Monthly Archives: June 2009

Viola Message To Arsenal: Melo Out

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Could Arsenal’s pursuit to sign Felipe Melo be over for this summer?

News reports this Tuesday indicate that the Brazilian midfielder has signed a contract extension with Italian side Fiorentina, which would keep him at the Serie A club until 2013.

According to a statement released from the Italian club, “Fiorentina announces that its sporting director Pantaleo Corvino met in Milan with Felipe Melo’s agent and an agreement was reached to extend the player’s contract until 2013 with a buy-out clause also included.”

The 25-year-old Melo joined Fiorentina last summer from Spanish side Almeria, and his performances in Italy with “La Viola” have attracted the attentions of the likes of Arsenal and Inter Milan.

One interesting thing to note is that a buy-out clause was included in the contract/announcement, meaning that Melo could still be available for a club willing to negotiate an additional fee to prize him away from Fiorentina.

That might mean that the speculation of a Melo move to Arsenal or Inter may continue (or be put off for a year or two), but as Gilberto Silver noted in his Gunnerblog this morning, “were the Brazilian truly interested in a move, why would he sign a new deal at all?”

Meanwhile, a number of young players have officially signed with Arsenal. Four youth team members have agreed professional terms with the club, including defenders Luke Ayling and Cedric Evina, goalkeeper James Shea and midfielder Craig Eastmond.

With the announcement on the club’s official web site that the four have put pen to paper on professional deals, Arsenal has also revealed that eight young Gunners are departing this summer.

The biggest names among the youth and reserve players released includes Amaury Bischoff and Rui Fonte. Bischoff joined Arsenal just last summer from Werder Bremen on a one-year contract, yet failed to make an impact at the Emirates and spent much of his time with the Reserves.

Fellow Portugal Under-21 international Rui Fonte was at Arsenal on a three-year development deal from Sporting Lisbon, but the Gunners have decided not to take up the option on the forward, who returns to his Portuguese club.

Defenders Abu Ogogo and Paul Rodgers (who yesterday signed with Dagenham & Redbridge and Northampton, respectively) are among the other youngsters released. They are joined by Renee Steer, Anton Blackwood (off to Tottenham on a free), James Dunne and winger Vincent van den Berg.

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Encouraging Words From Gilberto

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Former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva has weighed in on the rumors that the Gunners are bidding to bring Felipe Melo to the Emirates this summer, believing that his fellow Brazilian and Arsenal would make a “perfect match.”

“We heard rumours and he asked me (about the club),” Gilberto told BBC Sport. “I said it’s a fantastic club and if he’s interested he should go without thinking.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is interested in signing Melo from Italian club Fiorentina, to strengthen the holding midfielder position for the Gunners. It’s a role Gilberto himself admirably filled for several seasons with Arsenal, until leaving last summer for Greek side Panathinaikos.

Speaking to BBC Sport after Brazil defeated the United States 3-2 in the Confederations Cup final on Sunday, Gilberto stated that Melo “is exactly what they need — a powerful player with quality. If they got him it would be great because he is a player they need at the moment.

“I’m sure if they got him it would be a good signing,” added Gilberto. “I have told him Arsenal is a great club and I am sure next season they will improve.”

Believing that Melo would have no problems adapting to the Premier League, Gilberto remarked that, “He is a very good player. Felipe has shown in the national team that he has personality and quality.

“I am sure he has a lot more to grow as well. He is a young player, strong, powerful and has a good quality in his pass.”

The other main transfer-related issue surrounding Arsenal and Italian clubs this off-season concerns the status of Emmanuel Adebayor, who is a potential target of AC Milan.

According to numerous media reports, AC Milan vice president Adriano Galliani has revealed he has talked to Arsenal about the possibility of signing Adebayor. Milan’s supposed first-choice forward to bring in this summer is Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko, but it seems the Bundesliga club has remained firm that he is not for sale, leaving the Italian club to pursue other options.

“Adebayor and (Sevilla striker) Luis Fabiano are the alternatives,” stated Galliani in an article on ESPN’s soccernet.com. “For Adebayor there has been a telephone call, during which (Arsene) Wenger was friendly.”

That last statement doesn’t add much strength to any potential link of Adebayor heading to Milan, especially after a report last Friday quoted Galliani as saying that “we had a meeting with Wenger, but they didn’t offer him (Adebayor) to us.”

But with superstar Kaka gone and speculation that others might be leaving AC Milan, the Rossoneri will surely be looking to bring in a big name or two this summer.

And with Adebayor linked with a move to Milan for a year now, he may yet be the one Gunner sold off this off-season, despite Wenger’s recent comments aiming to keep all of Arsenal’s first-teamers at the Emirates for the upcoming season.

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No Departures This Summer?

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Amid all the recent speculation about Arsenal players leaving the Emirates to join other European clubs this summer, came stories in the press that manager Arsene Wenger is basically ruling out any departures by first-team members this off-season.

Quoted in The Telegraph on Tuesday, Wenger said he does not want to sell off any players and intends to complete all of his business in the transfer window before the Arsenal squad return for pre-season training on July 6.

“We lost Hleb and Flamini last summer and we have had to rebuild,” said Wenger. “But we have done that now and the future looks bright. We don’t want to have to rebuild again so I want to keep all the players together for next season. I don’t want to lose anyone.

“I want to add to the squad and I have identified one or two targets. But identifying players and buying them are two different things. Ideally I would like to bring everybody in before we start back in pre-season training in July. I don’t want to leave it until the end of August.”

Wenger also plans to vary his team’s formation in the coming season, according to an article by Darren Lewis in Tuesday’s Daily Mail. “Next season we will play the formation and system that most suits the players and the balance of the team,” said Wenger. “That means it’s not rigid. It can evolve throughout the season, depending on circumstances and personnel.

“If you play with Theo Walcott for example, you are more tempted to go for three midfielders because Theo is more of a forward than a midfielder in a 4-4-2.”

Calling on supporters to keep faith in his methods, Wenger added that, “We are at a stage where we need to convince people that this team does a lot of things right. It does not need to be transformed. When you go on a long unbeaten run in the Premier League and reach two semifinals, common sense should tell you that.”

Even with that, there have been remarks by fans and pundits alike calling for personnel changes. And the rumor mill has seen some of Arsenal’s stars being linked to other teams. Cesc Fabregas, Kolo Toure, Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor and even Nicklas Bendtner have been reported to possibly be on the move, but player rebuttals and reports of renewed contracts have come out since.

Just today, Fabregas reiterated his commitment to Arsenal after again being linked to clubs in Spain based on some of his comments after his national side lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup on Wednesday.

“For anyone who is unclear or may have misunderstood what my position is, let me make myself absolutely crystal clear,” read a statement from Cesc on the club’s official web site. “I am wholeheartedly committed to Arsenal and my future lies with this great club.”

Bendtner has played down any reported links to Roma that surfaced after he was spotted in Rome on holiday. And van Persie is close to renewing his contract with Arsenal. In fact, the Daily Mirror reported Wednesday that the Dutch forward has agreed to terms on a new deal to stay in North London, a fact not yet officially noted on the club’s site.

The article from the Daily Mirror’s John Cross also mentions that “Wenger is now closing in on Bordeaux forward Marouane Chamak, who is his No.1 target to replace Emmanuel Adebayor,” which is interesting to read as seeing how Adebayor has not even left the club — at least not yet.

There has, of course, been plenty of rumor and speculation that the Togo striker would be heading away from Arsenal. AC Milan have certainly expressed an interest for Togo international Adebayor in the past, but even officials at the Italian club admit such a move might not occur.

“We had a meeting with Wenger, but they didn’t offer him (Adebayor) to us,” said AC Milan club administrator Adriano Galliani, in an article seen on soccernet.com. “Had they done that, we would have entered talks.”

So, maybe supporters can believe the comments about no first-team departures from Wenger, who thinks his team will continue to grow and build on this past season. “We just missed that final step, but I believe the team are getting that now as it becomes more mature,” said the Frenchman. “The team has matured tactically a lot over the season, and they are ready to challenge on all fronts next season.”

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The Next Transfer Period Melo-Drama?

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With the official announcement last Friday that Arsenal have completed the transfer and signing of defender Thomas Vermaelen from Dutch club Ajax, focus among the club and its supporters turns to the next potential target to bring to the Emirates Stadium for the 2009-10 season.

Most “experts” believe that a defensive midfielder needs to be added to the Gunners squad for it to be considered a legitimate threat for the Premiership title next season, and rumors have made the rounds in the media as to just whom Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis may be after in that regard.

One of the potential names is Brazilian Felipe Melo, a midfielder I’ve had the chance to see in action (on TV) with his country’s Confederations Cup team in South Africa. He played in all three group games this past week — scoring with a header against the United States — as Brazil advanced to the semifinals where it will meet the host nation.

The 25-year-old robust midfielder plays for Fiorentina in Italy’s Serie A, and has been on Arsene Wenger’s radar for a while now. Reports from some media outlets have linked Melo with an eventual move to Arsenal since before the January transfer window last winter.

But, as usual, recent transfers completed by Arsenal have been anything but straightforward, with Andrey Arshavin’s move even extending a day past the January deadline after a month-long saga.

And it seems that the requisite pieces are in place for the potential Melo signing to become another drama-filled scenario this summer — with the player and his agent offering mixed signals in regard to the Gunners’ interest, his current club reporting that he’s under contract and not for sale, and other major European clubs indicating interest amidst rumored bids for the Brazilian.

Wenger may miss out on the midfield enforcer after reports in the Italian press indicate that Inter Milan had offered Fiorentina a large cash bid, and/or a cash-and-player deal, in an attempt to steal away Melo.

There’s even rumors of interest from Real Madrid. Melo did spend a few seasons in Spain, playing for Mallorca, Racing and Almeria between 2005 and 2008, before joining Fiorentina. So, those in the know at Madrid must be cognizant of his capabilities, though they seem intent on luring more higher-profile names to the Bernabeu at the moment

Some of the latest on this transfer possibility includes a recent article in The Daily Mail that Fiorentina are “keen on Philippe Senderos,” which could pave the way for Arsenal’s bid for Melo to be preferred. According to the report “Switzerland international Senderos has been on loan from Arsenal to AC Milan and admits he would welcome a return to Italy next season.”

And Monday evening, Talksport Radio included a segment on possible summer transfers with Italian pundit Gabriele Marcotti, who believes that a deal between Arsenal and Fiorentina for Melo is in the works.

Even if that’s the case, Arsenal would have to wait for Brazil to finish the Confederatios Cup before they can speak to Melo. Yet Marcotti believes that Melo’s agent has spoken to Arsenal and is happy with their proposal.

Far from a done deal then, expect this to be drawn out over the coming days and possible weeks and be affected by a number of things, including the financial clout of the other European giants interested in the Brazilian’s services and the potential impact of Senderos on the transfer proceedings.

In other words — and with a play on words — we’re sure to see another melo-dramatic saga play its way out this summer as Arsenal is among a number of clubs pursuing the talented Brazilian midfielder.

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Vermaelen Signs; Sagna Speaks

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Arsenal have made its first major transfer signing of the summer, as the club have officially announced that Belgian international defender Thomas Vermaelen has joined the Gunners from Dutch Eredivisie side Ajax.

“Thomas is a great signing for Arsenal Football Club, and we are all delighted that he is joining us,” said manager Arsene Wenger. “Thomas is a solid performer with good experience of Champions League and UEFA Cup football and is also a regular with the Belgium national team.”

Speaking on Vermaelen’s versatility, Wenger added that “Thomas is primarily a left-footed centre back, but he’s multi-functional and can also play at left back. He is strong technically with a positive winner’s attitude and I have no doubt his arrival will strengthen our team. Thomas Vermaelen will be a huge asset to Arsenal.”

Agreeing to a long-term contract with Arsenal for an undisclosed fee, the 23-year-old Vermaelen was club captain at the Ajax this past season, and made 143 appearances with the Amsterdam side.

Upon completing his move to the Gunners, Vermaelen told arsenal.com: “I’m just so happy to be joining Arsenal. This is a great club with a world class manager, high quality players and a fantastic stadium. Everything is set up for Arsenal to be very successful for years to come and I joined this club because I know Arsenal will be challenging for trophies.

“I have had a good taste of the Champions League during my time with Ajax and this is something I am looking forward to experiencing again with Arsenal,” continued the Belgian defender. “I’m also looking forward to playing in the English Premier League, which for me, is the best league in the world. Also, I just want to assure the Arsenal fans that I will give everything for this Club and I hope we can enjoy winning some trophies together next season.”

Speaking of Arsenal defenders and transfer talk, both Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna have been rumored to be among Real Madrid’s transfer targets this summers, yet each has made efforts to quash the links.

While Clichy spoke of his commitment to Arsenal earlier this week, Sagna responsed yesterday to stories in the French press linking him with a move to Spain, telling arsenal.com that “I have seen the quotes attributed to me in the French media today and I just want to put the record straight. These comments are not accurate and I’m not aware of any speculation linking me to another club. I am 100 percent committed to Arsenal.

“This is a great club and I’m proud to wear the shirt. I’m looking forward to returning for pre-season training in July and preparing for the challenges that next season will bring,” continued Sagna. “We have a great squad of players at the club and I know that we can achieve something together at Arsenal; my focus is nowhere else.”

In other news involving Arsenal players, both Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs were involved in England’s Under-21 win over Spain in its European Championship campaign in Sweden.

Gibbs played the entire match at left back, but Walcott was left out of the starting lineup by manager Stuart Pearce. He performed well when coming on the pitch in the second half, and a pacy run and cutback pass by the Arsenal winger set up England’s second goal (by James Milner). The win advances England to the semifinals of the U-21 tournament.

Pearce praised Walcott in the post-match press conference, commenting on the Theo’s attitude and influence after being dropped to the substitute’s bench for the match. The manager was also very impressed with the strong play of former Arsenal man Fabrice Muamba, calling his commanding display “absolutely unbelievable … I thought his performance was as good a performance in an England shirt in a holding midfield role as I’ve ever seen.”

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Premier League Fixtures Announced

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Arsenal will open the 2009-10 Premiership season by visiting Everton at Goodison Park on August 15th and conclude the league campaign by hosting Fulham on May 9th, as the initial list of Premiership fixtures has been announced by the league this Wednesday morning.

The first league match of the season at Emirates Stadium looks to be a visit by Portsmouth on August 22, as the Gunners’ earlier, midweek league encounter on the schedule will have to be moved due to Arsenal’s Champions League commitments at the time.

The Gunners’ North London derbies with rivals Tottenham will take place at Emirates Stadium on October 31 and at White Hart Lane on April 10.

The first of the matchups between England’s “Big Four” will take place before the end of August, when the Gunners visit Manchester United at Old Trafford on Agust 29th. The return fixture with Arsenal hosting the three-time champion Red Devils is set for January 30th.

That fixture will mark the start of a tough period in the league very early in 2010 for Arsenal, scheduled for successive matches against the other three teams from last season’s top four. In the space of 10 days, the Gunners will host Manchester United (on January 30th) then visit Chelsea (for a February 6 match) before returning to the Emirates to battle Liverpool (on February 9th).

This initial fixture list is a draft lift and is subject to change, according to the Premier League, and does not yet take into account games selected for television (expected to be announced before the end of June).

In fact (as noted above), one Arsenal match will already have to be rescheduled, as the August 18th home date with Bolton will have to be postponed, as the Gunners will be involved in the UEFA Champions League qualifying round that midweek.

The following is a list of Arsenal’s fixtures for the 2009-10 season, taken from the club’s official site at arsenal.com, and including dates for Champions League matches and domestic Cup competition encounters.

August
Sat Aug 15 at Everton
Aug 18/19 UEFA Champions League play-off round (first leg)
Sat Aug 22 vs. Portsmouth
Aug 25/26 UEFA Champions League Play-off round (second leg)
Sat Aug 29 at Manchester United

September
Sat Sep 12 at Manchester City
Sep 15/16 UEFA Champions League Matchday 1
Sat Sep 19 vs. Wigan Athletic
Wed Sep 23 Carling Cup 3rd round
Sat Sep 26 at Fulham
Sep 29/30 UEFA Champions League Matchday 2

October
Sat Oct 3 vs. Blackburn Rovers
Sat Oct 17 vs. Birmingham City
Oct 20/21 UEFA Champions League Matchday 3
Sat Oct 24 at West Ham United
Wed Oct 28 Carling Cup 4th round
Sat Oct 31 vs. Tottenham Hotspur

November
Nov 3/4 UEFA Champions League Matchday 4
Sat Nov 7 at Wolverhampton Wanderers
Sat Nov 21 at Sunderland
Nov 24/25 UEFA Champions League Matchday 5
Sat Nov 28 vs. Chelsea

December
Wed Dec 2 Carling Cup 5th round
Sat Dec 5 vs. Stoke City
Dec 8/9 UEFA Champions League Matchday 6
Sat Dec 12 at Liverpool
Tue Dec 15 at Burnley
Sat Dec 19 vs. Hull City
Sat Dec 26 vs. Aston Villa
Mon Dec 28 at Portsmouth

January
Sat Jan 2 F.A. Cup 3rd round
Wed Jan 6 Carling Cup Semi-Final (first leg)
Sat Jan 9 vs. Everton
Sat Jan 16 at Bolton Wanderers
Wed Jan 20 Carling Cup Semi-Final (second leg)
Sat Jan 23 F.A. Cup 4th round
Wed Jan 27 at Aston Villa
Sat Jan 30 vs. Manchester United

February
Sat Feb 6 at Chelsea
Tue Feb 9 vs. Liverpool
Sat Feb 13 F.A. Cup 5th round
Feb 16/17/23/24 UEFA Champions League Knockout Round (first leg)
Sat Feb 20 vs. Sunderland
Sat Feb 27 at Stoke City
Sun Feb 28 Carling Cup Final

March
Sat Mar 6 vs. Burnley (also F.A. Cup 6th round)
Mar 9/10/16/17 UEFA Champions League Knockout Round (2nd leg)
Sat Mar 13 at Hull City
Sat Mar 20 vs. West Ham United
Sat Mar 27 at Birmingham City
Mar 30/31 UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final (first leg)

April
Sat Apr 3 vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Apr 6/7 UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final (second leg)
Sat Apr 10 at Tottenham Hotspur (also F.A. Cup Semi-Final)
Sat Apr 17 at Wigan Athletic
Apr 20/21 UEFA Champions League Semi-Final (first leg)
Sat Apr 24 vs. Manchester City
Apr 27/28 UEFA Champions League Semi-Final (second leg)

May
Sat May 1 at Blackburn Rovers
Sun May 9 vs. Fulham
Sat May 15 F.A. Cup Final
Sat May 22 UEFA Champions League Final

To be Arranged:
Bolton Wanderers (home match from August 18)

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Will Clichy Join The ‘New Galacticos’?

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The news that Real Madrid splashed out about £140 million last week to secure the services of two star players — Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo — was featured in a major sports article in my hometown newspaper here in Connecticut, as the Spanish giants’ recent exploits in the transfer market seem a major story even here in a nation that normally pays little attention to European football.

The fact that such a huge amount of cash has resulted in Madrid breaking the transfer fee record amount twice in the same week — within such a shaky global economy and at a time when an entire, storied English club is offered for sale at less than that amount — is mindblowing for many a soccer/football fan.

A more amazing development seems to indicate that the outlay of cash and influx of big-name stars being lured to Madrid may apparently continue this summer. Newly re-elected club president Florentino Perez has vowed to create a “New Galacticos” era at the Bernabeu, to rival the squad there earlier this decade that featured such superstars as Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo and David Beckham.

That, of course, leads to the question: which big-name star among the top European leagues is next on the list to join Real Madrid? Could it be Valencia’s David Villa? Maybe Franck Ribery from Bayern Munich? Or perhaps another Premier League star will follow Ronaldo to Spain?

Most Arsenal supporters would certainly be concerned that its own Spanish captain Cesc Fabregas would be the big-name Gunner to be lured away from the Emirates for major cash — whether to Madrid or rival Barcelona, where he spent time as a youngster in their academy.

Yet it seems Perez and Madrid have their eyes on Gunners’ Gael Clichy as one of its targets this summer. Reports have emerged in the London Evening Standard, among other publications, that new Madrid manager Manuel Pelligrini considers the left fullback position as one to address this off-season, with the Gunners’ 23-year-old French international deemed a possible solution to Madrid’s defensive problems.

Since moving to Arsenal from Cannes in 2003, Clichy has established himself as one of the best left-backs in the Premier League and has made 177 first-team appearances for manager Arsene Wenger’s side.

Now considered one of the stalwarts in the Gunners’ first team, Clichy recently admitted that it is flattering to hear his name linked with Madrid, but also insisted that he is committed to Arsenal, having signed a long-term deal with the club just last year.

“I heard there is an interest from Real Madrid, but I have a contract with Arsenal which I intend to respect unless the club say otherwise,” Clichy told Sky Sports. “It is great to be linked with Real, but I want to win things with Arsenal.”

We’ve all heard these customary quotes from players being courted by big clubs before, yet Clichy’s rapid rise in status must have supporters wondering if the talented young Frenchman will remain at Arsenal long enough to see out his current contract there.

This writer’s take is that Madrid’s pursuit of Clichy could easily follow the path of its previous efforts to raid the talent of other clubs. As both Thierry Henry’s move from Arsenal to Barcelona and the more recent Ronaldo courtship saga have exhibited, such scenarios begin with rumored interest one summer leading to continued banter over the course of a season before a deal becomes finalized the next off-season.

If this is the case with Clichy, that would give both Armand Traore and Kieran Gibbs another season to develop to then be counted on to fill the left back slot for Arsene Wenger’s side in the 2010-11 season. One would think that most Arsenal supporters might be comfortable with such a situation in 12 or 14 months’ time, with the Gunners possibly receiving somewhere in the range of £15 to £20 million for Clichy while having two able replacements already in the squad to fill his slot.

With the maturing Traore and Gibbs backing up Clichy, left back is now arguably the most solid of the four defensive positions at Arsenal. And that’s saying something, considering that Wenger has the capable Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Eboue on hand for right fullback.

Therefore, Gooners could find it hard for their club to resist big-money offers for Clichy — even this summer — as long as the transfer amount was significant and veteran leadership remained in the center of Arsenal’s defense.

Yet with rumors swirling this off-season that either or both of Kolo Toure or William Gallas might soon be leaving the Emirates, that could leave a void of experience and continuity at center back for Arsenal, putting more pressure on the Gunners defense and its young replacements at left fullback.

And the departure of Clichy along with either Toure or Gallas could also damage the club in another way, by potentially initiating a domino effect of a number of Gunner stars leaving Arsenal for greener pastures and higher salaries elsewhere.

If stories are to be believed, both Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas seem intent on remaining at Arsenal only if the club’s board matches their commitment and desire for trophies by spending for some established players to bring to the Emirates.

The Dutch forward van Persie is currently in negotiations to renew terms of his contract, which has one year remaining. He and Fabregas are among the Gunners being courted by other clubs, so the departure of several long-time teammates might see these two also leave the north London club.

A number of Arsenal stars leaving to join Real Madrid or other major European clubs would severely damage manager Wenger’s own efforts to bring back the glory days from earlier this decade at his club, when “The Invicibles” of Arsenal ruled the Premiership and challenged for top honors in European competitions.

Reaching the semifinals of both the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup this past season, the current Arsenal side is considered by various pundits as being just a couple of players away from challenging for and winning more trophies in upcoming seasons.

So, if even a fraction of what Madrid has paid out thus far is spent by Arsenal this summer, the question we may be asking come August might just as well be which players will be making up the “New Invicibles” at Arsenal, as finding out the stars who will be comprising the “New Galacticos” at Real Madrid.

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