He has matured as a leader: Toure says Arsenal skipper Aubameyang is ´an important one to keep´

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has “matured” since being made captain and is “an important one to keep” for Arsenal, says former Gunners defender Kolo Toure.

Since making his Arsenal debut in February 2018, no player has scored more Premier League goals than Aubameyang, whose return of 68 is matched only by Liverpool star Mohamed Salah.

The Gabon forward’s importance to the club was emphasised when former boss Unai Emery handed him the captaincy in November, a job he kept when Mikel Arteta took over a month later.

Aubameyang’s long-term future at the Emirates Stadium remains shrouded in doubt with the 31-year-old into the final year of his contract and yet to commit to fresh terms, although Arteta has stated his belief their prized asset can be persuaded to stay.

Toure, a member of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ title-winning team of 2003-04, said Aubameyang has shown the qualities needed to be a leader and is crucial for the Gunners.

“He’s a top player. I saw him grow. I can see that he’s matured now,” Toure told Stats Perform News.

“You can see as a captain he’s a leader, leading by example. He’s very focused. He’s working hard for the team.

“He’s a great captain and a great example. It’s really easy to talk but what are you showing us? Are you willing to fight for every ball? That’s what [Steven] Gerrard, [Patrick] Vieira, those great captains did.

“He’s an important one to keep.”

Arteta assumed the reigns after Emery’s tenure was ended 18 months on from being chosen as the successor to Arsene Wenger.

Toure believes Arteta has changed the culture at the club and the players are knuckling down for each other.

“I watched his first games. I was intrigued to see. I had an idea. In my mind I was thinking that the players were not playing together,” he said.

“You could see the attacking players and midfield were trying to press, but there was a big gap between midfield and the defence. That’s what he changed. When Arsenal press, they do so with high intensity.

“The back four are really high and the strikers are putting pressure to players on the ball, which is great.

“And culture – you can see every player is involved 100 per cent. They press together, when they defend deep, they defend all together. The strikers help.

“When they have the ball they can counter unbelievably with Aubameyang’s speed.

“He’s brought the team spirit and the mentality; ‘we are in this together’. No one can cheat in the team, this is non-negotiable. That’s the word he’s used.”

On Saturday, Arteta has the chance to win his first silverware as a head coach when Arsenal play the FA Cup final against Chelsea, for whom Frank Lampard is also aiming to end his maiden campaign in the Blues dugout with a trophy.

Toure is impressed by how both men have adapted to the touchline from their playing days.

“It’s unbelievable either could win a trophy in their first year. For ex-players to do that is unbelievable,” Toure said.

“Being an ex-player does not mean you are going to be a good manager. Their intelligence and understanding of the game, it’s different to being a player.

“Where you are on the pitch, you have to make quick decisions. The touchline is different. You have to analyse the game and be able to see things to improve your team.

“You have to plan and spot weaknesses. They are an inspiration for us. It gives me the belief that when you’ve been a player you can make a career as a manager.”

The Premier League Free Agents: Where the bookies think they’ll end up this summer

While the 2019/2020 campaign might have finally entered a well-deserved summer break, the action behind the scenes will be well underway as teams from across the Premier League draw up their transfer wishlist.

However, with the current economic conditions playing a vital role in each team’s activity this summer, managers from up and down the country could be casting their eye at those free agents still waiting by their phones.

So, with a number of the Premier League’s top stars still available on a free transfer this summer, where do the bookmakers think they’ll be ending up over the coming months?

Jan Vertonghen

Only playing a bit part role in Jose Mourinho’s plans since football marked its return from the enforced break last month, it was no surprise to many around North London that Jan Vertonghen would be seeking a new challenge this summer.

Enjoying an eight-year stay with Tottenham and cementing his spot as a fan favourite, the 33-year-old made 315 appearances for Spurs and helped the Lilywhites reach finals in the Champions League and League Cup.

Stating earlier in the week that an announcement regarding his future will be made “sooner rather than later“, Tottenham’s 2018 Player of the Year will not be short of options from across the continent.

Speaking with talkSport and refusing to rule out extending his stay in the Premier League, it is being heavily rumored that Manchester United have made their intentions clear to the Belgium international.

Along with reports in Italy suggesting Wolves have chucked their name in the hat, it is also believed that a host of Italian sides have reached out to the defender’s representatives.

However, although a host of Premier League sides might snap up the chance to secure his signature, the bookmakers believe that Vertonghen could be heading back to where it all began.

Starting his career with a six-year spell at Dutch giants Ajax and helping them lift back-to-back Eredivisie titles, the versatile defender made over 150 appearances for the Amsterdam outfit.

Vertonghen is currently priced at 7/5 with 888sport to make what would be a much-welcomed return to the Johan Cruyff Arena this summer.

Willian

While Willian’s current deal at Stamford Bridge has been extended to the end of August, it is no secret that the Brazilian international and his team are in talks with clubs across the globe.

Since making the move to Chelsea back in 2013, Willian has won two Premier League titles and an FA Cup during his tenure in the capital and it is believed that he has five offers on the table.

With Sky Sports reporting that Barcelona are willing to match his demands and remaining a long-term admirer of the winger, David Beckham’s Inter Miami have also offered a lucrative three and a half year deal.

Although many felt that he would have his chances cut short due to Frank Lampard’s arrival last summer, the 31-year-old has remained a constant performer for Chelsea this season.

With only Tammy Abraham bagging more than his 11 strikes this year, the Blues are also desperate for Willian to sign a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

While they might not be willing to match his demands for a three-year extension, it was reported earlier in the week that Lampard’s side have reopened discussions in an attempt to find a solution.

Making it no secret over the past months that his top priority is to extend his stay in the Premier League, it appears that one of Chelsea’s London rivals are in pole position to secure his signature this summer.

Before the two sides face off in Saturday’s FA Cup Final at Wembley, Arsenal have remained heavily linked with a move for the veteran winger.

In fact, a landslide pick with the bookmakers to make the move to North London before the 2020/2021 campaign quickly gets underway, Willian is already priced as low as 1/3 with Unibet to be wearing red come the end of the summer.

Ryan Fraser

Since announcing in the middle of June that he had rejected a short-term contract extension with Bournemouth following the Premier League’s return to action, Ryan Fraser is a name reportedly attracting a string of interest.

Heavily criticised by many on the South Coast after refusing to help out in the Cherries’ failed attempt to avoid the drop this summer, Fraser’s contract at the Vitality expired on June 30th and he will be looking to sort out his immediate future over the coming weeks.

Although the Scotland international might have failed to find his best form in what was a stop-start campaign, his remarkable run of form during the 2018/2019 season proved that he can be a real asset to any side.

Recording seven goals and supplying 14 assists, both Newcastle and Crystal Palace are the latest sides who have shown a real interest in securing his signature this summer.

While West Ham are another name that has been floated as a possible destination for the former Aberdeen starlet, the bookmakers believe that Fraser will be heading to another club in the capital.

With Football Insider claiming earlier in the month that he has already agreed on terms with Spurs, the 26-year-old is currently priced at 6/4 with 888sport to link up with Jose Mourinho’s side this summer.

Bayern boss Flick delighted for Sule after comeback in Marseille friendly

Hansi Flick was delighted to see Niklas Sule make a long-awaited comeback from injury as Bayern Munich tuned up for the Champions League by beating Marseille in Friday’s friendly.

Germany defender Sule has not played since October after rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament, although he was among the substitutes for the DFB-Pokal final triumph over Bayer Leverkusen.

The centre-back replaced Jerome Boateng just after the hour in the 1-0 victory over Marseille at Bayern’s academy campus, where Serge Gnabry scored the only goal of the game.

Sule getting minutes is a timely boost for Flick as Bayern prepare to face Chelsea in the second leg of their delayed Champions League last-16 contest on August 8, a tie in which they lead 3-0.

“We are all very happy. He [Sule] worked hard to get back on the pitch,” Flick said.

“He more than deserved to be back on the pitch.”

Benjamin Pavard injured his metatarsal in training this week, and Flick said Bayern will continue to monitor when the France defender can return.

“First of all we have to play against Chelsea, which I think will be relatively close,” Flick added when asked about Pavard.

“Anything that comes after that, we’ll worry about when we’ve fully opened the door to the quarter-finals.”

The injury situation meant Joshua Kimmich playing at right-back against Marseille and Flick was happy with what he saw from the supremely gifted Germany international.

“It was of course a change. Also back in midfield with Thiago [Alcantara], who was previously injured,” Flick said.

“He also worked hard in his free time. Josh always gave impulses on the right side and closed his side defensively. I’m very happy with that too.”

Brighton pursue Maitland-Niles deal

According to a recent report from the Mirror, Brighton & Hove Albion are eyeing up a potential move for Arsenal star Ainsley Maitland-Niles during the summer transfer window. The 22-year-old has three years left on his current deal with the Gunners, but given the unlikelihood of him getting regular first team football at the Emirates, you’d have to think he is contemplating a move away.

After the Seagulls were able to successfully survive in the Premier League this season, it appears as if they’re starting to kick on in the hope of securing a top half finish during the 2020/21 campaign.

Maitland-Niles has been fairly hot and cold during his tenure with the club, but there’s clearly a connection between the two parties. The summer window is going to mark a whole lot of change throughout the top flight, and these two clubs both need to mix things up if they want to thrive once again.

Havertz yet to attract a single offer, Bayer Leverkusen director reveals

Bayer Leverkusen have not received any offers for Kai Havertz despite persistent speculation linking him with Chelsea, sporting director Simon Rolfes has revealed.

Havertz, 21, has been a revelation in the Bundesliga ever since making his breakthrough as a 17-year-old in the 2016-17 campaign.

The midfielder, who has been played in an increasingly attacking role over the past two years, has scored 29 Bundesliga goals since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, while his haul of 12 this term came alongside six assists.

Widespread speculation suggests it is unlikely he will remain with Leverkusen – who failed to qualify for the Champions League – next term, while Chelsea are said to have positioned themselves as frontrunners for his signature.

Leverkusen are reported to be demanding at least €78million (£70m) for the Germany international, whose national team colleague Timo Werner has already made the switch to Stamford Bridge.

But Rolfes, a former Leverkusen midfielder who is now in charge of sporting decisions at the club, insists no club has made an offer for Havertz yet.

“So far we have no offer,” Rolfes told Sky Germany. “We know about the interest of clubs, but there is no official offer.

“We have said several times that we will end the season with our entire squad, and that includes Kai. That goes without saying for us.”

Although the Bundesliga season is over, with Leverkusen finishing fifth, Die Werkself are still in the Europa League.

They are due to face Rangers at home next Thursday in the second leg of their last-16 tie, having won 3-1 in Scotland five months ago, prior to the coronavirus pandemic bringing a temporary halt to European football.

Should they get past Rangers, Leverkusen will face either Inter or Getafe in the quarter-finals.

At this point the competition will become a mini-tournament made up of single-legged ties – rather than the usual two-legged contests – after UEFA moved the latter stages to neutral venues in Germany due to the pandemic.

Napoli sign Lille striker Victor Osimhen in reported club-record deal

Napoli have landed highly rated forward Victor Osimhen from Lille in a reported club-record deal said to be worth an initial €50million.

The 21-year-old attacker spent just a single season in France but showed enough to seal a big move to Serie A, with Napoli understood to have given him a five-year contract.

Nigeria international Osimhen moved to Europe in 2017 when he signed for Wolfsburg, but he was allowed to join Belgian club Charleroi on loan and they triggered a purchase option on him just last year after scoring 20 times in 2018-19.

Charleroi quickly made a significant profit on their apparent €3.5m outlay as Lille came calling, bringing him to France in a deal said to be worth up to €15m.

During his solitary season in Ligue 1, Osimhen scored 13 goals – a figure bettered by only Wissam Ben Yedder, Kylian Mbappe and Moussa Dembele – and set up four more in 27 league appearances.

The deal could eventually reach €54m, according to claims in Italy, making him Napoli’s record signing.

Their previous record holder in that regard, Hirving Lozano, has been linked with a move away from Stadio San Paolo after an underwhelming first season in Serie A after costing €42m from PSV.

Can Wolves avoid a transfer invasion this summer?

For the second straight year, Wolverhampton Wanderers have finished seventh in the Premier League. When you put that alongside the fact that they’re still involved in the UEFA Europa League at the Round of 16 stage, we’d say it’s been another pretty successful year for Nuno Espirito Santo’s men.

However, as we look ahead to the remainder of the summer and beyond, it appears as if there’s been a great deal of interest in some of Wolves’ biggest and best names. That’s understandable when you consider how well the club has built up their squad in the last few years, and it’s left many fans wondering what is going to happen next.

The answer is nobody knows for sure, but either way, you can bet they’ll do everything in their power to try and rebuild if players do leave Molineux.

Today, we’re going to give our predictions for where we think the big four will end up: Nuno, Raul, Adama and Diogo.

Nuno Espirito Santo

A few months back everyone was relentlessly discussing the possibility of Nuno leaving the Black Country in favour of a move to a bigger club – whether that be in the Premier League or across the rest of Europe. However, after another strong year, we really don’t think there’s any job out there that would lure him away from his precious Wolves.

Prediction: Stay

Raul Jimenez

This is the one that appears to be causing the Wolves faithful the most grief, with Juventus and Manchester United reportedly leading the race to sign the popular Mexican. While the Old Lady is apparently willing to put forward an insane offer to lure him over to Serie A, we’re expecting United to win the battle and keep him in England.

Prediction: Join Manchester United

Adama Traore

The insane pace and strength of Adama Traore has been on display all season long, with many believing that he should’ve been in the conversation for Player of the Year. The Spaniard is still young and has a whole lot of time left to grow, and therefore, we think he’ll decide to stay with Wolves for another year instead of heading up north to join Liverpool.

Prediction: Stay

Diogo Jota

The talk surrounding Jota really does seem to have died down in the last few weeks, perhaps due to his somewhat questionable form. We still think he could be on the move next summer if he is able to get back to his best, but for now, Wolves fans can probably relax.

Prediction: Stay

Willian and Kante in contention for FA Cup final, Lampard undecided on goalkeeper

N’Golo Kante and Willian are in contention for Chelsea’s FA Cup final clash with Arsenal on Saturday, though Frank Lampard refused to be drawn on who will start in goal.

France international Kante has endured a frustrating season for the Blues, with numerous injury issues and fitness problems putting him on the sidelines.

The latest was a hamstring issue suffered early this month and he has not featured since, only returning to training prior to the final Premier League game of the season.

But the midfielder is in the squad for Saturday’s showdown at Wembley, while Willian – absent from the win over Wolves last weekend with an unspecified problem – could also be involved.

Lampard did not have such good news regarding Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will not feature.

“Yes, N’Golo Kante and Willian are in the squad,” Lampard said in Friday’s pre-match news conference. “We will see if they’re fit enough to be involved.

“But Ruben Loftus-Cheek has picked up a small problem and is out of the game.”

Brazilian winger Willian has enjoyed a prominent season at Stamford Bridge, racking up nine goals and seven assists in the league and arguably rediscovering his best form despite uncertainty over his future.

The 31-year-old, whose current deal is set to expire at the end of the season, has reportedly rejected a new two-year contract at the club because he wants an extra season on top of that.

Since football resumed in June, Willian has scored three goals and set up another two and his attitude has not surprised Lampard.

When asked if he expected Willian’s professionalism despite a somewhat awkward situation, Lampard said: “Yes, I’ve known Willian for many years as a player and I have coached him.

“If anyone wants to know the mentality of him, then that has been shown since restart. He has given everything. I would expect nothing less than he’s shown already.”

Where Lampard seemed most uncertain in terms of team selection ahead of Saturday was in goal – Kepa Arrizabalaga is the usual first-choice, but his form has been underwhelming, with Willy Caballero replacing the Spaniard against Wolves and a regular in cup competitions.

“It’s difficult because we have competition in the squad,” Lampard said. “I have changed it at times, we consider the games as we go – [for] big games, it becomes more difficult.

“I know how much players want to be in these games, but people off the bench have made a huge difference in recent games.

“It [leaving players out for a final] is difficult for me, difficult [for the players] to take, but players have to be positive.”

Lampard and his counterpart Mikel Arteta will be aiming to win the first piece of silverware in their managerial careers on Saturday.

Chelsea boss Lampard not targeting David Luiz as Arsenal´s weak link

Chelsea boss Frank Lampard knows the quality of David Luiz and will not be targeting the centre-back as an Arsenal weakness in Saturday’s FA Cup final.

Brazil centre-back David Luiz found his Gunners future under scrutiny after a poor display in a 3-0 defeat to Manchester City when the Premier League restarted in June, a match in which he was sent off.

The experienced defender returned to play a crucial role as Arsenal enjoyed a more consistent run of form, earning a one-year contract extension and shining against City in the FA Cup semi-final triumph.

David Luiz enjoyed two spells at Stamford Bridge, the first of which he played alongside Lampard, who said he was instrumental in the Blues’ Champions League and FA Cup double in the 2011-12 campaign.

“I certainly haven’t [targeted him as a weak point],” Lampard told an online media conference. 

“What I have for David is a real respect, he was a top player in our 2012 campaign, David was a top player within that.

“We’re preparing for Arsenal with him in a team, I know how good he can be and I know what a big player he can be for Arsenal.”

Lampard lifted the FA Cup four times as a player and has the opportunity to claim silverware in his first campaign as Chelsea boss and just his second in management.

“Obviously I would be delighted to and if you get to a final you want to win it,” he said when asked what it would mean to win the trophy as a manager. 

“It will be difficult, there is many a great manager who hasn’t won things, but now we are here I want to win it.”

The showpiece at Wembley will again be played without supporters allowed to attend due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lampard concedes it will be odd to play a final in such circumstances, while adding he is determined for his pre-match message not to put too much pressure on his team.

“It will be strange to have no fans. We are getting used to it. We want fans back, but we have to respect the current circumstances,” he added. 

“The fact we are used to it means you can focus on what’s in front. If you do win then the FA Cup title stays with you forever.

“I probably will [give the players a special message], but I haven’t done so far. I don’t want to heap too much pressure on. 

“Most of the players have played in critical games before, they have experiences of high-level games. I just want them to perform like they have at times this season.”

Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0 Wellington Phoenix: Yeboah earns crucial win in top-six chase

Western Sydney Wanderers moved back to within four points of the A-League top six with a 1-0 victory over Wellington Phoenix on Friday.

A header from Kwame Yeboah with 17 minutes of normal time left secured all three points at Bankwest Stadium after Luke DeVere had earlier been sent off.

Phoenix, already assured of a Finals place, were hoping to consolidate second spot but only mustered one shot on target throughout the contest, although they were cursing their luck early on when David Ball’s effort struck both posts but did not cross the line.

The first half was overshadowed by a serious injury suffered by Nicolai Muller, who is expected to have concussion after a clash of heads with Louis Fenton.

Momentum swung the Wanderers’ way when DeVere was given a second yellow card for tripping Yeboah, and it was the man who came on for Muller who proved the matchwinner, heading home Tate Russell’s cross.

Wanderers are four points behind sixth-place Adelaide United, with a game in hand, although Western United are level on 30 points after playing two games fewer.