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February 23, 2019

EPL clubs flood market as they seek to beef up their respective squads

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, Sead Kolasinac and Danny Welbeck./FILE
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, Sead Kolasinac and Danny Welbeck./FILE

The January transfer window has opened and clubs are quickly exercising their options to buy new players to strengthen current squads.

CHELSEA: Having signed Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund, Blues still have their eye on Gonzalo Higuain who belongs to Juventus but is keen on a move. The Argentine’s quality is not in doubt and he is a lethal striker. The combination of Hazard and Higuain is mouth watering. Hazard is currently being used as a central striker by manager Maurizio Sarri but he is not happy in this role and prefers to come in from the wing. The manager, I am told, believes Higuain would solve this problem. Alvaro Morata is out of favour and with Pulisic’s arrival, he is no longer needed. Sarri is not currently using Frenchman Olivier Giroud effectively and I have heard his time at Stamford Bridge is limited. Cesc Fabrigas, will go to either Monaco or AC Milan but the deal is not done yet.

MANCHESTER UNITED: The club told me this week that Juventus have informed them Douglas Costa will not be released before the summer at the earliest and any January bid will be strongly defended.

ARSENAL: Gunners believe Juventus are close to signing Aaron Ramsey on a free transfer and the Italian club have offered him a deal worth up to £150,000-a-week. Juve frequently offer top players lucrative deals as their contracts expire and they are available for free. They pounced on Real Madrid star Sami Khedira and Barcelona’s Dani Alves and then later Liverpool’s Emri Can.

EVERTON: Four times in recent months Everton scouts have watched French star Tanguy Ndombele and chief scout Martin Glover recently went over to watch Tanguy personally. Everton boss Marco Silva has lost faith in Morgan Schneiderlin and Ndombele could step into his place in midfield.

TOTTENHAM: Spurs have decided to keep defender Toby Alderweireld and have extended his contract however it does contain a clause which would allow French giants Paris St-Germain to pay £25m for him in June. There is a close bond between the chairmen of the two clubs and they are working together on a formula which could take Alderweireld, Serge Aurier and Kieran Trippier to Paris. Spurs tell me that they are planning to off-load some of the more fringe players which will enable them to bring in two high profile signings.

WATFORD: Midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure is a target for French Ligue 1 club Paris St-Germain. The 25-year-old has started all the Hornets games this season.

CRYSTAL PALACE: Manager Roy Hodgson is desperate for a striker to help out Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha with Christian Benteke out with injury and newly recovered Connor Wickham not fully fit as yet. Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke could solve Roy’s problems.

Sarri demands Hazard decision

Now that Christian Pulisic has joined Chelsea, I have picked up news from Chelsea that manager Maurizio Sarri has run out of patience with the possible sale saga of Eden Hazard. He says he cannot plan properly for the future of the team and not knowing if Eden is going to Real Madrid is unsettling everything. A few days ago, I can reveal Sarri approached the Chelsea board of directors and told them they must sort out the problem. Hazard is refusing to sign a £300,000-a-year contract and wants to wait until the summer to decide on his future. His contract ends in 2020 and he is patiently waiting to see if Madrid makes an offer. Sarri said: “It’s time to decide. I don’t have the power to decide. I don’t have the power because I am the coach and I speak to him only about playing. We have to solve the problem now for the future of club. I cannot continue like this.”

The problem with Arsenal

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has asked fans to be patient as he rebuilds the Gunners following Arsene Wenger’s reign. Supporters are known to be inpatient if things go wrong and the optimistic mood which came with 22 unbeaten games has suddenly grown more aggressive. The fact is that the Gunners are just one point better off now than this time last year and that position had fans flying planes with “Wenger Out”. Emery said: “We need to strengthen our defence. We lost our unbeaten run to Southampton, were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Tottenham, beat Burnley but drew at Brighton and then lost heavily to Liverpool. We have to improve.”

Arsenal do not have money to spend in January and the club is also reluctant to rush into a panic buying spree and prefer to invest in long term players. The squad is undoubtedly ageing and Emery knows he has to make improvements. Three first choice defenders—Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal are out while Shkodran Mustafi has disappointed too many times. Emery pushes players very hard in training and many think the injuries are his responsibility. The players rarely have any sort of rest period and whereas Arsenal’s medical set up was overhauled last summer it seems things have not improved since Wenger’s reign.

Sessegnon must toughen up

Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri has said that his star defender Ryan Sessegnon must toughen up if he is to be included in the club’s relegation fight. Ranieri has opted for five at the back lately and there is not room for Ryan and Andre Schurrie. Claudio said: “Ryan is very good but not so strong in a tackle and he must improve. Andre is experienced at 28 years of age and can handle himself whereas Ryan is fresh being only 18. I have told my assistants to work with him to improve the physical side of his game.”

Nasri signs for West Ham

I have always thought that Samir Nasri could have been one of football’s top players in the company of Neymar, Bale, Modric and Kane etc. His problems have been well documented and he has just finished an 18-month doping ban. West Ham told me they have given him a six-month deal at £80k-a-week. Samir’s weight ballooned whilst serving his ban and the Hammers told him to lose five kilos and he trained hard to lose it and proved he is serious about his comeback. This talented midfielder is looking forward to linking up with manager Manuel Pellegrini with whom he lifted the Premier League title for Manchester City in 2014.

Inside the mind of Ole Gunner Solskjaer

I had to laugh when Manchester United interim manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer said he used to listen to every word the great Sir Alex Ferguson said to him during training sessions. Some of that knowledge is now rubbing off on striker Marcus Rashford who tweeted a picture of himself listening to Solskjaer like a school pupil listens to a teacher and for good measure he added to the tweet a headmaster’s hat! Scoring 126 goals in 366 games gives the manager the respect he deserves. When he finished playing, he went on to coach Cristiano Renaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. Not a bad CV! Rashford has scored six goals this season and was brilliant in setting up Paul Pogba’s first goal against Bournemouth and it was all done with new confidence attained from the personal one to one lessons with Solskjaer. Jose Mourinho said he couldn’t teach Rashford how to score goals but it was up to the natural ability of the player himself. Solskjaer does not agree. He says, “I wasn’t born with a goal scoring ability, I studied hard, studied how goals are scored, finishing and movement. I also worked on my mental strength because that is the key. Strikers will always miss chances but the trick is to forget it and concentrate on the next one.”

He also said that training is very important and scoring lots of goals off the pitch brings success during a match because you just carry on in the same frame of mind.

The end for Ozil is coming

The chasing Premier League title pack suffered some serious setbacks at the weekend and none more so than Arsenal. Losing by one or two goals would have been disappointing but to lose 5-1 to Liverpool exposed the serious gap between the top two clubs and the chasing pack. Arsenal manager Unai Emery came face to face with Liverpool’s Kop supporters without his most expensive signing Mersut Ozil. When I questioned some of the club insiders my questions were met with “oh, Mesut is injured” and “he was unavailable this weekend.”

My suspicions were confirmed when I was told, in a whispered voice, that Emery cannot wait to offload some of his more expensive inherited signings and replace them with hard working, tough players. Against Liverpool the Gunners played out from the back with speed and pace. It made them vulnerable to counter attacking football and gave Liverpool strikers Firmino and Salah golden opportunities because the Arsenal defence is still work in progress. But in a match played like this, Emery apparently feels there is no room for superstar Ozil who spends many games almost missing, languishing on the wing or up field when most of the team are defending for their lives. Ozil’s time is almost up and I expect Emery to jettison him pretty soon.

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