Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey open to top six Premier League move – sources

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The FC crew examine Arsenal’s title credentials while the Gunners are enjoying a string of good results under new manager Unai Emery.
ESPN FC’s Craig Burley thinks Arsenal still has room to improve, but for now Unai Emery has the team thriving with a clear plan of attack.

Aaron Ramsey is open to joining one of Arsenal’s top six rivals if he leaves the Emirates on a free in the summer, sources have told ESPN FC.

Ramsey, 27, is out of contract at the end of the season and has seen the offer of a new deal rescinded by Arsenal.

The midfielder is set to take his time to consider his options but is open to staying in the Premier League with one of Arsenal’s direct rivals if he is forced to move on.

Sources have told ESPN FC that Liverpool do not hold an interest in the Wales international but Manchester United and Chelsea are prepared to monitor the situation in the event he is available for nothing.

Ramsey could also negotiate with a foreign team from January, with Juventus reportedly interested.

United tried to sign Ramsey in 2008 and announced on their website they had agreed a deal with Cardiff for the then 17-year-old before he decided to join Arsenal.

Meanwhile, sources have told ESPN FC that United are confident Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera will sign new deals to stay at Old Trafford.

The pair have deals until the end of the season but the club, who are also in negotiations with David De Gea, Ashley Young and Juan Mata, are hopeful new terms will be agreed soon.

Marouane Fellaini has given Jose Mourinho a fresh injury headache ahead of the trip to Chelsea on Saturday after he sat out training with Belgium on Sunday because of a groin problem.

The 30-year-old is a doubt for Belgium’s clash with Netherlands on Tuesday to add another midfielder to Mourinho’s injury list ahead of the game at Stamford Bridge amid concerns about Nemanja Matic and Herrera.

ESPN FC’s Arsenal correspondent Mattias Karen contributed to this report



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PSG want Arsene Wenger as replacement for transfer chief – sources

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ESPN FC’s Paul Mariner agrees with Antoine Griezmann saying Kylian Mbappe needs to leave PSG, just like Cristiano Ronaldo needed to leave Man United.
Kylian Mbappe found his scoring touch in the second half, scoring four goals in 14 minutes to lead PSG to victory over rivals Lyon.
Kylian Mbappe had a monstrous second half, netting four goals in a mere 14 minutes for Paris Saint-Germain against Lyon.

Paris Saint-Germain want Arsene Wenger to become their general manager after the January transfer window, with sporting director Antero Henrique’s future under threat, sources have told ESPN FC.

Former Arsenal manager Wenger would be a likely replacement for Henrique, who has failed to secure deals for several PSG transfer targets.

Wenger has told PSG he is keeping his options open, and although he would prefer a coaching position he has not ruled out the possibility of joining them if a significant role became available.

The 68-year-old is unlikely to make any decision until nearer Christmas — and the Ligue 1 champions would look to replace Henrique after the January window has closed.

PSG remain unconvinced that UEFA will have clarified their FFP situation in time for January, while sacking Henrique now could mean an exodus of staff — notably in recruitment — and numerous gaps to fill.

Henrique is already working on deals for Celta Vigo’s Stanislav Lobotka, Porto’s Danilo Pereira and Genk’s Sander Berge as potential January signings, meaning his exit could jeopardise those moves.

Wenger would be given free rein to restructure numerous aspects on and off the pitch — notably the youth academy — and would have time to get PSG ready for the summer window with a clearer idea of the FFP situation.

Henrique has come in for criticism after failing to bring in a defensive midfielder, the club’s priority, in the summer.

He was also criticised when one of his predecessors, Leonardo, signed Lucas Paqueta for AC Milan for €35 million from Flamengo despite interest from PSG. Sources said Henrique had relied on activating Paqueta’s €50m release clause in January.

Roma sporting director Monchi is another option to replace Henrique.



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Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey: I won’t leave in January despite contract breakdown

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English Premier League: Aaron Ramsey (68′) Fulham 1-3 Arsenal
ESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop explains the likelihood of N’Golo Kante or Isco going to Juventus, Manchester United landing Nicolas Pepe and more.
The FC crew examine Arsenal’s title credentials while the Gunners are enjoying a string of good results under new manager Unai Emery.
Arsenal win their 9th game in a row and have been on scintillating form since their consecutive losses to Manchester City and Arsenal back in August.

Aaron Ramsey has said he won’t seek a January exit from Arsenal and that he thought he had reached a new deal with the club before contract talks broke down.

Ramsey looks set to leave the Emirates on a free transfer next summer after the club withdrew a contract offer to their longest-serving player last month. The midfielder, though, has insisted he will see out the last year of his deal rather than seek a move mid-season.

“Of course [I will see out the season], yeah,” Ramsey said after Wales’ 4-1 loss to Spain on Thursday. “I am contracted to Arsenal and I am going to do my best now this season to try and achieve something special.”

Ramsey also discussed the contract talks publicly for the first time since negotiations collapsed and indicated that he had been ready to sign a new deal when the club’s offer was rescinded.

“Everything has been going great with the club,” he said. “We thought we were in a position where we had agreed a deal but that’s no longer the case.

“So I just have to carry on playing my football and do my best for Arsenal this season and I’ll leave the rest with the club now. That’s a decision that they have made. I just have to get on with it and carry on playing the best I can.”

Ramsey came off the bench to finish off a spectacular team move with a neat backheel flick in the team’s 5-1 win at Fulham before the international break, although his starting position in the team is under renewed threat from Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

As a free agent he is expected to face widespread interest from clubs in England and abroad next summer, with Juventus reportedly interested in signing the midfielder.



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Arsenal’s Unai Emery Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino put rivalry aside to share coaching wisdom

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Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino were among the bosses at a UEFA coaching course in Madrid
Arsenal and Tottenham’s managers are kept apart at the photo call by veteran Spanish coach Gregorio Manzano.

They may currently find themselves managing on opposite sides of the north London divide, but Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery looked to have (temporarily) put their differences aside this week.

Arsenal manager Emery and Tottenham Hotspur boss Pochettino were all smiles while posing together outside a UEFA coaching event in Madrid, Spain on Monday.

Both Pochettino and Emery were invited to speak at the event, with both imparting some choice pearls of wisdom and a few observations made about the changing nature of football over the past few years.

The Arsenal manager began by discussing English football and English teams competing in Europe.

Unai Emery won an unprecedented three consecutive Europa Leagues with Sevilla before moving to PSG
Unai Emery stresses to his players that the Europa League ‘is very important’ — which is just as well, really.

“For them, the Premier League is the top competition,” he said. “They also want to win the Champions League but they have come up with three teams recently that have been imposed themselves.

“They are fighting for it. The Europa League they didn’t see it as a tournament where you could do something important. It was too much of a sacrifice.

“The English culture is the Premier League, the Champions League and the Europa League are for those teams that need it.

“This season I’m transmitting to my players that the Europa League is very important.”

Mauricio Pochettino played and coached at Spanish club Espanyol earlier in his career
Mauricio Pochettino offering a chilling vision of the future by predicting that flares would be making a comeback.

Pochettino took to the rostrum to offer a thought or two on the importance of not losing focus on the psychological side of the game amid an era dominated by tactics, data and statistics.

“Football is ruled by trends. Now the tendency is to debate about possession,” Pochettino said.

“Football is so complex that any road can lead you to success. The most important thing is for the manager to transmit what he feels.

“As Unai says, emotions are fundamental. Each one has a character which is transmitted with its nuances to compose a style.”

Using an analogy to make his point, the Spurs boss then unwittingly revealed a possible penchant for a certain 1970s wardrobe staple.

“Nobody owns a style. When we go back in history we discover that everything was invented and reinvented,” he continued.

“It’s like fashion. Forty years ago flares were worn, now it is skinny jeans and in the future the flares will be back.”

Fingers crossed. That “Saturday Night Fever” aesthetic would really suit him.



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Arsenal’s Unai Emery, Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino put club rivalry aside to share coaching wisdom

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Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino were among the bosses at a UEFA coaching course in Madrid
Arsenal and Tottenham’s managers are kept apart at the photo call by veteran Spanish coach Gregorio Manzano.

They may currently find themselves managing on opposite sides of the north London divide, but Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery looked to have (temporarily) put their differences aside this week.

Arsenal manager Emery and Tottenham Hotspur boss Pochettino were all smiles while posing together outside a UEFA coaching event in Madrid, Spain on Monday.

Both Pochettino and Emery were invited to speak at the event, with both imparting some choice pearls of wisdom and a few observations made about the changing nature of football over the past few years.

The Arsenal manager began by discussing English football and English teams competing in Europe.

Unai Emery won an unprecedented three consecutive Europa Leagues with Sevilla before moving to PSG
Unai Emery stresses to his players that the Europa League ‘is very important’ — which is just as well, really.

“For them, the Premier League is the top competition,” he said. “They also want to win the Champions League but they have come up with three teams recently that have been imposed themselves.

“They are fighting for it. The Europa League they didn’t see it as a tournament where you could do something important. It was too much of a sacrifice.

“The English culture is the Premier League, the Champions League and the Europa League are for those teams that need it.

“This season I’m transmitting to my players that the Europa League is very important.”

Mauricio Pochettino played and coached at Spanish club Espanyol earlier in his career
Mauricio Pochettino offering a chilling vision of the future by predicting that flares would be making a comeback.

Pochettino took to the rostrum to offer a thought or two on the importance of not losing focus on the psychological side of the game amid an era dominated by tactics, data and statistics.

“Football is ruled by trends. Now the tendency is to debate about possession,” Pochettino said.

“Football is so complex that any road can lead you to success. The most important thing is for the manager to transmit what he feels.

“As Unai says, emotions are fundamental. Each one has a character which is transmitted with its nuances to compose a style.”

Using an analogy to make his point, the Spurs boss then unwittingly revealed a possible penchant for a certain 1970s wardrobe staple.

“Nobody owns a style. When we go back in history we discover that everything was invented and reinvented,” he continued.

“It’s like fashion. Forty years ago flares were worn, now it is skinny jeans and in the future the flares will be back.”

Fingers crossed. That “Saturday Night Fever” aesthetic would really suit him.



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Aubameyang makes Premier League history, lauds Arsenal mentality after win

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Supersub Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made Premier League history as Arsenal beat Fulham 5-1 away in the Premier League on Saturday, and has lauded the Gunners’ mentality after their win.

Unai Emergy’s side were leading 2-1 when the Spanish coach turned to the Gabon international and teammate Aaron Ramsey off the bench midway through the second half, with two goals from Alexandre Lacazette coming either side of Andre Schurrle’s strike.

The two substitutions saw Arsenal shift gears, with Ramsey adding a third moments after entering following Aubameyang’s assist.

The 29-year old forward then added the Gunners’ fourth 11 minutes from time, before rounding off the rout at the death with an assist from Ramsey.

According to Opta, the match marked the first time in a Premier League fixture that two substitutes have come off the bench to each score and assist for a single team in a match.

It also extended a remarkable run of form for Auba, who now has 16 goals and five assists for the Gunners since 2018 – more than any other player at the club.

Speaking to BT Sport after the win, the former Borussia Dortmund frontman expressed confidence that Arsenal’s winning streak – which now extends to nine games in all competitions – can go on a little longer.

“I think we played very well,” he told BT Sport. “We knew Fulham play good football and play with a lot of counters, but I think the team played well.

“I came in and I knew I had to make the difference,” he added, “and I did.

“We have to keep the mentality. We have a great team spirit, as you can see on the pitch.

“We’re playing well at this moment and we have to keep focus and continue winning games.”

After the international break, Arsenal resume their Premier League campaign at come against Leicester City on October 22, before a Champions League clash away at Sporting Lisbon and a London derby with Crystal Palace.

“It was hard, even if there’s a big score,” Aubameyang concluded. “It was hard to start [with], but we scored many goals, we were compact and we won.

“The coach told us we could win today if we were efficient, and that there would be a lot of chances.”



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Arsenal manager Unai Emery plays down winning run: I’m only focused on the future

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery insists he is not focused on the club’s eight-match winning run and believes he can balance the Premier League and Europa League commitments this season.

Arsenal last achieved such a run under Arsene Wenger in April 2015 and, having lost their first two games, are now within four points of City and Liverpool at the top of the table ahead of their clash with Fulham on Sunday.

“Usually I don’t look behind, every day I’m looking at the next matches — what’s in front,” Emery said. “For me, whether we win or lose, every match is giving me a lot of information about how to improve. Every coach wants to win, but it’s not easy to do that.

“For me the challenge is every day and every match — to look back to the last match is not good for us and not for me. My only focus is on Sunday against Fulham, to get three points to continue going up in the table.”

A 3-0 victory over Qarabag in the Europa League on Thursday night kept the games coming thick and fast. Emery won the Europa League three seasons in a row while in charge of Sevilla and asked about the struggle of playing Thursday and Sunday, he replied: “Yes but the Premier League is very difficult. It’s the most difficult domestic competition in the world. The first six teams are playing each season a lot of matches in the Premier League, the cups and Europe.

“Every teams want to do the best performance in the Premier League because it’s the first competition for us and also in the cups and Europe.  The top players want to play a lot of matches. I have experience too because I’m playing in Europe for the 12th consecutive season, six in the Champions League and six in the Europa League so my habit is also this.

“We are going to balance each matches physically with the players but these player are prepared to play Thursday and Sunday and then we have players to make changes for some matches. But if I decide to play a someone for three matches in a week, they are available to do that.”



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Extra Time: Top UCL performances, Rabiot vs. Ramsey and more

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Emile Smith Rowe puts in 7/10 performance after scoring maiden Arsenal goal

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Arsenal won their eighth game in a row in all competitions as they claimed a 3-0 victory away at Qarabag in the Europa League on Thursday.

A dauntingly long journey did not prevent Unai Emery from deploying some of his more-senior players, but it was 18-year-old Emile Smith Rowe who stole the show with his first goal for the club on 53 minutes. Arsenal were already 1-0 up by that point after Sokratis Papastathopoulos got a lucky finish from a corner after only four minutes, and a hat trick of first-time goal scorers was complete when Matteo Guendouzi drove a shot home on 80 minutes.

A few sticky moments aside, with a mid-game change of formation thrown in, this was not the stiffest of tests for Arsenal.

Positives

Eight wins in a row and three clean sheets in four, Arsenal are proving rather efficient at getting results at the moment. Emery would also have been delighted to see Smith Rowe take his chance, particularly with Alex Iwobi getting the assist to continue his impressive form. First goals for three different players should help boost morale.

Negatives

A first sight of a back three this season wasn’t a huge success as Emery switched again to a conventional back four at half-time. Arsenal never really got out of second gear despite the margin of victory and there were periods when they laboured.

Manager rating out of 10

6 — Emery’s answer to Arsenal’s recent defensive issues was to deploy a back three, but it only lasted 45 minutes. If the tactical approach was confused, there were also questions over his decision to bring such a strong squad to Baku, but it largely paid off as Arsenal carved out a comfortable win without any cause for concern. The real impact of that decision will be seen at the weekend against Fulham.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Bernd Leno, 7 — The German made a succession of smart saves in the first half as he displayed some impressive reactions. Was at full stretch to keep out a shot from range in the second half too. Impressive.

DF Stephan Lichtsteiner, 6 — Was more conservative in the first half to balance out Sead Kolasinac’s endeavours. Solid enough.

DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 — Opened his Arsenal account after only four minutes with a somewhat lucky finish from Nacho Monreal’s header.

DF Rob Holding, 6 — Not as comfortable as he looked against Watford at the weekend, but was a steadying influence at the back.

DF Nacho Monreal, 6 — Set up Arsenal’s opener when his goal-bound header was turned home by Sokratis, but made way at half-time as Arsenal reverted to a back four.

DF Sead Kolasinac, 6 — Returning to the starting XI after injury, he was stationed high on the left as a wing-back in the first half and showed his intent with a driving run into the box on three minutes. But left too much space behind and Qarabag targeted their attacks down his flank.

MF Mohamed Elneny, 5 — Struggled a little, perhaps unsurprisingly given his lack of match practice, and did little to convince his manager he should be starting more regularly.

MF Matteo Guendouzi, 7 — He has had more all-action displays in his short Arsenal career, but his goal ensured this was his best outing yet.

FW Emile Smith Rowe, 7 — The 18-year-old enjoyed a famous evening as he scored his first goal for Arsenal with a low finish on 53 minutes. Enjoyed a number of other chances and showed some promise before being replaced by Mesut Ozil.

FW Danny Welbeck, 6 — Won a header in the buildup for the second goal and worked hard as usual. But few chances came his way.

FW Alex Iwobi, 7 — Picked up another assist to carry on his recent run of good form when he slipped in Smith Rowe for the second. Oozing confidence at the moment and that came across in his performance.

Substitutes

MF Lucas Torreira, 6 — Settled in quickly to Arsenal’s rejigged formation.

FW Mesut Ozil, 6 — Never quite got into the swing of things.

FW Alexandre Lacazette, N/R — Assisted Guendouzi with a routine square pass.



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Arsenal’s Petr Cech out 3-4 weeks with hamstring injury

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Arsenal picked up their 7th consecutive win albeit fortunately against a powerful Watford side.
The Exploding Heads review September as Liverpool keep winning, Manchester City keep winning and Manchester United keep being Manchester United.

Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech will be sidelined for up to a month by the hamstring injury suffered in Saturday’s win over Watford at the Emirates Stadium.

The club said on Tuesday that Cech would be back in full training in “three to four weeks” — a slightly longer layoff than coach Unai Emery had originally anticipated.

Cech limped off just before half-time against Watford, with summer signing Bernd Leno coming on to make his Premier League debut for the Gunners, and Emery said he thought Cech could be back in two to three weeks.

The injury means Leno now has a chance to stake his claim to the No. 1 spot in Cech’s absence, having impressed with a couple of crucial saves in the 2-0 win.

Cech had been expected to be rested for Thursday’s Europa League trip to Qarabag before the injury, but is now set to miss Sunday’s trip to Fulham as well as Premier League games against Leicester and Crystal Palace later this month.



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Premier League: 25 goals in 90 seconds

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Mourinho teetering, Sturridge stunner – ESPN FC

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Germany’s Joachim Low barred from meeting Mesut Ozil at Arsenal training – report

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Ian Darke and the ESPN FC crew explain why Germany are in need of a fresh start following their goalless draw against France.

Germany coach Joachim Low and general manager Oliver Bierhoff were barred from Arsenal training as they tried to make contact with Mesut Ozil, German newspaper Bild has reported.

Low and Bierhoff attended FIFA’s The Best awards in London at the weekend and had hoped to talk to playmaker Ozil, 29, who retired from the Germany team in July and cited racism in the German FA.

Last month, Low said he had tried to make contact with Ozil but his calls were not returned.

Having informed Arsenal of their visit, Low and Bierhoff had hoped to meet with Ozil at the Colney training ground on Monday, but Bild reported that they were not allowed to attend “at the behest of Arsenal coach Umai Emery.”

Bierhoff said: “We would have loved to talk to Mesut. But we must accept that currently he does not want that talk.”

The build-up to Germany’s World Cup campaign was overshadowed by a photograph that Ozil and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan — another Germany player with Turkish heritage — had taken with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in mid-May.

Ozil said he had done nothing wrong in meeting Erdogan, and the president has told Funke Media: “He did not leave the Germany national team without a reason. Everyone else battling those racist attacks and insults would have shown the same reaction.

“Mesut Ozil’s statement that he’s German when they win and an immigrant when they lose sums up the discrimination of players in Germany fairly well.”

On Thursday, Germany and Turkey will find out which will host the 2024 European Championships. The two countries are the only bidders.



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Transfer Rater: Real eyeing Fekir? Sane to Juventus?

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Transfer Rater: Nabil Fekir to Real Madrid and Ismaila Sarr to Arsenal

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Things change in the blink of an eye in football. The Football Whispers Index takes the latest transfer rumours and gives them a score out of five; the higher the score, the more realistic and reliable the Whisper.

Here are today’s top five emerging whispers. And keep an eye on Transfer Talk for all the latest gossip.

Alex Sandro to Paris Saint-Germain

The PSG left-back saga could be coming to an end as they have set their sights on the Juventus star, making him their No. 1 target. PSG are watching closely with a contract impasse between player and club, and with his existing deal expiring in 2020 the Ligue 1 champions could make their move next summer, according to Le 10 Sport.

Odisseas Vlachodimos to Chelsea

Chelsea are one of a number of clubs who have been monitoring the progress of Benfica’s German goalkeeper, and they could look to bring him in to support new signing Kepa Arrizabalaga. Portuguese outlet Record has reported the interest in the player, along with that of a number of other clubs from the Premier League and across Europe. Bayern Munich are among them, and the German champions once considered him the heir to Manuel Neuer.

Nabil Fekir to Real Madrid

The Lyon attacker has continued his impressive form from last season into the new campaign, and caught the eye during his side’s victory against Manchester City in the Champions League. This has increased the interest in him and Real Madrid are now looking to sign the 25-year-old who was close to joining Liverpool in the summer. The European champions will look to make their move in January, or next summer, according to L’Equipe.

Ismaila Sarr to Arsenal

Another player impressing on the European stage is Stade Rennes winger Sarr, who scored an outstanding goal in the Europa League last week. He impressed at the World Cup with Senegal, too, and Arsenal are among those keeping tabs on him, according to the Daily Mirror. Unai Emery’s side want to add to their squad depth in wide areas, and are looking at the 20-year-old who was nominated for the European Golden Boy award.

Lucas Tousart to Inter Milan

The Serie A club are set to do battle with Tottenham Hotspur for the 21-year-old’s signature, after Italian outlet Calciomercato reported their interest. The Lyon midfielder is expected to cost over £30 million but that has not deterred Inter sporting director Piero Ausilio. The player is interested in a move to Italy, and the Milan club will send scouts to watch him regularly throughout the rest of 2018.



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Emery: Arsenal’s reaction perfect after half-time team talk

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Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang slams Gabon appointment of father

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Gabon captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has criticised the country’s football federation (FEGAFOOT) after they appointed his father as national team coach and said Pierre Francois did not want the job.

The Arsenal striker expressed anger at what he called the “amateurism” of the national federation, who this week named his father and Daniel Cousin, ex-Gabon captains, as joint coaches to succeed former Spain manager Jose-Antonio Camacho.

“You were wondering why I have problems with you, why I don’t want to come and play for the national team,” Aubameyang wrote on Instagram in a post that tagged the Gabon federation.

“You have told the whole world about my father, the so-called coach of the national team, when you did not even get his agreement!

“The president of the federation called my dad but did not even care to ask about his state of health. He’s sick at the moment.

“To rush out and hold a press conference [on Wednesday] when my father said he would give his answer only the next day is another demonstration of why.

“His decision, by the way, is negative. You didn’t even give him a chance to negotiate about his staff members or other things.”

FEGAFOOT agreed it went ahead in haste with the announcement but blamed the ministry of sport for instructing it to do so.

“[Francois], who was in London for health reasons, had indeed expressed the wish to give his final response on Thursday afternoon to the President of FEGAFOOT,” a statement from the federation said on Saturday.

“But the Minister of Youth and Sports [Alain Claude Bilie-By-Nze] instructed FEGAFOOT to make the composition of the technical staff public on Wednesday evening.

“Having no desire to counter him, FEGAFOOT did make the announcement without calling [Francois] back for confirmation.

“This was guided by good faith after assurances received from Daniel Cousin and considering the frequent expressions of goodwill by Pierre [Francois] to always help the national team.

“Subject to the official reaction of Mr [Francois], FEGAFOOT accepts this situation could have been avoided.”

Aubameyang, who played in this month’s 1-1 home draw with lowly Burundi in the African Nations Cup qualifiers, added: “The day the federation no longer shows amateurism is the day the national team is able to move forward and find consistent results.”

Pierre Francois, 53, captained Gabon at their first Nations Cup finals appearance in 1994 and was one of the country’s first exports to club football in France, where his son was born.

Cousin, who was a forward at Rangers and Hull City, was previously team manager in charge of logistics.

Camacho was fired last week after a run of only two wins in 17 matches in charge over the last two years.



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Theo Walcott returns to Arsenal as a poster boy for Arsene Wenger’s demise

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery wants his goalkeepers to get used to his style of play as soon as possible.

The player on the Emirates Stadium pitch with the most Arsenal appearances to his name will not be wearing Red. The one with the most Gunners goals will not be cheered if he scores. Such is the peculiar position in which Theo Walcott will find himself if, for the 401st time, he plays in an Arsenal game on Sunday.

For the second, he will be on the opposing side. As his first return ended in an ignominious 5-1 defeat for Everton, perhaps Arsenal will be especially pleased to welcome him back. Yet when he faces his former club, it will be both as what he is, an Everton player, and what he represents, an emblem of a lost Arsenal, a man who, for better and worse, symbolised much about the second half of Arsene Wenger’s reign.

Walcott left only eight months ago. It is very possible that the majority of Arsenal’s starting XI on Sunday were never Walcott’s teammates, having joined since, just as he never played for Unai Emery. The speed of change at a continuity club is indicative in itself: Walcott could once be deemed the face of stasis.

That is unfair. Yet like those who were constants in austerity era Arsenal, he was signed with the long term in mind. He represented the promise of a better tomorrow that perhaps never really arrived. He was seen as a young player after he was actually young. Perhaps, though he scored 19 times in his last full season, he stayed too long; certainly some of Wenger’s proteges did, even if Walcott’s was not an Abou Diaby-esque tale of diminishing returns.

Yet a change of scenery can help. Goodison Park insiders believe the winger, who has moved his family to the northwest of England, is relishing a new lease on life, throwing himself into the club’s community activities and quickly becoming one of the faces of Everton. The sense is that Walcott appreciates both the similarities with Arsenal, another traditional club, and the differences.

An indication of Everton’s spending prowess also symbolises Arsenal’s lost generation, the group of young Brits who were supposed to provide the core of the side for years to come and who, with the notable exception of Walcott, signed new contracts together in 2012. Now only Aaron Ramsey and the defiantly unsellable forgotten man Carl Jenkinson remain with Ramsey out of contract in the summer. Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere, on the other hand, have left in the past 14 months.

For some, they represent cases of unfulfilled potential. Perhaps there was something symbolic in the way Walcott’s Arsenal career ended: winless in his last four en route to a sixth-place finish, the lowest in his 13 seasons in London. He straddled eras, making his debut in a side featuring Thierry Henry and his valedictory appearance alongside Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but he joined a club that was heading to the Champions League final and left one that was both in and returning to the Europa League. Viewed that way, it is a tale of decline.

Arsene Wenger and Theo Walcott spent 13 years together at Arsenal, a prime example of how stale things got at the Emirates.
Arsene Wenger and Theo Walcott spent 13 years together at Arsenal, a prime example of how stale things got at the Emirates.

Viewed another, it was a story of staving it off for so long. The cliche of Arsenal, of fourth-place finishes and Champions League last-16 exits, can obscure some of the details. Walcott was a rare winger to score 20 goals in a season (21 in 2013-14), and the enduring debate over whether he was better suited as a striker highlighted a question common to him, Wilshere, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain: Where are they best deployed and in which combination? One thing is for certain: Few players register a century of goals at a club when they are predominantly used on the flanks; in Walcott’s case, that number is 108.

Each of the Brits can share a story of being pushed down the pecking order when the financial shackles came off. Budget recruits found it harder to be cornerstones of the side when Arsenal entered the ranks of the big spenders. To varying degrees, the midfielders and forwards were displaced by Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette.

Walcott’s departure highlighted the way Wenger’s Arsenal was falling apart before the manager’s own exit was confirmed. Some, such as Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain, decamped for clubs higher up the league. Others, such as Walcott and his fellow centurion and another underrated goal scorer, Olivier Giroud, went in search of first-team football.

The beginning of the end came when a player who, like Arsenal, was long accused of being too nice showed a more unforgiving streak. After captaining Arsenal in the 2017 defeat at Selhurst Park, Walcott admitted that Crystal Palace “wanted it more” and was in turn criticised by Wenger. Walcott never recaptured a regular spot, but it was telling that Wenger’s disciples could see flaws he could not admit existed. Arsenal were too bad for a man who embodied them.

Over 12 years, Walcott and Arsenal achieved more than was perhaps acknowledged without winning very much. And both were neither as bad as their doubters suggested nor as good as they promised to be. Walcott wasn’t the new Henry, just as Gibbs did not reach Ashley Cole’s standards and Wilshere never matched Cesc Fabregas at his peak. But he made the second-most appearances for Wenger’s Arsenal, sandwiched by Henry and Patrick Vieira, different generations of a past era side by side in the statistics.



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