Rob Holding is looking for “closure” as he prepares to make his Premier League comeback at Manchester United – the place where he suffered a serious knee injury nine months ago.

The 24-year-old was enjoying a fine run of form at the heart of Unai Emery’s defence before he ruptured knee ligaments in Arsenal‘s 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last December.

Having worked his way back to fitness, Holding made his comeback as he captained the Gunners to a comfortable Carabao Cup third-round win over Nottingham Forest – even scoring in the 5-0 victory.

But his return to top-flight football looks set to come in Manchester on Monday night as he pushes the likes of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz for a starting berth.

“It will be coming full circle,” Holding said.

“Even if I am on the bench it will be brilliant to just walk back to that spot that it happened and just sort of take it in and have a bit of a moment.

“Then it will be business as usual. But I couldn’t really write it any better.

“I suppose you could say it is a bit of closure for it to happen there and then your first game involved is back there. It will be interesting, but I look forward to it.”

Holding is one of three defenders who returned from injury against Forest, with Hector Bellerin back following a similar knee problem and Kieran Tierney making his debut after overcoming a groin issue that had plagued him since joining from Celtic in the summer.

In their absence, Emery has struggled to find a formula at the back to keep out the opposition and Arsenal have kept just one clean sheet in their last 11 league games.

Holding admits that, while he has been recovering, there has been an exterior pressure building up to his comeback as fans hope he can be part of the answer to Emery’s defensive conundrum.

“I was speaking with Kieran – we were saying there is actually a bit of pressure on me, Hector and him,” he said.

“Obviously the fans have been putting a lot of pressure on saying: ‘We need those three back, hopefully they can perform’.

“So we had a bit of pressure going into (the Forest game) and the way we performed and dealt with it was great.

“It is a healthy pressure. It not a sort of draining pressure if you know what I mean. It is a nice pressure and it is the competition. It is pushing everyone to be better.”

Holding also revealed he was left in tears when team-mate Bellerin suffered the same injury as him just days after he started his own rehabilitation on his knee.

Asked if he cried when Bellerin got injured, the former England Under-21 international added: “I did.

“I was sat with my girlfriend and I saw the video from TV in the group chat with my friends.

“I thought ‘oh no’. Because it was so raw for me it hit a spot and I got a bit emotional with it.

“I was two weeks post-op when he went down, I was sat up here watching the game and it was really emotional for me to see him go down, getting stretchered off and holding his knee.

“The long days in the gym where we’ve been sat on a watt bike just ticking over for 30-40 minutes, there have been some dark times. For us to both come out and put in a performance like that (against Forest) and for him to come on and get an assist straight away is a real pleasure to see. He’s a great leader for the team.

“It happened so close together. For it to both be left knee, a weight-bearing knee for us. To go through the process with him made it a lot easier and I’m sure he’d say the same.”


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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Calum Chambers
“I’m delighted Calum has extended his stay with us,” said Unai Emery in July 2018. “He played an important role last season and will be part of my plans this season.”

What the Arsenal manager failed to disclose is that his “plans” involved Calum Chambers taking his new Arsenal contract with him across the city to Fulham. But as strange as the apparent U-turn was, Emery’s justification that a second loan spell “will be an important part of his development” seems particularly pertinent.

While the 24-year-old added a second Premier League relegation to his CV at Craven Cottage, the boy returned as a man. A campaign that started with him featuring at centre-half included some brief sojourns at right-back before carving out a role in defensive midfield. Upon his being named Fulham’s Player of the Season, the club’s official website described him as ‘one of our most popular ever loanees’.

And so to Tuesday, where Chambers was in sensational form against Nottingham Forest, assisting a goal apiece from either flank and balancing his new-found attacking instincts with a defensive resolve not often seen in these parts. His physical improvement in particular was eye-opening.

Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Gabriel Martinelli all impressed at the Emirates, but only one player was “amazing” enough to be singled out by the manager. He might well have earned a start against Manchester United in their 12-12 draw on Monday.


Taylor Harwood-Bellis
‘Man City already have a Harry Maguire-style centre back in Taylor Harwood-Bellis’ read the Manchester Evening News summer headline. But if one performance in a League Cup third-round game against lower-league opposition is anything to go by, the 17-year-old will surpass his new city brethren within a month.

The comparison carries little weight beyond height, of course, with Harwood-Bellis marrying obvious aerial prowess with calm and comfort on the ball against Preston. Only fellow central defender Eric Garcia completed more passes (90) than his 84, and his partner on Tuesday was making a fourth League Cup start of his career, having appeared in last season’s quarter-final and semi-final.

Pep Guardiola saw fit to praise both of his “exceptional human beings” after the 3-0 win, but for a player who only turned 17 this year, a professional first-team debut was a monumental step forward.

Regular Premier League football remains a distant objective, and Fernandinho will likely return by the weekend. But Harwood-Bellis at least justified his place in the central defensive queue, even if it is towards the back after pushing in front of Guardiola himself.


Danny Ings
It’s safe to say that Danny Ings expected his Southampton career to go a little differently. His gentleman’s bet that he would outscore Mo Salah was “just a bit of banter” with no money involved, but a final result of 7-22 won’t have been great for his confidence.

There was a silver lining of 23 Premier League starts, a tally beaten only by his first campaign in the competition with Burnley in 2014/15 (35), and almost four times as many as he made throughout his entire Liverpool career (6). With those injury issues thankfully and hopefully behind him, the 27-year-old is looking to push on.

Ralph Hasenhuttl ensured to freshen his competition this season with the signings of Che Adams and Moussa Djenepo, but Ings has risen to the challenge. Two goals in the derby win over Portsmouth takes his seasonal tally to three with one assist and a respectable return.

Perseverance – and a quite wonderful first touch – laid on his first strike against Pompey, while the deft finish applied to Michael Obafemi’s excellent through ball made for a rather pleasing second, and a boyhood dream realised.

Hasenhuttl has started Adams as a lone striker and alongside Nathan Redmond in Saints’ last two Premier League games, with Ings afforded 16 and 13 minutes as a substitute. He will fancy his chances from the start against a panicky Tottenham on Saturday.


James Justin
Somewhat lost amid Leicester’s excellent start to the season is that continuity, not revolution, has been the key. The eight Foxes with the most minutes played were all at the club in 2018/19, with Ayoze Perez the only player in the top 13 not to have been signed this summer – January arrival Youri Tielemans notwithstanding.

While Dennis Praet will need more than one Premier League start and one and a half League Cup games to prove that his purchase was not at least a little pointless, James Justin will be afforded a considerable amount of time. The 21-year-old joined under no pretences: two of the Premier League’s best full-backs are well ahead of him and Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell would both take some shifting. The versatility of being able to play on either flank mattered not.

So it proved. Six Premier League games have passed with Justin acclimatising to the bench as an unused substitute in each. Even against Newcastle in the League Cup second round he watched on from the sidelines. But when former club Luton played host to Leicester on Tuesday, Brendan Rodgers gave him the nod.

A goal, four chances created, two tackles, two clearances and what the Leicester Mercury described as ‘a dream debut’ justified the call. The opportunities for such a naturally gifted and supremely talented player will come, particularly if he makes a habit of taking them in such an impressive manner.


Dominic Calvert-Lewin
The standard of the opposition will likely be used as a stick to beat him rather than praise him with. There always tends to be an asterisk next to the name of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who is constantly willing but not always able.

Perhaps a Premier League defence would not have afforded him the freedom of Hillsborough to score his first goal, nor would they have suffered the lapse in concentration that preceded his second. But Calvert-Lewin showcased both a fine touch and unstoppable finishing technique, as well as an awareness and instinct to put Everton through to the next round.

It will take more than that to convince many of the sceptics, but only a fool would suggest the 22-year-old is responsible for a shoddy record at set-pieces and an inability to win away. Richarlison (17) and Gylfi Sigurdsson (15) are the only other Toffees to register double figures for goals in all competitions since the start of last season, with Calvert-Lewin – who neither cost upwards of £35m nor has been allowed to settle into one position – on 11.

Whether he is part of the solution remains to be seen – although every club tends to have a similar style of player in their ranks somewhere. But Calvert-Lewin is most certainly not the problem.

Matt Stead


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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

When does Liverpool v Arsenal kick off?

It’s the late kick-off on Saturday 24 August, so kick-off is at 5.30pm UK time.

Where can I watch Liverpool v Arsenal on TV?

The match is live on Sky Sports, so it will be screened on both Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League.

Build-up starts from 5pm on both channels, and if you don’t have Sky Sports you can get a Now TV pass to enjoy their coverage for one day only.

The match is also being broadcast live by the likes of beIN Sports, SuperSport, and NBCSports, so international viewers will certainly not be short of options.

Who is the referee for Liverpool v Arsenal?

Anthony Taylor is the man charged with keeping order at Anfield, and he’s a man with some history in the fixture.

He officiated in April 2015 when Arsenal won 4-1 at the Emirates, and he sent off Liverpool’s Emre Can late in the game.

Last season he took charge of Liverpool just three times. He was the man in the middle when they lost at Manchester City, but also for their home wins against West Ham and Bournemouth.

He refereed Arsenal seven times during 2018/19, including their 1-1 derby draw with Tottenham.=

Gary Beswick and Adam Nunn will assist Taylor, with Jon Moss the fourth official.

Meanwhile, the man hoping he won’t be the most controversial man involved is Stuart Attwell, who will be the man in the VAR hotseat.

What is the Premier League history of Liverpool v Arsenal

In a word: goals.

The fixture, particularly at Anfield, is the most consistently high-scoring one in Premier League history.

Last season, Liverpool won the corresponding match 5-1. The season before that was a 4-0 win for the Merseysiders, and the one before that was a 3-3 draw.

The most famous, or infamous, meeting between these two teams since the start of the Premier League in 1992 was their Anfield clash in 2009.

It finished 4-4, with the mercurial Andrey Arshavin scoring all four goals for the Gunners.

What is the team news ahead of Liverpool v Arsenal?

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker was injured in the Reds’ opening game of the season at Norwich, and his calf injury is expected to keep him out of this one too.

That means that deadline-day signing Adrian will continue, with 35-year-old veteran Andy Lonergan to provide the cover.

Full-back Nathaniel Clyne and Naby Keita are also still sidelined for Jurgen Klopp’s troops.

Arsenal could welcome Granit Xhaka back into the fold after he missed the win over Burnley with a back injury. That is likely to be the only change to the side that won at Turf Moor, with mystery still surrounding the availability of Mesut Ozil due to security concerns.

Hector Bellerin, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Kieran Tierney are all some way off fitness, although Rob Holding is back training again.


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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Knowing me, knowing you…
Oddly no sign of a repeat of this back-page headline…

…now that it has been revealed that Everton have made an offer for Wilfried Zaha but ‘would prefer to stagger it over a five-year period, meaning a less significant impact on the annual balance sheet’.

Question: Are perfectly normal things only funny when Arsenal do them?


Quite remarkable
Still, miserable Mark Irwin remains flummoxed by the whole business in the inside pages of The Sun, writing of Arsenal’s move for Nicolas Pepe:

‘Remarkable as it may seem, Lille appear happy to settle for a £20m down payment and have the remaining £52m paid over the next four years.

‘Arsenal have reached a similar agreement with Saint-Etienne for teenage centre-half William Saliba, who will eventually cost them £27m but only around £6m this year.’

It’s almost like that’s how a significant proportion of transfer payments are structured. Remarkable as it may seem, those selling clubs might know more than Mark Irwin about football finances.


There is nothing we can do…
Back to that Everton bid for Wilfried Zaha. Either…

a) ‘EVERTON have been told Wilfried Zaha is not for sale at ANY price’ after Crystal Palace ‘rejected a £55m offer’ (The Sun) or…

b) ‘EVERTON face a race to beat the transfer deadline and sign Crystal Palace after having a £50m bid rejected’ which ‘fell £10m short of their valuation’ (Daily Mirror) or…

c) ‘CRYSTAL PALACE will turn down a £52million offer from Everton’ (Daily Mail).

One of those is at least partly true. Ish.


Cryptic cross word
If you see this post on Twitter…

…and think ‘oooh, Wilfried Zaha posts cryptic social media message amid Arsenal and Everton transfer links’, then congratulations, for you work for the Daily Express website.


Quote, unquote
It had long been forgotten that quote marks are generally to be used to signify actual, you know, quotes.

As an example, here’s a headline on The Sun website:

‘Arsenal target Nicolas Pepe spotted at Miami airport ‘heading to London’ as Gunners fans get excited over transfer’

Who says he is ‘heading to London’? Nobody at all.

The whole ‘story’ is that Pepe was seen at Miami airport at the end of his holiday in Miami. How the f*** else was he supposed to get home?


Rowe, rowe, rowe your boat…
Silly us, though. Clearly Nicolas Pepe is ‘heading to London’ because we can see this on the Daily Mirror website:

‘Arsenal duo appear to confirm Nicolas Pepe transfer deal.’

You know a deal is done when Emile Smith Rowe likes a post on Instagram.


Hijack the lad
Liverpool are not buying Nicolas Pepe. We know that, you know that and the Liverpool Echo absolutely know that.

As they write on their live blog on Monday morning:

‘One thing I do know is he won’t become a Liverpool player. The ECHO understands etc etc, you’ve heard it all before.’

But obviously they do not allow that absolute certainty to get in the way of this headline:

‘Liverpool transfer news LIVE – Reds ‘prepare move’ for Francois Kamano, Nicolas Pepe deal ‘hijacked’, Rayhaan Tulloch linked’

Why? Because clicks.

The Echo blames ‘the pesky French media’. Or should we say that they thank the ‘pesky French media’ for giving them a clickable headline?

Here’s what they say:

‘Foot Mercato report the Reds will make a late bid to hijack Arsenal’s deal for Pepe.’

So off we go to Foot Mercato, who do not mention any ‘hijack’ (or ‘détourner’) but instead report that – via Google Translate – ‘While Arsenal would now hold the rope on the record, the Times reports that Liverpool, winner of the last Champions League, would have contacted the agent of Lille.’

That will be the ‘pesky French media’, reporting the most English of media in the form of The Times. Or rather the Sunday Times, where Duncan Castles writes that ‘Arsenal have agreed a club-record fee of £72m with Lille for Nicolas Pepe and have been granted permission to conclude a deal with the free-scoring Ivory Coast international’.

Sounds like a done deal. But what of Liverpool and their ‘hijack’? Well in the fifth paragraph, Castles writes this sentence:

‘Liverpool had contacted the player’s agent.’

Six words. Including two that indicate the past tense.

And over 24 hours later, the Echo are happy to report that the Nicolas Pepe deal is being ‘hijacked’.

One word: Shameless.


How soon is how?
Coverage of any potential transfer is not complete without this from talkSPORT:

‘POTENTIAL XI? Arsenal transfer news: How Unai Emery’s side could line-up with Kieran Tierney and Nicolas Pepe… but without Mesut Ozil’

Is it the usual Arsenal XI but with Kieran Tierney at left-back, Nicolas Pepe on the right and no Mesut Ozil?

Yes. Yes, it is.


Life and death
When a dead body is an opportunity…

‘Arsenal star shocked after ‘dead body is discovered at his home” – The Daily Mirror website.

The ‘Arsenal star’ is Mo Elneny, and the ‘home’ is actually a ‘house in Egypt’.

Shall we just start calling it dickbait?


I could be so good for you…
Manchester United ‘kept safe by 140 tour minders’ sounds mental…

…because it’s a right load of bollocks.

As Mike Keegan actually writes: ‘An incredible 140 members of backroom staff took part at one stage or another – more than twice as many as some of their rivals – with a burly, 20-strong security team keeping a close eye on things.’

So they were actually ‘kept safe by 20 tour minders’. But what’s 120 minders between friends?


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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

The latest reports in Scotland suggest that Arsenal have upped their bid to £2omillion in their quest to sign Celtic full-back Kieran Tierney.

Unai Emery has earmarked the Scotland international as the solution to their left-back problem, and wants him to join up with the squad before Arsenal’s pre-season tour in July.

Further paper talk suggests that the Gunners are offering Carl Jenkinson to Celtic as a makeweight.

The latest reports from the Sunday Post claim that Arsenal will be willing to meet the £20m up front, plus potential £5m in add-ons, demanded by Celtic.

Up until recently, negotiations had been deadlocked between Arsenal and Celtic with regards to a fee for the player. The perennial Scottish champions view him as an important player and would only be willing to let him leave for a substantial fee.

Kieran Tierney Celtic

“Arsenal are aware of what we value the player at,” said Hoops boss Neil Lennon, speaking to The Daily Record recently. “He’s on a long-term contract, he’s an asset and we don’t want to sell him.

“It’s going to have to take a lot more than what they’ve offered the first time around to give us a decision to make.

“I’ve had a chat with him as it can be a difficult decision and a bit unsettling. I’ve been there myself so it’s important that we support him regardless of the outcome.”

Meanwhile ESPN FC pundit Steve Nicol, who made over 300 league appearances for Liverpool after crossing the border from Ayr United in the early 80s, has urged Tierney to make the move.

“Tierney’s a good player. I think he’s probably reached his peak at Celtic,” said Nicol.

“I think stepping up to the tougher challenge will better his game.

“So yes, I think Arsenal right now need a new left-back, a young left-back.

“I think potentially he’s the guy.”

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League