given their lofty FIFA rankings. Finally, the African nations will be disappointed to not reach the knockout phase, and make an appearance as a result.


Without further ado, here are some of our Disappointing Teams of the Tournament:

Kyle Bonn (4-3-3 formation)

GK: David De Gea (Spain)
DF: Alba (Spain), Nicolas Otamendi (Argentina), Gerard Pique (Spain), Lukasz Piszczek (Poland)
MF: Sami Khedira (Germany), Christian Eriksen (Denmark), Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
FW: Gabriel Jesus (Brazil), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Thomas Muller (Germany)

Matt Reed (3-4-3 formation)

GK: David de Gea
DF: Joshua Kimmich (Germany), Nicolas Otamendi, Gerard Pique
MF: Bernardo Silva (Portugal), Javier Mascherano, Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Mesut Ozil (Germany)
FW: Gabriel Jesus, Timo Werner (Germany), Robert Lewandowski

Daniel Karell (3-4-3 formation)

GK: David de Gea
DF: Gerard Pique, Nicolas Otamendi, Mats Hummels (Germany)
MF: Marco Reus (Germany), Javier Mascherano, Antoine Griezmann (France), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria)
FW: Neymar (Brazil), Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Nicholas Mendola (4-3-3 formation)

GK: David De Gea (Spain)
DF: Jerome Boateng (Germany), Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal), Sergio Ramos (Spain)
MF: Javier Mascherano (Argentina), Sergej Malinkovic-Savic (Serbia), Mohamed Elneny (Egypt), Bernardo Silva (Portugal)
FW: Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Timo Werner (Germany), Raheem Sterling (England)


The goalkeeper is a consensus pick in Manchester United’s David de Gea, who has won countless awards in the Premier League over the last few seasons with the Red Devils and has been linked for years with a move to Manchester United. His exploits in Russia this summer, however, were far from the standards he has set for himself in England.

In defense, there are also a pair of consensus picks in Argentina’s Nicolas Otamendi and Spain’s Gerard Pique. Otamendi was fabulous for Manchester City in their runaway title chase this past season, while Pique has been one of the best defenders in the world for years with Barcelona. Neither was up to their usual standards as both teams proved leaky at the back. Also appearing is Germany’s Mats Hummels and Joshua Kimmich, who both failed to meet expectations in a wildly disappointing group stage exit.

In the middle of the pitch, Javier Mascherano is a consensus pick, with the 31-year-old starting each and every game of the Argentina’s World Cup yet failing to cover the back line effectively at an advanced age. Jorge Sampaoli’s faith in him proved to be a big reason for Argentina’s early exit. Germany’s Sami Khedira suffered a similar fate, although at least Jogi Low had the sense to bench him quickly. Others appearing here include disappointing attackers Christian Eriksen, Mesut Ozil, and Alex Iwobi. Eriksen was consistently double-teamed with Denmark offering little else up front, and they were left unable to threaten opposing defenses with any regularity. Ozil has been criticized often over the years at Arsenal, and he failed to provide much for Germany in creativity. Iwobi is a youngster who had been pegged as a potential breakout star at the World Cup, but he failed to deliver and the African teams left much on the table. Even Antoine Griezmann, who some have labeled a potential Golden Ball candidate, makes an appearance as the Frenchman has often struggled with the final ball up front and he occasionally appears unable to operate on the same page as his teammates.

Finally, up front brings us consensus pick Robert Lewandowski, who yet again failed to come up clutch on the big stage. He has gone missing recently in big European games for Bayern Munich, and he was unable to engineer anything special at the head of the attack for 8th ranked team in the world. Brazil youngster Gabriel Jesus makes a pair of appearances, having disappointed mightily up front for Brazil playing the central striker role. There were louder and louder calls to start Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino in his place as the tournament went on, but those fell on deaf ears with manager Tite. Germany’s pair of Thomas Muller and Timo Werner represent other disappointments, with the hero of the 2014 World Cup final and the country’s young new talisman both putting forth forgettable performances. And finally, yes, Argentina superstar Lionel Messi makes the cut. While many claim his team weighed him down, there is no debating Messi’s tournament was one to forget. Altogether, the six strikers that appear here combined for just one goal in the entire tournament, from Messi.