ARSENAL are back in training as the Premier League's restart draws tentatively closer.
It looks set to be a busy summer at the Emirates, with the Gunners reportedly stepping up their transfer pursuit of Nicolas Tagliafico, while Alexandre Lacazette could be exchanged for Atletico Madrid's Thomas Lemar.
Follow all the latest updates from North London below…
EXCLUSIVE BY DUNCAN WRIGHT
Real Madrid and neighbours Atletico are the latest big Spanish club to make it known they are willing to sell some of their stars.
That is sure to put Premier League giants including Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal on red alert.
SunSport revealed this week how Barcelona have effectively invited offers for all but three of their players as they desperately look to plug a hole in their finances.
Now it has emerged that LaLiga rivals Real and Atleti are also in the market to offload players as the cost of the Covid-19 crisis begins to bite.
The top clubs in the Premier League have all been made aware that the two clubs in the Spanish capital are open to do business for the majority of their players.
Real are still trying to pursue a plan to find the resources to sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain, but to do that they would need to bring in a huge amount of funds.
Gareth Bale is one of those they would be happy to move on to get his £650,000-a-week wages off their books, but others are also available.
But the problem for the Spanish giants is the value of players is likely to drop markedly when football resumes, and they may not get the kind of fees they would hope.
EXCLUSIVE BY DUNCAN WRIGHT
THE Premier League's big return to training has been hampered – by sticky balls.
All 20 top flight clubs have now resumed work in strictly controlled sessions as part of Project Restart aiming to complete the season.
But the coating of disinfectant being smeared on all the balls has reacted in the scorching temperatures across the country, causing the surface to become tacky.
Some players have complained they are now running slowly on the already dry grass in the few ball drills they are able to enjoy in Phase One of the training programme.
SunSport has learnt how just two days into the new regime stars are claiming they are “pointless” and “ludicrous”.
They claim the sessions are not fit for purpose to help them build up match fitness ahead of the planned return to action next month.
MAN OF THE PEOPLE
Arsenal are planning a £25million summer raid for Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji – after renewing talks for him in January.
German outlet FussballTransfers.com allege Gunners officials held concrete discussions with their Dortmund counterparts earlier this year.
Borussia are said to have blocked the Swiss international's departure after losing fellow central defender Abdou Diallo to Paris Saint-Germain.
But Arsenal are understood to have contacted Dortmund once more early this year to discuss a possible summer move.
PIE IN THE SKY
Granit Xhaka admits he fears Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could leave Arsenal this summer.
He told Sport Bild: “If that [Auba leaving] were to happen, it would, of course, be a great loss for the team and the club.
“After a roller coaster ride, it sounds like he’s settled in for the long-term at the Emirates. He puts that down to the new coach’s influence.
“He [Arteta] convinced me of his ideas and his philosophy for the number six position and showed me a lot of appreciation,” said the Swiss.
“I’m glad that I could pay him back for this trust and I hope for the future that we can still make it into the Champions League and finally play in the international top league again.”
The government has announced a “renewal taskforce” to help sport return – with ex-England footballer Alex Scott on board.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden wants advice on “how to get sport back safely in a way that works for both clubs, players and supporters alike”.
And amid gradual easing of the Covid-19 lockdown, he said the government are looking for “new and different ways to get industries back up and running”.
Dowden added: “Finding creative, crowd-free ways to navigate coronavirus is the biggest challenge for our recreation and leisure sectors right now”.
But he confirmed the government are looking at a gradual process, rather than a sudden return, and insisted that safety concerns will remain the priority.
WINDS OF WINTER
Arsene Wenger has called for the January transfer window to be axed as out-of-favour players “give up”.
The Arsenal legend who is now FIFA's head of global development, has suggested changes to the game in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
The Frenchman said: “I am for the abolition of the January transfer window
“Managers don't deal with this second window well.
“In October, as soon as a player does not play anymore, he tries to find a solution elsewhere and waits for January to leave,
“He is no longer mobilised, he gives up.”
GIFT OF GAB
Arsenal and Chelsea have reportedly been joined by Real Madrid in the race for Lille star Gabriel.
Spanish news outlet AS claims the Brazilian centre-back, 22, is now a £30million target for Los Blancos.
He has enjoyed a great season with Lille in Ligue 1, making 24 appearances.
Zinedine Zidane’s preferred target is RB Leipzig ace Dayot Upamecano.
But The Germans are demanding a whopping £54m, while Bayern Munich are also ready to compete for his signature.
Real are therefore looking at other options and Gabriel is understood to be high on their wish list.
Arsenal are interested in swapping Alexandre Lacazette for Atletico Madrid flop Thomas Lemar because of coronavirus, according to reports.
According to AS, Atletico Madrid are willing to use Lemar as a bargaining tool in order to land top target Alexandre Lacazette.
At 28-years-old, Diego Simeone and club chiefs believe that the former Lyon forward should be in his peak years and would offer a new dimension to their attack.
And with both sides lacking funds because of the coronavirus pandemic, a swap deal without cash involved could benefit both parties.
Unai Emery has claimed Arsenal FORCED him to sign £72m winger Nicolas Pepe – when he wanted Crystal Palace talisman Wilfried Zaha.
Emery told the Guardian of Pepe: “He’s a good player but we didn’t know his character and he needs time, patience.
“I favoured someone who knew the league and wouldn’t need to adapt.
“Zaha won games on his own: Tottenham, Manchester City, us. Incredible performances. I told them: “This is the player I know and want”.
“I met Zaha and he wanted to come. The club decided Pepe was one for the future. I said: “Yes, but we need to win now and this lad wins games”. He beat us on his own.”
“It’s also true he was expensive and Palace didn’t want to sell.
“There were a series of decisions that had repercussions.”
BACK OF THE NET
Arsenal have joined Chelsea in the transfer race for Barcelona outcast Neto as back-up for Bernd Leno but they could be priced out of move.
The Barca flop has made just four appearances across all competitions since he arrived at the Nou Camp from Valencia last summer.
Neto is deputy to Marc-Andre ter Stegen who has long been Quique Setien's first choice man between the sticks.
The Brazil stopper, who has one international cap, is considered too good to rot on the bench with many clubs eyeing a swoop in the coming transfer window.
As reported by the Express, the Gunners are looking to snare the 30-year-old away from the Catalan giants to provide competition for Bernd Leno.
Despite only keeping eight clean sheets in 30 games, the Germany ace has made a series of impressive saves throughout this term.
Neil Ruddockrevealed he's had a pacemaker fitted after his explosive row with Paul Merson on Harry’s Heroes.
Merson told Ruddock his drinking was “out of control” on the popular TV show, with the ex-Liverpool star lashing out angrily in response.
They kissed and made up later during a tearful talk where Ruddock apologised for his behaviour.
And the ex-footy star has now thanked Merson for his intervention, admitting he was in a “bad” way.
Ruddock also revealed he has since been fitted with a pacemaker and praised Merson for having the “balls” to stand up and tell the truth to his face.
Speaking to Merson on Instagram Live, Ruddock said: “We had a lovers tiff and I know the way you are you’d be sitting back going ‘Oh I shouldn’t have done anything’.
“But looking back I want to thank you for pulling me up and having a go at me.
“Since the dust has settled I’ve realised you did it because you care, you care about me.
“I admire you for having the balls to do it, not many people would have had the balls to do it.
Nicholas Bendtner has revealed a staggering £5MILLION loss from playing poker.
The former Arsenal striker, currently starring in a reality TV show back in his native Denmark, spoke out on how he squandered his wealth.
On ‘Bendtner and Philine’, he stated: “I lost a lot of money, an unrealistic amount.
“It’s hard to say how much it was in reality, but I’d estimate that it was almost 50 million Korona (£5.4m).
“It was something that I was always in control of and I simply betted big sums of money.
“Sometimes in London, things would get out of control on a night and things could really have ended badly. Now I place smaller bets of 100 Korona (£12).”
Atletico Madrid are willing to swap Thomas Lemar for Arsenal's fellow Frenchman Alexandre Lacazette, and the Gunners are favourable towards the idea of a deal according to AS.
The Gunners had been linked with a swap deal between Lacazette and Thomas Partey, but the Spanish paper reports that Partey is now “fixed” in Simeone's first team plans and will not be going anywhere if he can help it.
Saul Niguez and Koke are also said to be off limits while Angel Correa, Alvaro Morata and Joao Felix are still said to have a part to play at the club.
Diego Costa could, however, be let go but Arsenal are not said to be interested in recruiting their tormentor-in-chief from his Chelsea days.
LUK WHO'S TALKING
Ex-Arsenal star Lukasz Podolski blasted his former club for their recent failure to qualify for the Champions League
Speaking to Sky Sports, Podolski said: “The potential of what the club has, it has not been good enough.
“I think they know it themselves.
“They have the potential, the history, the facilities and I think they have the money as well.
“A club like Arsenal has to play every year for the Champions League. Of course, the Premier League is hard and even against the smaller teams.
“It’s not like other leagues with two or three teams fighting for the title.”
Arsenal are reportedly set to raid Club Brugge for star striker Emmanuel Dennis.
The Mail claims Mikel Arteta has lined up a £22million bid for the Nigerian ace as he braces for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s exit this summer.
The Gabon forward is out of contract in 2021 and unlikely to sign a new deal.
Arsenal are ready to cash in when the next transfer window opens.
And it’s believed Arteta already has a replacement lined up in Dennis.
The hitman, 22, has scored nine goals this season – including a Champions League brace against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
TAKING THE MKH
Arsenal could reportedly seal Roma's Justin Kluivert as part of a swap deal as Henrikh Mkhitaryan begs to stay and end his Emirates hell.
The Gunners flop has spent this season on loan at the Serie A side and is about to enter the final 12 months of his contract with the North Londoners.
Arsenal remain eager to shift their forgotten man but Roma are though to be unwilling to pay their £15million asking price.
According to Italian publication Corriere dello Sport, Kluivert, the 21-year-old son of Holland legend Patrick could be offered up to finalise plans.
The 21-year-old hotshot has previously been linked with a move to the Emirates and he is said to be a big fan of the Premier League.
Arsenal must “100 per cent” sell Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this summer to avoid losing him for nothing next year, says ex-Gunner Jeremie Aliadiere.
He told Goal: “They've got to sell him, 100 per cent.
“Arsenal can’t keep losing players on a free. To be honest, I still can’t believe we’ve again got a top player, our captain, going into the summer only having one year left on his contract.
“For me, it has to be sorted when he gets to two years. Last summer he should have signed a deal or been sold. Because when you get down to one year left, in a player’s mind there is a difference.
“If I was Aubameyang and I knew I only had one year left, I would sacrifice one year of my career to go on a free and get paid a ridiculous amount of money and have all the clubs in the world chasing me. Who wouldn’t?”
Arsenal are poised to poach attacking midfielder Rafa Silva from Benfica with the Portuguese ace keen on a transfer to London.
The 27-year-old had been in impressive form before the coronavirus crisis brought the season to a halt.
The midfield maestro has chalked up nine goals and six assists in 25 outings this term.
According to Correio de Manha, the Gunners are chasing the Benfica ace – who is said to be flattered by the interest from North London.
But the report claims that the Portugal international has an eye-watering release clause of £71m as part of his current deal which expires in four years.
The cash-strapped Gunners are expected to find it difficult to stump up that fee as their already limited budget was hit by the coronavirus crunch.
Uefa chief Aleksander Ceferin is “absolutely sure” fans will be back in stadiums “very soon” despite fears football faces 12 months of being played behind-closed-doors.
When asked why he felt the disease would not impact football in the long-run, Ceferin told The Guardian: “It's a serious situation but it is going down now and we are being more cautious.
“We know more about the virus and in general I'm an optimistic person.
“I don't like this apocalyptic view that we have to wait for the second and third waves or even a fifth wave … people you know are likely to die one day, but do we have to be worried today? I don't think so.
“We are ready and we will follow the recommendations of the authorities but I'm absolutely sure, personally, that good old football with fans will come back very soon.”
Arsenal have blown their chances of getting £100million for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
That's the opinion for ex-Gunner Jeremie Aliardiere who thinks the club should have acted sooner with the Gabon striker.
Speaking to Goal the Frenchman said: “Arsenal are in the worst position you can imagine again because you’ve got a top quality player who assures you of 20-25 Premier League goals a season who is one year away from leaving on a free.
“Or, he gets sold to Barcelona or Real Madrid and for what? How much can you expect for him now? Nothing compared to what if you’d sold him last summer.
“They could have asked for £100 million.”
Xavi has urged the Catalan giants NOT to splash out on Premier League stars Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sadio Mane.
The former midfield general rates the quality of Arsenal skipper Aubameyang and Liverpool ace Mane but feels they would not fit in well at the Nou Camp.
Xavi, who now manages Qatari club Al-Sadd, feels the superstar duo – who shared the 2018-19 Premier League Golden Boot with Mo Salah – may have trouble adjusting to Barca boss Quique Setien's style of play.
He said: “Mane and Aubemayang can kill you in open space. But Barcelona need players who know how to move in small spaces.
“I am thinking about player who would adapt to Barcelona and it’s not easy to find one. Samuel Eto’o was perfect as is Luis Suarez right now.”
'DIDN'T GIVE A F***'
Alex Song has owned up to being a “waster” during his time at Arsenal – and joining Barcelona purely for the money.
Song left North London for Barcelona in 2012. He is now a free agent after being sacked by Swiss club Sion in March for refusing to take a pay cut.
He said: “During my entire time at Arsenal I couldn't even save £100,000, while people thought I must be a millionaire.
“When Barcelona offered me a contract, and I saw how much I would earn, I didn't think twice. I felt my wife and children should have comfortable lives once my career is over.
“I met Barca's sporting director, and he told me I would not get to play many games.
“But I didn't give a f*** – I knew that now I would become a millionaire.”
LET'S NIC HIM
Arsenal are reportedly interested in bringing Borussia Monchengladbach centre-back Nico Elvedi to the Emirates at the end of the season.
The 23-year-old Swiss international – who impressed in the 3-1 win against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday – looks set to leave the German club in the summer after a fantastic campaign.
Elvedi has featured in 32 games in all competitions, and has been a key reason why his side sit in third place in the Bundesliga.
According to French news outlet Le10Sport, the Gunners are keen on signing the Switzerland international.
They state that he could be available for around £25million.
And Monchengladbach could be willing to cash in on the defender as 6ft 2in Elvedi has just one year left on his deal.
LAY HIM DOWN
Arsenal face competition from Atletico Madrid and Barcelona for PSG full-back Layvin Kurzawa.
Boss Mikel Arteta is bound to bring in some defenders in the summer with question marks over many of the current crop.
And according to Teamtalk, Kurzawa is one of the names on the shortlist.
Hi contract is up in the summer, and he is expected to be looking for around £100,000-a-week.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Arsenal could be offered Justin Kluivert, son of legendary Dutch striker Patrick, in order to secure Henrikh Mkhitaryan's transfer to Roma.
The Italians are desperate to sign the Armenian after a successful loan spell but unwilling to pay the Gunners' £10m asking price.
And agent Mino Raiola has proposed the swap between his two clients in order to push the transfer through, according to Corriere dello Sport.
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