PREMIER LEAGUE COLUMN

Arsenal duo head out to Dubai early

Nelson has not played since January because of a hamstring injury while Tierney has been out even longer, since December, after dislocating his shoulder in a match against London rivals West Ham.

In Summary

• At the time of his transfer, his price was a world record for a goalkeeper. I have been told that Lampard wants Burnley’s Nick Pope to replace the Spaniard. 

• Solskjaer has a real problem with Martial, who failed to perform for both previous managers Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal. 

Arsenal's Kieran Tierney
Arsenal's Kieran Tierney
Image: /REUTERS

Arsenal youngsters Kieran Tierney and Reiss Nelson have cut short their approved Premier League week’s holiday and departed the UK early to travel to Dubai in order to regain their fitness for the Gunners’ next match against Newcastle on February 16. The rest of the first-team squad are enjoying a holiday and will join Tierney and Nelson this weekend. The duo are working in a state-of-the-art gym with Arsenal’s fitness team. Nelson has not played since January because of a hamstring injury while Tierney has been out even longer, since December, after dislocating his shoulder in a match against London rivals West Ham. Coach Mikel Arteta admitted that he is delighted with the winter break because since being appointed in December, he has had limited time on the training field with his first-team players because of the busy Premier League schedule.

 

Lampard fights the Chelsea board

I have been behind the scenes at Chelsea this week trying to get readers the story of Frank Lampard’s wish to sell off goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. Basically, the Chelsea board invested £71.6million in the keeper but Lampard dropped him last week for the match against Leicester after a series of inconsistent performances. At the time of his transfer, his price was a world record for a goalkeeper. I have been told that Lampard wants Burnley’s Nick Pope to replace the Spaniard. The board told Lampard that they want Arrizabalaga to stay but Lampard says that, as manager it should be his decision which players are in his squad.

The Spanish keeper was given a seven-year deal in 2018 on a salary of £10million a year. Consequently, it would cost Chelsea a fortune to off load him if there are no takers in the summer. Lampard has huge support from players and fans but the board are worried about the cost which Lampard says should not be the priority. Eventually, the decision could come down to owner Roman Abramovich and he will be wary of upsetting Chelsea legend Lampard so a stand off between manager and the board is looking very possible. My contacts in Spain blame Kepa’s break-up with his long time girlfriend Andrea as the reason why he cannot focus on his career at the moment but that is no good to Chelsea and Frank Lampard. Meanwhile, Brazil’s 31-year-old superstar Willian says he wants to stay at Stamford Bridge but only if he is given a two-year contract. Chelsea have so far offered his agent a one-year extension.

 

Can Ighalo score at Manchester United?

Nerves are being severely tested at Manchester United and many staff are very touchy at the moment. Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s club management are anxious that the club finish in the top four. I cannot see that happening with the present team. When I put this point to various people in Manchester, I was met with what I can only describe as embarrassment and frustration. United let proven goalscorer Romelu Lukaku leave without replacing him. Then Marcus Rashford was injured and the goals dried up. United think they have found the solution. They signed Odion Ighalo, a former Watford player who played his football in China and has been loaned to United for £3million. Ighalo couldn’t believe his luck when United came calling to take him from his current club Shanghai Shenhua. He stayed up all night to help complete the move and agreed to a salary of £165k a year which is half the salary he received in China. I am told that back home in Lagos, there were street parties to celebrate his move and his mother was in tears of joy after her son phoned with the news. Can the 30 year-old solve United’s goal drought? It is a tough ask for the Nigerian striker, who will wear the No25 shirt, but I wish him well and Solskjaer is planning to use him in their next match against Chelsea directly after the winter break. He scored 39 goals in 100 appearances for Watford during the 2014-17 period. Ighalo has already flown out to Marbella, Spain to join his new teammates at their warm winter training headquarters.

 

Arsenal tracking Turkish star

News from the Emirates is that Arsenal are tracking Dutch club Feyenoord’s 19 year-old Orkun Kokcu and value him at £15million. Arsenal have missed a trick in not signing the Turkish midfielder having watched him for 18 months. My contacts at the club tell me the Gunners fear Kokcu could perform well for Turkey in the upcoming Euro 2020 competition and then his price will rocket and Arsenal do not have deep pockets at the moment. Tottenham are also keeping tabs on Kokcu but Arsenal are confident they can negoatiate to take him to the Emirates in the summer for about £15million.

 

Solskjaer defends Martial

I had to smile at a remark from one of the fans at Manchester United’s 0-0 Wolves 0-0 draw. Commenting on Anthony Martial’s lack of contribution to his team effort and appearing to have his mind elsewhere, the fan shouted that one day United will attack and find Martial busy on his mobile phone!

Solskjaer has a real problem with Martial, who failed to perform for both previous managers Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal. At times he is brilliant and almost unplayable but at other times he is a passenger out on the wing. Solskjaer is becoming quite efficient at making excuses for the Frenchman and he has put in a lot of time, work and endless faith in the 24 year-old. United now have a week off and Solskjaer believes his striker needs the time to recharge his batteries after being asked to play in every match because of the injuries to Rashford, Paul Pogba and Scot McTominay.

The manager said: “I know he’s tired but he has never missed a training session and always puts in 100%. United are at a warm-weather training camp in Spain where they have been joined by new signing Ighalo.”

 

Newcastle need more goals

I hope that Steve Bruce survives as Newcastle manager when the new owners take over if the deal happens. The Premier League is so tight these days, with the exception of Liverpool, and the odd goal here and there can radically change a club’s position in the table. As Steve Bruce said to me, “It is all about small margins.” Bruce has now reverted to previous manager Raphael Benitez’s five-at-the-back system and this should ensure that Newcastle survive in the Premier League this season. However, what they lack are goals.

Joelinton, St-Maximim and Almiron have a pathetic haul of only four goals between them in the League. St-Maximim is a very talented player who has impressed me every time I have watched him however he could also be accused of being lazy because he will do something brilliant and then disappear for 15 minutes and rarely tracks back to help his defence. Bruce believes that his midfield is not creating enough chances for £40million Joelinton to score. Bringing in attacking wing back Danny Rose from Tottenham should give them more opportunities to get the ball upfield and into the box where hopefully his strikers will attack the ball more readily.

 

Everything wrong at Palace

Crystal Palace have 30 points and it is not good enough. Fans are beginning to protest at their totally boring defensive tactics. Their attack relies totally on Wilfried Zaha. Now, many of the fans are critical of Roy Hodgson and some even want him out. However, from my experience, when visiting Palace this season, it is not his fault. Clearly, Palace needed a striker in the January transfer window and their only signing was Cenk Tosun, who is not going to solve their problem. I have seen it time and again at Palace: Zaha goes past two or three players, crosses the ball and there is no-one in the penalty area. However, Hodgson’s problems also ask questions of the board of directors. American investment has come into the club but not much has been spent. Aarron Wan-Bissaka was sold to Manchester United for £50milllion but the proceeds of the sale have not been invested in the team. Another problem is that Hodgson, at 72 years of age, is not building a strong legacy. He is a safe pair of hands but he will not win you the Premiership. Christian Benteke needs to leave to rediscover his goal scoring ability and he lacks confidence these days. Fans point to Palace’s constant passing sideways, backwards but often not forward. The odds are very good if you want to bet money on Hodgson losing his job soon. Palace are the lowest scorers in the league.

 

Bournemouth’s players belt out a song

Bournemouth were so jubilant at beating Aston Villa 2-1 that they turned their dressing room into a disco. When beaten Villa boss Dean Smith went from the away dressing room to meet with journalists for his post-match interview, he could not hear himself speak because of the noise from the behind the home team’s door. The Cherries’ players sang as loud as they could their special song ‘Freed From Desire’ from the group Gala recorded in 1997.

 

Everton’s Watford win was all down to partying!

Theo Walcott thinks the late Everton Christmas Party was responsible for their excellent display winning 3-2 away to Watford. Theo explained that the party was cancelled before Christmas because the team were not doing well at all and there was nothing to celebrate. The former England striker said: “We didn’t have a game for ten days so we thought that, as the team are doing much better now under Carlo Ancelotti, we would all get together with our wives and girl-friends and have our party. We had a great time bonding and I believe that because we got to know each other much better we worked more together on the field.”