Manchester City revealed on Christmas Day that Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker and another two members of staff have tested positive for coronavirus.

Striker Jesus scored an early opening goal in the 4-1 EFL Cup quarter-final win at Arsenal on Tuesday, while defender Walker made a substitute appearance.

The duo will miss the Boxing Day Premier League encounter with Newcastle United as they self-isolate after contracting COVID-19.

City face Everton two days later in a hectic festive period before a trip to Chelsea on January 3.

Pep Guardiola's side then take on Manchester United in a mouthwatering EFL Cup semi-final derby at Old Trafford on January 6.

City said in a statement: "Manchester City FC can confirm that Gabriel Jesus, Kyle Walker, and two members of staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

"All four personnel will now observe a period of self-isolation in accordance with Premier League and UK Government protocol on quarantine.

"Everyone at the club wishes our colleagues a speedy recovery over the Christmas period ahead of their return to work, training and competition."

The most wonderful time of the year may not be quite as magical as years gone by due to restrictions on all of our lives caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Christmas is still a special period, though, and the familiarity of a hectic Premier League schedule is sure to be a comfort to fans across the globe.

We appreciate you may be about to tuck into your dinner or snoozing after over-indulging already, but why not digest some tasty Christmas Premier League facts before cracking on with the next beer?

Wondering where you enjoy such a gem? Well we have you covered below, with the help of the happy little elves at Opta.


SANTA SLEIGHED BY SALAH

We ho ho hope you don't mind a little Christmas gag to headline this section to get us cracking…

It seemed only fitting to start with a bit of a coincidence that once upon a time a man with a festive theme in his name was responsible for the best minutes-per-goal ratio during the month of December.

That man was ex-Blackburn Rovers striker Roque Santa Cruz, who netted nine times in 846 minutes for a ratio of 94 minutes per goal.

Alas, just like Rudolph and the rest of the gang at the end of a busy Christmas Eve shift, Santa Cruz has been reined in. The honour now goes to Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, who has a goal every 91 minutes in matches played in December (19 goals in 1737 minutes).

Mick Quinn (97 mins per goal), Divock Origi (105 mins per goal) and Demba Ba (106 mins per goal) complete the top five for December.


MAYNOR THE KING OF THE CHRISTMAS CRACKERS?

Paper hats, Christmas jokes and cheaply assembled plastic toys…you all love pulling a cracker at Christmas!

And there have been many crackers scored in the month of December in the Premier League – not least Maynor Figueroa's 60.5-yard effort for Wigan Athletic against Stoke City back in 2009, which remains the longest of long-range goals in the competition during the final month of the calendar year.

The full-back's quick thinking with a free-kick from his own half caught Thomas Sorensen off guard and nestled in the back of the goal.

Former Portsmouth man Matt Taylor had a penchant for a long-range goal and his famous audacious volley against Everton in 2006 measured in at 40.6 yards.

Juan Mata (39.9 yards for Man Utd v Stoke), Sebastian Larsson (39.4 yards for Birmingham City versus Wigan) and Kevin De Bruyne (38.3 yards for Manchester City v Crystal Palace) all rank in the top five.


LLORIS AND THE KEEPERS GIFTING OUT THE GOODS

Christmas, at least under normal circumstances, is a time for spending time with loved ones and eating copious amounts of foods that aren't particularly good for us.

It is also, of course, if we're being honest, a time to exchange tat by the Christmas tree and say a silent prayer the generous buyer has kept the receipts.

Obviously, in football you're not supposed to be generous with your gifts – but Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has been particularly forthcoming with presents for opposition teams at this time of year.

The France World Cup winner has committed seven errors in the month of December, a Premier League high and one more than Red Devils number one David De Gea.

Unsurprisingly, goalkeepers make up the top five with Petr Cech (6), Robert Green (5) and Simon Mignolet (4) all featuring. Indeed of those to have committed three or more errors leading to goals in December, ex-Newcastle United defender Aaron Hughes is the only outfield player on our list.


SANTA'S NOT THE ONLY LAPLAND VISITOR

Santa makes his annual jolly around the globe to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls but back in 2001 there was another who heralded from Lapland to visit England.

Finland international Hannu Tihinen arrived on loan at West Ham from Norwegian side Viking and fittingly made his Premier League debut on Boxing Day!

In total he made just eight Premier League appearances, winning just once in England's top flight.

Perhaps the difference in quality was just – ahem – poles apart for Tihinen, who was nonetheless part of the side that memorably defeated Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup early in 2002.


RED DEVILS TOP OF THE TREE

The old cliche is that it means nothing to be top at Christmas…but for the sake of the jokes in this piece it's very important to be top of the tree come December 25!

Manchester United have sat in such a position on seven occasions, more than any other team, but Liverpool – six times – are the only side to hold top spot three seasons running having done so in 2018, 2019 and now 2020.

In total, 11 sides have managed to be top at Christmas - Chelsea (5), Arsenal (2) and Manchester City (2) unsurprisingly doing so. Norwich City, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United (2), Aston Villa, Leeds United and Leicester City have also achieved the honour.

There have been 15 instances of a team being in first place on December 25 and jingling all the way to the Premier League title, but nothing can be wrapped up this early in the season.


SNOW-BODY DOES IT BETTER THAN SHEARER OVER CHRISTMAS

For a man with 260 Premier League goals to his name, it should come as no surprise to hear that the player with the most goals scored in the period from December 26 to January 5 is Alan Shearer.

The Newcastle United great netted 23 times between those dates, five more than the 18 celebrated by former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler.

Dimitar Berbatov and Jermain Defoe each have 17, while Steven Gerrard has 16 – the same amount as Tottenham star Harry Kane, who has Shearer's record in his sights.

In a league table of win percentages during this period, Manchester United lead the way with 64.6 per cent, while Liverpool (59.5 per cent) have brought plenty of festive cheer too.

At the opposite end, Sheffield United have won just 18.2 per cent of Premier League games for those dates over Christmas, while Crystal Palace 21.2 per cent fare little better.


JESUS RISES TO THE OCCASION

Christmas for many is mainly a secular celebration nowadays but the traditional meaning of the holiday season is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

In the Premier League, there have been six occasions of a player with Jesus in their name scoring a December goal – five of which were from Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus.

The other was netted by former City winger Jesus Navas, who fittingly at this time of year often delivered for others – producing six December assists and amassing 74 crosses from open play.

The festive season is here once more and that means a full round of Premier League action in the days following Christmas.

There are distractions aplenty, with presents to wrap and food to prepare, but do not let your fantasy team fall by the way side.

Our Opta-powered picks should see you safe once more this weekend.


EMILIANO MARTINEZ

Aston Villa are at home to Crystal Palace on Boxing Day and looking for a fourth consecutive Premier League clean sheet for the first time since February 2010.

Martinez is the obvious pick to make the most of this hot streak in a chilly December, having kept more clean sheets (seven) than any other top-flight goalkeeper this season.

That tally has already matched Villa's total for the 2019-20 campaign.


TYRONE MINGS

Why stick to one Villa man when you can have two? Mings has been just as important as Martinez to their defensive form.

Indeed, the England centre-back has played the full 90 minutes in all seven of those clean sheets.

Mings, who also has two goals and an assist this season, only had six clean sheets in the entirety of the previous campaign.


ANDY ROBERTSON

Capable of delivering the goods all year round, back Robertson to perform again this Christmas.

Robertson leads all Premier League defenders in assists (five), chances created (26) and touches in the opposition box (44) this season.

Any fantasy player who has so far resisted the urge to call up the Scotland captain might consider struggling West Brom's trip to Anfield on Sunday.


BRUNO FERNANDES

The curtain is coming down on a year that has belonged to Fernandes, signed by Manchester United in January.

Since his debut the following month, the Portugal playmaker has been involved in 29 goals (17 scored, 12 assisted) in the Premier League, more than any other player.

In fact, Fernandes has either netted or created half of United's 58 goals and should be heavily involved again in Saturday's Christmas cracker at Leicester City.


JAMES WARD-PROWSE

Southampton visit Fulham on Boxing Day, with Ward-Prowse again set to be at the heart of their midfield as they aim to bounce back from a narrow defeat to Manchester City.

With four goals and three assists this season, his seven involvements are already the third-most he has managed across a campaign in his Premier League career.

The set-piece expert has played just 14 matches but could match his best ever tally with another goal or assist this festive season.


KEVIN DE BRUYNE

It is a little late for last-minute shopping, but City's De Bruyne still has time to get his wish this year.

The midfielder has 15 Premier League assists in 2020, three short of his record for a calendar year (18 in 2017).

He will welcome the visit of Newcastle United then, having provided five assists in seven league games against the Magpies, along with a pair of goals - including one of the strikes of the season at St James' Park in 2019-20.


JAMIE VARDY

Like Santa and Rudolph, Vardy and Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers make quite the team.

The striker has scored more goals (43) than any other Premier League player since Rodgers took charge, while only Luis Suarez (54) has netted more times under the former Liverpool boss in the competition.

Do not bet against Vardy ruining United's Christmas; he remains an obvious choice.

Chelsea have reportedly joined the race for Erling Haaland as Manchester United consider their options.

Haaland, 20, has been heavily linked with a move after starring for Borussia Dortmund.

Europe's biggest clubs are lining up to sign the forward, and Chelsea are apparently among them, while United may look elsewhere.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA JOIN RACE FOR HAALAND

Chelsea are ready to enter the race for Dortmund star Haaland, according to 90min.

Manchester City are also reportedly heavily interested in the Norway international, who has also been linked with Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Haaland has scored 33 goals in 32 games for Dortmund since arriving at the Bundesliga club from Salzburg in January.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United, meanwhile, may look elsewhere. The Mirror reports the Premier League giants may be unable to sign Haaland due to their "sour relationship" with his agent, Mino Raiola. The report says United see Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin as an alternative.

- With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez still sidelined, Liverpool continue to be linked with defenders. Todofichajes.com reports the Premier League leaders are interested in Real Madrid centre-back Eder Militao. Meanwhile, the Liverpool Echo says the club are in talks with Celta Vigo over 16-year-old defender Stefan Bajcetic.

- Struggling in the Premier League, Arsenal are expected to strengthen in January. The Daily Star reports the Gunners are considering a loan move for Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior next month.

- After just one Premier League appearance for Chelsea this season, Antonio Rudiger has been linked with a move away. Le Parisien reports Paris Saint-Germain want the defender in January.

- Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard is apparently attracting interest from elsewhere. CalcioMercato reports Juventus and Milan are interested in the 22-year-old.

- Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig is set to leave Camp Nou following repeated criticism from Blaugrana boss Ronald Koeman. Manchester City and Bayern Munich are both keen on the 21-year-old, according to Fichajes.

Manchester United and Manchester City will once again face one another in the EFL Cup semi-finals as Pep Guardiola's side continue their quest to win the competition for a fourth consecutive season.

City prevailed 3-2 on aggregate against their neighbours in the final four last season, winning 3-1 at Old Trafford, where this year's single-legged encounter will take place.

United and City are just the second pair of teams to meet in the League Cup semi-finals in consecutive seasons, after Arsenal and Tottenham faced off in the last four in both 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Their 1-0 loss in the return was the second of three defeats suffered against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team in 2019-20, while the Manchester clubs played out a dour 0-0 draw in the Premier League earlier this month. 

The other semi-final is an all-London affair, with Brentford eying Tottenham as potentially their fifth Premier League scalp in tournament.

Josh Dasilva scored the only goal on Tuesday to sink Newcastle United and book a trip to Spurs, following triumphs over Southampton, West Brom and Fulham for Thomas Frank's men.

United were the last team to book their semi-final spot as late goals from Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial saw off Everton at Goodison Park on Wednesday.

Solskjaer will aim to make it fourth-time lucky, having gone down to Chelsea and Sevilla in the FA Cup and Europa League semi-finals respectively last season, compounding the City reverse of 11 months ago.

The holders brushed aside Arsenal 4-1 in a Tuesday quarter-final – Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte all on target at Emirates Stadium.

Spurs ensured the Brentford would be the only Championship representatives in the final four as Gareth Bale, Ben Davies and Harry Kane scored to complete a 3-1 win at Stoke City.

Both one-off ties will be played in the week commencing January 4.

This week, the English Football League pushed the final back to April 25, in the hope of being able to welcome fans to Wembley.

Frank Lampard is furious at Chelsea's schedule for the coming week as they must play twice in the space of 48 hours.

The Blues visit Arsenal at 1730 GMT on Boxing Day before kicking off at the same time at home to Aston Villa two days later.

Lampard is particularly frustrated at the prospect as Chelsea's subsequent match against Manchester City has been pushed back, providing a six-day gap, but pleas to rearrange the Villa game have fallen on deaf ears.

"It's 48 hours," Lampard told reporters when the two matches in three days were posed to him. "I'm not trying to be clever there, but it's an important point for us because there are other teams challenging at the top of the league that have two games in three days [72 hours].

"Manchester United, Tottenham, I think Liverpool play two games in three days.

"It's counter-productive for the quality of the Premier League. It's a risk to play both games in top-end, elite sport, everybody knows that."

Asked if he would be able to name his best XI against both Arsenal and Villa, Lampard replied: "I don't think so.

"I think that's pretty much impossible. I couldn't say what I've just said and then put out the same team."

The Blues coach is surprised there was no change to the schedule as he believes it would be in the Premier League's best interests to have the Villa fixture on December 29.

"I'm surprised," Lampard said. "We hear a lot about how we'll have conversations and we'll talk, but not much action gets done at the critical time.

"Again, I have sympathy for the scheduling, I have sympathy for the difficult times, I have sympathy that if can we work together we try to find the best solution and sometimes there isn't one.

"Everyone loves football and everyone wants the season to be finished and everyone wants the Champions League to continue and international football to continue.

"But when you're given two teams asking for a game to be played one day later to try to get their best players on the pitch as fit as they can, why would you not do that? That surprises me."

First, Chelsea must tackle Arsenal, the side who beat them in the FA Cup final but have since failed to mount a challenge at the top of the Premier League and instead slumped to 15th place.

Lampard said: "I saw a very strong team and I think they added very well in the window.

"It's so early in the season. I know Arsenal's position, but I'll let them speak about their position; even ourselves, if we're going to fight for a title, that is on us and the games ahead. There are a lot of games to go.

"I think they're a quality team and I know a lot of people had them in the [title] argument at the start of the season.

"I heard that and maybe we were in the argument, maybe not firm favourites and Arsenal were in the same batch as us because of the way they finished last season.

"In the recent period, it hasn't worked for them in terms of results. Some of the performances have been better than results, for sure.

"The important thing for us is not to get caught up in any of that talk, because I can feel it coming with this game because of Arsenal's recent results.

"We must go there with a determination to win, a respect for Arsenal but a determination to win."

Erling Haaland is Chelsea's number one transfer target, while a pair of Premier League giants are lining up January bids for Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish.

Borussia Dortmund star Haaland has netted 23 goals in 23 games since moving to the Bundesliga in January, leading to him reportedly being installed as Frank Lampard's top target for the off-season.

Will Haaland make the move to Chelsea?


TOP STORIES – CHELSEA WANT HAALAND

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland has been identified as Chelsea's top transfer target along with West Ham's Declan Rice, according to Sky Sports journalist Angelo Mangiante.

Haaland has been linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool.

But Haaland is wanted in London as Chelsea prepare for a clear-out, with seven players being made available – Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Jorginho, Marcos Alonso, Ross Barkley, Danny Drinkwater and Victor Moses.

Mikel Arteta is convinced he has the fighting spirit in his Arsenal squad which will enable the embattled Gunners to turn their dismal domestic season around.

Arsenal have not won a game outside of the Europa League since November 1, when they defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Premier League.

The FA Cup holders have lost five of their last seven Premier League matches and on Tuesday were dumped out of the EFL Cup by Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola's side winning 4-1 at Emirates Stadium.

It was the first time Arsenal have conceded four times at home in the competition since November 1998, when they lost 5-0 to London rivals Chelsea, who were also the last team before City to win four successive away games against the Gunners in all competitions, with the Blues doing so between 1960 and 1965.

With Arsenal 15th in the Premier League table – just four points clear of the relegation zone – Arteta now has to gather his players for fixtures against Chelsea, Brighton and Hove Albion and West Brom between Boxing Day and January 2.

Gunners manager Arteta conceded the run will likely decide Arsenal's league campaign, but insisted he has full belief in his players.

"It's a hard one to take considering how the game went. This level of opponent, when you give the goals away it makes the game impossible," Arteta told Sky Sports.

"A lot of strange things are happening in every game and that makes things really difficult.

"We have to turn it around round – there is no question with the fixtures we have it's going to decide our season.

"On the basis of what we have shown tonight against difficult opponents, I have fighters in my team. Yes, I have fighters."

One player who may embody the fighting spirit Arteta spoke of is Gabriel Martinelli, who made his first start of the season after returning from a long-term knee injury.

Martinelli returned as a substitute in Saturday's defeat to Everton and looked lively in the first half against City, having one attempt and setting up Alexandre Lacazette's equaliser.

However, Martinelli sustained a blow to his shin and, despite trying to battle on, had to be taken off in the 49th minute, though Arteta suggested the injury was not serious.

"It was a really bad kick on his shin, it was swelling up and he could not continue," Arteta told a news conference.

"I think Gabi has a unique energy and a way to transmit his passion for the game. I think he plays the game in a different way to any other player, we can't compare him.

"What we have to say is it's great to have him back. To bring that spirit and that fight, and to play against this opponent the way he did it in that first half, I think that it's something to be really proud and happy with."

Pep Guardiola described Mikel Arteta as an "incredible manager" after his Manchester City side beat struggling Arsenal 4-1 to reach the last four of the EFL Cup. 

Arteta left his role as Guardiola's assistant a year ago to take over at Arsenal but he is under intense scrutiny after a dismal start to the season, which has left the Gunners 15th in the Premier League. 

He enjoyed no respite on Tuesday, with Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte sealing an 18th consecutive win in the competition for holders City after Alexandre Lacazette had cancelled out Gabriel Jesus' early opener. 

Arteta's position will come under further scrutiny after Arsenal conceded four goals at home in an EFL Cup game for the first time since a 5-0 defeat to Chelsea in November 1998, but Guardiola is in no doubt about the Spaniard's talents. 

"What can I say, everybody knows we are judged on results. He can defend himself perfectly," he told Sky Sports.

"I worked with him, we cannot have had our success without him. He is an incredible manager. I know his proposals and what he will do. Not even a little run of bad results is going to change my opinion."

The victory meant City became the first team to win four consecutive away games against Arsenal in all competitions since Chelsea between 1960 and 1965. 

They were helped on their way by Gunners goalkeeper Runar Alex Runarsson, who allowed Mahrez's free-kick to squirm through his grasp and gift City a 2-1 lead. 

It was Mahrez's first goal from a free-kick since September 2019 – and his fifth in all competitions in English football – and the Algerian knew there was an element of luck to it. 

"It was a solid performance," he said. "We started good and then they equalised. We got lucky with the free-kick and then we got the third one and then it was easier for us.

"I was surprised at the position of Runarsson. He was so close to the post and luckily didn't catch it properly and that was good for us.

"We've been struggling but it's football. It's not always easy to score four or five goals. Today we scored four goals and it was a solid performance."

Manchester City booked an EFL Cup semi-final spot and piled more pressure on Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta with a resounding 4-1 win at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday. 

Arteta, who was Pep Guardiola's assistant at City before taking charge of the Gunners a year ago, has faced questions over his future after a dismal start to the season has left his side languishing in 15th in the Premier League. 

He did not find any respite against his former club, with City – who have won the competition in each of the last three seasons – easing through to the last four after second-half goals from Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte. 

Alexandre Lacazette had earlier given the hosts hope of ending a run of three straight home defeats to City when he cancelled out Gabriel Jesus' early opener, but that proved to be a rare moment of joy in yet another turgid defeat for the beleaguered north London club.

The visitors started in ruthless fashion, taking the lead after just 125 seconds when Jesus headed Oleksandr Zinchenko's left-wing cross past Runar Alex Runarsson inside the six-yard box, ending a goal drought of 609 minutes for the Brazilian.

Laporte headed wide from a corner before the Gunners pulled level with their first effort on target in the 31st minute, Lacazette heading home Gabriel Martinelli's cross from six yards out.

City should have restored their lead before the interval, but Runarsson raced off his line to deny Jesus after a smart move on the edge of the penalty area involving Foden.

The Arsenal goalkeeper was entirely at fault for City's second nine minutes after the interval, though, allowing Mahrez's free-kick from the edge of the area to squirm through his tepid grasp.

City added a third five minutes later when Foden latched onto Fernandinho's pass and lofted a delightful finish over Runarsson, although the goal would have been disallowed if VAR had been in use with replays clearly showing the midfielder was offside. 

The holders added gloss to an 18th straight victory in the competition in the 73rd minute, Laporte stealing in at the back post to head home Foden's inviting cross. 

Manchester City and Manchester United are set to battle it out for the signature of Bayern Munich's star defender David Alaba.

Alaba's Bayern contract expires in June 2021 and both Manchester clubs have made approaches for the 75-cap Austria international.

Pep Guardiola coached the 28-year-old during his time in the Bundesliga, but City may face further competition for the two-time Champions League winner.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED AND CITY SET FOR TUG-OF-WAR OVER ALABA

Manchester City and Manchester United have each made formal contact with Alaba 's agent Pini Zahavi, reports Spanish media outlet AS.

Bayern's chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has accepted the European champions can do nothing to keep Alaba, despite trying "everything" to convince the nine-time German league champion to stay.

But the Manchester rivals are not the only interested parties, with Real Madrid the favourites to land Alaba, according to the Daily Mail.  Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are also in the race.

 

ROUND-UP

- Everton left-back  Lucas Digne  is another player on Guardiola's wish list, say the Daily Mail. The Toffees are set to offer the France international a bumper new contract to ward off  City 's advances, according to the Times.

PSG  are lining up a bid for Atletico Madrid's wantaway goalkeeper  Jan Oblak , say the Daily Mail. The Ligue 1 champions see 27-year-old Oblak, who wants a new challenge, as the successor to 34-year-old gloveman Keylor Navas in the French capital.

The 2020-21 EFL Cup final has been moved from February to April in order to have "as many supporters in attendance as possible", the EFL has announced.

The first major domestic showpiece of the English season was previously scheduled for February 28, 2021.

However, restrictions relating to the coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom have limited the attendance of fans this term.

Some stadiums are still allowed to house spectators, but their return in London was brief as the capital was placed under lockdown.

The EFL hopes a new Wembley Stadium date of April 25, 2021 will enable supporters to make the trip.

"The number of fans permitted will be dependent on government guidance in place at the time and it is hoped that moving the date to later in the year will give clubs and their fans the best opportunity to attend in person." a statement read.

The competition is at the quarter-final stage, with last-eight ties to be played this week.

Holders Manchester City face struggling Arsenal on Tuesday after Brentford host Newcastle United, with Tottenham at Stoke City and Manchester United travelling to Everton on Wednesday.

Mikel Arteta insists the first-team squad remains united despite Arsenal's struggles this season, with the club needing "fighters" to help turn their situation around.

There was so much positivity at Arsenal ahead of the 2020-21 campaign after Arteta's early work in charge, including winning the FA Cup in August.

However, the Gunners have won just four games in the Premier League so far this term and, after Saturday's loss away at Everton, worryingly sit 15th in the table.

Stories have suggested there is unrest within the dressing room amid poor results, as well as the decision taken to ostracise Mesut Ozil and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Tuesday's EFL Cup quarter-final against Manchester City could provide a welcome distraction from their league woes, though Arteta again faced questions about morale among his players ahead of the game.

"When you talk about the dressing room and the atmosphere at the club, the atmosphere is good, as good as it can be when we are all hurting because results in the Premier League are hurting us," Arteta told the media on Monday.

"Everyone is worried and everybody is suffering because we want much more. We are working to get much more.

"In the dressing room, when you are losing football matches, it is difficult because they suffer as well because they care, because they want more, because the confidence level starts to go, but the unity is there.

"Is there 100 per cent unity around the club? It is impossible in any club even when you win because when players are not participating, it is more difficult but when you look at the perspective about how we are losing football matches and how we are where we are, it is pretty incredible."

Arsenal are only four points above the relegation zone and face trips to two of the teams below them - Brighton and Hove Albion and West Brom - during a busy festive period.

Before then, however, there are two huge homes games coming up, with Chelsea visiting on Boxing Day after the midweek cup tie with City at Emirates Stadium.

Arteta was asked how he responded to tough times during his playing days, to which he responded: "I liked to look around me, whether it's the staff, coaches, players and I wanted to see fighters.

"Normally when that happens, you have two types of people: fighters and victims. You need fighters and you don't want any victims.

"Victims bring excuses, victims bring negativity and they start to blame anything that is happening around them or is not going their way.

"You need people who fight, people who contribute and people who are ready to give everything to the club in this moment."

The Spaniard, who left his role as Pep Guardiola's assistant at City to take charge at Arsenal, also confirmed he has not considered walking away from the job.

"I don't like to think about those steps because then I will be thinking in a negative way and I cannot do that," Arteta said.

"At the moment, I have to try to be as positive as I can, believe in what we're doing, try to modify things to make it work better, and stay strong.  

"We're going through a lot of difficulties, the last thing we want to be thinking of is more problems coming up in the next few months.  

"I'm not in that state of mind. I know the responsibility that I have and why I am here."

Arsenal will be without striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in Tuesday's EFL Cup quarter-final with Manchester City.

The Gabon international missed the 2-1 Premier League loss at Everton, a match that extended the Gunners' winless domestic run to seven games.

Manager Mikel Arteta confirmed Aubameyang is improving but will not be ready to face Pep Guardiola's side at Emirates Stadium.

"Auba is feeling much better and he was more positive yesterday [Sunday] than in the previous two days," Arteta told reporters on Monday. "He will have another scan in the next few days and we will see how quickly we can get him back in the team.

"We know how important he is for us and he feels that responsibility and he is trying his best to be back fit as quickly as possible. For the rest, I don't think we're going to have any news today before training.

"Auba is not fit for tomorrow, that's for sure. He won't be playing tomorrow so we will see who is available because we have a few doubts as well in other positions. We want to get together a very competitive team because we know the level of City and we want to win the game tomorrow."

Arteta admits the match will serve as a welcome distraction from Arsenal's league campaign, with the defeat to Everton leaving them 15th in the table having taken five points from their past 10 matches.

"This is what we want to use it for. It's a competition we want to try to win," he said. "We had two difficult opponents before in Leicester City and Liverpool, we managed to beat them both and now we are playing at home and we are one step closer to Wembley. So, it is a really nice game to play, as this is the type of game we are looking for through the season."

Arteta suggested he could choose to field some youngsters against City and admits he has been surprised by the maturity they have displayed during a difficult few weeks at the club.

"It's part of what they have to do and what they have to go through to become really important players for this football club," he said. "You have to see how people react in difficult moments and they have to experience it themselves, to get through these difficult moments and how they're going to handle that pressure.

"If they are able to do that, they have to handle good moments and how they handle that to continue performing at the level that is required here. So it's another experience for them and I must say that they have been much more mature, responsible and efficient than I was expecting. So in my opinion, they are doing really well."

Real Madrid are still eyeing Kylian Mbappe next year.

Mbappe, 22, has been heavily linked with the LaLiga giants with his contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring in 2022.

Madrid may be looking to make a move in 2021.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CONFIDENT OVER MBAPPE IN 2021

Real Madrid are very confident of completing a deal for PSG star Mbappe next year, according to 90min.

Mbappe has developed into one of the world's best forwards at PSG, where he has scored 13 goals in 17 games this season.

The France international is admired by Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona may be active in January. Sport reports Ronald Koeman is insisting on signings to begin 2021, with Lyon star Memphis Depay said to be available for just €5million. It also says Barca will negotiate with Manchester City for Eric Garcia.

- Staying at Manchester City and the Premier League giants have been boosted by John Stones' form. The Telegraph reports the defender is poised for a contract extension, with his current deal running until 2022.

- Yves Bissouma is seemingly attracting plenty of interest after his form for Brighton and Hove Albion. The Daily Express reports Manchester United have joined the race for the midfielder, who has also been linked to Liverpool and Arsenal.

- Yet to play for Napoli this season, Arkadiusz Milik is set for an exit. CalcioMercato reports Tottenham have given up on trying to sign the striker, who is also apparently a target for Juventus, Inter and Roma.

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