Mikel Arteta is backing his kid captains to lead Arsenal out of the gloom as the Gunners launch their quest for EFL Cup silverware.

After a poor Premier League start, Arsenal have strung together 1-0 wins over Norwich City and Burnley, with Arteta pinpointing Martin Odegaard as a key factor behind their improvement.

The Gunners had lost each of their first three top-flight games, but confidence is growing before their first meeting with AFC Wimbledon in the cup on Wednesday.

Arsenal have only failed to go beyond the third round of the competition in one of the last 18 seasons.

Odegaard, who made his move permanent from Real Madrid after a loan spell at Emirates Stadium, scored the winner against Burnley last time out.

Arteta hailed the 22-year-old for the difference he is making, as well as highlighting the importance of fellow young midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga, who turns 22 in October.

Experienced striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remains Arsenal skipper, but the team now have others with priceless captaincy experience.

"I think we are building some leadership in the group," Arteta said. "It’s a really young group, with a lot of players under 23.

"Martin is the captain of the [Norway] national team and Sambi was the captain at Anderlecht.

"Martin has this capacity to do that with his talent, taking the ball in moments where others probably refuse to, but as well with his attitude, his rhythm and the way he presses and puts people under pressure. He's probably the first to do it.

"I was really impressed with Auba [Aubameyang] as well – I think his rhythm and high pressing was fantastic."

The last lower-league team to beat Arsenal in the EFL Cup were Walsall in 1983, and this is the first time AFC Wimbledon have reached the third round.

But Arteta insisted his focus remains on one game at a time, despite an expected one-sided affair on Wednesday when fringe first-team players are likely to be involved.

"These games are like any other game, an opportunity for anybody to show that he deserves to be in the team and we are wrong," Arteta said, quoted on the Arsenal website.

"Focus, demand the highest standards, prepare the same way or even better.

"There is a lot of coaching now going on around the team. Young players are starting to talk and communicate, and that facilitates a lot of things in the defensive phase.

"After the difficult start that we had in many different aspects, when you start to win two games, you can win the third one. You get more momentum, more confidence, everybody's back, and then you start to create a different feeling."

Arsenal continued to recover after a dreadful start to the season with a successful trip to Burnley, but Manchester City dropped points at home to Southampton. 

City's failure to find the net was a welcome boost for Liverpool, who cruised past Crystal Palace thanks in part to Sadio Mane making Premier League history with his 100th goal for the Reds. 

Brentford became the 14th promoted side to accrue eight or more points after five games, and the first since Wolves, as they recorded a 2-0 win at Molineux in the early kick-off, while Norwich City remain stuck without a point to their name after going down 3-1 at home to Watford. 

Using Opta data, Stats Perform takes a look at the key statistics from Saturday's most notable fixtures.

Liverpool 3-0 Crystal Palace: Mane registers century as Reds gain early ground in title race

Liverpool headed into the weekend on an eight-match winning run against Palace in the Premier League and they extended that further with yet another success over the Eagles - only against Bolton have they had a longer winning streak (10 between 2007-2011.). 

Unsurprisingly, Mane and Mohamed Salah were both on the scoresheet, with the former becoming the 18th player to score 100 goals in all competitions for the Reds. His first-half finish also means the Senegal forward is the first individual in the Premier League era to score in nine consecutive matches against the same opponent. 

Mane had Salah to thank for his opener and the Egypt forward brought up his 134th goal involvement - which is 24 more than any other player since his debut under Jurgen Klopp - with his second-half strike. 

Naby Keita added the other goal, Liverpool's 16th from a corner in the league – the most by any top-flight side since the start of last season (including all three against Palace). 

Manchester City 0-0 Southampton: Champions held to unlikely draw

It took until the 90th minute for City's one and only attempt on target through Phil Foden, making it their lowest tally in a top-flight game since March 8, 2017 against Stoke City. 

This was City's first Premier League draw in 31 games, dating back to December 2020 as Raheem Sterling became the ninth player – and second Englishman after Joe Hart – to bring up 200 appearances for Pep Guardiola's side in the competition. 

In James Ward-Prowse's 100th consecutive appearance in the division, Southampton will have been delighted to collect just a second point from their past 11 visits to the Etihad Stadium, with this a first clean sheet there since 2003. 

However, the Saints are now winless in seven league games, including drawing four in a row for the first time since March 2002. 

Burnley 0-1 Arsenal: Clarets continue torrid run against resurgent Gunners

'1-0 to the Arsenal' used to ring around Highbury and Mikel Arteta's current crop are following that lead, with this result making it consecutive 1-0 league wins for the first time since December 2014. 

Martin Odegaard's direct free-kick, the 40th scored by 17 different Arsenal players in the Premier League, proved the difference as Sean Dyche's side failed to beat Saturday's opponents for a 10th consecutive league meeting. 

The Clarets attempted shots through 11 different players – only against Wolves in 2010 have they had more (12) - but still failed to avoid reaching 13 league games without a win at Turf Moor. 

Aaron Ramsdale maintained his run of clean sheets with a third in a row in his first three appearances for the Gunners, making him the first Arsenal goalkeeper to do so since Wojciech Szczesny in 2009-10.

Aston Villa 3-0 Everton: Substitute Bailey shines as Begovic struggles

Leon Bailey appeared as a second-half substitute, scored and was then brought off 21 minutes after his introduction as Aston Villa downed Everton, in the process extending their Villa Park unbeaten run in the league to five games – their longest such run since January 2015. 

Matthew Cash was also on target for a first goal in his 33rd Premier League appearance, while Lucas Digne netted his third own goal, the most of any player since his arrival at Everton ahead of the 2018-19 campaign. 

All three goals games came after half-time as Villa recorded their biggest win over the Toffees in all competitions since 2005. 

Asmir Begovic was granted his first Premier League appearance in 896 days but the goalkeeper has now conceded 22 goals in seven appearances since his last clean sheet. 

Mikel Arteta's selection options for Arsenal's EFL Cup tie with West Brom have been boosted by the availability of Martin Odegaard, while Alexandre Lacazette has resumed full training.

Lacazette has yet to feature for the Gunners this season after he tested positive for COVID-19 before their Premier League opener against Brentford.

The French striker has now returned to working with the rest of the first-team squad ahead of Wednesday's second-round tie against Championship opponents.

Lacazette scored 17 goals in 43 appearances in all competitions last season to finish as Arsenal's top goalscorer.

Odegaard joined Arsenal from Real Madrid on a permanent basis last Friday following a successful loan spell in the 2020-21 campaign. He scored one goal and provided two assists, while his 20 chances created was the most of any Arsenal player during his temporary spell in north London.

The Norwegian did not receive international clearance in time to feature in Sunday's 2-0 home defeat to London rivals Chelsea.

Arteta will hope for a change of fortunes in the cup competition after back-to-back defeats in their opening two Premier League games.

Meanwhile, reserve goalkeeper Alex Runarsson is available again after overcoming COVID-19 but Arteta may hand a full debut to Aaron Ramsdale, signed from Sheffield United last week.

Defenders Hector Bellerin, Gabriel, Kieran Tierney and forward Gabriel Martinelli have all returned to training ahead of the tie after minor injury concerns.

Arsenal are without striker Eddie Nketiah, who has an ankle injury, amid reported interest from Crystal Palace.

The Gunners are also assessing the fitness of Brazilian forward Willian - recently linked with a move to Corinthians in his homeland - following his recovery from coronavirus.

Centre-back Ben White is absent after testing positive for COVDI-19 before the clash with Chelsea while midfielder Thomas Partey is still unavailable with an ankle injury.

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and no closer to re-signing in the French capital.

Real Madrid are reportedly holding onto hope of securing his services before the end of the transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STILL DREAMING OF MBAPPE

Real Madrid have not given up on signing Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Thursday's Diario AS.

Mbappe is into the final year of his PSG contract and while he has been tipped to make the move to Madrid, he has reportedly told friends he will remain in Paris.

However, LaLiga powerhouses Madrid – also linked with Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland – believe it is a strategy to secure a friendly exit from PSG.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are interested in Monaco defensive midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, say reporters Sacha Tavolieri and Jonathan Shrager. United have also been linked with Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, who is reportedly wanted by PSG and Madrid.

- RB Leipzig star Marcel Sabitzer is interested in a move to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich, claims Bild.

- Goal and widespread reports say Arsenal are close to signing Martin Odegaard from Madrid. Odegaard spent six months on loan at Arsenal last season.

Duvan Zapata is Inter's priority signing, according to Calciomercato. Despite signing Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries after Romelu Lukaku's, the Serie A champions are eyeing the Atlanta forward. Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram, Joaquin Correa of Lazio, Torino forward Andrea Belotti and Wolfsburg's Wout Weghorst are other options.

- Italian journalist Sara Meini reports Manchester City are stepping up their pursuit of Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic amid their struggle to prise Harry Kane from Tottenham. Atletico Madrid and Spurs have also been linked with Vlahovic.

Juventus are nearing a deal to re-sign Miralem Pjanic from Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo. Juve, according to Di Marzio, are also listening to offers for Weston McKennie.

Manchester City's interest in signing Tottenham's Harry Kane is widely known but a deal appears no closer to materialising. 

The 28-year-old forward was absent for the two sides' Premier League game on Sunday, when Spurs took the points.

City have reportedly bid up to £125 million to sign the England international, who reportedly requested a move late last season.

TOP STORY - KANE FRUSTRATED AS SPURS REJECT CITY BID

Kane has grown frustrated with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy and thrown down the gauntlet with a proposed move to Manchester City, reports The Telegraph.

According to the report, the England forward feels that Levy has not honoured their meeting at the end of the 2019-20 season when he requested to leave Spurs if they underachieved.

Kane is also frustrated that Levy's tactics have seen fans turned against him and that the chairman is also refusing to sell or even accept calls from City.

The report claims that City have submitted a fresh £125m bid for Kane, which Spurs have turned down.

 

ROUND-UP

- El Larguero claims that Paris Saint-Germain director Leonardo has informed the players that Kylian Mbappe will stay to see out the remainder of his contract, due to expire in mid-2022, scuppering Real Madrid's hopes of signing him this month or in January.

- Samuel Umtiti, Martin Braithwaite and Miralem Pjanic are all on the chopping block at Barcelona, according to Diario AS, which claims the Catalans must sell three players this month to reduce their salary bill despite Lionel Messi's exit.

- Martin Odegaard is set to re-join Arsenal on a permanent deal from Real Madrid, says Fabrizio Romano. Talks are at their final stages with a deal until 2026.

- Tottenham are keen on Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma, reports Sky Sports. The Blues would demand a £25 million fee for the Frenchman.

- Internazionale are in talks to sign forward Marcus Thuram from Moenchengladbach, claims Sky Sport Italia.

- The Sun reports that Wolves are talking to Olympiacos about signing Portuguese defender Ruben Semedo on a one-year loan.

Harry Kane has been linked with a move away from Tottenham this upcoming transfer window.

But the England forward has another three years on his contract and a deal will not come easy for suitors.

Manchester City are the latest club to be linked with Kane, as they assess their options if they cannot land Erling Haaland this close-season.

 

TOP STORY - TOTTENHAM WARD OFF KANE INTEREST

Tottenham have placed a £175million price tag on Harry Kane amid reports of interest in their star captain.

The Sun has reported Tottenham are unwilling to sell Kane, let alone to a Premier League rival such as City.

Kane is understood be content to stay at Tottenham and the price tag will likely deter any continental interest.

 

ROUND-UP

- Real Madrid are willing to sell one Norwegian Martin Odegaard, who is on loan at Arsenal, to generate the funds required to land his compatriot Haaland, according to The Times. The Gunners are understood to be keen to sign Odegaard permanently.

- Barcelona are lining up Inter's Lautaro Martinez as a possible signing if they fail to win the race for Haaland, reports Spanish publication Sport.

- Tuttosport claims that Juventus are readying a move to bring Moise Kean back to Turin from Everton after starring on loan at Paris Saint-Germain.

- Spanish outlet ABC is reporting that both Manchester United and Chelsea are keen on Real Madrid winger Lucas Vazquez.

Barcelona have reportedly joined the queue chasing Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

Haaland is a player in demand following his exploits for Bundesliga outfit Dortmund.

The Norway international could be among a number of new recruits at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND WANTED AT CAMP NOU

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman is leading the club's recruitment this off-season and has identified Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland as a key target, according to Diario AS.

Haaland has been linked with Barca, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Liverpool.

Koeman is also reportedly eyeing City defender Eric Garcia, Lyon captain Memphis Depay and soon-to-be Liverpool free agent Georginio Wijnaldum.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fresh from netting a hat-trick to knock Tottenham out of the Europa League, Dinamo Zagreb's Mislav Orsic has been linked with a move to London rivals Arsenal by The Sun, which claims the Gunners are looking at the Croatian attacker as an off-season signing.

- Marca claims Arsenal will not be able to sign on-loan Martin Odegaard on a permanent deal as parent club Real Madrid see him as part of their long-term future plans.

Roma want either Maurizio Sarri or Massimiliano Allegri to be their next coach to replace Paulo Fonseca, according to Messaggero.

- Calciomercato says rumoured Premier League target Franck Kessie has rejected Milan's latest contract extension offer.

- Schalke's California-born 20-year-old Matthew Hoppe is hot property and Valencia are the latest club to join the chase, alongside TottenhamBarcelona, Ajax and PSV, according to AS.

- The Sun reports in-form Leicester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho will sign a new deal with the club.

Martin Odegaard has everything to become the "complete player" according to Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta, who thinks the Norway international can add more goals to his game. 

Odegaard has impressed since joining the Gunners on loan from Real Madrid in January and followed his first goal for the club against Olympiacos last week with the equaliser in Sunday's 2-1 north London derby win over Tottenham. 

Ahead of the return clash with Olympiacos, where Arsenal hold a 3-1 advantage, Arteta warmly praised the 22-year-old playmaker. 

"He's getting better and better. I think his understanding of what we want is excellent," he told the media. 

"His work rate has been phenomenal. And then he's doing something which, in my opinion, he could improve a lot, which is getting in the opponents' box and being more decisive in the score line. 

"He's doing that. He's scored two goals, he's got some really important entrances in the zone and he looks really dangerous all the time. 

"It's something that if he adds that to his game, he becomes a real complete player." 

Odegaard's two goals in all competitions are more than any other Arsenal midfielder has managed since his debut, with only Bukayo Saka (19) having more than his 11 shots. 

He is also the best among his midfield colleagues over the same period in terms of chances created (13), while behind only Mohamed Elneny in terms of passing accuracy (92.9 versus 90.8 per cent), having played 468 more minutes than the Egypt international. 

"I think everybody has been really impressed with how quickly he adapted. How professional he is," Arteta said. 

"How quickly he adapted to try to engage with everybody at Colney [Arsenal's training ground] and then the performances he is putting in as well." 

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang is back in contention to start after a disciplinary breach led to him being benched for the win against Spurs. 

Asked whether Aubameyang had been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy, Arteta replied: "That was dealt with on the day. It's been resolved in a really positive way and we move on." 

Fellow forward Gabriel Martinelli could get a chance for valuable first-time minutes against Olympiacos, having struggled for fitness and form this season. 

"If anything, it's my fault," Arteta said over the Brazilian youngster's lack of game time. "He's done everything perfect. He trains incredibly well every day. His attitude cannot be any better. 

"He's really disappointed that he's not playing more, obviously I have spoken to him. But he needs to be a little bit patient. 

"He had some minutes, he had some games as well and it’s true that the competition now for the front positions is very tough. He needs to be patient and he will get his chance." 

Saka, meanwhile, faces a late fitness test having made way at half-time in the game with Spurs due to a hamstring complaint.

Martin Odegaard has the character and intelligence to be a true leader for Arsenal, according to manager Mikel Arteta.

The 22-year-old has made four appearances since joining on loan from Real Madrid, where he struggled for starts, in the January transfer window.

He caught the eye in Thursday's 1-1 draw against Benfica in the Europa League, with no Arsenal player creating more big chances (two) than the midfielder, level with Hector Bellerin.

Odegaard also led the way for passes in the opposition half (29) and tackles (three), highlighting two different aspects to the Norway international's game.

Arteta has been impressed by what he has seen so far and has backed the loanee to grow in stature over the coming weeks.

"On the pitch he is showing a lot of character and intelligence - ingredients any leader should have," Arteta said. "He's been here a very short time but has adapted really quickly.

"He's gaining more and more respect from the players and staff. I think his weight on the team will increase week in week out."

Odegaard, who has previously spent time on loan with Heerenveen, Vitesse and Real Sociedad, is due to return to Madrid at the end of the campaign.

There has been talk of Arsenal signing the Stromsgodset player permanently, but Arteta remains unsure if Madrid will agree to a transfer.

"We've got him for a few months. We have to maximise this time with him to bring all his qualities to the team," the Spaniard said.

"At the end of the season we will see together if we can take this relationship forward. But at the moment that doesn't just depend on us."

Odegaard is in line to start Arsenal's clash against Manchester City on Sunday, with the Gunners seeking to end a seven-match Premier League losing run in this fixture.

The game will see Arteta reunite with Pep Guardiola, who he worked under as City's assistant boss for three and a half years before switching to Arsenal in December 2019.

Although Arteta acknowledged he shares many coaching similarities with Guardiola, the Arsenal boss intends to do things his own way at Emirates Stadium.

"You can share some values and ideas. The way we've been raised and educated in football is similar because we have the same background and worked together," Arteta said.

"But what do you do to make it work the way you need? You sometimes need investment, sometimes you have players who can already provide what you want. 

"You have to keep evolving and finding a way. There's not just one formula that works. If you try to do that you will fail."

Arsenal have won just three of their last 18 league games against the side starting the day in top spot, which is the position occupied by City heading into Sunday's match.

Mikel Arteta described criticism of Willian as "normal" after the Brazilian came under fire from Arsenal legend Tony Adams. 

Willian has made 18 Premier League appearances for the Gunners since joining the club on a free transfer from Chelsea, though he has struggled to produce his best form and has yet to score a goal for Arsenal. 

In contrast, 19-year-old winger Bukayo Saka has netted five times in 21 league appearances this season, while 20-year-old Emile Smith Rowe has impressed in midfield, prompting Adams to question the club's decision to bring in Willian, as well as the more recent arrival of Martin Odegaard in the January window. 

Arteta admitted there is pressure on Willian to perform, saying of the criticism from Adams: "I don't say it's unfair. 

"The expectations of Willian and the goals he can score, the assists he can create. It's normal that people will write things about him. 

"We have to protect him as much as we can." 

Adams also took aim at Odegaard, suggesting the Premier League club did not need to bring in the Norwegian playmaker, particularly given the recent emergence of Smith Rowe. 

However, Arteta is backing the 22-year-old acquisition from Real Madrid to succeed during his loan spell, saying: "He's got the potential [to become one of the best] because he's done it. 

"I followed him very closely when he was at Real Sociedad and he was impressive for long periods. That's why I was so convinced he could be a player for us." 

Arsenal face Benfica in the Europa League round of 32 on Thursday, with the competition appearing to present their best route to qualifying for next season's Champions League. 

Both legs of the tie will be played in neutral venues due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, meaning Arsenal travel to Rome for the 'away' leg on Thursday. 

Arteta underlined his side's determination not to let the setting affect their progress, saying: "It's very unusual but as much as we can we must try to maintain the integrity of the competition." 

Tony Adams has expressed his dismay that Arsenal signed Martin Odegaard, Nicolas Pepe and Willian rather than strengthening their "fragile" defence.

Mikel Arteta landed Odegaard on loan for the rest of the season last month and the attacking midfielder has suggested he would be keen to join the Gunners on a permanent basis.

Willian has failed to make the impact the Arteta had hoped for after the Brazilian switched London clubs when his Chelsea contract expired, failing to score a single goal and providing only three assists in 24 appearances.

Pepe is another winger who has been a disappointment since he become the club's record signing, with Arsenal paying Nice £72million for his services in 2019. 

The Ivory coast international has struggled to make an impact in the Premier League; scoring nine goals, laying on six assists and creating 46 chances in 47 top-flight appearances.

Arteta brought in centre-backs Gabriel and William Saliba, but Gunners legend Adams has questioned his former club's transfer business.

He told Premier League Productions: "To be honest, there's an argument that you don't need Martin Odegaard.

"I got so annoyed that we bought Pepe and Willian in when you've got two kids [Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka] bursting into the team.

"There's other areas in the team that you could look at, there's holes in that team, we saw how fragile they are defensively. The defence has always been the weak link.

"As the sporting director of Arsenal, you wouldn't be getting Odegaard in, you'd be getting good, strong defenders into the team instead."

Arsenal have only kept one clean sheet in their last six games but beat Leeds United 4-2 on Sunday, courtesy of a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick, to sit 10th in the Premier League.

Zinedine Zidane has no doubts Martin Odegaard will succeed at Real Madrid despite his limited appearances for Los Blancos this season. 

The 22-year-old was recalled by Madrid in August after a stellar campaign on loan at Real Sociedad, where he scored four goals and assisted a further six in 31 LaLiga appearances. 

He has struggled to make an impact back at his parent club this term, though, and has been limited to just three league starts. 

Not only has he failed to score in those appearances, Odegaard has also not created a significant chance for a team-mate or completed a dribble either. 

In contrast, last season Odegaard crafted 10 big opportunities and 62 chances in total – with 27 from set-pieces.

However, Zidane is confident the Norway international will soon make his mark at the champions, who face Athletic Bilbao in a Supercopa de Espana semi-final on Thursday. 

"Let him continue working, he is a beloved player and he will surely succeed here," Zidane told a media conference.

"He has not played much lately but the idea is to keep working hard; he will have minutes. 

"He will provide insurance. This is a specific moment. In a race things happen to the players, but he is not discouraged."

Luka Jovic, meanwhile, will play no part on Thursday with a loan move to former club Eintracht Frankfurt imminent. 

Jovic swapped Eintracht for Madrid in a €60million transfer ahead of the 2019-20 season, but the Serbia forward has endured a turbulent period under Zidane. 

The 23-year-old – who managed just two goals in 25 appearances in his first season in the Spanish capital – has only featured in 149 minutes of LaLiga action this term, while he has played in just five matches across all competitions amid ongoing form and fitness issues.

But Jovic is set for a reunion with Bundesliga side Eintracht, for whom he scored 27 goals in 2018-19 before leaving for the Santiago Bernabeu.

Zidane accepts Jovic has been unlucky during his time at the club and expects him to return to top form soon.

"He's a striker who scores goals and that's what we want from him," he added. "He was 21 [when Madrid signed him] and he's had no luck because he had difficulties adapting and injuries. It is not easy. 

"He has to learn many things. He has qualities, I have no doubts."

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