The Copa Libertadores is a competition like no other, just look back at the 2018 final between bitter rivals River Plate and Boca Juniors.

The second leg of the all-Argentinean decider was sensationally played at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu in the Spanish capital three years ago after Boca's team bus was attacked by River supporters en route to El Monumental for the initially scheduled return encounter.

River eventually prevailed 5-3 on aggregate.

Fast forward to this week – Flamengo and titleholders Palmeiras will do battle at Uruguay's iconic Centenario stadium in Montevideo. Saturday's final is only the fifth decider to feature two teams from the same country in the tournament's history. Four of those fixtures have been all-Brazilian showdowns after Palmeiras trumped rivals Santos last season.

As Palmeiras bid to become the first team to retain the Libertadores crown in 20 years – Boca were the last to do so in 2001, star goalkeeper Weverton provided an insight into the emotion-fuelled competition, which was founded in 1960.

"Really, our side here is much more passion than reason," Brazil international Weverton – who has called Palmeiras home since 2018 – told Stats Perform as he explained what it means to play in the Libertadores decider. "I say that in Europe, people go watch a show, go to have fun, they go with their family to watch a show. The Brazilian football the families go to the stadium to watch your team win. He wants his club to win, and it doesn't matter what it takes. He doesn't go to the stadium to watch a match, have fun, and take his son to wave to his favourite player. No. He goes to the match so he can see his team winning. This is the big difference from our football.

"We always want to win. We are very competitive. Sometimes we do a match here that is… Abel [Ferreira] always says that those who lose will give food to people in need. So, we have three teams and the worst one has to pay. We get very competitive on that. Nobody wants to lose. Even if it is not that much money. It is competitive. Brazilian football is all about that. We don't know how to lose; we don't accept losing. Sometimes people say that we need to accept the defeat, but it is in our Brazilian blood to compete.

"So, when you talk about Libertadores, how is the atmosphere in a Libertadores match? It looks like a war. I shouldn't associate football and war, but Libertadores brings up that competitive atmosphere, a tough match. I think that is the style of Libertadores.

"We see the Champions League as a show, but Libertadores is not like that. When you play Libertadores, you are going to the battle. I think that is the difference between South American football, the Brazilian football, from European football."

This year's Libertadores final is the first in history to feature the winners of the past two tournaments – Flamengo conquered South America in 2019 before Palmeiras got their hands on the trophy thanks to Breno Lopes' 99th-minute winner last year.

Montevideo brings back good memories for two-time champions Flamengo, who trumped Chile's Cobreloa in 1981 for their first Libertadores trophy 40 years ago.

"That is something that brings up good memories," star Flamengo defender David Luiz told Stats Perform. "Without a doubt, we must carry this and bring that to us in a totally positive way. That is a place where every 'flamenguista' was happy. Why not be happy again?"

David Luiz joined Flamengo in September following his exit from Arsenal at the end of last season.

The 34-year-old returned to his homeland 14 years after departing Vitoria for Europe, moving to the star-studded Rio de Janeiro-based outfit boasting Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa, Filipe Luis, Everton Ribeiro, Diego and loanees Kenedy (Chelsea) and Andreas Pereira (Manchester United).

"I always said that since I came here that I am privileged in this group," David Luiz said. "I arrived at the best time of the competition. I could play the semi-finals, and now it is the best part of the cake. That is playing this great final. I am anxious, I want to play it.

"It was always a dream for me to be playing in my country. I could accomplish that after I left Brazil while I was with the national team. But now I am representing America's best team. And I can be in the final of the biggest South American competition. Without a doubt, that is very, very special."

Flamengo have established themselves as one of South America's finest, setting the bar after sweeping Libertadores, Campeonato Brasileiro and Recopa Sudamericana honours under Jorge Jesus before his return to Benfica.

After back-to-back league trophies in 2019 and 2020, Flamengo turned to Renato Gaucho after the tenures of former Pep Guardiola assistant Domenec Torrent and iconic ex-goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni did not go according to plan.

With Gaucho – the record holder for most victories in Libertadores history (50) – at the helm, Flamengo are on the cusp of a third crown.

Flamengo remain undefeated in the 2021 edition. They will be aiming to repeat the feat of rivals Corinthians, who are still the only team to win the title while going undefeated in the current format of the tournament, following their 2012 achievement.

The hero in the 2019 final with a brace, Gabigol will spearhead Flamengo's efforts on the pitch – the in-form Brazil international and former Inter forward tops the goalscoring charts in this season's Libertadores (10) as he seeks to become the first player in the competition's history to score 11 goals in the 21st century.

Gabigol has outperformed his expected goals tally (xG total of 8.5), while he has supplied four assists.

A Champions League winner with Premier League giants Chelsea, David Luiz was asked to compare the two tournaments, and whether Flamengo had the quality to compete in the European edition.

"I believe and understand that when you love something in your life, you will always feel that anger to live this," David Luiz said. "When you love something, you will have this in your heart, you have anxiety, you will want to be there, you will be counting the days, you will, without a doubt, be focused on that. The same way I counted, I lived, was anxious and wanted to play when I was young and was in the Champions League final. Today also, even after a lot of years, a lot of finals, that is still happening. I still love football. I still love what I do. And, of course, I will keep having that same anger to be in a final and living it the best way I can."

On Flamengo being able to match it with teams in the Champions League, David Luiz added: "I believe that is right. Today Flamengo are the first club to be organised to give us players the opportunity to represent and do best what we have to do that is to play football the best way we can. We have an amazing structure.

"High-calibre players, players who have played in numerous places and have a lot of quality. I believe, yes, we have the quality to play a Champions League without a doubt."

Standing in Flamengo's way is Weverton and reigning Libertadores champions Palmeiras, who are captained by tenacious former Juventus and Inter midfielder Felipe Melo.

Palmeiras continue to flourish under Portuguese head coach Abel Ferreira – the club have only lost two of the 19 Libertadores games with the 42-year-old in the dugout, while they are seven games unbeaten having eliminated Atletico Mineiro in the semis.

Abel is also looking to become the first European coach to win two Libertadores titles.

Weverton has kept seven clean sheets in this season's tournament as two-time winners Palmeiras eye their third piece of silverware in their sixth trip to the final.

In total, the 33-year-old has kept 31 clean sheets in 60 Libertadores appearances, with a 51.6 per cent effectiveness.

"I believe that you try to keep what you've achieved as if you were protecting something you conquered," Weverton said when asked about the fact it has been 20 years since a team last celebrated back-to-back titles. "We conquered that last year and now we have the chance to protect it, to bring it back, and that motivates us. But it doesn't give us an advantage. It just brings us motivation to protect something that you know that feels good to achieve.

"We saw how good it is to be champions of Libertadores, on how many good things this brings to you. Recognition, prestige, history, you have your name in the club’s history, brings you the fans respect. So, we saw that there are a lot of good things around it. We want to feel it again. We know we will have to battle for that again, we know that it is going to be a great game, a big war facing a great team. We know the path, but we have to pay the price for it. It does motivate us, but we need to prepare ourselves and know that it is going to be tough, but it is doable."

David Luiz believes Flamengo "without a doubt" have the quality to play in the Champions League as they prepare for the Copa Libertadores final against Palmeiras.

Former Chelsea centre-back David Luiz joined Flamengo in September, ending a 14-year association with European football after his contract with Arsenal expired. 

Injuries have hampered his return to Brazilian domestic football, but his side have cruised to the final of South America's showpiece event with a perfect six wins beyond the group stage.

Indeed, the 34-year-old made his debut in the Libertadores semi-final against Barcelona SC following a lengthy spell on the sidelines after knee surgery when at Arsenal.

While Palmeiras remain focused on the weekend, David Luiz told Stats Perform how he believes Flamengo are good enough to play in Europe's premier club competition.

"I believe that is right," David Luiz responded when asked whether Flamengo could cut it in the Champions League.

"Flamengo are the first club to be organised to give players the opportunity to represent and do best what we have to do, and that is to play football the best way we can. 

"We have an amazing structure – high calibre players, players who have played in numerous places and have a lot of quality. I believe, yes, we have the quality to play in the Champions League, without a doubt."

Palmeiras are eyeing a title defence in Montevideo after succeeding in last year's final against Santos in CONMEBOL's top-tier club tournament.

Flamengo, meanwhile, are searching for their second South American title in three seasons, and former right-back and now Cruzeiro assistant manager Juliano Belletti told Stats Perform how the pair have reached a class above in Brazilian football.

"It's a fact that Palmeiras and Flamengo have reached another level here within Brazilian football," Belletti said.

"With the signings that were made, the investment, both on and off the pitch. It's interesting to highlight that too. The structure of the clubs has changed a lot, for the better. 

"That's why they deserve to be in the Libertadores final. It's a match of great technical quality, which often goes against the spirit of the Libertadores that many people talk about.

"We see Palmeiras and Flamengo coming through, playing great football. They played good football to reach the final, a well-balanced game, and they deserved to be in this final match."

However, Belletti – who enjoyed spells with Barcelona and Chelsea during his playing days – was more measured in his response when asked the same question about Flamengo's Champions League credentials.

"The technical quality doesn't define a team's capacity to play or not in a competition like the Champions League," Belletti responded. 

"But there are players of quality that could play in teams that compete in the Champions League. That's for sure."

Bruno Henrique scored twice and David Luiz made his debut as two-time champions Flamengo defeated 10-man Barcelona 2-0 in the opening leg of the Copa Libertadores semi-finals.

Flamengo emerged triumphant thanks to Bruno Henrique's first-half brace in Rio de Janeiro, where veteran defender David Luiz appeared for the first time since his Arsenal exit.

Ecuadorian visitors Barcelona had Nixon Molina sent off in first-half stoppage time, while Flamengo substitute Leo Pereira – who replaced David Luiz approaching the hour mark – was also dismissed in the 89th minute.

David Luiz completed his move to Brazilian giants Flamengo earlier this month following his Arsenal departure at the end of last season, but team-mate Bruno Henrique stole the show on Wednesday.

Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa was the provider for the opening goal in the 21st minute – his inch-perfect cross picking out Bruno Henrique, who headed past Barcelona goalkeeper Javier Burrai.

Andreas Pereira – on loan from Premier League giants Manchester United – rattled the crossbar with a ferocious long-range strike, after Flamengo team-mate Bruno Henrique had also hit the woodwork.

But Bruno Henrique netted his second seven minutes before half-time after a swift counter-attacking move saw the attacker teed up by Vitinho.

It means Bruno Henrique has now been involved in 27 goals in the last five editions of the Libertadores – 16 goals and 11 assists, the second most by any player and only one behind Gabigol (28, 22 goals and six assists).

Ecuador faced an uphill battle in the second half when Molina saw red for a second yellow card on the stroke of half-time and while Flamengo also ended the match with 10 men after Pereira was sent off at the death, the 1981 and 2019 Libertadores winners were too strong.

The result was the 49th Libertadores victory for Flamengo head coach Renato Gaucho – the joint-most by any manager in the competition's history, alongside Gabriel Ochoa Uribe.

Barcelona will host Flamengo in the return leg on September 29, with a final showdown against either Palmeiras or Atletico Mineiro on the line.

David Luiz has completed a move to Brazilian club Flamengo following his exit from Arsenal at the end of last season.

The 34-year-old returns to his homeland 14 years after departing Vitoria for spells with European clubs Benfica, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.

He won 19 trophies across that period, which includes two separate stints at Stamford Bridge, while also helping Brazl to Confederations Cup success in 2013.

Having been linked with numerous clubs since his two-year stay with Arsenal came to an end in June, David Luiz has now put pen to paper on a deal until December 2022 with Rio de Janeiro-based Flamengo.

The experienced defender is Flamengo's third arrival of the mid-year window following the loan signings of Camilo Duran, Andreas Pereira and Kenedy, the latter two joining from Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.

Paul Pogba will be in demand when his contract expires after this season.

While several big clubs are in the mix, one has reportedly taken the lead.

The Santiago Bernabeu could be Pogba's next home.

 

TOP STORY - REAL MADRID WANT POGBA

Real Madrid are confident they can land Paul Pogba on a free transfer after this season, Mundo Deportivo reports. 

The interest apparently is mutual, as the report says Pogba would favour a move to Los Blancos over interest from Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus

The deal might not be so easy to close if Manchester United decide to sell Pogba during the January window, but he remains a top target for Madrid either way.

 

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- After failing to find a landing spot in Europe following his departure from Arsenal, veteran centre-back David Luiz will join Flamengo through the end of 2022, according to reports by Fabrizio Romano and Goal Brazil. 

- Alexandre Lacazette appears on the way out at Arsenal after the Gunners made a significant effort to sign Tammy Abraham during the transfer window, Romano reports. 

- Chelsea and Bayern Munich could pursue a swap deal that sends Timo Werner back to Germany and brings Leroy Sane back to the Premier League, according to Todo Fichajes.

- Everton will make another attempt to prise Ainsley Maitland-Niles from Arsenal during the January window, ESPN reports.

- Ajax defender Jurrien Timber is drawing interest from Chelsea and Tottenham, according to 90min. 

Borussia Dortmund's England international Jude Bellingham has been in Germany more than 12 months.

He has regularly been linked with moves back to England, having impressed in the Bundesliga.

Liverpool had a quiet transfer period, with only French defender Ibrahima Konate signed.

TOP STORY - LIVERPOOL TO LAUNCH RECORD BELLINGHAM DEAL

Liverpool will launch a record £80million (€93m) deal to secure central midfielder Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund claims the Daily Star.

The report says the England international is Reds manager Jurgen Klopp's top transfer target.

Theproposed deal would make 18-year-old Bellingham the club's most expensive ever signing.

 

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- Real Madrid have joined Manchester United and Barcelona in the race to sign Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans according to AS. The current contract of the 24-year-old Belgium international expires in 2023.

- Leicester City's Senegal midfielder Nampalys Mendy will join Istanbul giants Galatasaray on loan before the Turkish transfer window closes, reports Foot Mercato. Mendy, who has been on international duty, will rush to Turkey to complete the deal.

- Le10Sport reports that veteran Brazilian free agent David Luiz is set to ignore options with Marseille and Salernitana and instead return to his homeland.

- Roma will make another move for Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria in January after missing out on him during the most recent transfer window reports Corriere dello Sport.

Real Madrid have not given up on their hopes of adding Kylian Mbappe. 

He will be a top priority for Carlo Ancelotti following the 2021-22 season.

But could Los Blancos add two stars for the price of one? 

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID EYE MBAPPE-HAALAND PAIRING

Real Madrid will be the favourites to land Kylian Mbappe following the season if he does not reach a new deal with Paris Saint-Germain, but they will not be content adding only him. 

According to Marca, Erling Haaland is also a prime target at the Santiago Bernabeu and Madrid could pursue both players. 

Mbappe would be available on a free and Haaland could be had from Borussia Dortmund via his €75million release clause. 

 

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- Declan Rice expects to leave West Ham after the season, according to 90min, which reports he has asked the club to include a release clause in any new contract offer the Hammers might make. 

- Juventus declined the opportunity to sign Edinson Cavani from Manchester United after Cristiano Ronaldo's move in the other direction, the Mirror reports. 

- Former Tottenham right-back Serge Aurier prefers to remain in the Premier League and could end up at Arsenal, according to Sky Sports. The Ivory Coast international and Spurs terminated his contract by mutual consent this week. 

- Nicolas Nkoulou could be an option for Lazio if they cannot sign David Luiz, reports Calciomercato. 

Manchester United had a busy window in the transfer market.

The Red Devils landed Cristiano Ronaldo as well as Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho.

But their plans will not stop there, as the Red Devils set their sights on re-claiming silverware.

 

TOP STORY - HAALAND TO BE UNITED'S TRANSFER PRIORITY

Manchester United's priority transfer target in mid-2021 will be Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland despite their recent spending spree, claims ESPN.

Haaland can trigger a release in his Dortmund contract at the end of the 2021-22 season that is reportedly set at €75 million.

ESPN's report cites sources who claim United's capture of Ronaldo came outside of their transfer budget, meaning it will not impact their 2022 recruitment plans.

 

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- Calciomercato claims that Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne may be willing to leave the club next off-season on a free transfer to join Inter if they cannot agree to a new deal.

- Injured French forward Ousmane Dembele is set to be offered a new deal by Barcelona according to RAC. Barca have seen Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann leave over the past month.

- Barcelona will also look to sign Dani Olmo from RB Leipzig in January after missing out with their deadline day claims Mundo Deportivo.

- Ex-Arsenal and Chelsea defender David Luiz is weighing up options with Lazio , Benfica and Flamengo as a free agent reports Sportitalia.

Arsenal have confirmed defender David Luiz has left the club while Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos have returned to Real Madrid.

Experienced defender David Luiz indicated he would be leaving the Gunners at the end of his contract when he posted a farewell message to fans on Instagram last month.

The 34-year-old, who joined from Chelsea for a reported £8million in August 2019, made 73 appearances in all competitions for Mikel Arteta's side.

Meanwhile, Odegaard and Ceballos are heading back to Madrid following the expiry of their loan spells at Emirates Stadium.

Odegaard, who joined in January, impressed in his 20 appearances in all competitions under Arteta.

The Norway international scored two goals and provided two assists, while his average of 2.24 chances created per 90 minutes was the best return of any Arsenal player to play more than six times last season.

Ceballos first signed for Arsenal on loan in July 2019 and the deal was extended last September after an impressive campaign that began with two assists on his first Premier League start, a feat only previously achieved for Arsenal by Ray Parlour and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

The 24-year-old midfielder made 40 appearances for the Gunners last season, although only 25 of those came as a starter.

Each player has been linked with a permanent move to the club, but new Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti name-checked Odegaard and Ceballos this week as he discussed their trophy hopes in 2021-22.

"With this squad, without loan players like [Gareth] Bale, Odegaard and Ceballos, Madrid reached the Champions League semis and fought for LaLiga. So, we have the players to win trophies," Ancelotti told ABC.

Goalkeeper Mat Ryan is also leaving Arsenal after a short-term loan, while youngsters Levi Laing, Joseph Olowu, Luke Plange and Jason Sraha have been released.

In a statement, Arsenal said: "All developments regarding players extending their contracts; joining-rejoining us; or leaving us will be officially communicated as soon as they are confirmed.

"We thank the above players for their contributions to the club during the periods of their permanent or loan contracts with us.

"You will always be part of the Arsenal family and we wish you all the best of health, happiness and success in your futures."

Wolves striker Raul Jimenez is ready to return to full training after six months out with a skull fracture but he will require a head guard for the rest of his career.

The Mexico international suffered the injury in Wolves' 2-1 win over Arsenal back in November following a sickening clash of heads with David Luiz.

Jimenez received medical attention on the field for around 10 minutes before he was taken off on a stretcher, with the extent of his injuries later revealed as he underwent surgery for a "major traumatic brain injury [TBI] and skull fracture".

On Wednesday, Wolves' club doctor Matt Parry has confirmed the 30-year-old was now clear to resume training as normal and would likely be fit and ready for the 2021-22 season. However, he did warn that caution was still needed.

"His skull fracture has now healed well; he will wear a protective head guard to cover the area of bony injury for the remainder of his career, but it is adjudged strong enough for him to return to play with this protection," Perry told Wolves' official website.

"A brain injury such as concussion can take weeks and months to recover fully and TBI will sometimes leave lasting deficits. It is wonderful to be able to say that Raul has made a remarkable and excellent recovery to date.

"He has no measurable signs of deficit and is now at the stage when he can contemplate a return to the career he loves; but a degree of caution is still required."

Mikel Arteta paid a glowing tribute to David Luiz after the Brazil defender's departure from Arsenal at the end of this season was confirmed.

The 34-year-old moved across London to join the Gunners from Chelsea in August 2019.

He has played 73 times in all competitions, scoring on four occasions and contributing to 18 clean sheets.

Arsenal have won 32 of the 69 games he has started during that time – a win percentage of 46.4 per cent – but Arteta and David Luiz mutually agreed to a parting of the ways when his contract expires at the end of his season.

"David and I, we discussed it on a few occasions and the other day we made the final decision on that," he said ahead of Wednesday's trip to Crystal Palace, which will be Roy Hodgson's final home game in charge of the Eagles.

"He's won everything in football and he has earned every right to do so because of who he is as a player and a person. I had the privilege of working with him for 18 months.

"I really enjoyed working with him, we had some great moments together and he's been really helpful. He's someone we really like and appreciate so much.

"Just to say thank you to him and wish him the best of luck in his next chapter. Knowing David, he will have many more to come – as a player and also in the future, somehow related to the game."

David Luiz's countryman and fellow former Chelsea player Willian has endured a difficult maiden season at Arsenal.

The 32-year-old belatedly scored his first Premier League goal for the Gunners in the 3-1 win over West Brom earlier this month, while five assists in the top flight is below the return from each of his last three seasons at Stamford Bridge.

Inter Miami have been linked to a move for Willian, but Arteta expects him to remain at Arsenal and will work to improve his output.

"He's a player with an incredible talent and a proven performance level in this league," he said.

"This season has been difficult and I take full responsibility because I have to be getting the best out of him.

"We had moments, but not to the level like he did before.

"These are the assessments that we are going to do individually with the players and as well, obviously, with [director of football] Edu, the board and the ownership to make the right decisions for the future.

"Every player that is under contract is very likely to be here with us next season."

David Luiz is expected to be out of action for a number of weeks after undergoing a "small procedure" on his right knee, Arsenal have confirmed. 

The Brazilian centre-back missed the Gunners' 3-0 Premier League defeat to Liverpool on Saturday after experiencing discomfort during training. 

He underwent a successful procedure on Sunday and will be available for selection in the "upcoming weeks", according to the north London club. 

A statement on the Arsenal website read: "David Luiz underwent a small procedure on his right knee on Sunday morning.

"The procedure has been a success and David Luiz is now back at home rehabilitating. He will be able to return to daily support and recovery with our medical team at the training centre in the coming days.

"David Luiz is expected to be back to full fitness and available for selection in the upcoming weeks."

David Luiz has made 29 appearances across all competitions for Arsenal this season, starting 26 of those matches. 

No player has made more than his 20 blocks for the Gunners – level with Rob Holding – while his 64 successful aerial challenges is behind only Holding's 68. 

Arsenal have a 36.8 per cent win rate in the 19 Premier League games that have featured David Luiz this season, compared with 45.5 per cent in the 11 games for which he has been absent.

They have collected an average of 1.4 points when he has played and 1.5 when he has not.

Arsenal host Slavia Prague in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday before travelling to Sheffield United in the Premier League three days later.

Arsenal rising stars Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe face late fitness tests and David Luiz has been ruled out of the clash with Liverpool on Saturday evening.

Brazilian centre-back David Luiz must miss the Premier League game at Emirates Stadium, with Arsenal stating the 33-year-old has encountered "discomfort" in his right knee.

How serious that discomfort proves to be remains to be seen, with Arsenal saying the problem would continue to be examined.

Arsenal have a 36.8 per cent win rate in the 19 Premier League games that have featured David Luiz this season, compared with 50 per cent in the 10 games for which he has been absent.

They have collected an average of 1.4 points when he has played and 1.6 when he has not, with Arsenal heading into the weekend in ninth place, four points adrift of Liverpool who sit seventh.

In an injury update issued on the club website, Arsenal indicated winger Saka's right hamstring problem remained under observation.

The injury forced Saka out of England's three World Cup qualifiers in the past fortnight and although Arsenal posted a picture on Twitter of the 19-year-old in training, they said he "will be assessed ahead of Saturday's match regarding his availability".

The same applies for Smith Rowe, who suffered tightness in his right quad on England Under-21 duty, with Arsenal prepared to leave final decisions until closer to the game.

Manager Mikel Arteta faces a further wait to learn whether former captain Granit Xhaka is ready for the game, with the Swiss midfielder having missed training on Friday due to feeling unwell on his return from international duty.

Willian is available to Arteta, however, with the former Chelsea midfielder fully recovered from a left calf injury.

The 32-year-old has had the most assists (7) of all Arsenal players this season, across all competitions, with Smith Rowe and Saka (both 6) just behind the Brazilian.

Arsenal have lost just two of their last 20 Premier League home games against Liverpool (D9 W9).

Arsenal ended a run of two consecutive away Premier League defeats with an impressive 3-1 victory over high-flying Leicester City on Sunday.

Mikel Arteta's men fought back from an early Youri Tielemans goal to score through David Luiz, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe, ending a three-game losing streak at the King Power Stadium in the top flight.

The result means Arsenal closed to within three points of sixth-place Liverpool, having played a game more, while Leicester stay third and 13 points behind leaders Manchester City.

Tielemans gave Leicester the lead with a precise finish after being allowed to run unchecked into the Arsenal box, with Kieran Tierney out of position and Pablo Mari distracted by Jamie Vardy.

It was the fourth time the Gunners had conceded in the opening six minutes of a league game in 2021, but it seemed to spark them into life, with Pepe winning a penalty only for VAR to determine he was fouled outside the box.

David Luiz deservedly equalised six minutes before the break, steering a fine header past Kasper Schmeichel from Willian's free-kick, and the visitors were ahead in injury time.

Pepe's shot was blocked by the raised arm of Wilfred Ndidi and this time VAR ruled in favour of a penalty, allowing Lacazette to smash home from the spot.

Injury problems struck each team either side of the break, with Emile Smith-Rowe limping off for the Gunners before Leicester's Harvey Barnes was taken off on a stretcher, his left leg in a brace.

Arsenal scored their third soon afterwards, Pepe leading a counter-attack and then tapping a loose ball into the net after good work from Martin Odegaard and Willian.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came off the bench and almost made it 4-1, skipping into space and firing just wide of the right-hand post.
 

 

What does it mean? Gunners into top 10 as concern builds for Leicester

Given their poor start to the game, Arsenal's performance was as assured as any they have produced in recent weeks and lifted them back into the league's top 10.

Leicester stay third but, after a surprise Europa League exit to Slavia Prague this week, this was not the way Brendan Rodgers will have wanted them to respond.

The Foxes will hope these defeats do not point to a repeat of 2019-20. They lost on February 28 last year, away to Norwich City, during a six-game winless run that prompted a poor end to their season and a failure to see out a top-four finish.

Pepe starting to peak

Pepe menaced full-back Luke Thomas in the first half to the extent the Leicester man was substituted at half-time on a yellow card.

Having won the free-kick for the equaliser and Lacazette's penalty, Pepe then started and finished the move that effectively killed the game. He has now scored four times in his most recent seven league starts, as many as in his previous 21 across all competitions.

Leicester lose identity

Leicester seemed out of sorts after going ahead and barely threatened Bernd Leno's goal from then on, with Jamie Vardy strangely isolated in attack.

The man who scored 11 goals in his first 12 league meetings with Arsenal had 21 touches and failed even to attempt a shot.

What's next?

Arsenal head to Burnley next Saturday, three days after Leicester face the same opposition at Turf Moor.

Real Madrid are reportedly planning a €90million move for Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland ahead of next season.

Haaland, 20, is being targeted by Europe's biggest clubs after starring for the Bundesliga outfit.

Madrid are ready to make a move for Haaland ahead of 2021-22.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID PLAN €90M HAALAND MOVE

Real Madrid are plotting a €90m move for Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to ABC.

The report says the LaLiga giants will attempt to get Luka Jovic, who is on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt, or Mariano Diaz to be part of the deal.

Haaland has scored 23 goals in as many games for Dortmund this season.

ROUND-UP

- After landing Dayot Upamecano, Bayern Munich have other targets in mind. Bild reports the Bundesliga giants are also interested in Norwich City full-back Max Aarons, Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Florian Neuhaus, Rennes' Eduardo Camavinga and Lucien Agoume, who is on loan at Spezia from Inter. The Daily Mail also says Bayern are stepping up their pursuit of Aarons.

- David Luiz looks set to extend his Arsenal stay. The Independent claims the Premier League side are set to offer the defender another extension, with his deal expiring at season's end.

- Staying at Arsenal and Alexandre Lacazette's future at the club seems uncertain. The Daily Express reports Arsenal have been told they can sign Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard for just £15m.

- Without a club since leaving Trabzonspor in March last year, Daniel Sturridge has been offered to Newcastle United, according to 90min. West Brom and Sheffield United are also reportedly interested in Sturridge.

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