Arsenal caution players flouting physical-distancing guidelines

Arsenal have reminded the first-team squad of their physical-distancing responsibilities after four senior players were pictured in violation of the government’s guidelines.

Alexandre Lacazette, David Luiz, Nicolas Pépé and Granit Xhaka have all been spoken to after being photographed in three separate situations in recent days. It is the latest of several incidents in which Premier League players have been accused of failing to set an example during the Covid-19 lockdown.

In Pépé’s case, the forward was seen playing football with a group of men in north London. It is understood that the Ivorian lives with a number of his family members but others from outside their household joined in with the game.

David Luiz and Xhaka were witnessed training together in close proximity in a park, while Lacazette was photographed interacting with a valet who had visited his property to clean his car.

There is a degree of confusion, moreover, among those familiar with the latter case, over whether or not the valet service fits into stipulations regarding home deliveries and essential services.

Arsenal have taken the matter seriously and as well as contacting all four individually, have reminded the entire squad of their obligations via a WhatsApp group through which the club’s management and executive team communicate with them on a daily basis.

The government has said exercise can only be taken alone or with cohabitants while any outdoors activity should be conducted more than two metres away from those you do not live with.

Tottenham’s Serge Aurier and Moussa Sissoko this week apologised after Aurier filmed the pair staging a joint fitness session in a park. That followed another embarrassment two weeks previously in which José Mourinho admitted he had made a mistake in holding a one-on-one training session with Tanguy Ndombele in a north London park.

Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, and Mason Mount of Chelsea alonng with West Ham’s Declan Rice, have also been in the spotlight for failing to observe the guidelines

Arsenal not ready to lose Aubameyang

Arsenal continue to wait for a Barcelona move for their striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to The Sun, and despite their desire to keep hold of the Gabon international, they have put a price on his head: 50 million pounds (around 60 million euros).

Aubameyang, 30, has a contract with Arsenal until 2021.

For that reason, in 18 months he could potentially walk away for free. The London club do not want that to happen but so far have been unable to get him to sign a new deal.

The Arsenal boss, Mikel Arteta, has already said that he doesn’t want Aubameyang to leave. However, he’s aware of the problems they face in keeping hold of him if they don’t get back in the Champions League. Right now, that’s looking unlikely as they sit 10th in the Premier League.

Aubameyang arrived at Arsenal in 2018 with the aim of winning titles and competing in Europe, as he did at his previous club, Borussia Dortmund. However, that has not been the case.

Reports in England now say that, following the breakdown of talks for Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno, Barça will turn to Aubameyang again.

Irobiko Chimezie

Why Arsenal distanced themselves from Mesut Ozil’s ‘biased’ comments

The Muslim Council of Britain criticized the Gunners for distancing themselves from Mesut Ozil’s comments amid fears over the impact their lack of support would have on other Muslim Premier League stars, including Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Ozil’s team-mate, Granit Xhaka.

Harun Khan, secretary general of the MCB, said: “Many prominent Muslims feel it is their duty to use their high profile to call out oppression, and football clubs must respect the moral values of their players and stand with them against human rights abuses.”

Ozil’s use of his Instagram account to protest against mass detentions and the closure of mosques provoked a furious reaction in Beijing.

As well as Sunday’s Arsenal match being pulled, Ozil’s social media accounts were blocked, his China-based “M10” fan club – with around 30,000 members – was shut down and Chinese search engines were ordered to delete his name, with the government accusing him of being “deceived by fake news”.

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Arsenal have been warned China could maintain its state-sponsored media blackout of the club unless executives apologise, with officials having distanced themselves from Ozil’s comments while neither condemning them nor endorsing his right to free speech.

Khan added: “There is no doubt that the Uighur people are facing ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Chinese government, purely because of their Muslim faith. Subject to horrific conditions in concentration camps, the Uighurs are left voiceless and unable to highlight their suffering to the world. Ozil’s use of his profile to raise their plight is hugely commendable, but the decision by Arsenal to distance themselves from standing up for human rights is regrettable.”

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Nicholas Bequelin, regional director at Amnesty International, added: “With their player being quite heavily criticized by some in China, it’s important that Arsenal doesn’t buckle under pressure and attempt to stifle Ozil’s right to freely express his opinions.”

Other Premier League clubs with high-profile Muslim players or links to China declined to comment yesterday on where they stood on the row.

A source at one Chinese-owned team told the Daily Telegraph they planned to brief their Muslim players about it but would not stop them following Ozil’s lead.

Those at other clubs said their players were warned of the consequences of social media posts but would never be denied the right to free speech over human rights abuses.

That is despite China’s increasing links with Premier League teams – and those in the Championship – which has brought in more than a £1 billion to the English game in terms of television rights fees, ownership and sponsorship and transfer fees.

That includes a £535 million broadcast deal that began this season – the Premier League’s biggest overseas contract – £265m, £210m and £45m investments in City, Southampton, and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively.

Crystal Palace and Bournemouth have Chinese sponsors, many clubs go on pre-season tours there – this summer’s Premier League Asia Trophy was held in Nanjing and Shanghai – while Manchester United are building club entertainment centres there.

But Professor Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford, told the Telegraph clubs were not so reliant on China financially that they could not afford to take a moral stand.

“It’s a little bit like the Klondike in that people can sense that there’s money there,” he said in a reference to the 1890s Canadian Gold Rush. “This is not an instant cash hit in the way that many seem to think it is.”

Irobiko Chimezie

Yaya Toure slams Ozil for comments on China’s treatment of Uighurs

Mesut Ozil has been backed by Donald Trump’s right-hand man in his denouncement of China’s persecution of Muslims but has been told to stick to football by Yaya Toure.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, made a surprise intervention in the diplomatic storm that led to Arsenal’s match against Manchester City on Sunday being pulled from Chinese television.

“China’s Communist Party propaganda outlets can censor Mesut Özil and Arsenal’s game all season long, but the truth will prevail,” Pompeo posted on Twitter. “The CCP can’t hide its gross human rights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other religious faiths from the world.”

Pompeo spoke out after former City star Toure refused to back his condemnation of documented human rights abuses against both midfielders’ fellow Muslims.

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Image: Yaya Toure

Toure, who has just finished a brief stint playing in China, said: “Footballers have to stay with football and politicians to politics because you cannot be involved with this kind of things because it’s going to attract a lot of problems and a lot of things.

“As a Muslim, it is complicated and it is his choice. He’s been doing his comments but I think he was wrong to say that.”

Toure, a vocal campaigner against racism in football, was speaking at the same time Premier League clubs were being urged to assure their Muslim players that they were free to join Ozil in highlighting the “ethnic cleansing” of Uighurs in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

Unai Emery’s exit not a surprise for Arsenal fans

Arsenal have finally sacked coach Unai Emery following the club’s defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.

In the wake of Arsenal’s disappointing Europa League loss which extended their winless run to seven games in all competitions, Josh Kroenke released a statement on behalf the Arsenal board and owners, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment.

“Our most sincere thanks go to Unai and his colleagues who were unrelenting in their efforts to get the club back to competing at the level we all expect and demand. We wish Unai and his team nothing but future success,” reads the statement from Josh.

Fans of the London club have been frustrated and angry in recent weeks–since Emery’s performance as Arsenal manager nose-dived. The Gunners, unavoidably, turned against the Frenchman and unequivocally called for his sack. The request gained ground during Thursday’s game at the Emirates.

Arsenal are currently eight on the league Premier League table, behind Wolves, Sheffield United and Burnley. Former Arsenal player Freddie Ljungberg has been appointed to manage the club pending when a better replacement is found.

“We have asked Freddie to take responsibility for the first team as interim head coach,” a statement from the club said. “We have full confidence in him to take us forward.”

Arsenal fans are frustrated

Arsenal were able to salvage what would have been a totally disappointing outing on Saturday, having drawn 2-2 with Southampton in their Premier League fixture.

Arsenal currently have 18 points from 13 EPL games, a result which falls below previous records in 1994-95 (19), 2012-13 (20), 2014-15 (20) and 2006-07 (22) seasons.

The seeming lack of improvement has angered many Arsenal fans around the world; most of them threatening to no longer accept this recurring sign of regression.

With due respect and understanding for the growing restlessness among Gunners fans, manager Unia Emery promised to strategize for better results.

In his words, “My job is to work, analyse and find a solution for how we can improve. I know the key is here to take confidence, to achieve the points, the good performances at home and then to take that away.”

In the match against Southampton, Arsenal conceded two goals and were losing 2-1 until a 96th-minute equalizer from Alexandre Lacazette overturned results at the Emirates Stadium. Emery’s men, painstakingly, got a point off Saints, a lowly-rated club currently struggling to escape the relegation zone. Southampton recently lost 9-0 at home to Leicester City.

Fox News reported that Arsenal were booed off once again after the disappointing performance. But the question is: “How much longer can the club resist fans demanding for a change?”

Having received huge backlash from the result against Southampton, Emery admitted his team could have done better, considering that Gunners are now winless in their past six matches in all competitions. The club has never had such a poor result since 1998.

Speaking in a post-match interview, Emery, who is under intense pressure to restore their lost glory, said that things need to improve.

“The club are supporting me every day and also I have a responsibility. I know I can do better, I can take more performances with the players and I’m going to try to do that. I understand the supporters. They are now frustrated, disappointed and angry. The players feel the same.”

Emery, however, called for full support from Arsenal fans. “The key is here with our supporters. I know that and the players also know that. Our target was to win this evening but above all, to connect. We didn’t do that. We lost a very big opportunity and now we will analyse and work on a solution for the next matches.”

The Premier League’s heavily congested mid-table has Arsenal at the seventh spot before Manchester United’s Sunday game against Sheffield United.

Gunners are already 8 points adrift of their UEFA Champions League qualifying places, a terrifying circumstance for many fans who have waited for four consecutive seasons to watch Arsenal play in Europe’s biggest club tournament. And this could get worse.

Arsenal could be in danger of playing no European football in the 2020/21 season unless they find a solution out of this quicksand. And Emery may get the ax if the club hierarchy thinks he can’t deliver better results with the crop of players at his disposal.

Arsenal interested in Luis Enrique

Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal could soon be up if reports crediting the Premier League club with an interest in Luis Enrique prove correct.

News of Arsenal’s interest in Enrique emerged after their 2-0 loss to Leicester City which football pundits believe might be the end of Unai Emery’s tenure.

The Gunners failed to win for the fourth Premier League match in succession on Saturday, testing the patience of club officials. And according to reports, contact has been made with Luis Enrique to assess his interest in the job.

It could be a case of one Spaniard out, another Spaniard in at Emirates Stadium.

El Confidencial’s Kike Marin claims Arsenal head of football Raul Sanllehi has sounded out Luis Enrique about replacing Unai Emery as head coach.

The ex-Barcelona and Roma boss has been out of football since stepping down as Spain’s head coach due to personal reasons in June, two months before the tragic death of his young daughter, Xana.

Wenger can’t forgive himself for not signing Messi

Arsene Wenger has revealed just how close Arsenal came to signing Lionel Messi from Barcelona in 2003.

The Gunners brought Cesc Fabregas over from the Catalan capital the same year and Wenger regrets not persisting with a deal to sign Messi too.

“You have to live with regrets in life, you know,” Wenger told beIN Sports.

“There’s only unachieved business in life and this is a big part of it.

“We were in discussions with [Messi] when we bought Fabregas because Messi played [with him].

“You can realize sometimes what fantastic youth teams you used to have when you’re a club like Barcelona,” he mentioned. “In the same team, Messi, [Gerard] Pique and Fabregas.”

The former Arsenal boss added, “Pique and Fabregas came to England, Messi stayed in Spain…I can confirm that we were interested in signing him, but he was untouchable at that time.”

Mesut Ozil and Unai Emery: Which way forward?

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As Mesut Özil trudged, head bowed, around the pitch at the end of it all in Baku, it was pertinent to wonder what has become of him and where it all goes from here. He is the lost playmaker. His once proud joy in the assist, his once delicate ability to be the subtle architect of a game, has dwindled to the point where it is really worth revisiting a highlights reel from previous years to remember how – even with that idiosyncratic languid style which means he seldom looks keen for a battle – his gifts had so much more presence.

If being replaced on the night by a teenager who spent most of this season playing for Arsenal Under-23s yet managed to involve himself in the game more in a cameo felt like an indignity, the greater affront should be a broader question. What has happened to Özil? Why do the passes not come any more? What has dulled his vision? The questions were put into even sharper focus as the Chelsea player in his role demanded and dominated the final. Eden Hazard has earned the opposite journey Özil made a few years ago, from the Premier League to Real Madrid.

When Arsenal signed Özil in 2013 he arrived as a game-changer on and off the pitch. In many ways he turned out to be just that – a symbol that the club wanted to compete for eye-catching talent, reflective of refreshed ambition which led to Alexis Sánchez joining a year later. For a while the pair were outstanding together.

Everything took a turn when Ivan Gazidis felt panicked into handing Özil a gargantuan new deal in January 2018 to avoid losing both their grandest stars at the same time with contracts running down, as has happened in damaging fashion this season with Aaron Ramsey. Of course Gazidis walked out a few months later but his parting gift has turned out to be something Arsenal do not know what to do with. It is a major problem going forwards.

This is a deal, worth £350,000 per week, Arsenal cannot afford while they are not getting enough return on their bucks. Özil has been involved in nine goals this season, delivering either the strike or assist. In the previous three campaigns the numbers were 19, 26 and 28. It is quite the reduction. He has made a mere three assists in 2018-19, and that with two skilled marksmen in front of him in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette who have scored regularly.

And here is the extra problem: Arsenal’s highest earner and their current head coach evidently do not have a connection that works for either of them. One year into a difficult job but with little exciting evidence of improvement or new direction, and with Champions League qualification – the main aim of the season – unachieved, a recently divided fanbase has started to question whether Unai Emery is the right man.

It is easy to slip into those thoughts in a modern football culture where Maurizio Sarri’s position is far from secure despite finishing third and winning the Europa League –two aims Emery had a month ago before watching his team fail in both.

Some wags on the internet have started to call Emery “Bruce Rioja”. It is a clever pun, and the inference is a comparison with an Arsenal manager who took over from a powerful and successful predecessor and, despite his best efforts, was ousted after one season. Bruce Rioch was the fall guy in 1996 when the star player of the day, Ian Wright, could not connect with him and Arsenal decided to go down a different road by appointing Arsène Wenger. Those were different times, though. Back then Arsenal had an ambitious board ready to be dynamic and take difficult decisions.

It does not look as if it will be healthy for Arsenal to go into next season with Emery trying to make the best of it while Özil hangs around picking up such a high proportion of the wage bill. But it would be a surprise if there turns out to be enough conviction from on high to do something about that one way or the other, to clean a slate somehow.

Emery had tried quite hard to inspire Özil when he arrived in London. That seemed particularly important because the player had gone through a personal crisis in his career, scapegoated for Germany’s woeful World Cup. Özil felt pushed to step away from the international stage with grievances about racist undertones in how he felt perceived as a German with Turkish heritage. Emery tried to put the metaphorical arm around him, told him he was valued at Arsenal, that he wanted to see him enjoy his best football. Özil was given a share of the captaincy and the No 10 shirt, symbols to make him feel valued. But then reality set in.

These two men exist at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to the idea of hard work being central to football. It began to grate on both of them. After a period when Özil was dropped and hard words were said as one last throw of the motivational dice, he was reintegrated into the side. But he has seldom sparked in the Emery era. His Baku non-event of a performance typified that.

He is 30 now. The Özil question matters profoundly to Arsenal. But it comes with no simple answers.

Manchester United vs Arsenal: All you need to know

Manchester United will be looking to build on Wednesday’s progression to the Champions League quarter-finals when facing Arsenal in the Premier League this Sunday evening.

Here are some of the essential stats you need to know ahead of the big game at the Emirates Stadium, which kicks off at 16:30 GMT

  • The Reds have won eight, drawn eight and lost 10 of our 26 away games at Arsenal in the Premier League era.
  • Nine of the current United squad have scored against Arsenal: Alexis, Herrera, Lingard, Martial, Mata, Pogba, Rashford, Valencia and Young.
  • In our 17 games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Reds have scored the first goal on 13 occasions.
  • Solskjaer made more appearances (19) against Arsenal as a player than any other team. He scored twice against the Gunners and was on the winning side six times.
  • United have faced Arsenal more times than any other team. Today’s game will be the 200th league meeting and 230th game between the sides in all competitions.
  • Of the 39 goals we have scored under Ole, 20 have been scored by Academy graduates.
  • United have won our last three matches in all competitions, scoring three times in each game.
  • The Reds will be looking to extend our club-record winning run on the road to 10 matches.
  • The Reds will be looking to extend our club-record winning run on the road to 10 matches.
  • Chris Smalling could make his 200th Premier League appearance for United in today’s game at Arsenal.

I’m so grateful to Arsenal – Mkhitaryan

On his return from injury, Henrikh Mkhitaryan sprung back to action on Monday night and was a major contributor to Arsenal Under-23’s trashing of West Ham United in their Premier League 2 encounter.

Mkhitaryan, who wore a No. 7 jersey, showcased great talent at Meadow Park under guidance from Freddie Ljungberg although the match was abandoned at half time due to adverse weather conditions.

Arsenal was leading 3-0 before the referee decided to call it quits.

‘I’ve never played in a match that was stopped after first half, but it was a memorable 45 minutes,’ Mkhitaryan told Arsenal TV.

‘I think we showed class. Yet, we obviously need to improve in some aspects of our game…We played good football, scored three goals—and could have added more.

‘Playing with the Under-23 after such a long time gives me a good feeling…I pray there’ll be no more injuries so I can recover fully and play at my peak.’

Mkhitaryan showered praise on Arsenal management and staff for their support and encouragement.

‘Everyone at Arsenal has been awesome—from the fitness coach, to the medical staff and everyone, including my teammates who supported me every day.

‘I learned a lot, but that’s life…Nothing is overruled and you can sustain injuries at any time…I pray no one suffers injury any more so we can start winning again.’

Read Arsenal’s farewell message to retiring goalkeeper Petr Cech

Arsenal said in an official statement that they are heartbroken but “fully respect” Petr Cech’s resolve to retire at the end of this season.

Cech, who had stints with Chelsea, Rennes and Sparta Prague, joined Arsenal for a fee of £10 million in 2015, winning an FA Cup and two FA Community Shields with the Gunners.

The Czech international is considered one of the best goalkeepers of all time. He went a total of 1,025 minutes without conceding a goal in the 2004/05 season—which was a Premier League record.

Far back in 2002, he was named the most-capped player among his national teammates and in the history of Czech national team—a squad he led to the 2006 World Cup.  The 36-year-old also played big roles in their 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 European Championships.

Cech retired from international duties in 2016 but holds record for winning the most Czech Footballer of the Year and Czech Golden Ball awards, among other notable achievements.

In the English Premier League, his goalkeeping records include reaching 100 clean sheets in fewest appearances—having done so in just 180 matches. He is the only goalkeeper to have won the PL Golden Glove with two different clubs. The Plzeň-born footballer also has an unprecedented 24 clean sheets, which is the highest number ever achieved in a PL season.

“Having played 15 years in the Premier League and won every single trophy possible, I feel like I have achieved everything I set out to achieve,” said the ex-Czech Republic international.

“I will continue to work hard at Arsenal to hopefully win one more trophy this season.

“I am looking forward to seeing what life holds for me off the pitch.”

Arsenal confirmed Tuesday that Cech recently informed them of his retirement decision.

“Like all football fans, we are sad about this, but completely understand and support him [Petr Cech],” the official statement reads.

“We know Petr will continue to make a big contribution in the future, whatever he decides to do…He has been an extraordinary player during his 15 years in the Premier League and an exemplary professional on and off the pitch…He has been a fantastic ambassador for Arsenal, Chelsea and the Czech Republic and will always hold a special place in the affections of football fans around the world.

“Petr [Cech], we wish you every future success and thank you for everything you have done for our club, on and off the pitch, and the wider game. We look forward to you helping us to an exciting finish to this season and wish you well for the future.”

Mesut Ozil’s commitment means a lot to Arsenal – Unai Emery

 

Unai Emery has said his star player, Mesut Ozil, will not get preferential treatment at Arsenal just because he’s the highest-earner.

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Image: Mesut Ozil and Unai Emery

Emery insists that Ozil has a bright future at the Emirates although the Germany international was an unused substitute during Arsenal’s quarter final defeat to Tottenham in the Carabao Cup earlier this week.

The mercurial midfielder has been a shadow of himself recently, having suffered a back injury which ruled him out for four games until earlier in November, when he started as part of Arsenal’s first eleven during a disappointing Europa League away game against Qarabag.

Ozil, who was a reliable link in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, has been relegated to the sidelines since Emery’s arrival at the club. The left-footed player craves a taste of English Premier League action but the former PSG manager has no problems keeping him on the bench, a situation which stirred rumors that the German football icon will leave in January.

Speaking on Ozil’s possible exit, Emery insists that the former Germany national team captain has a future at Arsenal.

‘Why not, yes,’ the manager replied, however refusing to answer questions on the possibility of a move in January.

‘At this time, Ozil will be treated just like every other player in the squad…I’m not thinking about the likeliness that he will leave the Emirates Stadium.’

Emery praised Ozil for scoring three goals and offering assists.

‘Different matches demand some special adjustments in players and tactics…He [Ozil] is not the only one affected,’ he said.

The coach explained that he is unaware of his players’ salaries, also stressing that footballers’ financial status is not a criterion for making the first team or playing regularly. ‘I always explain my decisions to those who are selected for games and those on the bench.’

He continued, ‘The most important thing for me as a coach is commitment from every player…This shouldn’t affect their confidence or loyalty when–for tactical reasons–anyone is dropped for his teammates.’

Emery was right to sacrifice Aubameyang for Lacazette

 

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Alexandre Lacazette extended Arsenal’s unbeaten run to 14 games and dealt a blow to Liverpool’s quest to win the Premier League for the first time in nearly three decades by salvaging a 1-1 draw at the Emirates on Saturday.

James Milner’s opener just after the hour mark looked set to send Jurgen Klopp’s men three points clear of champions Manchester City, who host Southampton on Sunday, at the top of the table.

However, that lead is now a solitary point as Lacazette struck eight minutes from time to give the hosts a well-deserved point from an enthralling encounter.

After a baptism of fire in defeats to City and Chelsea in his first two matches as Arsenal’s first new manager for 22 years, Unai Emery has impressively put his stamp on the Gunners.

However, in a run of 12 wins and a draw before Liverpool’s visit, Arsenal hadn’t faced any side that finished ahead of them in Arsene Wenger’s last season.

In contrast to their last visit to the Emirates when they conceded three times in five minutes, Liverpool needed to show their new-found defensive resolve as a confident Arsenal started the brighter.

Alisson Becker spread himself well to block from Lacazette before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s deflected effort from the edge of the area flew just wide.

Image shows Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette

Granit Xhaka fired too close to Alisson from a well-worked corner, but the Brazilian international was fortunate when he rushed from his goal and was beaten to a floated cross by Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose header drifted inches wide.

However, Liverpool also had plenty of chances in a thrilling first half that somehow lacked only goals.

A dubious offside decision denied Sadio Mane the opening goal and Virgil van Dijk twice should have scored when he was first repelled by Bernd Leno and then flicked a header against the post with the German ‘keeper caught flapping.

Leno didn’t get so lucky with his next mistake as he palmed Mane’s dangerous cross back into the heart of the box and Milner drilled into the unguarded net.

Interestingly, Leno made amends with a fingertip stop to again deny Van Dijk and Liverpool a crucial second following a towering header from a corner.

And Emery’s decision to sacrifice Aubameyang rather than Lacazette with his substitutions was vindicated when the French international kept his composure to brilliantly curl into the far corner after being forced wide by Alisson.

Both sides poured forward in a frantic finale, but Klopp’s decision to withdraw Mohamed Salah for Joel Matip in stoppage time showed the German was happy to protect Liverpool’s unbeaten league start.

A return of five points from a possible nine from visits to Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal is already a drastic improvement on Liverpool’s record of a single point from away games against top six opposition last season.

Yet, even that upturn may not be enough to keep pace with a City side showing no let-up after romping to the title with 100 points.

I can’t wait to play against Uruguay at the World Cup – Mohamed Elneny

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Mohamed Elneny has expressed eagerness to face Uruguay as part of Team Egypt at the upcoming World Cup in Russia, stressing that the scheduled 15 June encounter will mark a memorable day in his football career.

The 25-year-old footballer sustained ankle ligament injury during Arsenal’s encounter with West Ham but is recuperating fast.

Egypt national team coach Hector Cuper assured fans of the North African country that Elneny and Mohamed Salah will be ready for their 2018 World Cup challenges.

“I still maintain the same hopes and ambitions and I will not lose that,” the 62-year-old told Egypt’s football governing body.

“Injuries happen and are possible in football and that’s why I stress on the importance of team work despite the significance of Salah [and Elneny] to the team.”

Elneny trained with his Egyptian teammates on Thursday ahead of Friday’s friendly with Colombia at Atleti Azzuri d’Italia, his most recent outing since the 22 April injury which ruled him out of the 2017-18 season.

The former Basel player was included in Cuper’s 29-man preliminary list for the World Cup and there are hopes that he will be 100 per cent fit for a first experience at the global tournament.

A tweet from the Egypt national team read, “With the participation of Elneny in the group training of the Egyptian team evening training in preparation for Columbia friendly match.”

In their last preparation for Russia 2018 World Cup, the Pharaohs of Egypt will lock horns with Belgium on 6 June before their group A games against Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Elneny is hoping to represent Egypt in its first global tournament since 1990, with prayers that the game against Uruguay at Central Stadium, Yekaterinburg, will bring forth a positive lifetime experience.

Speaking about his contentment with what the Pharaohs have achieved so far, the Arsenal midfielder said: “It was all dreams on the night before we faced Congo during the qualifiers. I envisioned the referee’s final whistle ushering us into the World Cup list…I believe everyone in Egypt had the same dream.”

Elneny told Arsenal.com, “Egyptians are football-crazy. When we got a penalty, I felt so excited as if it was a ticket to the finals even though I knew we still had a 50/50 chance…Of course, my compatriots started celebrations even before we scored.

“We finally scored and won to have our dreams come true but I dedicate it to hard work…The feeling is good in Egypt when we win, but when there are losses, everyone is affected….I am excited and proud to have qualified for the World Cup. I can’t wait to play against Uruguay.”