Mikel Arteta admitted Arsenal were lucky in a 2-1 win over West Ham, but was pleased with his team's belief on Saturday.

After Michail Antonio cancelled out Alexandre Lacazette's opener at Emirates Stadium, Eddie Nketiah came off the bench to score an 85th-minute winner for Arsenal.

West Ham had 14 attempts at goal to Arsenal's seven, although Bernd Leno was only forced into two saves.

Arteta said Arsenal, who have won their opening two games, were fortunate in the London derby.

"We were a little bit lucky in certain moments for sure," the Arsenal manager told a news conference.

"But as well, we find a way to win it and it's the mentality I want that the team always believes that we can do it up until the last moment. Even if we have difficult games where we suffer, we make it difficult for ourselves in certain periods, but in the end it's three points.

"This is why we are here. As well, take some big notes because there are a lot of things to improve."

Arsenal are one of three teams to have grabbed six points from their opening two games in the Premier League so far.

However, Arteta believes they are still some way off being genuine title contenders.

"I think we are still very far away from where we want to be," he said.

"I think if you ask any manager in the Premier League if they are happy with everything [that] is going [on] with their team, it probably is no.

"We had a super-mini pre-season and we're still adapting some things. Some players are still not 100 per cent fit either but it's great to start winning, to have six points already and find ways to win."

Eddie Nketiah said "it's all love" between him and Dani Ceballos after they combined for Arsenal's winner against West Ham a week on from their bust-up at Fulham. 

The pair were involved in a shoving match ahead of kick-off at Craven Cottage on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season and had to be separated. 

Ceballos posted a photo of the duo on Instagram after the game and ensured there were "no problems" between him and Nketiah. 

They proved just that when Ceballos squared for substitute Nketiah to tap in an 85th-minute winner in a 2-1 triumph over the Hammers at Emirates Stadium on Saturday. 

"It was a bit of a coming together, I was a bit upset with the challenge he put in and obviously the reaction was there," Nketiah said of his altercation with Ceballos to Sky Sports. 

"We made up quickly and he apologised quickly and got on with it, that's what happens in life. It was nice of him to make the assist for me today, so it's all love now. 

"I think it was a great pass across, good vision from him, and I just tried to stay onside and make sure I was behind the ball, so it was a pretty easy finish from there. It was a great ball from Dani. 

"That's all I want to do, just keep trying to help the team and improve as a player. To come on and get the winner is a great feeling. I'm delighted with the three points."

Nketiah had only been on the pitch for eight minutes after replacing Alexandre Lacazette, who scored the opening goal – his 50th for the Gunners in all competitions. 

Michail Antonio equalised before half-time and hit the crossbar with a header as West Ham made a strong start to the second half, but Nketiah secured all three points. 

Mikel Arteta was pleased to see Arsenal grind out the result, a further sign of improvement for the Spaniard.

"I am really happy with the three points, but we have a lot to analyse because there were a lot of issues we created for ourselves in many moments. We have to improve many things," said Arteta. 

"Yes [we got away with one], but we created many chances to win the game and we conceded too many chances that were our fault.

"What I liked was the approach from the boys, they lifted up in the final 25 minutes, and a few months ago we would have drawn or lost that game.

"In the end you have to find a way because we are going to have games like this through the season."

Eddie Nketiah came off the bench to score a late winner as Arsenal edged past West Ham 2-1 in the Premier League at Emirates Stadium on Saturday. 

The Gunners looked destined to labour to a draw in their first home game of the season until Nketiah slotted home Dani Ceballos' pass with five minutes remaining. 

Nketiah had only come on in the 77th minute for Alexandre Lacazette, who had opened the scoring in the first half with his 50th goal for Arsenal in all competitions. 

Michail Antonio equalised before half-time and also rattled the crossbar with a header before Nketiah popped up to consign the Hammers to a second successive defeat to start the campaign.

Liverpool and Manchester United could be set for another transfer battle.

The Premier League rivals were both reportedly interested in Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara, who is set for a move to Anfield.

Now it seems they could be targeting the same player once more.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL, MAN UTD TARGET SARR

Liverpool have enquired about Watford star Ismaila Sarr, according to the Daily Mail.

It reports Watford want at least £36million for the 22-year-old forward, who scored five goals and provided four assists in 28 Premier League games last season.

Meanwhile, The Independent says Manchester United are looking at Sarr as they continue to be frustrated in their pursuit of Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho.

 

ROUND-UP

- What is next for Luis Suarez? Goal reports Roma striker Edin Dzeko is set to join Juventus on a two-year deal, dashing Barcelona forward Suarez's hopes of heading to the Serie A champions. Fabrizio Romano says Atletico Madrid are considering a move for Suarez, while he also claims Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik is getting closer to a Roma switch.

- Gareth Bale's return to Tottenham is almost done. Sky Sports reports the Real Madrid attacker will fly to London from Spain on Friday after completing a medical, returning to Spurs after leaving for the LaLiga giants in 2013.

- Staying at Tottenham and The Sun claims Spurs had a transfer enquiry for forward Danny Ings rejected by Southampton. Ings enjoyed a prolific 2019-20 season, scoring 22 Premier League goals.

- After a difficult first season at Real Madrid, Luka Jovic is apparently considering his options. According to Marca, the Serbian forward is studying a temporary loan move from the LaLiga champions.

- At Madrid's rivals, Barcelona, more movement is also expected. Mundo Deportivo reports Ronald Koeman wants Ajax full-back Sergino Dest if Nelson Semedo leaves the club.

- Could Chelsea's spending spree continue? The Independent reports West Ham star Declan Rice is yet to decide whether to push for a move to Stamford Bridge, where the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech and Thiago Silva are new arrivals.

Could Tottenham and Gareth Bale reunite?

Bale, who left Tottenham for Real Madrid in 2013, is not wanted in the Spanish capital.

While Manchester Untied are reportedly interested, former club Spurs are Bale's preference.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS LEAD BALE RACE

Tottenham are ahead of Premier League rivals Manchester United in the pursuit of Real Madrid outcast Gareth Bale, according to ESPN.

Bale has reportedly been told he can leave Madrid after falling out of favour with head coach Zinedine Zidane.

The Welshman wants to return to former club Tottenham after leaving Spurs for Madrid in 2013 and the Telegraph claims Dele Alli could be included in a deal to bring Bale back to London.

While United's interest is believed to be serious, it all depends on whether they are able to sign number one target and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Transfer Podcast reports United believe that if they leave final negotiations for Sancho until the last week of the transfer window, Dortmund will eventually cave in and sell the England international. Dortmund have refused to budge on their €120million (£108m) valuation.

- The Mirror claims Arsenal are close to offloading unwanted trio Sead Kolasinac, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira. Kolasinac has been linked to West Ham, Valencia are considering Guendouzi and Torreira has been tipped to join Torino. The Gunners want to keep full-back Hector Bellerin but he may be sold to Paris Saint-Germain.

Roma are poised to sign Juventus full-back Mattia De Sciglio, reports Fabrizio Romano. It comes as Juve close in on Roma striker Edin Dzeko, while Roma Press says the latter are set to complete the capture of Hellas Verona defender Marash Kumbulla. He had been linked to Inter, Lazio and Juve.

-  Luis Suarez's move to Juve has collapsed, says RAC1. The Barcelona veteran had been tipped to leave Camp Nou for Turin but a delay in an Italian citizenship test has reportedly scuppered the deal. Atletico Madrid are now an option for the Uruguayan.

- The Mail claims Bayern Munich are ready to renew their interest in Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi. The Englishman was linked to Bayern last year before opting to sign a new deal. Now, Hudson-Odoi could swap London for Munich before the October 5 deadline, with Juve also reportedly eyeing the Chelsea star.

- Diario AS reports Turkish giants Fenerbahce are eyeing Atletico's Diego Costa. Fenerbahce just sold striker Vedat Muriqi to Lazio and may use the transfer funds to bring Costa to Istanbul.

United had been favourites to land Sergio Reguilon from Madrid but the Telegraph and widespread reports say Tottenham are poised to sign the Spanish full-back. United have been reluctant to include a buy-back clause in any deal with Madrid.

- According to Sport Bild, Liverpool have contacted Bayern regarding Thiago Alcantara but the asking price is too high. United and Barca are also reportedly interested.

Mohamed Salah turned on the style as Liverpool fended off Leeds United in a seven-goal thriller on the first day of the Premier League season.

The Reds' 4-3 victory over their promoted visitors came on the back of two penalties and a sumptuous finish from Salah, whose hat-trick was an opening-day rarity.

As last season's top-flight champions launched their season in dramatic style, so others began to show what they might offer in the months ahead.

FA Cup holders Arsenal are targeting a much-improved league campaign in 2020-21, and their 3-0 win at Fulham was a promising start, with new signing Willian playing a key role.

Crystal Palace made an early breakthrough and made it count against Southampton, while Newcastle United's recent investments began to pay off as they earned a win at West Ham. We take a look at that and more thanks to Opta.

Liverpool 4-3 Leeds United: Super Salah

Egyptian striker Salah became the first Liverpool player to mark the beginning of a league season with a hat-trick since John Aldridge 32 years ago.

Aldridge's treble came at the start of a 1988-89 season that was overshadowed by the tragedy of the Hillsborough disaster. The then-Republic of Ireland star grabbed all three in a 3-0 away win over Charlton as the defending league champions made a flying start. They would go on to finish second in the First Division and win the FA Cup. It has taken Liverpool three decades to put together a team to match the peak Reds sides of that era, but there can be little doubting Jurgen Klopp's side would be a match for the best XI Kenny Dalglish could put together. Against Leeds, Salah was a titan of the Reds attack, attempting nine shots at goal, having more touches of the ball (88) than any other Liverpool player and playing more passes (44) in the Leeds half than anyone else on the home team.

Fulham 0-3 Arsenal: Willian, that was really something

New boy Willian was on fire for Arsenal, becoming the first player to have two assists on debut in the Premier League for the north London giants since Ray Parlour in 1992.

Back in west London, former Chelsea midfielder Willian showed just why Mikel Arteta wanted to bring him to Arsenal. His experience could be key this season, and his creativity has always been a danger to opponents, with the Brazilian playing a key role in second-half goals from Gabriel and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Just like 'Romford Pele' Parlour all those years ago, Willian could soon establish himself as a favourite of Arsenal supporters. He hit the post too, with a 94.7 per cent passing accuracy in the Fulham half wreaking damage.

Crystal Palace 1-0 Southampton: Ahead at the break, Palace take some stopping

When Roy Hodgson's Eagles go to the dressing room ahead at half-time, invariably they will have a good day. In the past 15 Premier League games when they have led at the break, Palace have won 13 times and drawn twice.

Wilfried Zaha – and isn't it so often him – put Palace in front against Southampton after 13 minutes, and they held on to that lead to snatch a welcome opening three points on Saturday. The last time Palace led at half-time in the Premier League and lost was in January 2019, when at Anfield they got ahead thanks to Andros Townsend but lost a helter-skelter match 4-3 to Liverpool. At home, they have won six consecutive games when armed with a half-time lead, last losing from such a position at Selhurst Park against Watford – also in January 2019.

West Ham 0-2 Newcastle United: Signed, sealed, and already delivering

Callum Wilson loves playing against West Ham. At least that's what the numbers tell us. The former Bournemouth striker has now netted eight goals in nine league appearances against the Hammers.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce might just be having an outstanding transfer window. Only time will prove that theory, but Newcastle could hardly have made a brighter start as they launched their campaign with a win courtesy of goals from new arrivals Wilson and Jeff Hendrick. Wilson has scored more goals against West Ham than he has managed against any other team in his league career, and his close-range effort on Saturday helped Newcastle end their run of slow starts. Arriving at the London Stadium, Newcastle had lost six out of their past seven league season openers, drawing the other, with their last win on the first day of a campaign having come against Tottenham in 2012. Yet of course they traditionally enjoy trips to West Ham, with their away record against the Hammers now showing 10 wins. Only against Tottenham – also 10 wins – have Newcastle won as many matches away from St James' Park in the Premier League era.

Jadon Sancho has been tipped to swap Borussia Dortmund for Manchester United.

But the England international remains in Germany and United are growing frustrated.

Could United move on from the Dortmund sensation?

 

TOP STORY – UNITED READY TO PULL PLUG ON SANCHO

Manchester United are ready to give up on signing Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to the Daily Star.

Sancho has emerged as United's top transfer target, but the Premier League giants have been unable to negotiate a deal with Dortmund.

With United and Dortmund apart in their valuation of Sancho, the Red Devils are frustrated and could turn to alternative targets.

Juventus attacker Douglas Costa, Atletico Madrid's Joao Felix and Real Madrid outcast Gareth Bale are possible options.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca claims Barcelona are contemplating a loan move for Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin, who left Camp Nou for the Gunners in 2011. Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked, while Barca will only target the Spaniard if they are able to part with Nelson Semedo.

- Staying at Camp Nou and Barca are targeting Sevilla's star centre-back Jules Kounde. The front page of Saturday's Mundo Deportivo says Barca could wait 12 months to secure a deal. Mundo Deportivo also reports Emerson could be included in a deal to prise Lyon captain Memphis Depay to the embattled LaLiga giants.

Tottenham have had an offer for Torino striker Andrea Belotti rejected, according to Gianluca Di Marzio. Spurs proposed a loan deal with an option to buy the Italy international for €50million (£46m). Di Marzio also claims Tottenham will not be signing Napoli forward Arkadiusz Milik, who has been linked to Roma and Juventus.

Chelsea are ready to loan out winger Calum Hudson-Odoi, says 90Min. The Englishman has previously been linked to Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

- Remaining at Stamford Bridge and Fabrizio Romano reports Chelsea will consider a move for West Ham's Declan Rice after having a bid accepted for Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.

Inter are ready to sell defender Milan Skriniar as they eye Hellas Verona's Marash Kumbulla, according to Calciomercato. It comes as Nerazzurri boss Antonio Conte tries to sign Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante and full-back Marcos Alonso.

Grady Diangana completed a permanent switch to West Brom on Friday, a move which left West Ham captain Mark Noble "gutted, angry and sad".

Diangana, who made 21 appearances for West Ham in 2018-19 after breaking into the first team, spent last season on loan at West Brom.

He enjoyed a fruitful spell at the Hawthorns, scoring eight goals in 30 Championship appearances as the Baggies secured promotion to the Premier League.

The 22-year-old will now remain in the midlands, having completed a transfer for a reported fee of £18million.

However, it is a deal which experienced midfielder Noble does not agree with.

"As captain of this football club I'm gutted, angry and sad that Grady has left, great kid with a great future!!!!!" Noble tweeted in response to West Ham's announcement of Diangana's departure.

In their statement, West Ham explained the decision to sell the winger had been a "reluctant" one, yet they vowed that all funds generated from the transfer would be given to David Moyes in order to strengthen the Hammers' squad.

"The decision to sell Grady has been made reluctantly but - ultimately - in the best interests of the club and with the aim to strengthen the squad in different areas at this time," a statement on West Ham's official website read.

"The money received for Grady will be reinvested entirely in the team, in line with the manager's targets.

"We believe that this will give us the best possible chance of ensuring we have a balanced squad to compete in the Premier League and capable of reaching our objectives and ambitions this season."

Diangana spent a decade at West Ham, but he told West Brom's website he has no regrets over his decision to leave.

"West Ham was all I had known before last season and I’m sure people will understand that I felt some sadness at leaving," he said

"But coming here having had that season we have just experienced, there were no nerves about leaving at all. Knowing the manager and the players and the feelings I have got for the club just made me excited."

Lionel Messi could stay at Barcelona after all.

Messi, 33, sensationally asked to leave the LaLiga giants after a tumultuous 2019-20 season, which ended without a trophy.

But the saga goes on – and it may conclude with Messi remaining at the club.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI CONSIDERING BARCELONA STAY

Messi is considering staying at Barcelona until the end of the upcoming season, according to Sport.

The Argentina star, who is contracted through until the end of June 2021, would begin negotiating with another club from January, the report says.

Messi has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester City, while Paris Saint-Germain, Inter and Juventus are also reportedly interested in the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

The latest news comes as Marca reports Europe's top clubs have a tacit agreement to avoid aggressive tactics when it comes to transfers.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea's spending spree looks one step closer to continuing. Sky Sports reports the Premier League giants have agreed a deal with Bayer Leverkusen for Kai Havertz, paying £71.4million (€80m) plus £17.9m (€20m) in add-ons. Havertz is set to join the likes of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva as arrivals at Stamford Bridge.

- Manchester United are not giving up on Jadon Sancho. The Daily Mail reports United are sorting out the salary and fees of intermediaries before making an official bid to Borussia Dortmund for Sancho. The Bundesliga club reportedly want £108m (€121m) for the England international.

- Barcelona are expecting to rebuild this close season. Cadena SER reports no offers have come in for Samuel Umtiti and the defender could be allowed to leave for free despite being contracted until 2023.

- Despite having a deal at Bayern Munich until next year, Javi Martinez could push for an exit. Goal reports the midfielder is keen to return to Athletic Bilbao, the club he left to join Bayern in 2012, and the Bundesliga side are prepared to negotiate a sale.

- Having struggled at West Ham, Felipe Anderson could be on the move. The Mirror reports the Brazilian has been offered to Arsenal on loan for £5m.

Mason Mount has revealed he was impacted by Declan Rice's Chelsea departure aged 14 amid rumours the West Ham midfielder could return to the club.

Chelsea star Mount is a close friend of Rice, with the duo playing together in the academy at Stamford Bridge.

However, while Rice was released and ending up establishing himself at London rivals West Ham, Mount remains at Chelsea and enjoyed a breakout season in 2019-20.

The Blues are making moves in the transfer market ahead of the new season - already bringing in Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner - and Rice, alongside Kai Havertz, is now said to be on Frank Lampard's wishlist.

Mount says he always backed Rice for a successful career, telling Chelsea's official website: "When I was 14, I was fortunate to be offered something and I was about to sign a new contract.

"But a few lads did leave. When Dec left, it did affect me a lot at the time.

"I knew as one of my closest friends that that wouldn't be the end of him and he would work as hard as he could to get where he is."

Even Mount may have struggled to break into the Chelsea team under previous coaches, with the club renowned for failing to capitalise on the huge success of their youth teams.

But Mount was given his chance alongside the likes of Reece James, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham.

The England international rewarded Lampard's faith with eight goals in 53 appearances in all competitions.

"My dad always had questions [about staying at Chelsea] because there weren't all that many young players coming through into the first team," Mount said.

"JT [John Terry] was the only one who really came through and had an unbelievable career.

"I always believed that I would make it to the first team, though, through hard work and determination, and I didn't let anybody get in the way of my focus, even my dad when he had questions."

Celtic have confirmed the signing of striker Albian Ajeti from West Ham on a four-year contract.

The 23-year-old signed for West Ham from Basel in 2019 but managed just nine Premier League appearances last term – none of which were starts.

Ajeti has now left London Stadium without a goal to his name in any competition, with the Switzerland international joining Scottish champions Celtic.

Although the fee is undisclosed, media reports suggest it is £4.5million, almost half what West Ham paid for him a year ago.

He links up with his former Basel team-mate Mohamed Elyounoussi, who is spending a second season loan at Celtic from Southampton.

"We are delighted to bring Albian to Celtic. He is a tremendous player, an international with real quality and I know he is really determined to do all he can to bring more success to our supporters," Neil Lennon said.

"I have admired him for long time as he is a really intelligent footballer, well balanced and a really good finisher. We are so pleased to make him a Celtic player and we hope he has a long and prosperous career with us."

Kai Havertz is reportedly still pushing for a move to Chelsea, while Manchester United are considering their options.

Havertz has been heavily linked with a move to Chelsea after an impressive season with Bayer Leverkusen.

The attacker may be getting closer to a switch to Stamford Bridge.

 

TOP STORY – HAVERTZ STILL PUSHING FOR CHELSEA MOVE

Havertz is still pushing for a move to Chelsea from Leverkusen, according to Fabrizio Romano.

The Germany international would join Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech in heading to Chelsea ahead of 2020-21.

Havertz scored 18 goals and provided nine assists in 45 games for Leverkusen this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- With Jadon Sancho potentially staying at Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United could look elsewhere. Sport reports United are insisting on Barcelona's teenage forward Ansu Fati and are willing to pay more than £90million (€100m). Meanwhile, ESPN reports United are looking at another Barcelona attacker in Ousmane Dembele.

- Real Madrid are considering their options ahead of next season. AS reports the LaLiga champions will bring back Martin Odegaard, who has been on loan at Real Sociedad, and Dani Ceballos, the latter having spent time on loan at Arsenal.

- Chelsea are linked with numerous moves ahead of 2020-21. However, The Guardian reports they are yet to make a bid for West Ham star Declan Rice.

- After a fine career at Manchester City, David Silva is leaving the Premier League giants. The Guardian reports Silva, 34, will join Lazio on a three-year deal.

- Quincy Promes has caught the eye at Ajax. The Sun reports Arsenal are eyeing a £25m (€27.8m) move for the forward, who netted 16 times in 28 games in 2019-20.

- Mario Gotze is set to have plenty of interest after leaving Borussia Dortmund. However, Sport Bild reports the 28-year-old has rejected a move to MLS side Inter Miami.

Paris Saint-Germain are focused on Kylian Mbappe and Neymar over Cristiano Ronaldo.

Mbappe and Neymar have both been linked with moves away from the Ligue 1 champions, while Ronaldo has reportedly been a target for PSG previously.

PSG seemingly know where their priorities are.

 

TOP STORY – PSG FOCUS ON MBAPPE, NEYMAR OVER RONALDO

PSG would prefer to extend the contracts of Mbappe and Neymar than chase Juventus star Ronaldo, according to ESPN.

Mbappe and Neymar are both coming to the end of their contracts in 2022 and have been linked to Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

 

ROUND-UP

- Arsenal are reportedly ready to splash the cash. The Sun says the Premier League side are set to spend £100million on Real Madrid's Dani Ceballos, Atletico Madrid's Thomas Partey and Lille's Gabriel Magalhaes, but must sell at least three players.

- With Eric Garcia set to leave Manchester City, Barcelona are preparing a move. The Sun reports Barca will make a €15.5m (£14m) bid for the defender.

- Will Chelsea find a way to land West Ham star Declan Rice? The Daily Star says Chelsea are looking to raise £65m to land the midfielder.

- Liverpool continue to be linked with moves. The Liverpool Echo reports Watford attacker Ismaila Sarr is on the Premier League champions' shortlist.

- Staying at Anfield and Yahoo reports Liverpool are tracking Vasco da Gama's 18-year-old forward Talles Magno.

- Ryan Sessegnon continues to be linked with a move from Tottenham. The Guardian reports Ajax are interested in Sessegnon on loan.

The final elite football game of the 2019-20 season in England will take place on Friday. Not a final, but a last-16 game in the Champions League. In August. Next season will start before the month is out.

In many respects, the new normal has become just that. Only when its component parts are listed does it sound completely bizarre. Manchester City versus Real Madrid will be staged without any of the normal razzamatazz and roars expected on such an occasion.

The big moments are the ones that linger from such defining evenings but, as all match-going fans know, it is – as Pep Guardiola might put it – the "small details" that contribute to the magic. Unchanging routines, familiar faces and a sense of community, within which new features quickly become part of the matchday tapestry.

One of those during the early months of 2020 was a gazebo stationed at the end of Howard Bernstein Way, opposite City's Academy Stadium, which lies adjacent to the Etihad Stadium.

"We started it after the General Election because… you know," said Alex Timperley, one of the founders of MCFC Fans Foodbank Support.

Over the course of six collections, Alex and his team amassed more than a tonne of food for Manchester Central Foodbank. They were not the only group of football supporters stirred into action by fears over that the next term of government might mean for the most vulnerable in the UK.

"It was a numbers game for me. I was thinking we've got 60,000 coming to the London Stadium every game and if we could just get a percentage of those donating, we were on a win-win," John Ratomski of West Ham's Irons Supporting Foodbanks told Stats Perform News.

"Also, you look at the East End community spirit, which has always been a very, very strong community. They've always helped themselves and each other. I felt the West Ham fan base would be very supportive of what we're doing."

Spiralling foodbank usage in the UK is unquestionably a stain upon one of the wealthiest countries in the world. However, a desperate situation has brought about countless extraordinary deeds from ordinary people, with football fans increasingly putting themselves at the forefront.

When starting up their own operations, Alex and John each reached out to the Liverpool-based Fans Supporting Foodbanks (FSF).

HUNGER DOESN'T WEAR CLUB COLOURS

Established by Liverpool fan and now Member of Parliament for Liverpool West Derby Ian Byrne and Everton supporter Dave Kelly in October 2015, FSF – proudly bearing its tagline "Hunger Doesn't Wear Club Colours"  – held 223 consecutive matchday collections at Anfield and Goodison Park, a run necessarily halted by June's behind-closed-doors Merseyside derby.

Far from halting the efforts of a movement primarily based upon receiving donations from face-to-face interactions on a matchday, the post-coronavirus world and its myriad challenges have seen FSF and its affiliated groups, such as those at City and West Ham, step up activities and tailor them to the times.

A joint fundraising effort between City and their United counterparts tipped over £15,000 this week. That follows the two Manchester clubs, cajoled as much as inspired by the efforts of their respective fans, donating a combined £100,000 to the Trussell Trust shortly after lockdown took hold.

The Trussell Trust supports a network of over 1,200 foodbank centres nationwide. In April, it reported an 89 per cent increase in the need for emergency food parcels compared to the same month last year, including a 107 per cent rise in parcels given to children. The number of families with children receiving parcels doubled over the same timeframe.

"The one we work with, Manchester Central, in April gave out four times as many food parcels as they did last April," Alex told Stats Perform News, confirming a similarly grim picture locally.

"The flip side of that is they told us that our donations in cash and what we'd got out of the club had meant that two of the people who used to volunteer there have been able to work their full-time.

"They've got expanded capacity but that's quite a small win when you think that the expanded capacity means they're able to feed people who presumably would have needed feeding anyway but they wouldn't have been able to.

"The longer this goes on, the worse foodbanks are going to get hit so we need to keep going."

WORKING WITH CLUBS FROM THE OUTSIDE

And keep going they will. FSF is clear in the fact it does not wish to be a PR opportunity for individual teams, with working across clubs for the betterment of all a central part of its ethos.

Nevertheless, mutually beneficial relationships have been harnessed impressively, from the City group lobbying their club successfully over season ticket rebates and matchday staff pay for cancelled games, to donations and foodbank support at Liverpool and West Ham.

By mid-may, Liverpool had contributed £90,000 to its own emergency foodbank appeal, with fans more than doubling the £15,000 target of the associated fundraiser. During the spectacular on-field lights show that accompanied Jordan Henderson lifting the Premier League trophy, the FSF logo was beamed on to the Anfield pitch before a global audience of millions.

At West Ham, John's fledgling operation also won support from the boardroom.

"We reckon that, on average, we were raising about £700 a game in the value of cash and food donations," he explained.

"The owner, David Sullivan, found out that we were £3,500 short with the five cancelled games and made a direct donation from his own money to Newham Foodbank, covering any losses from those five games.

"He said he'll be more supportive, he admires what we do. That's a terrific gesture."

Sullivan also signed off a £1,500 contribution to cover 1,000 deliveries to London from the Merseyside PPE (personal protective equipment) hub, which has been a huge part of FSF's operations during the pandemic, working tirelessly to meet the shortfall experienced by frontline workers across the country.

EVERYDAY HEROES

Alex recounted the tale of Southport-based City fan Karl Dunkerly, who gave MCFC Fans Foodbank Support 3,000 PPE visors to be distributed through the Manchester care system and other groups who need them.

Even with fans being kept away from the game they love, football has provided a platform for these incredible acts of kindness to be felt more widely.

The philanthropic efforts of players through the Players Together fund, along with Marcus Rashford successfully bringing about a change in government policy as he campaigns against child poverty, were part of what started to look something like a social awakening for football in England during the COVID-19 crisis.

Premier League shirts bearing support for the NHS and Black Lives Matter, along with teams taking a knee before kick-off, underlines the shift of clubs, who are now multinational companies, embracing issues they might once have felt they could leave alone.

The group of fans committed to supporting society's most vulnerable will continue to show this kinder face of the game everywhere they look. As one strange season blurs into the next, it is no time to let up.

"I expect that there will be a large number of the public that equates a football fan to a hooligan," John said.

"It goes back to what happened in the 70s and 80s. This shows another angle to the football fan now, that they can make these contributions to the foodbank."

As the City group continue with plans to support Ronald McDonald House and campaign for more equitable arrangements in Manchester's rental sector, Alex concurs.

"There's nothing else in the country, maybe in the world, which organises people like football," he said "We're using that and we've got lots of plans."

Philippe Coutinho has reportedly been offered to two Premier League clubs, while Manchester City are eyeing Sergi Roberto.

Coutinho is expected to leave Barcelona on a permanent deal this close season.

A return to the Premier League has been mooted for the playmaker, and it could be getting closer.

 

TOP STORY – COUTINHO OFFERED TO TWO PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS

Coutinho has been offered to both Arsenal and Tottenham, according to The Independent.

The report says Arsenal look the more likely to complete a deal for the Brazil international.

Coutinho has been on loan at Bayern Munich this season, having struggled since arriving at Barcelona from Liverpool in 2018.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City are linked with a surprise deal. Sport reports the Premier League giants are interested in Barcelona's Sergi Roberto, who wants to remain at Camp Nou.

- Out of contract next year, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been linked with a move from Arsenal. The Daily Mail reports Chelsea, who face Arsenal in the FA Cup final on Saturday, were sounded out about a move for the forward in January.

- Inter continue to be linked with a move for Tottenham midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. Gianluca Di Marzio reports the Serie A giants are offering star defender Milan Skriniar to Spurs in their bid to land Ndombele.

- After struggling at Manchester City, John Stones is reportedly set for a move. The Sun reports the defender is poised for a £20million move to West Ham, where he would reunite with former Everton manager David Moyes.

- Sami Khedira's time at Juventus could be over. CalcioMercato reports Juve are negotiating to terminate the midfielder's contract.

- Real Madrid left-back Sergio Reguilon, who has been on loan at Sevilla, is attracting plenty of interest. Sky Sports says Everton lead the race for Reguilon after submitting a bid of £18million (€20m).

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