EPL

Arteta insists Arsenal can still attract world's best players amid Vlahovic rumours

By Sports Desk January 12, 2022

Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal still have the pulling power to attract the world's biggest names, but refused to be drawn on speculation linking his side with Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic.

The Gunners have been tipped to move for the in-demand Serbia international, who matched Cristiano Ronaldo's 21st century record for the most Serie A goals in a single calendar year in 2021 with 33.

Vlahovic has also been touted as a target for Juventus, Manchester City and Manchester United, though Arsenal are said to be willing to spend big to land the 21-year-old, who has 18 months to run on his contract.

However, according to fresh reports on Wednesday, Vlahovic will only consider joining the north London club should they qualify for next season's Champions League after a five-year absence.

Arsenal have not placed higher than fifth in the Premier League since then and have finished eighth in back-to-back campaigns, but Arteta does not believe the Gunners' plight will put players off moving to Emirates Stadium.

"Historically this club has always been targeting the best players in the world and they were always interested to come here," he said at a news conference on Wednesday. "I can say that hasn't changed. 

"Every time I've spoken to a player they were so willing to come. That's a big advantage for us."

Vlahovic has 16 goals in 20 Serie A games for Fiorentina this season alone, making him the joint-fourth highest goalscorer in Europe's top five leagues behind Karim Benzema, Patrik Schick (both 17) and Robert Lewandowski (20).

Fiorentina are reportedly holding out for a €70million (£58m) fee, but Arteta would not comment specifically on his side's interest in the young attacker.

"I'm really sorry to disappoint you but you know I'm not going to be discussing any transfer rumours," he said when asked about the latest on Vlahovic.

"What I really want this month is that we have as many players fit and healthy and we do as much as possible with these players. After that we have a strategy and we will do that when possible."

Arsenal suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round on Sunday and will be looking to hit back when they take on Liverpool on Thursday in a rescheduled EFL Cup semi-final first leg.

Last week's fixture was called off after a COVID-19 outbreak forced Liverpool to shut their training ground, but Jurgen Klopp has since revealed a number of the cases were false positives.

The first leg will now take place at Anfield, with the return fixture set for Emirates Stadium next week, and Arteta will also have one eye on Sunday's Premier League trip to Tottenham.

"The dynamics have changed because the timing of the games becomes different," the Spaniard said. "It's completely uncertain but it's what it is.

"Last week's game being called off is something that is not in our control. The EFL is responsible to check every player's status and make the decision whether to play or not.

"You can never guarantee anything because you know that this changes dramatically in 10 seconds. Our willingness is always to play."

Arsenal, who will find out on Wednesday whether Granit Xhaka is clear to play after recently testing positive for coronavirus, have won just one of their last eight EFL Cup games against Liverpool at Anfield.

This is the third successive season the sides have met in the competition, while the last five meetings have produced a total of 28 goals.

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    Arsenal were looking to move level to go fourth in the Premier League by overcoming a Burnley team that had lost their last two away games 3-1.

    However, the Clarets held firm at Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with Nick Pope making some fine saves and Alexandre Lacazette spurning a glorious opportunity.

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    Arsenal have also failed to win any of their first five games in a calendar year for the first time in 27 years, while it is the first time since October 2008 that they have not beaten a team at the bottom of the league at home.

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    For all their possession (75.7 per cent), Arsenal only created one big chance against Burnley, defined by Opta as an opportunity from which a player would be expected to score, though they finished with an expected goals (xG) of 1.4, suggesting their finishing was below par.

    Pope made two excellent saves to deny Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe, who subsequently turned provider for Arsenal's best chance, only for Lacazette to prod wide of an open goal from the midfielder's cut back. 

    With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's future uncertain – albeit he was unavailable for health reasons on Sunday – Arsenal are reportedly keen to bring in a striker this month, and it would seem it is a vital need if they are to secure Champions League qualification.

    Dusan Vlahovic is said to be a target, with Fiorentina willing to sell the forward, who scored 33 goals in Serie A in 2021, matching Cristiano Ronaldo's record from 2020. However, the Viola have insisted no offer has yet been received for a player rumoured to be valued at €70million (£58.6m).

    Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin has also been linked, while Arteta has previously said he would like to bolster his midfield, but asked about Arsenal's transfer plans for the remainder of January, he replied: "In this market things are complicated."

    Burnley did offer a threat of their own, with Dwight McNeil particularly dangerous on the counter. No player had more than his four attempts, one of which almost caught Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale cold early on.

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    Virgil van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain offered the Reds control with goals in the first half at Selhurst Park, but Odsonne Edouard's second-half strike teed up a nervy ending on Sunday.

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    Liverpool recorded victory without the likes of Mohamed Salah, Naby Keita and Sadio Mane, who are still away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations.

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    The Netherlands international praised Andy Robertson's delivery as the centre-back reiterated Liverpool were not getting ahead of themselves in the title race.

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