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Stoke, Arsenal, Chelsea & Liverpool: Top Five most exciting signings in Premier League so far?

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In the aftermath of an international tournament it is not abnormal for Premier League clubs to adopt a more adventurous approach to recruitment. This becomes apparent for anyone who takes the time to browse daily gossip columns or follow transfer related accounts on Twitter – so far, this window has been pretty crazy.

Indeed with just less than a month remaining before the closing of the annual summer transfer window already a host of high profile names have officially put pen to paper with new clubs, with many more rumoured deals likely to materialise in the coming weeks as the pressure mounts to form the most competitive squads possible.

Below I take a look at the done deals deserving of the utmost excitement.

Alexis Sanchez – FC Barcelona to Arsenal FC – £35 milion.

Sanchez 1

Do not underestimate the symbolic importance of this deal.

‘Arsenal don’t sign big players’, ‘Wenger doesn’t like spending money’ – nowadays such criticism can be dispelled as myth no longer relevant to the current Arsenal regime. The acquisition of Sanchez not only stands alone as a tremendous piece of business but reinforces the notion that Ozil’s arrival this time last year was far from a flash in the pan. The club have spent big money and now, to the delight of Arsenal fans, has a taste for it.

Let us not underestimate the pitch-level importance of the deal, either. Alexis Sanchez is a freakishly-talented footballer. With the ability to operate anywhere across the front three more than competently, Alexis is comparable to the style of one-time Arsenal target Luis Suarez in his ability to create goals as well as deliver an impressive return himself.

Okay, 39 goals in 88 games for Barcelona isn’t exactly a ground-breaking ratio, but for a player denied a prolonged run of games in Spain due to niggling injuries, Alexis still managed to deliver on big occasions and produce some memorable moments in the process.

His performance in Brazil this summer paid testament to the calibre of player the Arsenal faithful can look forward to seeing in their colours this season. Despite the glamour of his playing style, he appeared to thrive in a side not afraid to get their hands dirty. He possesses the work-rate to match his on-the-ball ability, a trait that will go a long way to establishing him as a star in the Premier League.

 

Diego Costa – Atletico Madrid to Chelsea FC – £32 million.

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Perhaps some people’s prime candidate for flop of the season – Costa arrives in England with a sizable monkey on his back in the shape of his reputation, a reality that certainly didn’t help the likes of Shevchenko and Kezman in times gone by.

Indeed what partially makes this signing so exciting is the potential for a huge flop and subsequently egg on the face of the special one. The big Brazilian/Spaniard hardly set the World Cup alight and possesses a notoriously-short temper that could well be found out in the pressure situations.

With this in mind, there is a fine line between realism and pessimism and for all Costa’s potential problems he also possesses an incredible talent for playing football. His goals fired Atletico to their first domestic title in 18 years and it can’t be disputed that the big forward has the qualities to become a force to be reckoned with in England.

Big, pacey, powerful and domestically (at least) a big-game player, Costa is sure to generate a lot of excitement as he settles in to life in the English game.

 

Lazar Markovic – S.L. Benfica to Liverpool FC – £20 million.

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Out of the plethora of fresh faces at Anfield, perhaps the one arousing the most excitement is Serbian wonder-kid Lazar Markovic. Blessed with frightening pace and dribbling ability, the forward is sure to thrive in Rodger’s attacking style, while his ability to operate in a number of attacking positions makes incredibly versatile – a quality Rodgers openly looks for when recruiting players.

Markovic is far from the finished product and he has a lot of learning to do before he realises his full potential, however under Rodgers he is lucky enough to work with a manager renowned for optimising the talent of budding footballers i.e. Sterling, Henderson & Flanagan.

The more cautious of Liverpool fans may detect elements of past young flops such as Ryan Babel or Mark González in the signing of Markovic, however fans just as realistic will also respect the need for patience when nurturing a young prospect.

If Rodgers can replicate his influence on Sterling when working with Markovic Liverpool could well have a top class player on their hands.

 

Cesc Fabregas – FC Barcelona to Chelsea FC – £27 million. 

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The most underreported signing of the summer?

The timing of the transaction really did serve to reduce the volume of this deal. Taking place just days before the World Cup began, the news was somewhat overwhelmed by the giddy hype surrounding the world’s biggest sport tournament and England’s imminent glory, of course.

Make no mistake about it, Chelsea have signed one of the generation’s must gifted and decorated footballers for a very modest price.

There is much to be said for the political side of the deal, too.

Once upon a time Fabregas was Arsenal’s much-beloved baby boy – he could do no wrong and would always go down in club folklore despite his move to the Barcelona in 2011. This long-distance love affair was too good to be true, it seems…

‘I’ll never join another English club’ – Oh Cesc, what are you like?

Drama aside, Fabregas is a proven top-bracket Premier League player meaning there is no real risk involved in his acquisition. Providing Cesc doesn’t succumb to a Torres-esque transformation for the worse, he should be a sublime signing.

 

Bojan Krkic – FC Barcelona to Stoke FC – £3 million estimated fee.

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In 2007 Bojan dethroned Lionel Messi as the youngest player to ever feature for Barcelona in La Liga when sent on by Frank Rijkaard against Osasuna. From that point the young Spaniard was tipped to become a legend of Catalonia, however his career soon experienced a downward spiral of sorts.

Bojan joins Stoke having spent underwhelming seasons at Roma, AC Milan and Ajax; failing to make any real impact at any of the clubs. However having already netted a handful of goals for his new English club in pre-season, perhaps the time has come for the one-time Spanish prodigy to reignite his career?

Indeed Bojan may not have done the business on the pitch recently, but his origins and footballing-upbringing alone make him an absolutely huge coup for Stoke City. The deal is almost surreal in nature; the side once dubbed ‘the rugby team’ have recruited a graduate from arguably the most prestigious footballing academy on the planet.

The nature of the deal completely compliments the effect of Mark Hughes. In his first year in charge Hughes oversaw a revolution of sorts, successfully changing the playing style of the side and leading the team to their highest ever Premier League finish. Frankly, Hughes was unlucky to come up against so many impressive candidates for the manager of the year award; he didn’t do a bad job himself.

Ultimately, there is an element of ‘win win’ when it comes to this transfer. If Bojan manages to turn the clocks back and hit the ground running at Stoke, the deal becomes a complete and utter masterstroke for an embarrassingly-low price.  If Bojan’s struggles continue, Stoke have made no notable financial loss in the context of today’s market, and have still made a hugely impressive statement in just acquiring his signature.

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Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Emirates

Rob Meech

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Arsenal
Photo: Reuters

A barnstorming first-half performance against Crystal Palace saw Arsenal record their first victory of 2018. Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all scored in the opening 22 minutes to stun Crystal Palace. Arsenal could not add to their tally as the visitors stemmed the bleeding and replied with a late consolation through Luka Milivojevic.

This was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, whose ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League have taken a blow in recent weeks. Palace meanwhile, have been in impressive form since Roy Hodgson took charge, but this defeat has checked their progress. Here are three talking points from the Emirates…

Mesut Ozil steps up in Alexis Sanchez’s absence

With Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United rumoured to be nearing completion, this was a chance for Arsenal supporters to see how the team might shape up without him. Sanchez was excluded from the side that lost to Bournemouth last weekend, but his absence was hardly felt here.

That might have had something to do with the return of Mesut Ozil from injury. The Germany international was influential throughout, particularly in partnership with the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere. Ozil is sometimes accused of drifting in and out of games against top-quality opposition, but when he is given licence to express himself without defensive responsibility, there are few better players to watch in the Premier League.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, Ozil showed Gunners fans that there can be life after Sanchez. It should not be forgotten that Ozil is another Arsenal player in the final six months of his contract. Tying him down to a new deal must be a priority for the club.

A reality check for lacklustre Palace

After losing their first seven Premier League matches – without scoring a goal in the process – relegation seemed nailed on for Palace. The appointment of Hodgson was largely derided, but the former England boss has had a remarkable impact in a relatively short space of time at Selhurst Park.

Survival is by no means guaranteed, but such has been their upturn in form that it is hard to imagine the Eagles being sucked back into trouble. It says a lot about their progress that many thought an upset might have been on the cards. Palace, however, were left shell-shocked after Arsenal’s four-goal burst.

When the Gunners click, they can be irresistible. Palace fans need not be too alarmed, even if their defending was lax. In fact, they should be heartened that their players did not capitulate in the second period, with the game effectively over. Although Milivojevic’s goal was too, little too late, it was just reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Lacazette issues a timely reminder 

With a 3-0 advantage after just 13 minutes, Arsenal were in cruise control. But it was Lacazette’s goal, rounding off a superb team move to make it 4-0, that would have provided the biggest cheer. After hitting the ground running following his big-money transfer from Lyon last summer, the 26-year-old had endured a goal drought that stretched all the way back to December 2.

With questions being asked about his form, amid speculation that Arsenal are set to launch a raid for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a timely reminder that Lacazette has plenty to offer. His overall record of nine Premier League goals from 24 appearances is more than respectable for a newcomer to the English game.

Lacazette will hope that his goal against Palace can be the catalyst for another scoring run. Without Sanchez, the burden rests more heavily on the France international and if a move for Aubameyang does not materialise, he will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

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Why Everton are the perfect club for Theo Walcott to rebuild his career

Rob Meech

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Theo Walcott

It is hard to believe Theo Walcott is only 28 years old. He burst on to the scene aged 16 for Southampton in League One and was snapped up by Arsenal shortly afterwards. His inexplicable selection for England’s 2006 World Cup squad, without playing in a single Premier League game, transformed him into an overnight star.

Big things have been expected of Walcott ever since. It’s fair to say that, despite winning 47 caps for England and making 397 appearances for Arsenal, he has failed to live up to the hype. Now, after 12 years, Walcott is bidding farewell to the Emirates and hoping to revive his flagging career under Sam Allardyce at Everton, whom he has joined for £20 million after agreeing terms on a three-and-a-half-year deal.

Speculation that Walcott’s days at Arsenal were numbered had persisted for several years, but his desire to prove himself at the club kept him in north London even when admirers came calling. His 21 goals in all competitions in the 2012/13 campaign suggested he had cracked it, but that proved to be a false dawn.

In truth, Walcott’s decision to sign for Everton was probably a no-brainer. Now in the prime of his career, he simply has to be playing regularly. The reality of how far down the pecking order he had fallen at Arsenal struck this season, when he often failed to make Arsene Wenger’s match-day squad. His last appearance for the Gunners came as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth.

Everton’s interest in Walcott emerged only recently, but he was clearly one of Allardyce’s top targets. One look at the Toffees’ recent form underlines why. After an immediate upturn in fortunes after the former England boss’s appointment, Everton have embarked on a winless streak that stretches back to December 18.

Lack of pace is a pressing concern and this is an attribute that Walcott possesses in abundance. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson are intelligent footballers, but not the type that will blitz opposition defenders. Instead, they have relied on chipping balls over the top for the striker to chase. As such, Everton are one-dimensional and easy to play against, with no player capable of launching a counter-attack.

Also highlighting their urgent need for more firepower is the grim statistic that only rock-bottom Swansea have had fewer shots than Everton this season. New big-money signing Cenk Tosun has increased competition in the striking department but may take time to settle, whereas Walcott’s Premier League pedigree means no transitional period will be needed.

The former Southampton man’s versatility makes him an attractive proposition. For Arsenal, he predominantly featured on the right wing – either in a four-man midfield or a three-man attack – but he is equally adept at playing up top on his own, a position where he tried but ultimately failed to establish himself at the Emirates.

Potential is a word that has long been associated with Walcott. It is no longer applicable. At 28, this is possibly his final chance to realise his ambitions, both domestically and internationally. Everton, a sleeping giant, are a perfect fit. Under the auspices of major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, plans are in the pipeline for a brand-spanking new stadium to enable them to compete alongside the Premier League’s elite.

After being a peripheral figure at Arsenal for so long, Walcott has become the forgotten man of English football. For the sake of his career, he simply had to leave north London. By joining Everton, Walcott, who will wear the number 11 shirt, has the security of working under a manager who rates him highly. Now, he has the opportunity to become the player he always promised to be.

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Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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