Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has revealed his heart is "absolutely fine" and he is "completely healthy" after undergoing tests in London.

The Gabon captain returned from the Africa Cup of Nations on medical grounds without playing a game after cardiac lesions were discovered when he underwent health checks.

Aubameyang had tested positive for COVID-19 on January 6 following Gabon's arrival in Yaounde.

The 32-year-old on Thursday stated that he is back in training after getting the all-clear.

He posted on Instagram: "I came back to London to do some additional checks, and I'm very happy to say that my heart is absolutely fine and I'm completely healthy!!

"Really appreciate all the messages over the last few days and I'm already back at it."

Aubameyang has this week been linked with a loan move to Saudi club Al Nassr.

The former Borussia Dortmund man has not played for the Gunners since being stripped of the captaincy due to a breach of discipline last month.

Arteta said of his former skipper during a press conference on Wednesday: "He's in London and going through some examinations because we haven't had any clarity from Gabon about why he came back.

"So it's our obligation to make sure he's safe and in good condition. So far historically with what we've done with the player that's never been an issue."

Cristiano Ronaldo's dream homecoming to Manchester United has not gone quite to plan so far.

While Ronaldo has scored 14 goals in 22 games – double the amount of any other United player – his team have otherwise struggled this term.

And with United in a serious battle to qualify for next season's Champions League, an early parting of the ways could be on the cards.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO'S TOP-FOUR ULTIMATUM

Ronaldo's representatives have informed United that the superstar forward will leave if the club miss out on a top-four finish in the Premier League, according to The Sun.

The Portugal international, who penned a two-year contract in August with the option of a further year, is said to be concerned by the direction in which United are heading.

Ralf Rangnick's side beat Brentford 3-1 on Tuesday but still remain seventh, albeit now just two points off fourth-placed West Ham with a game in hand.

Serial winner Ronaldo last week questioned the attitude of some of his United team-mates and then reacted angrily to being substituted off during the win at Brentford.


ROUND-UP

Bayern Munich will consider selling Robert Lewandowski at the end of the season if their talisman turns down the offer of a new deal, according to Bild. Lewandowski, who received The Best FIFA Men's Player of the Year on Monday, is out of contract at the end of 2022-23.

– Goal reports that Atletico Madrid have no intention of allowing Luis Suarez to complete a sensational return to the Premier League this month. The former Liverpool striker had been touted as a target for Aston Villa, who are now under the management of his old team-mate Steven Gerrard.

Chelsea have set their sights on a trio of Barcelona players, reports El Nacional. Blues boss Thomas Tuchel is said to be particularly keen on Frenkie de Jong, while full-back Sergino Dest and youngster Gavi are also targets.

– Meanwhile, Sport say that Barca are interested in Chelsea's Andreas Christensen. Barca are hoping to reach a pre-contract agreement with the defender this month.

Newcastle United must fend off competition from another Premier League club for the signing of Sevilla centre-back Diego Carlos, claims Sky Sports. The Magpies are also reported to be interested in Jesse Lingard.

Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the subject of a loan bid, with an obligation to buy, from Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr. The Gabon international is out of the picture under Mikel Arteta and may be granted permission to leave for the rest of 2021-22. Goal are reporting that story.

Mikel Arteta hit back at Arsenal's critics following the postponement of Sunday's north London derby as he insisted "we did the right thing."

The Gunners were due to make the short trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for a showdown with their fierce rivals, but the game was called off due to a lack of players available to Arteta.

Arsenal were accused of exploiting the Premier League's rules, with the majority of players absent due to injury, suspension or Africa Cup of Nations duty.

The club only one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the time of lodging an application to get the derby called off, but the Premier League deemed they were unable to meet the required number of available players – 13 outfielders and a goalkeeper – despite their Under-23s having a squad of 16 for a game on Friday.

Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte felt the decision to postpone the match was "very, very strange."

Arsenal manager Arteta hit back on the eve of Thursday's EFL Cup semi-final second leg at home to Liverpool, which he expects to go ahead despite "issues that have not been resolved" in his squad.

Asked what he thought about people saying Arsenal could have played the game, the Spaniard said: "We played against Forest [in the FA Cup] when we had 10 players out and we went to Liverpool and we had many players out.

"We have done that and we have played with academy players when we already have the youngest squad in the league.

"Tomorrow if we have everybody available as I suspect we will play the match because we want to play football."

He added: "I think more than hate [being directed towards Arsenal] there is a lot of respect for Arsenal and that comes from the history of the club, how it's always acted and how it has always conducted itself.

"We know we did the right thing. We worked with the Premier League and the FA to make that decision. If anything we've been very honest at least."

Arteta stressed that it was "100 per cent guaranteed" that Arsenal did not have enough players to face Spurs.

Asked if the criticism of the club could be used as a fuel to drive his team, Arteta said: "We will defend our club tooth and nail. We're not going to get anybody damaging our name or trying to spread lies."

Arteta revealed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is back in London and has undergone tests after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations for medical reasons without playing a game.

The Gabon striker had tested positive for COVID-19 on January 6 and was subsequently diagnosed with "heart lesions".

Arteta said: "He's in London and going through some examinations because we haven't had any clarity from Gabon about why he came back.

"So it's our obligation to make sure he's safe and in good condition. So far historically with what we've done with the player that's never been an issue."

Aubameyang has not featured for Arsenal since December 6, having been stripped of the captaincy due to a breach of club rules.

Arsenal and Liverpool played out a goalless draw in the first leg of their EFL Cup tie at Anfield, with Granit Xhaka seeing red in the first half.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Africa Cup of Nations campaign has finished without him even playing a game as Gabon confirmed he was returning to Arsenal for medical reasons.

Aubameyang tested positive for COVID-19 on January 6, ruling him out of Gabon's Group C opener with the Comoros.

Initially he was expected to return to action for the match against Ghana, which finished 1-1, with Aubameyang addressing the media the day before the game after returning a negative coronavirus test result.

But he was held back on medical grounds after the African Football Confederation (CAF) identified "cardiac lesions" – damage or abnormal change to body tissue – in health checks.

While apparently deemed to be not serious, Gabon have determined the best course of action is to send Aubameyang – and Nice midfielder Mario Lemina, who had a similar diagnosis after also contracting COVID-19 – back to his club for the appropriate medical follow-ups.

A statement read: "The Gabonese Football Federation has decided to put the players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina back at the disposition of their clubs in order for them to follow more in-depth exams."

Aubameyang returns to Arsenal with his future at the club unclear.

The striker was stripped of the captaincy in December after reportedly returning late from a trip abroad, and he was subsequently ostracised from the starting XI.

He did not play again before being allowed to leave early for the AFCON, with Mikel Arteta revealing Gabon's request in that regard had been accepted because Aubameyang was not going to play against Manchester City at the start of the month.

The Africa Cup of Nations group stage continues at pace on Friday, with four matches scheduled to take place.

Senegal, runners-up in 2019, face Guinea in Group B, with both teams having won their opening fixtures. Malawi and Zimbabwe take each other on in the other match in that group.

Meanwhile, Gabon are hoping to have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back for their clash with Ghana in Group C, while Morocco, winners against the Black Stars on matchday one, take on Comoros.

Senegal v Guinea (13:00 GMT)

Senegal and Guinea are meeting for the third time at the Africa Cup of Nations, with the former winning their first two encounters: 2-1 in the 1994 group stages and 3-2 in the 2006 quarter-finals.

In both matches, Guinea opened the scoring before eventually finishing as the losing side, and it is Senegal – led, of course, by Sadio Mane – who will be favourites on Friday, the Liverpool forward's 97th-minute penalty sealing an opening win against Zimbabwe.

Mane's fellow Red Naby Keita is Guinea's star man. He attempted more passes in the opposition half (26) than any of his team-mates in the 1-0 defeat of Malawi last time out and it was his precise ball that led to the only goal of the game.

Keita might have his work cut out against a Senegal midfield that will likely include Paris Saint-Germain's all-action Idrissa Gueye, the towering presence of Crystal Palace's Cheikhou Kouyate and Bayern Munich's versatile full-back Bouna Sarr, who had five attempts and played two key passes in the win over Zimbabwe.

One to watch: Sadio Mane

After his last-gasp winner on Monday, Mane has been directly involved in five of Senegal's past six AFCON goals, scoring four and providing one assist. Since his debut in the competition in January 2015, the former Southampton star has been directly involved in more goals than any other Senegal player.

 

Malawi v Zimbabwe (16:00)

After narrow defeats in their opening matches, Group B's other teams will be looking to bounce back knowing they could draw level with one of the pool's big sides with three points.

That being said, neither team exactly have a strong history in the competition. This will be the first encounter between the nations at an AFCON finals, with Malawi winning just one of their seven matches at the tournament (D1 L5).

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, are winless in their past seven AFCON matches (D2 L5), last claiming a victory in the competition in 2006, against Ghana (2-1).

It could be a case of an easily stoppable force meeting a highly movable object, however, with Malawi having failed to score in four of their past seven AFCON games, while Zimbabwe have never kept a clean sheet in 13 such matches, conceding 28 goals. No team has ever played more games in the competition without once keeping the ball out of their own net.

One to watch: Tino Kadewere (Zimbabwe)

Lyon forward Kadewere had to settle for a place on the bench in the first game, though he came on for the second half and had two attempts, which was bettered by only Knowledge Musona for Zimbabwe. In a squad shy of top-level European experience, Kadewere is undoubtedly the standout talent.

 

Morocco v Comoros (16:00)

After Senegal, Morocco are the second-best-ranked team at AFCON, currently placed 28th in the FIFA's world standings.

The Atlas Lions defeated Ghana in their opening Group C match and head into Friday's meeting with minnows Comoros as huge favourites, with Morocco looking to win their opening two matches at an AFCON in consecutive editions of the tournament, having only won both such games in one of their previous 16 appearances in the competition.

Comoros, who went down 1-0 to Gabon on Monday, will hope to avoid becoming the sixth AFCON debutants this century to lose their opening two matches, after Benin (2004), Botswana (2012), Burundi (2019), Niger (2012) and Zimbabwe (2004).

One to watch: Sofiane Boufal

Former Southampton midfielder Boufal scored an 83rd-minute winner against Ghana. No Moroccan player has netted in successive AFCON matches since Houssine Kharja in 2012.

 

Gabon v Ghana (19:00)

Friday's headline clash sees Gabon take on Ghana, and Aubameyang could well be back after he trained with his side following a negative coronavirus result.

Aubameyang, who has not played for Arsenal since early December and was recently stripped of the club captaincy due to a disciplinary breach, tested positive for COVID-19 upon his arrival for the AFCON, along with Mario Lemina.

Gabon will, however, be without coach Patrice Neveu, who is isolating. They are looking to win successive AFCON games for the first time since a run of three victories in 2012.

Four-time champions Ghana, meanwhile, have won just one of their past five group games (D2 L2), losing more in this run than in their previous 12 such matches combined (W9 D2 L1).

One to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

There is no doubting Aubameyang's quality, even if the 32-year-old has been ostracised at Arsenal recently. Having been out of action for so long, it may take the former Borussia Dortmund star time to get up to speed, though he has the ability to be the difference-maker. 

Gabon coach Patrice Neveu has tested positive for COVID-19 and missed training on Thursday as captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned from isolation with a rallying call.

Neveu's team started their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a 1-0 win over Comoros on Monday, but the coach appears certain to be absent for their second game on Friday when Ghana provide the opposition.

The Gabonese Football Federation confirmed Neveu's positive test result and stated training was led by assistant coach Anicet Yala, who himself tested positive on arrival in Cameroon last week.

Arsenal striker Aubameyang and Monaco midfielder Mario Lemina also returned positive results before the tournament began, but both are back on the training pitch and could be involved against Ghana.

Aubameyang said he had been able to train on an exercise bike and treadmill in his hotel room to keep up a basic level of fitness.

"Staying locked up is not easy," he said. "So we're happy to be back in training and in the squad."

Aubameyang contended it was too early to feel in any way serene about Gabon's progress in the competition and insisted he and his team-mates must stay focused as Ghana await them.

"I won't say serene, but it certainly feels good to start the competition with a victory," said Aubameyang, quoted on the Gabon team website. "After that, you shouldn't think that you won the [Cup of Nations] either.

"We are going to play a very tough opponent who want to win the game, so we will have to be serious as we were in the first game and I know that we will have our chances.

"I was already very happy that the guys did the job in the first game, we are all proud of them. Now it's up to me to level up and bring everything I can to the group."

The Cup of Nations was expected to provide welcome respite for Aubameyang after strife at club level.

His Arsenal future has become clouded by uncertainty after he was stripped of the club captaincy and dropped by manager Mikel Arteta following a disciplinary breach.

Premier League managers are already feeling the strain amid cascading numbers of COVID-19 cases and mid-season injuries. Now many top bosses stand to lose stars to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Africa's greatest football show – now commonly known as AFCON – gets under way on Sunday in Cameroon.

Although the 2019 edition was held in June and July, it has historically been a January-into-February tournament and has returned to that place on the calendar.

A host of Premier League big names are hoping to make an impact during the four-week tournament, which falls slap-bang in the middle of European club campaigns, causing a major clash of competitions.

Premier League clubs certainly cannot complain of a lack of fair warning. It was June 2020 when African football chiefs decided the 2021 edition of the tournament would have to be pushed back by 12 months to a January 2022 start, in the hope the coronavirus crisis would have eased.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at which teams from the English top flight might feel its impact the most.

Can Reds cling on in title battle?

If Liverpool lose no further ground on leaders Manchester City by the time their stars return from AFCON, then Jurgen Klopp would surely settle for that.

The 2019-20 Premier League champions have taken two points from a possible nine to leave the title as effectively City's to lose, and now Klopp is going to have to get by without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.

Egyptian striker Salah is the Premier League's leader in goals (16) and assists (9, level with Trent Alexander Arnold) so far this season. He has taken 80 shots in 20 games (38 of these have hit the target), played 12 throughballs and created 40 chances from open play: in each of those categories he is at the top of the Premier League charts for players defined by Opta as forwards.

How do you cope without such a contribution? Having Mane on hand would help, but Mane will be turning out for Senegal, a team who, like Salah's Egypt, are firmly in the mix as serious trophy contenders. Don't expect either back at the end of the group stage.

Mane has eight Premier League goals this term, including the opener at Chelsea recently. That goal return puts Mane joint-second among African scorers in the Premier League this season, level with Watford's Emmanuel Dennis, who is not in Nigeria's squad.

Mane has played 19 throughballs and has made 23 tackles to boot, which is the seventh highest number of tackles by a forward in the league this season, a rarely mentioned attribute of his game. He does not always tackle with his elbow, either.

Keita will presumably be less of a miss, with the Guinean's Anfield contribution remaining underwhelming, but Liverpool have been so hard hit by absentees recently that to lose anybody for up to five weeks is an inconvenience.

They are at least assured of Joel Matip's presence this month. The centre-back last played for Cameroon in 2015 and has retired from international duty. That is bad news for the AFCON hosts but helps Liverpool, given Matip remains a sturdy presence, with a duel success of 69.47 per cent this season ranking him third among Premier League defenders with 10 or more appearances, and a passing accuracy of 88.89 per cent putting him eighth in that metric.

Liverpool only have two league games inked in between now and the end of AFCON, against Brentford and Crystal Palace, but the Reds also have two postponed fixtures to be slipped in somewhere along the line.

Wintertime Blues?

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City hold a 10-point lead over second-placed Chelsea, with Liverpool a point further back but possessing a game in hand on the top two. Reigning champions City have won 11 straight Premier League games and the Citizens have the resources to be able to cope with the short-term loss of Riyad Mahrez, who will captain Algeria.

Mahrez's six goals and four assists this season have come at a startling rate. Given the depth in City's squad, he does not always start, so to appreciate his contribution it is worth looking at his numbers per 90 minutes on the pitch.

The former Leicester City forward is averaging 0.64 goals and 0.43 assists per 90 minutes – impressively close to Salah's return of 0.81 and 0.45 in those categories – and is one of only four Premier League players with 10 or more appearances to average at least 1.00 goal involvements per 90 (Michael Olise 1.43, Salah 1.26, Roberto Firmino 1.24, Mahrez 1.07).

The Blues of Chelsea may have concerns over the absence of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, given the Senegalese's stabilising influence at the back. His save percentage of 77.14 has only been beaten this season in the league by Wolves' Jose Sa (80.82) and Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale (77.46).

Spaniard Kepa Arrizabalaga struggled in the early stages of his Chelsea career and is now the undoubted understudy.

Yet Kepa's form when given an opportunity this season has not given such cause for concern. The former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper has been chiefly used in cup action, and he has achieved a remarkable save percentage of 81.48, suggesting that for a short run of games, he could be a perfectly able deputy.

Can an exodus to Africa affect the race for Europe?

Will fourth-placed Arsenal miss Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? It seems unlikely now, given he was dropped and stripped of the captaincy after a disciplinary breach before heading off to join Gabon. He has not played for a month. The Gunners won five games in a row without him, including four in the league, before being unlucky to lose to Manchester City.

Cold facts tell us Arsenal have a points average of 1.9 per Premier League game when Aubameyang has started games this season, and 1.5 when he has been either a substitute or out of the team, but those figures may not be significant given the momentum Mikel Arteta's players have built in the recent absence of the 32-year-old. His continuing exile from the first team seems unlikely to cause much consternation.

For manager Arteta to lose Thomas Partey (Ghana) at this point is a blow though, with the former Atletico Madrid player having been excellent in the 2-1 defeat to City, having been slowly building up to such a performance. He had more touches, won more duels, made more tackles and played more successful passes than any other Arsenal player.

Arsenal have a big derby at Tottenham coming up on January 16, and they might feel Partey's absence that day, particularly given Spurs, who currently sit sixth, are sending no current first-teamers away to AFCON.

Splitting the north London rivals for now are West Ham, in fifth, and it will surely have hurt David Moyes to wave off Said Benrahma for a month of Algeria duty. The playmaker has five goals and four assists in the league this season, as well as making 83 ball recoveries and creating 21 chances in open play. That makes him one of only 13 players in the competition to top both 80 recoveries and 20 open-play chances created, and one of only five Premier League stars to tick both boxes and score at least five times. Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha, away with Ivory Coast, is another member of that small group.

Seventh-placed Manchester United will lose Eric Bailly to Ivory Coast too. But with Phil Jones back in the first team, will Bailly be missed? The former Villarreal centre-back has played just 217 minutes in the Premier League this season. United youth prospect Hannibal Mejbri is also away, in his case with Tunisia.

Further into mid-table, Wolves must find an alternative to the excellent Romain Saiss (tackle success rate 72.73 per cent) on the left side of their defence, after he joined up with Morocco. Brighton and Hove Albion powerhouse Yves Bissouma has the highest tackle success rate among midfielders to have made more than 40 such challenges in the Premier League this season (50 attempted, 35 won: 70 per cent hit rate) and he will line up for Mali after ending an international exile.

Leicester City sent away striker Kelechi Iheanacho (2 goals, 4 assists this season) for Nigeria service at a bad time for the Foxes, given injured Jamie Vardy faces several weeks out of action.

Palace are firmly in favour of players heading away to represent their countries, but the Eagles never particularly like to be without Zaha (5 goals, 1 assist, 86 dribbles). Since his return from Manchester United in August 2014, Palace have averaged 1.2 points and a 32.9 per cent win percentage with Zaha in their starting line-up, and 0.9 points and a 24.5 win percentage when he has not been in that matchday XI. The loss of Cheikhou Kouyate (80.56 per cent success rate from 36 tackles) to Senegal duty may also diminish the sturdiness of Patrick Vieira's Eagles spine.

Can Clarets cope without Cornet?

The relegation scrap seems more likely to be affected by transfer market activity than departures to AFCON.

Newcastle United and Norwich City, the league's bottom two, are sending nobody away, while fourth-bottom Watford have kept Dennis (8 goals, 5 assists) and it remains to be seen what happens to Ismaila Sarr (5 goals), who has been absent with injury of late but has headed for checks with Senegal doctors.

Burnley, who sit 18th, are seemingly the team to watch carefully here. Maxwel Cornet, now away with Ivory Coast, has scored six Premier League goals from just 10 shots on target, and Sean Dyche must find a way to make the Clarets impactful without the former Lyon man.

Gabon captain and star player Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The Arsenal striker was one of three members of the travelling Gabon party to produce a positive result after the team's flight landed in Yaounde.

It means the Premier League star is set to miss his team's opening Group C game against Comoros on Monday.

The Gabon Football Federation issued a statement on its official Facebook page, with a headline of "Aubameyang, Lemina and Yala positive".

The statement read: "Arriving this morning at Yaounde on a special flight, the Panthers of Gabon submitted, like all delegations, to an antigen COVID-19 test at the Nsimalene airport.

"Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mario Lemina and assistant coach Anicet Yala have not escaped [COVID-19].

"But as required by the health protocol in this area, they subsequently underwent a PCR test, the results of which will confirm or deny the status of the latter."

Lemina is another key player for Gabon, with the midfielder having played for Juventus, Southampton, Fulham and now Nice.

Aubameyang missed the start of the Premier League season after testing positive for coronavirus.

More recently, his Arsenal future has become clouded by uncertainty after he was stripped of the club captaincy and dropped by manager Mikel Arteta following a disciplinary breach.

Gabon are also due to face Ghana on January 14 and Morocco four days later.

Dusan Vlahovic looms as a major topic in this January transfer window.

The 21-year-old Serbia international has scored 18 goals this season for Fiorentina.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Barcelona and Juventus have all been linked with Vlahovic, along with Arsenal and Tottenham.

TOP STORY - GUNNERS LODGE VLAHOVIC BID

Arsenal have lodged a €70million (£58.3m) bid for Fiorentina's Serbian forward Dusan Vlahovic,  according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

As part of the proposed deal, Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira would join La Viola on a permanent deal.

Arsenal, who were seen as a long shot to secure Vlahovic's services, are keen to sign a new forward, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang falling out of favour.

 

ROUND-UP

- Arsenal are willing to listen to offers for outcast forward Aubameyang in January, claims Sky Sports. Aubameyang lost the Gunners' captaincy last month and has been dropped from the side. Newcastle United have been linked with the Gabon international.

- Goal reports that Aston Villa, Everton and Liverpool are all keen on bringing in Philippe Coutinho during the January transfer window as Barcelona shop him around. Coutinho is not keen on a return to Brazil and fancies playing in England again.

- Atletico Madrid full-back Kieran Trippier has agreed personal terms with Newcastle with a medical to complete before a deal is confirmed, reports Fabrizio Romano.

- Real Madrid have thrown in the towel in their pursuit of Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger due to his wage demands, claims Marca.

- Chelsea, Newcastle and West Ham are all circling for Everton's full-back Lucas Digne,  according to Sky Sports. Digne is valued at £30m.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's future is unclear having become frozen out.

The Gabon striker was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy last month and dropped by the club for disciplinary reasons and has not played since.

Aubameyang's future is a hot topic as the January transfer window opens.

TOP STORY - NEWCASTLE IN FOR JANUARY AUBA MOVE

Big-spending Newcastle have got in touch with Arsenal about a loan deal for outcast striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claims The Mirror.

The Magpies want to sign 32-year-old Aubameyang on loan for the remainder of the season.

Newcastle would also look to sign Aubameyang, who is away at the African Cup of Nations, on a £20million off-season permanent deal.

 

ROUND-UP

- Teenage US international Ricardo Pepi is on the verge of joining Bundesliga club Augsburg claims Fabrizio Di Romano. The 18-year-old netted 13 goals for Dallas in the 2021 MLS season and is set for a medical on Sunday.

- Eddie Nketiah is being pursued by Bayer Leverkusen on a free transfer from Arsenal when his contract expires at the end of this season, reports The Sun.

- Sport reports that Brazilian giants Palmeiras are not interested in signing forward Philippe Coutinho as Barcelona try to shop him around in January.

- Axel Tuanzebe will join Napoli on loan from Manchester United until the end of the season, claims the Manchester Evening News. Tuanzebe is currently on loan at Aston Villa.

- The Sun claims that Manchester United's pursuit of Declan Rice has been boosted by West Ham's recent slide outside the Premier League top four.

Matthijs de Ligt's future at Juventus is unclear following comments from his agent Mino Raiola.

The Netherlands international has been with the Bianconeri since July 2019 but could be set to move on.

Juventus are off the pace in the Serie A title race this season and Raiola said his client was "ready for a new step".

 

TOP STORY – BARCA CONSIDER DE LIGT MOVE

Barcelona are considering making a move for Juventus defender De Ligt, reports Gerard Romero.

The Blaugrana would need to offload the salaries of Samuel Umtiti and Philippe Coutinho to enable the transfer.

De Ligt has been linked with a switch away from Juventus, with Chelsea also interested.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham and Manchester United will rival Newcastle United in pursuit of Atletico Madrid's Kieran Trippier, claims 90min. Trippier is keen to return to England after two and a half years in Spain.

- Real Madrid are interested in Lille forward Jonathan David at the end of this season, claims Marca. Arsenal and West Ham are also monitoring the Canadian.

- Gerard Romero is reporting that Bayern Munich are considering a move for Barcelona's USA international full-back Sergino Dest.

- ESPN claims Arsenal are ready to listen to offers for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he was stripped of the Gunners captaincy last week.

Nicolas Pepe is not happy with his playing time at Arsenal, but his frustration is something manager Mikel Arteta is happy to see.

The winger started Tuesday's 5-1 EFL Cup quarter-final win over Sunderland, scoring Arsenal's second goal and setting up the final two for Eddie Nketiah and Charlie Patino.

That was only Pepe's eighth start of the season in all competitions. In total, he has played 759 minutes in 2021-22, fewer than youngster Gabriel Martinelli and the apparently out-of-favour Alexandre Lacazette.

Arteta said Pepe is putting up a fight to earn more minutes for the Gunners, something he wants to see from all of his squad players.

"A player that doesn't play, if he's happy you have a big problem and Nico has not been happy," he said of Arsenal's record signing.

"He's been trying to challenge us and asking us for more minutes because this is what he wants to do and rightly so and this is the attitude that we want from our players."

Pepe could be in line to face Norwich City in the Premier League on Boxing Day as Arsenal prepare for a run of three league games in five days.

It is still unclear whether former club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will return, the Gabon striker having been left out since being stripped of the armband for ill discipline this month.

Arteta would not rule out the striker from being involved as he stressed it was not a matter of waiting for Aubameyang to apologise.

"What I said is that we make the squad the day before and today, as it's still Wednesday, I haven't done the squad," he said.

"I think we have shown in this club that everybody can make mistakes or can have different ways of thinking or acting. I'm completely open to that, and it's not about that."

Monday marked two years since Arteta was appointed as Unai Emery's replacement at Arsenal.

The former Manchester City assistant has enjoyed mixed fortunes, winning the FA Cup but failing to secure a Champions League return while conducting an overhaul of the squad.

Since Arteta's appointment, Arsenal have won 37 of their 77 league games, gaining 127 points in total. Only Manchester United, Chelsea (both 142), Liverpool (160) and Man City (176) have taken more in that time.

Asked what he is most proud of during his time in charge, Arteta replied: "The atmosphere, the environment and the culture we have around the club and the sense of unity that we have from everybody who works at the club and the sense of unity that we have with our supporters that I think has come a long, long way.

"I think I have made a lot of mistakes for sure in this period, I would have time to reflect on that. I wish I had six trophies here next to me because that's what this club deserves!

"There are still a lot of things we need to get much better at, to improve, but I think the team is going in the right direction. That is the feeling that I have."

After celebrating his second anniversary as Arsenal manager on Monday, Mikel Arteta can settle in for Christmas with his team in the top four of the Premier League.

A convincing 4-1 win at Leeds United on Saturday was the Gunners' third victory in a row the league, with young stars Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe all finding the net.

However, it wouldn't be Arsenal without a shadow looming over any potential optimism, and Arteta's ongoing problem of what to do with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rumbles on.

Having recently stripped the Gabon international of the club captaincy following "his latest disciplinary breach", the Arsenal boss must now decide whether he can bring Aubameyang back into the fold or must cut his losses and try to move the striker on in January.

But where did it all go wrong for the 32-year-old, broadly considered to be one of the best forwards around in recent years?

Stats Perform takes a look at the player, the numbers, and whether the north London club might actually be better off without their main marksman.

Heir apparent to Henry

It felt like a statement of intent.

After spending big money to bring Alexandre Lacazette to the club from Lyon ahead of the 2017-18 season, Arsenal decided to splash out even more to add Aubameyang at the end of the following January transfer window.

Having scored 138 goals in 209 games at Borussia Dortmund, plenty was expected of him upon arrival in the Premier League, particularly as his style of play, pace and goalscoring abilities gave more than a hint of a similarity to Gunners legend Thierry Henry.

Aubameyang even took Henry's iconic number 14 shirt, but unlike the Frenchman, he needed no settling in period as he bagged 10 goals in his first 13 league appearances for the club.

Only Mohamed Salah (13) scored more Premier League goals in that time, while of players who took at least 10 shots, only Romelu Lukaku (80.0 per cent) had a better shooting accuracy percentage than his 79.17.

Arsenal finished sixth in the league that season, 12 points off the top four and 37 points behind champions Manchester City. It would prove to be Arsene Wenger's last campaign, and if there was going to be real progress, new boss Unai Emery would need Aubameyang to have an exceptional first full season in England.

That's exactly what he got, with the former Saint-Etienne striker scoring 22 goals in 36 appearances, winning the Premier League Golden Boot jointly with Liverpool pair Salah and Sadio Mane.

What had made this all the more impressive was that Aubameyang had a better minutes per goal ratio than both, registering one on average every 124 minutes, with only City's Sergio Aguero (118 minutes per goal) performing better of those who scored at least 10 goals.

Arsenal did improve in 2018-19, finishing seven points better off and one place higher, but they were still a point shy of rivals Tottenham in that elusive top four spot.

Aubameyang was also potent in cup competitions, bagging nine more, including eight on the way to the Europa League final, but the Gunners were soundly beaten by Chelsea in Baku.

Despite the agony of missing out twice on Champions League qualification, there was little doubt by this point that Aubameyang was the talisman of the team and the player Emery would have to build around to have any hope of success.

Captain Auba

After Granit Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy following an angry confrontation with fans when coming off in the 2-2 home draw with Crystal Palace in October 2019, Aubameyang was appointed as his successor, following Henry's path once again as the star man expected to lead by example.

The player seemed to appreciate the significance, posting on Twitter: "Arsenal has a great history of wonderful captains like Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams. It is a privilege to follow in their footsteps and I will honour the armband by doing my very best on and off the pitch."

Less than a week later, the man who gave him the armband was sacked, with Emery eventually replaced by Arteta in the Spaniard's first shot at senior management.

The extra responsibility and change of boss did not seem to slow Aubameyang down, scoring 22 league goals again, with only Jamie Vardy (23) grabbing more. However, the team's form was very much going in the wrong direction.

Arsenal did lift the FA Cup, with their captain scoring both goals against Chelsea to exact revenge for the previous season's Europa League defeat, but faltered in the league, finishing eighth on just 56 points, 10 off the top four, behind Wolves in seventh and nearly twice as close to relegated Bournemouth as they were to champions Liverpool.

Could Arteta get the best out of both player and team?

The notion that Arsenal could only succeed if Aubameyang was firing on all cylinders was beginning to be tested. He appeared to be doing all he reasonably could, but the overall form of the team did not seem to improve.

With a former player now in charge in Arteta, who had learned his trade under the guidance of Pep Guardiola while at City, would he also want to build around their goalscorer or try to change the mentality of a team that seemed to lack ideas if giving the ball to Aubameyang didn't work?

Although he had scored plenty, Aubameyang's minutes per goal average had lengthened again, going from 106 minutes in his first half-season to 124 in his first full season and 143 in the next.

The 2020-21 campaign was strange for everyone, with most games played behind closed doors. Arsenal finished eighth again but with five more points than the previous year and only six behind the top four.

While it was not immediately clear to see if the Gunners had improved much, if at all, under Arteta, what was noticeable was that even if they had been treading water, they had done so without the same output from Aubameyang.

He managed only 10 goals in 29 games and his minutes per goal reached a sluggish 234, significantly slower than Lacazette, whose 13 goals came at an average of one every 148 minutes, and even Nicolas Pepe, who scored 10 at an average of one every 161 minutes.

As this season has progressed, Arteta has appeared to be trying to move away from reliance on his now former captain, who has managed just four goals in 14 league games and has not scored since the 3-1 home win against Aston Villa in October.

After another insipid performance in the 3-2 defeat at Manchester United at the start of December, Aubameyang was left on the bench for the 2-1 loss at Everton, only coming on late in the game, notably after fringe player Eddie Nketiah had already been introduced.

He was then missing from the squad entirely for the win against Southampton before Arteta confirmed that he had stripped the player of the captaincy as well following a disciplinary dispute.

"We have made this decision that unfortunately is a really tough one," Arteta confirmed.

"If I had to choose, I wouldn't like to be sitting here talking about it, but we had to do it.

"When we have to make that decision, it's because it's the right one to defend the interests of the football club."

So, what next?

It would be harsh to make too much of a link, but Aubameyang has been missing from the Gunners' past three squads and they have won all three games, scoring nine and conceding just once.

They are also the joint-fifth-highest scorers in the league (27), despite the lack of goals from their one-time main man.

Against an admittedly depleted Leeds side at the weekend, what was particularly notable was how Arsenal went at their hosts from all angles, hitting the target 11 times in the first half, with six different players taking these shots.

Lacazette played a hard-working and selfless role up front, while promising wide forwards Martinelli and Saka showed energy and ruthlessness.

Should Aubameyang leave in January, the assumption would be that it relates to his disciplinary issues, but tactically, could a move actually be beneficial to both parties as well?

The player looks like he needs a fresh start, possibly to a team who are not as reliant on him as Arsenal have been for most of his time there, while the manager seems to have deliberately reduced his team's dependence on just one man.

Speaking on Monday, Arteta said of his anniversary: "It's been an incredible journey, and I am really happy and proud with the company that I have had on the journey.

"Now it is a new phase where we start to rebuild the team, we take a very clear direction with how we want to move forward with the club, a real connection between the team and supporters, the ownership and board and I think now it is excitement.

"[There is] excitement to keep driving this project forward, to keep working with this really young squad, but ready to compete, to get better and take the club back to where it belongs."

It has been an interesting first two years at the helm for Arteta, and it feels like whatever decision is made on the future of Aubameyang could well define the direction things take from here.

Aubameyang has occasionally donned a Spider-Man mask when celebrating in the past, but as far as his future at Emirates Stadium goes, there might be no way home.

Kieran Trippier has long been linked with a move back to England.

The 31-year-old full back has plied his trade in Spain for the past two-and-a-half years.

Trippier spent time with Manchester City, Burnley and Tottenham before joining Atletico Madrid, but seems set for a Premier League return next month.

 

TOP STORY – ATLETICO TO PERMIT TRIPPIER MOVE

Atleti are set to allow England international Trippier to join Newcastle United in January according to the Daily Mail.

The report claims that Atleti are hoping for £15million (€18m) from cashed-up Newcastle, who need reinforcements in their bid to avoid relegation.

Atleti will let the deal progress if they can find a suitable replacement for the defender during January.

ROUND-UP

- Tuttosport claims Juventus will switch their attention to signing an attacking player in January to boost their Champions League qualification hopes, with Manchester United pair Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial, Paris Saint-Germain's Mauro Icardi and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in their sights.

- AS reports that Eden Hazard does not want to leave Real Madrid in the January transfer window, despite struggling for impact with Los Blancos.

Chelsea are set to make a move for Wolverhampton's Ruben Neves according to TodoFichajes. Thomas Tuchel wants to reinforce the midfield with Saul Niguez having underwhelmed since joining in August.

Real Madrid are plotting a move to sign Internazionale's Netherlands international Denzel Dumfries reports Defensa Central.

- Veteran Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho is set to extend his stay with Manchester City, scuppering interest from Atletico Mineiro, reports Sport Witness.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's future at Arsenal is murky.

Aubameyang lost the captaincy and was suspended for disciplinary reasons last week.

The 32-year-old has been with Arsenal since moving from Borussia Dortmund in 2018.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE INTERESTED IN AUBA MOVE

Tuttosport claims that Juventus are interested in signing Aubameyang with his future at Arsenal uncertain.

The Gabon international was stripped of the Gunners captaincy last week for disciplinary reasons, creating doubts about his future under Mikel Arteta at Arsenal.

The Bianconeri would be interested in signing the 32-year-old on a six-month loan deal.

ROUND-UP

- Cashed-up Newcastle United are looking to sign Anthony Martial on loan from Manchester United in January, reports the Sun.

- Barcelona have made Manchester United's veteran Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani their top January target according to Sport.

- Barcelona are also interested in forgotten Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata, claims the Star.

- The Sun claims Leeds United are considering a move for Juventus' US international Weston McKennie who is valued at £20 million.

- AS reports that Manchester United are set to enter into the race for Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Chelsea are also keen on the French defender.

- Manchester City are set to reward Bernardo Silva for his good form, with a lucrative new contract where his salary will be doubled, claims the Sun.

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