How will the Signing of Willian Improve Arsenal?

Brazilian winger Willian’s free transfer to Arsenal is set to be announced imminently, with the 31 year-old having agreed a three year contract worth £100,000 per week to move to the Emirates.

He will leave Chelsea once their Champions League campaign is concluded, after talks over a new deal at Stamford Bridge broke down.

The club were unwilling to meet Willian’s demand of a three year extension, which would see him remain a Blues player until he was 35.

According to the Daily Mail, Frank Lampard personally pleaded with Chelsea’s hierarchy to offer Willian the deal that he wanted but they refused to budge, allowing the Gunners to swoop in, making Willian the offer he wanted, with the option of extending his stay in North London for a fourth term.

The Gunners have seemingly won the race to secure the signature of the Chelsea man ahead of the likes of Barcelona and Inter Miami who were also interested, with the transfer set to be completed in the coming days. It represents a huge coup for the supposedly cash strapped club, landing such an established Premier League player for free from their near rivals.

Willian’s importance to Chelsea in recent years shouldn’t be overlooked. He has spent seven trophy laden years at Stamford Bridge, winning two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, an EFL Cup and the Europa League, whilst also scoring 63 goals in 339 games.

He was named Chelsea’s Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year in the 2015-16 season, and scooped Players’ Player of the Year again in the 2017-18 campaign.

Willian is a dynamic winger who has terrorised Premier League defences for years with his quick dribbling, explosive turn of pace and his direct style of play.

Operating on the right wing, Willian loves to dash past his marker and get to the byline before putting in a cross. Although right footed, he can also often be seen cutting inside and having a shot at goal on his weaker left foot. He was also known as a set piece specialists during his time at Chelsea, especially from free kicks.

Willian’s performances this season have shown that despite turning 32 on Sunday, the winger’s productivity hasn’t yet declined, something which would be attractive to Arteta, given that he is abandoning Arsenal’s routine transfer policy of signing younger, unproven players.

He registered nine goals this term, equalling his best ever goalscoring season for Chelsea, whilst also providing seven assists. He ended the season with a flurry, with four of his strikes coming after the restart.

He will add some much needed experience to Mikel Arteta’s young squad and a winning mentality which will serve the Gunners well off the back of their FA Cup win and their ambition to break back into the Top Four.

He will also be the perfect mentor for the likes of Nicholas Pepe, Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka, players who would love to emulate half of Willian’s success at Chelsea at the Gunners.

Being able to train with Willian everyday, having the opportunity to study his movements and his decision making up close as well as being able to pick his brains about how he made it to the top will no doubt have a positive impact on all the players, but especially young players coming through.

His arrival will help to create healthy competition, with at least four wingers now vying for two positions, leading players to raise their game to ensure that they retain their place in the side.

He knows the Premier League and London really well, and so won’t need time to adapt to the intensity of the league.

Although often deployed as a winger, he can also operate as an attacking midfielder and this versatility is particularly attractive to Arteta, given that he is actively looking for attacking options as he plans to switch to a more direct 4-3-3 system next season.

With both Dani Ceballos set to return to Real Madrid and Ozil out in the cold, Willian is seen as the ideal man to play the number ten role and add some much needed creativity to Arsenal’s solid midfield of Granit Xhaka and Ainsley Maitland Niles or Lucas Torreria.

He has been much more inventive than any of Arsenal’s attacking players this term, creating more chances than Pepe, Saka and Ceballaos. Arteta sees him as the perfect man to provide quality service to Aubameyang and Lacazette, who often have to feed off scraps for the majority of the game.

Willian also has a tremendous injury record, which seems to be another factor as to why Arsenal have no qualms about offering him a longer deal.

He has missed just four games through injury during his spell at Chelsea, a remarkable stat given the number of explosive movements the Brazilian makes during a game as well as the intensity of the league and congested fixture list.

He played 47 times for Frank Lampard’s men last year and has never played fewer than 40 games for the club in a season since arriving in 2013.

Lampard himself, is a big fan of the Brazilian, stating recently when quizzed on his departure:

“The way he is playing at the moment shows his worth to the squad and I hope we can get something.

“Whichever way, he has been a great servant to the club and if we can get there, I’ll be happy. If not, I will certainly wish him well as I have a lot of time for him.”

The only concerns for Arsenal fans will be Willian’s end product and his age. Although he had his best goalscoring season in the Premier League this term, he hasn’t ever hit double figures, which for a winger at a top club is worrying.

Another worry is of course his age, as whilst Willian is performing well now, will he still be playing as well when he is 35 in his last season at the club?

We have already seen how offering a large salary to a player who then goes off the boil can detrimentally affect the club, with Arsenal the prime example, as they still have Mesut Ozil on their books, earning £350,000.

His wages make it virtually impossible to move him on, as no other club would be willing to match his demands given his peripheral involvement in the first team.

Arsenal will be hoping that Willian can deliver performances which merit them splashing out almost £20 million in wages over the three years his contract would run.

Overall, whilst there are worries about Willian’s age and expected return, his signing should be viewed in a positive light.

Arsenal are getting a player who has experience of playing at the highest level for a number of years, a versatile winger who performs in the big games, will bring a winning mentality to the squad and who is rarely injured, all for free.

If he can be a key cog in Arteta’s midfield and they manage to secure Champions League football next term his signing may go down as one of the Gunners’ best in recent times.

Have Fulham learnt from their disastrous £100m spending spree?

After the celebrations of the return of Fulham back to the Premiership at the first time of asking, it is time to take a step back and access their chances of surviving in the Premiership next season.

It is a well know fact in football that sides who get promoted through the play-off route in the Championship, normally struggle.

In recent times the likes of Aston Villa, Huddersfield, Hull City, Norwich City and QPR all finished in the bottom six places in the division.

Two points that may make it possible for Fulham to survive in next seasons campaign would be the Manager and the experience of being in the top flight of English football before.

In Scott Parker they have an astute man in charge of the Cottagers. In the play-off final against Brentford his master tactics came out on top. By spotting the gap at Brentford’s near post and Joe Bryan’s technical ability to find that gap was a pure master stroke from the former West Ham player.

Since Parker has been put in charge, he has turned around the club’s fortunes. Just two years ago on transfer deadline day in the summer of 2018, five players were signed as the clock ticked down to zero.

Fulham spent an astonishing £100 million on no less than twelve players, only to look considerably worse for signing these players.  In season 2018-19 Fulham sacked Slavisa Jokanovic and Claudio Ranieri but a second play-off victory in three seasons gives them a chance to heal some scars.

For the club to survive next season in the top flight of football they will have to learn by their mistakes of 2018. Pointless splashing out that amount of money to try and survive in the Premiership. In truth, it rarely works out.

Parker needs to keep the spine of this current side to have a chance of surviving. The key player to hold on to has to be Aleksandar Mitrovic. The goal machine will learn by his poor return when Fulham were last back in the top flight. If he does so and can get back to a return of around twenty goals in a season, then the London club have a good chance of staying up.

They also need to keep the likes of Tom Cairney, Aboubakar Kamara, Denis Odoi and Tim Ream. If they can hold on to this talented group, then they could realistically keep out of trouble.

Parker will know that the hard work starts now. It will be an interesting few weeks before next seasons campaign as to what he will do in the transfer market. Key to their chances of survival will also be who they bring in.

In terms of the other two promoted sides Leeds United and West Brom. For the Yorkshire club with the flamboyant Marcelo Bielsa managing at the main table this will b e a massive challenge for him. His toughest assignment to date and hardest task for the upcoming season will be to survive.

Under normal circumstances with Leeds outstanding fan base and home fans would be worth a lot of points for the club but the likelihood of having no full capacities for the foreseeable future, this could well go against the Whites.

West Brom under Slaven Bilic look like a side that could well survive next season. Having the advantage of previously being in the Premiership for eight seasons, the Baggies know exactly what is required not to face a relegation battle.

One thing is for sure, having three shrewd and intelligent managers in the form of Parker, Bielsa and Bilic managing in the biggest league in the world and pitting their wits against other more experienced managers is going to be a sight worth seeing.

 

England’s Jodie Taylor moves to French side Lyon

England’s Jodie Taylor has joined French side Lyon until the end of 2020, the club have announced.

The former Arsenal striker moves to France on a short-term deal from OL Reign in the United States.

The 34-year-old who has also had spells in Australia, Sweden, Canada and the USA will join fellow Lionesses Lucy Bronze, Nikita Parris and Alex Greenwood.

Lyon are currently in the Champions League and face Bayern Munich in a quarter-final in Bilbao on the 22nd August, where  Taylor will be eligible to play.

She told Lyon’s website:

“I can’t wait to play with my new team. I just finished my season with OL reign in the USA, but I kind of stay in the same family.

“I talked a lot with my English teammates like Lucy Bronze who has been at the club for a long time, and I couldn’t refuse the opportunity to play for one of the best teams in the world.”

Taylor has represented her country in the last two World Cups and was the top scorer at Euro 2017.

It has been quite a journey for the Birkenhead born player, who made her debut for Tranmere Rovers in 2002 at the age of 15. She scored in a 5-1 win over Wolves in the FA Women’s Cup fifth round and has never looked back since.

When Tranmere were relegated in 2004 Jodie accepted a four-year scholarship to Oregon State University. When she left Tranmere, she had an impressive record of 29 goals in 38 appearances, despite missing six months with a broken leg.

After playing for a host of sides in the States, she returned to England in 2011 and signed for Birmingham City but moved on to Lincoln Ladies on loan. Lincoln wanted to keep Taylor but she returned to her parent club Birmingham following a stint with Melbourne Victory.

Following spells with Sydney FC, Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns FC she joined Arsenal where she made twelve appearances for the North London Side.

Less than two years later Taylor left Arsenal to sign for Melbourne City on a short-term contract. OL Reign came in for her services in 2018 where she spent two years in America having made 22 appearances and scoring nine goals.

On the international front Taylor made her debut for England in August 2014 in the sides 4-0 friendly win over Sweden at Hartlepool. At the Euros in 2017 she won the highly acclaimed award of the Golden Boot with five goals in the tournament as England reached the semi-finals.

JT

Odsonne Edouard- Celtic’s ‘French Eddy’ Who is Ripping Up the SPL

Celtic kicked off their charge for a record breaking 10 Scottish Premiership titles in a row by dismantling Hamilton 5-1 at home.

French forward Odsonne Edouard picked up where he left off last season by netting a hat-trick, and picking up the man of the match award after another impressive display.

The 22 year old is subject to Premier League interest, with Arsenal the latest club to be linked to the striker, seeing him as an ideal replacement for Aubameyang should the Gabonese international choose to leave the Gunners this summer.

Celtic are still confident of hanging on to Edouard, with their hopes of becoming the first Scottish side to win 10 league titles in a row, largely hinging on the forward staying at Celtic Park.

This is because Edouard has become such a pivotal figure for Celtic since first arriving at the club on loan in 2017 from PSG.

A relatively unknown entity at the time, aged just 19, Edouard had risen through the ranks at PSG but had failed to break into the first team at the Parc de Princes.

This was through no fault of his own but rather the star studded line up at PSG blocking his path to the starting eleven.

He first showcased his evident talent on a big stage in 2015, when he was named player of the tournament and was top goalscorer with 8 goals as France won the U17 European Championships.

After a failed loan spell at Toulouse the season after, the Frenchman swapped Paris for Glasgow, agreeing a season long loan switch to Brendan Rodgers’ side with an option to buy at the end of it.

A goal on his debut against Hamilton would set the tone for Edouard’s time on Glasgow’s East End to date. He made 29 appearances that season, netting 11 goals and providing 4 assists, a decent return for his first full season in senior men’s football.

The highlight of his and many Celtic fans’ campaign was undoubtedly his winner at Ibrox in March at the Old Firm game, which was a glimpse of what was to come from the Frenchman.

Celtic had come from behind twice in the game before being reduced to 10 men in the second half. With 69 minutes on the clock Eduoard received the the ball on the left hand side. He darted into the area before dropping his shoulder and cutting inside, curling an effort into the far corner to send the travelling Celtic faithful into hysterics.

A month later he would bag a brace against the same opposition, to really endear himself to Hoops fans as Celtic romped to a double treble.

With countryman Moussa Dembele departing in the summer of 2018 to Lyon for a fee of £20 million, Celtic were able to break their transfer record to bring ‘French Eddy’ (as he is fondly known by Celtic fans) back to Celtic Park on a permanent deal.

The deal was reportedly worth £9 million, a sum which Celtic could quadruple now if they were willing to cash in on Edouard, given his performances over the past two seasons.

With Dembele moving on, the Frenchman was now Celtic’s main frontman, with Rodgers, and his successor Neil Lennon opting to play with just a sole striker in either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 formation.

Edouard carried that burden superbly well, registering 22 goals and 8 assists in all competitions as Celtic secured a monumental ‘treble treble.’

He seems like a manager’s dream for a striker. He is strong and his hold up play is great, he can regularly be seen holding off a defender before bringing others into play and continuing his run into the box to get on the end of the cross.

He has an explosive turn of pace, is good at dribbling and in one v one situations and has the eye for a killer pass.

His finishing is first class, he is comfortable on either foot and his goal compilations involve various types of finishes, whether that be long range screamers, curling efforts, tap ins or deft side foot placements into the far corner, Edouard has it all in his locker.

Although in some games he may fend off scraps and be uninvolved in build up play, he comes alive in and around the penalty area. If he is presented with just one opportunity, odds he will pounce.

He showed all these admirable attributes last campaign in what was his best season in green to date. Edouard found the back of the net 27 times and provided a further 19 assists in all competitions.

With the SPL taking the decision to curtail the league with 8 games remaining it is frightening to think how many more goals Edouard could have netted, especially considering his form since the turn of the year.

Lennon’s decision to switch to a 3-5-2 formation after the winter break as well as the up turn in form of full back Greg Taylor all benefitted Edouard tremendously.

Firstly, he struck up a great partnership with fellow frontman Leigh Griffiths. After leading the line on his own for much of the season, having another player around him helped Edouard to become more involved in the game and he linked up really well with Griffiths for a number of his own goals and others scored by the Hoops.

Manager Neil Lennon was full of praise for the duo in February telling Celtic TV:

“He (Edouard) is a mercurial talent. If you look at both his goals at the weekend they are very difficult and he makes them look easy.

“His movement off the ball, I think it helps sometimes having a body around him, him and Griff, particularly at Kilmarnock, the two of them linked up brilliantly. His all-round game is improving all the time.”

Secondly, the three at the back allowed Lennon to deploy the more attack minded full backs Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong further up the pitch, which worked to devastating effect for the champions, and in particular Edouard.

The Frenchman thrives off crosses into the box, and the two full backs are experts at delivering pinpoint balls into dangerous areas.

Given his considerable height he is good in the air but Edouard is also incredibly quick and intelligent. His movement is incredible. He often starts at the edge of the area and makes darting runs across the defenders before arriving on the scene just in time to latch onto the ball and score.

Celtic won nine of their next 10 games after the tactical tweak with Edouard getting on the scoresheet nine times and setting up four other goals, as Celtic landed an unprecedented quadruple treble and Edouard scooped the club’s

Celtic reverted to a back four for their opening game of the 20/21 season, with Edouard again the sole striker, but the outcome was the same, a roaring success as the Frenchman was too hot to handle for the Accies.

Celtic have slapped a £40 million price tag on Eduaord’s head to fend off interest, as they are hell bent on keeping the striker for at least another year, with boss Lennon telling reporters after the game at the weekend:

“We don’t want him to go anywhere!”

Given that the full extent of financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic on clubs have yet to been revealed, it is a hefty price to pay and a huge gamble to take for a Premier League club, especially one like Crystal Palace who are rumoured to be interested, given that that could amount to nearly all their transfer budget.

Edouard will feel indebted to Celtic for giving him his break in football, and he seems settled in Glasgow. He has a great relationship with the fans, who adore him, he is a well liked member of the squad and has embraced the ethos of the club very well, understanding the history and what it means to play for Celtic.

It is therefore difficult to see him leaving this summer with the allure of the opportunity to write his name into Celtic and Scottish folklore looming very large in the background. It will take a huge offer to prise Celtic’s jewel from their all conquering crown.

If a lucky club manages to do so they may have unearthed another gem from Scotland, and Edouard will hope to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Andy Robertson and Virgil Van Dijk before him, fellow exports who have made it to the pinnacle of world football.

Former Real Madrid and Spain keeper calls it a day

As the well-known saying says, all good things must come to an end. That time has come for former Real Madrid and Spain legend Iker Casillas.

The 39-year-old goalkeeper has decided to hang up his gloves for good and will always be remembered for being somebody loved by the Spanish people.

During a 16-year career at the Bernabeu, he made 725 appearances for Real, winning three Champions League titles and five La Liga crowns.

He also helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup and two successive European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

Casillas joined Portuguese side Porto in 2015 making 156 appearances for them, winning two Primeira Liga titles and one Portuguese Cup.

Casillas played for the Spanish national side for six years winning 167 international caps. Only former team mate Sergio Ramos has made more appearances for Spain.

The Spaniard hasn’t played since April 2019 after suffering a heart attack during training. Considering his age and recent health issues it probably comes as no surprise he came to this eventual decision.

He joined Real Madrid at the tender age of nine and the club said recently he was the best goalkeeper in their 118-year history.

The 39-year-old currently holds the record for most Champions League clean sheets and was also part of the Real side that won the Champions League three times in his distinguished career.

To prove what a footballing legend he is, in 2014 he became one of four players to represent Spain at four World Cups. He was also named as the second-best goalkeeper of the 21st century, behind who else but Gianluigi Buffon.

But he will always be remembered by football lovers around the world for his time at Real Madrid. He is without doubt one of the finest keepers ever to play the game and somebody whom strikers at last will be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief that they don’t have to face him anymore.

What was do you think was Iker Casillas greatest moment of his historic career?

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