Paul Pogba has one foot out of the door at Manchester United, going on the record this week to say he has been disappointed by his five seasons with the Red Devils.

With his contract set to expire in June, the 29-year-old will have plenty of suitors from all over Europe.

While he is expected to sign with an established Champions League contender, Premier League sides Newcastle United and Aston Villa are reportedly assessing if the France international has any interest in remaining in England.

TOP STORY - POGBA TO STAY IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE?

While away on international duty, Pogba spoke to French media about how his time at Manchester United has fallen short of expectations.

He spoke about how he has been depressed at times throughout his latest near six-year stint in England, and went on to describe the current season as "dead", pointing to his ambition to win trophies in the future.

It seems likely that Pogba's future will be at another club, and while it is widely reported that the favourites to attain Pogba's services are European giants Juventus, Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain, The Sun is reporting that Newcastle and Aston Villa are "monitoring the situation".

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- According to Calciomercato, Milan are considering a summer move for Chelsea's Jorginho after his agent declared it would be a "dream" to return to Italy. "Today he can play in four or five teams: AC Milan, Inter, Juventus, Roma or Napoli," agent Joao Santos declared this week.

- The Evening Standard is reporting that Declan Rice would prefer to move to Chelsea as opposed to Manchester United after West Ham reportedly placed a £150million price tag on the English midfielder to try and fend off circling clubs.

- Tottenham's Harry Kane was non-committal when asked about his future at the club, with The Daily Mirror reporting there is interest in reuniting the striker with former boss Mauricio Pochettino if he is to secure the top job at Manchester United.

- UOL is reporting that Barcelona are set to make it a three-horse race for young Ajax star Antony after Dani Alves recommended the Barca hierarchy should match the bids of Liverpool and Bayern Munich.

Barcelona are determined to keep Erling Haaland out of Real Madrid's clutches and view a deal for the Borussia Dortmund striker as "difficult, but not impossible".

Signs are pointing to Haaland leaving Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, with Barcelona, Madrid and Manchester City all thought to be keen to sign the Norwegian striker.

There is the worrying potential scenario for Barcelona of Madrid signing Kylian Mbappe as well as Haaland, to reinforce attacking options that already include Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior.

It might be beyond Madrid's means to attract both in-demand frontman to the Santiago Bernabeu, given the financial implications of such deals, and Barcelona are having to work out what they themselves can afford to spend.

Financial struggles at Camp Nou have seen the club have to tread carefully in the transfer market, although they have enabled head coach Xavi to strengthen with the likes of Ferran Torres, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Adama Traore.

Speaking on Cadena Ser radio, Barcelona president Joan Laporta's advisor, Enric Masip, also said it was not beyond the realm of possibility that Lionel Messi could return to the club in a playing capacity. Record-breaking captain Messi was forced out last summer, when Barcelona realised they could not afford to register him.

Masip said of potential transfer movement: "The signing of Haaland is difficult, but not impossible. Many circumstances have to be met to be able to sign him. The club, despite the economic situation, are looking for formulas to continue making signings.

"I refer to the words that the president said: the club is in a position to be able to sign, but obviously, there have to be movements. For someone to come, someone has to leave.

"That is in the hands of the technical secretariat and then later there is the economic part. Speaking of Haaland, he is a player who has enormous quality and is a true '9'. At a football level, he is a player who would always be interesting in any big team."

Masip added, according to Mundo Deportivo: "I would prefer that Mbappe and Haaland don't get together in Madrid."

 

Since the day of Haaland's Dortmund debut on January 18, 2020, the Leeds-born forward has managed 80 goals in 82 club games across all competitions, putting him second among players from Europe's top five leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, LaLiga, Serie A).

Only Robert Lewandowski (118 goals in 99 games for Bayern Munich) has managed more, with Haaland three ahead of Mbappe and five clear of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi sits eighth on that list with 60 goals in 97 matches, while he also sits third for assists in the same period (38 – beaten only by Bruno Fernandes' 39 and Thomas Muller's 51) and has hit the woodwork more than anyone (27 times).

Regarding a possible return for Messi, Masip said: "Nothing is impossible, but there have been no winks as such from the club."

Messi is enduring a tough first season at Paris Saint-Germain and has scored just two Ligue 1 goals for the French league leaders. The Argentinian hit a record 672 goals for Barcelona.

He signed a two-year deal with PSG in August 2021, with an option for a third year.

Haaland appears a likelier acquisition for Barcelona than Messi, although the club's tune appears to change regularly when it comes to talk of the prolific Dortmund frontman.

Laporta earlier this month seemed to dampen expectation of such a deal, given the hefty cost involved.

"Even if we had the best economic situation, there are operations we would not do," Laporta told Esport3.

Carlo Ancelotti apologised for Real Madrid's shocking 4-0 capitulation to Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu, admitting: "It's all gone wrong."

Madrid, who still hold a nine-point lead over second-placed Sevilla in LaLiga, were mauled by a resurgent Barcelona as Xavi's first taste of this LaLiga clash as a coach ended in glorious triumph for the visitors.

Barcelona are nowhere near being in the hunt for the league title this season, but this was a fifth consecutive win in the competition, and in four of those games they have hit four goals. They are now third and pushing to finish second.

Since his November appointment, Xavi's Barcelona have taken 37 points from 16 games in LaLiga, while Madrid have 39 from 17 outings.

These great rivals are going toe to toe again in the second half of the season, and it is little wonder Madrid want to sign Kylian Mbappe to strengthen their ranks for next term, given momentum is suddenly all with Barcelona.

Ancelotti nudged Luka Modric into more of an attacking role, the 36-year-old midfielder deployed as a false nine in the absence of a genuine number nine in Karim Benzema, who is injured and was sorely missed.

The head coach said that was intended as a means of taking control of the ball and looking to press high, with Modric primed to bring others into the game.

"And it hasn't worked out," Ancelotti said. "When they advanced, we lost control. They hurt us. It was not a good night, we are sorry for the fans, but we have to look forward. We have an advantage, we have to rest and come back.

"I tried to push up and it hasn't come off, my fault. It's hard because it's a Clasico, we're very sorry, it's a blow, we've lost a battle, but we have an advantage, we have to be calm, calm and recover. We don't have to make a drama out of this match. We're sorry. It's all gone wrong, we have to forget it and look forward."

 

With four defeats in six editions of El Clasico as a coach, Ancelotti has found it difficult to manage this fixture.

"I've failed in this game, but I'm not making a big deal out of it," he said.

This is Ancelotti's second stint in charge of Los Blancos, after he was lured away from Everton ahead of this season. His Madrid side won 2-1 at Camp Nou in October, prior to Xavi's arrival, and then beat Barcelona 3-2 after extra time in the Supercopa semi-finals in January.

Former Barca playmaker Xavi has increasingly brought a serenity to affairs at a club where there was considerable chaos earlier in the campaign.

Now it will be Ancelotti's task to ensure Madrid are not left scarred by a defeat in which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ran the hosts ragged, scoring twice and teeing up another goal for Ferran Torres. Ronald Araujo also beat Thibaut Courtois, whose goal was peppered with shots as Madrid defended dreadfully.

Xavi became the third Barcelona coach to win his first LaLiga Clasico by four or more goals, after Ferdinand Daucik in 1951 (7-2) and Helenio Herrera in 1959 (4-0).

Ancelotti is optimistic Madrid's supporters will allow him and the team a blip, even one of such scale against the club's greatest enemies.

"They understood that it was not a good night," Ancelotti said. "We don't know what will happen in the coming months. We can recover and win the next game. I don't think this will affect the team."

Michael Laudrup has questioned whether Barcelona need to sign Erling Haaland and is unsure whether the Norwegian would suit Xavi's style of play.

The Borussia Dortmund striker, who has hit 16 Bundesliga goals at a rate of just 75.31 minutes per goal this campaign, has been linked with a close-season move to many of Europe's biggest clubs.

Barcelona have been touted as a possible destination for the 21-year-old, but club president Joan Laporta recently suggested that such a transfer might be beyond the Catalan Giants, saying he wouldn't "do deals that could put the institution at risk".

Former Blaugrana forward Laudrup, who scored 40 league goals during a five-year spell at Camp Nou between 1989 and 1994, pondered whether Haaland's attributes would suit the patient passing game preferred by head coach and Barca legend Xavi.

"I have doubts as to whether he [Xavi] needs a striker like him," Laudrup told Catalonian radio station RAC1.

"I don't argue with Haaland as a goalscorer. He's incredible. He keeps scoring and scoring and it's no coincidence. The only thing is that he is a very physical player who needs a little space. 

"He is not the ideal player [for Barcelona], he does not participate with the ball and in combinations in narrow spaces. He has to play in a team that plays and then gives him balls. 

"He will always score goals in any team but I have doubts about how he plays compared to how he plays with Barca".

Ahead of their huge Clasico clash with Real Madrid on Sunday, Barcelona have taken 34 points from 15 games in LaLiga since Xavi took over as coach, a record bettered only by Madrid, who have taken 39 points in that period.

 

Barcelona were languishing in ninth place in LaLiga when Xavi's predecessor Ronald Koeman departed, but Laudrup, who won the 1992 European Cup alongside Koeman as part of Johan Cruyff's legendary Blaugrana side, says his former team-mate did not get the same level of backing from the club's hierarchy as Xavi has.

"I haven't spoken with him [Koeman] recently," Laudrup added. "But I have followed Barca also in Ronald's time and his moment was a difficult moment for Barcelona, due to the debt, Messi's goodbye. 

"Ronald came at the most difficult time for Barcelona in recent years. He had a lot of problems. 

"Now Xavi has come and things have improved, the easiest thing is to say that with Xavi things are going much better. Xavi will be a great coach, and I'm not saying this to defend Ronald, but in his [Koeman's] time, due to some circumstances, there were no chances of signing [new players]. 

"Now with Xavi in January, Ferran [Torres] arrived, [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang and Adama [Traore]. You have to remember those chances that Xavi has had, Ronald didn't have.

"Justice in football, sometimes [it] exists and sometimes [it] doesn't. Ronald will have had his faults, like everyone else, but he hasn't had the squad possibilities that there are now with Xavi."

Koke says Atletico Madrid's improved defensive showings are now being reflected by their results after the captain scored in a 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano.

After Atletico had managed just a single attempt on target despite bossing the first half, Koke bent a delicate strike into the bottom-right corner after a neat one-two with Joao Felix, handing Los Colchoneros a fifth consecutive win in LaLiga.

Koke's first strike of the campaign also saw him join a select group, becoming just the fifth man to score in each of the last 12 seasons in LaLiga, after Karim Benzema, Raul Garcia, Iker Muniain, and team-mate Antoine Griezmann.

The victory, which Atletico claimed despite Angel Correa's late red card, put last season's champions third in LaLiga, three points clear of Barcelona and five clear of Real Betis in the top-four race.

After downing Vallecano with his first goal since January 2021, Koke hailed the team's concentration levels and emphasised the importance of keeping a clean sheet.

"We have found the key," the 30-year-old told LaLiga TV. "We have all increased the intensity, the concentration. That is why we are in this dynamic. 

"We are playing very good games and that is reflected in the results. We have found the key both offensively and defensively. 

"We have conceded a lot of goals [prior to this run] and [now] we are managing to keep a clean sheet, which is important for us and has given us victories."

The shutout win saw Atletico boss Diego Simeone become just the fourth coach to oversee 200 clean sheets in LaLiga. After reaching that landmark in just 393 games, the Argentine has done so quicker than any of the previous three, namely Luis Aragones, Miguel Munoz, and Javier Irureta.

"Jan is always the best in the world," Koke added. "He proves it in every match. To score a goal [against Oblak], you have to score a great goal or get lucky. 

"For us it is good news that we did not concede a goal and Jan is very important."

Atletico have now conceded just twice in their last five league games, having shipped 10 goals in their previous five matches in LaLiga.

Simeone, meanwhile, highlighted the team's recent growth, and emphasised the contribution of Koke after his match-winning intervention. 

"The team has grown as a whole, and the individuals are having a very good level," Simeone said. "Lodi, Reinildo, Llorente, the return of Koke has given us a lot, De Paul 's [had] two very good games…

"The team is very strong when they work like this. It is repetitive to talk about Koke, they [the players] know what I think of him. He goes through bad times, but he accepts them. Some criticise him more than others, but he always gives us a lot."

Xavi called on Barcelona to change their recent fortunes against Real Madrid, although he was unsure whether his side struggled with an "inferiority complex" against their Clasico rivals.

Barca are 15 points adrift of Carlo Ancelotti's runaway LaLiga leaders and have lost their past five games against Madrid in all competitions.

That streak has only been bettered once in meetings between the two rivals, with Los Blancos enjoying a seven-game winning run between April 1962 and February 1965.

However, since Xavi's arrival, Barca have climbed to third in the league, taking 34 points from 15 games in LaLiga, a record only beaten by Madrid in that period (39 points).

The Blaugrana head coach wants his side to call upon that recent form to right the wrongs of previous clashes with Ancelotti's team.

"I don't know if there was an inferiority complex, I wasn't in charge," Xavi told reporters at Saturday's pre-match news conference when asked about Barca's recent Clasico record.

"It's a great opportunity to change history, and a win would greatly support what we're working on.

"I don't know if we arrive with more self-esteem than previous years, but we do have good dynamics and enthusiasm against a rival who are in great form.

"We have to be brave, trying to impose our ideas, but also calm because there will be moments of everything. From my experience, I can transmit calm; it is just another chance for three points, and we have to try to enjoy the occasion.

"Luckily, I have very good memories of great victories and great feelings having played very good games there [at the Santiago Bernabeu] and also winning, something that does not always happen."

 

Barca will be boosted by the confirmed absence of Madrid talisman Karim Benzema, who limped off towards the end of Monday's 3-0 win over Real Mallorca.

The France international tops the LaLiga scoring charts this season with 22 goals, finding the net on average once every 93.6 minutes, and also leads the way with 11 assists.

Xavi acknowledged Benzema's injury will be a blow to Madrid's chances, with the striker having scored in two of his past three meetings with Barca in all competitions, as many as he had in his previous 16 appearances against the Blaugrana.

"Benzema is one of the best strikers in the world, it's a bad loss, but for us our approach doesn't change," Xavi said. "I suppose that for them it can change something.

"How to replace Benzema is a question for Ancelotti, but he has options."

Even with victory in the Spanish capital, Xavi acknowledges Barca's chances of a title push remain incredibly slim.

Asked if there was greater pressure to win against Madrid to spark a late surge, he responded: "I don't see it that way, the pressure is the same.

"If we win, we would be closer to the first objective, which is to be in the Champions League next season. But I see winning the league as complicated. We would be within 12 points, with a game in hand, it is complicated.

"If we win, I do see a parallel with 2004 [a 2-1 win at Madrid]. That victory didn't help us win the league either, but it did strengthen us and change the dynamic, as could happen now."

Karim Benzema is set to be ruled out of Real Madrid's plans for Sunday's Clasico clash with Barcelona.

The captain and leading goalscorer in LaLiga this season did not train on Saturday as head coach Carlo Ancelotti completed his preparation for the clash at Santiago Bernabeu.

Spanish news agency EFE reported Benzema would miss the game, with Ancelotti expected to confirm that at a news conference in the Spanish capital.

Benzema scored twice in five second-half minutes in a 3-0 win against Real Mallorca on Monday, but he looked in discomfort while celebrating Los Blancos' third goal.

Soon after, in the 85th minute, Benzema departed having indicated a problem with his calf, forcing Madrid to close out the match with 10 men having already used their five permitted substitutions.

It is the calf that continues to trouble the 34-year-old, who has scored 22 goals in LaLiga so far this season, eight more than his nearest challengers – team-mate Vinicius Junior and Enes Unal of Getafe.

Benzema's league goals have come at a rate of one every 93.55 minutes, while he also leads the assists standings with 11 to his name already.

Madrid sat comfortably top of LaLiga going into the weekend, armed with a 10-point lead over second-placed Sevilla. Barcelona, in third, were 15 points adrift of Madrid, with a game in hand.

Benzema has scored in two of his last three meetings with Barcelona in all competitions, the same number of goals as he did in his previous 16 appearances in El Clasico.

In 25 LaLiga games against Barcelona, his goal return is a modest seven, plus four assists. However, the loss of an in-form Benzema is undoubtedly a significant blow on the eve of Spanish football's biggest club clash.

Anthony Martial acknowledged he fell out of love with football at Manchester United before rediscovering his enjoyment on loan at Sevilla.

Julen Lopetegui's side staved off interest from Juventus and Barcelona to secure the services of Martial on loan in January after limited opportunities at Old Trafford this season.

Rangnick confirmed in December that the 26-year-old wanted to leave due to a lack of first-team chances – he had played the full 90 minutes of a game only once this season and featured for just eight minutes since the German's arrival.

Martial has since registered 297 minutes of action for Sevilla across all competitions, with Lopetegui's team second in LaLiga - 10 points behind Real Madrid - and still in contention for the Europa League.

Sevilla face West Ham in the return leg of their last-16 clash on Thursday in Europe's secondary club competition, and Martial will be hoping to add to his current tally of one goal in six games.

Despite not finding his feet in front of goal as of yet, Martial expressed how much he is enjoying life in Spain.

"For me, it was the best option to play and enjoy football again. I lost it [love for the game] a little bit in Manchester because I was not playing," Martial told the Daily Mail.

"I feel very good in Sevilla. The city is very good and we are a good team so, for me, it's perfect. I'm playing so I'm happy.

"But I'm here just until the end of the season and that's it."

 

Martial became the most expensive teenager in history at the time when he completed a move worth up to £58million (€69m) from Monaco in 2015.

The France international hit the ground running in Manchester, finishing the 2019-20 campaign as United's top scorer with 23 goals.

However, the arrival of Rangnick caused problems after a well-publicised rift between the pair following the German's claims that Martial refused to feature against Aston Villa, which the player denied.

"I asked United to leave because I wanted to play," he added. "I still have a contract but they know what I want, so we will see at the end of the season.

"When he [Rangnick] arrived, my objective was to leave. I told him I wanted to leave and that's it.

"He talked to me and said, 'If you want to stay, with the way you train you will play if you keep training like that'. But I wanted to have a new atmosphere and a new club."

Martial refused to suggest he will use the Sevilla loan as a chance to prove a point to United, but he will use the opportunity to show his worth to France ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

"I'm just going there to win and help the team," he continued. "I don't care what people say about me. Really.

"The World Cup for me is an objective. I want to be part of this group and that's why I'm here because I want to play and show I can be in the squad. I need to show my quality and score goals."

Barcelona star Sergio Busquets has labelled Karim Benzema as a "luxury" for Real Madrid and the "most decisive player in LaLiga".

Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid sit 10 points clear at the LaLiga summit after a 3-0 win at Real Mallorca on Monday, with their next fixture the small matter of hosting Xavi's in-form Barca in Sunday's Clasico.

The league leaders have largely been inspired by Benzema and Vinicius Junior, who have been involved in 18 of the past 22 Madrid top-flight goals - with 10 strikes and four assists for the France striker in this time, and four goals and four assists for the Brazilian winger.

Indeed, Benzema - whose hat-trick guided Madrid past Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last-16 - has scored 32 goals this season in all competitions, his joint-highest tally for Los Blancos in a single campaign (also 32 in 2011-12).

He has also already equalled his best season in the Spanish top flight in terms of assists (11, as in 2012-13), and Busquets heaped praise on the forward in an interview with Vamos on Movistar Plus.

Asked whether Benzema was the best player in the league, Busquets said: "Yes, for sure, at a statistical level, in terms of goals, of confidence. For them, it is a luxury to have him."

Blaugrana midfielder Busquets also appreciates the quality of Casemiro, who leads Madrid in the league for both tackles won (47) and successful duels (206) while ranking fourth for completed passes (1,351).

"If he is not the best, he is among the best, you just have to look at the games and his career," Busquets said of Madrid's Brazil international.

"In the end, you look at the goals and assists. Our task is important, we are in the middle of the team, controlling everything and ordering. I admire him, really."

Barca moved up to third in LaLiga after a 4-0 thrashing of Osasuna, their fourth consecutive top-flight win, but Busquets is aware of the tough threat Ancelotti's Madrid will pose.

"Everything is different. The self-esteem, the state of mind, the confidence. A new coach arrived who made several changes and brought his philosophy that he gave us so many years ago," Busquets said.

"The new players have been understanding it little by little. We are a more complete team. We still have a long way to go, but this is the way.

"It will be a test [on Sunday] because Madrid are the leaders and compete with us to win all the titles. We have to be realistic, we are going to compete, but then hopefully the result will fall in our favour."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has cooled speculation the club will be battling to sign Erling Haaland at the end of the season.

The Blaugrana have been frequently linked with a move for the Borussia Dortmund striker, with the Norway international a player in great demand.

But with Barcelona still building up their financial stability, Laporta has played down talk of a deal for Haaland, given the hefty cost any such signing would necessitate.

"Even if we had the best economic situation, there are operations we would not do," Laporta told Eport3.

He was asked whether the Norwegian flag would be flying for Haaland at Camp Nou next season, as it was for Caroline Graham Hansen and Ingrid Engen when Barcelona's women's team won their domestic league title, sealing it with a 5-0 victory over Real Madrid on Sunday.

"[Mateu] Alemany, Jordi [Cruyff] and the technical secretary are working on improving the team. We want to carry out operations, but some are difficult," Laporta added.

"We have to save ourselves. We have improved the situation, but we have to complete the recovery of the economic situation. We won't do deals that could put the institution at risk."

Barcelona have faced a difficult year when it has come to balancing the books, being forced to let captain Lionel Messi depart due to financial constraints and then facing delays when registering new recruits.

On the field, however, they have turned a corner from their early-season woes under Ronald Koeman, with new head coach Xavi helping to steer them back into the thick of a top-four battle in LaLiga.

Haaland, meanwhile, has been reported to be closing in on a move to Premier League champions Manchester City, with the Leeds-born star poised for a return to the country of his birth.

Rodrigo de Paul boosted Atletico Madrid's Champions League hopes, netting a second half winner as the below-par hosts beat Cadiz 2-1.

Diego Simeone's men established an early lead through Joao Felix, but Alvaro Negredo headed home a fine leveller at the end of a scrappy first half.

Despite the relegation-threatened visitors enjoying the better of the play for long periods, De Paul fired home a second-half winner to send Simeone's men third in LaLiga, with Javi Serrano's late red card not significantly impacting Atleti.

Cadiz gifted their hosts the opening goal just three minutes in when goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma passed straight to Joao Felix, leaving the Portuguese to finish neatly from a tight angle.

Alfonso Espino and Negredo both volleyed narrowly wide as Cadiz looked to respond in a feisty first period, which threatened to boil over when Atletico defender Reinildo threw himself into a two-footed challenge and was shown a straight red card just before half-time.

Referee Pablo Fuertes then contentiously overturned the decision after a rapid VAR review, much to the visitors' fury.

But Cadiz ended the first half on a high, levelling through Negredo's well-placed header after a sublime left-wing cross from captain Espino.

Against the run of play, the hosts re-established their lead 22 minutes from time – De Paul firing home the rebound after Ledesma parried substitute Angel Correa's fierce strike.

Jose Gimenez made a remarkable goal-line clearance from Luis Hernandez soon after and Atletico were then put in a difficult spot when Serrano was dismissed for a forceful challenge just five minutes after coming on, but the hosts clung on for three vital points in their bid for Champions League football.

Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has defended the decision to let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang join Barcelona and not replace the striker in January.

The Gunners allowed Aubameyang to depart on a free transfer in the last window after stripping the 32-year-old of the captaincy following a disciplinary issue.

The Gabon international, who reportedly agreed a significant pay cut to move to Barca, did not play for Arsenal after December 6, but has started in an impressive run of form for the Catalan club.

Aubameyang netted a hat-trick in a 4-1 thrashing of Valencia, becoming just the fourth player to score in LaLiga, the Premier League, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 in the 21st century.

He followed that up with strikes against Napoli and Athletic Bilbao to make him LaLiga's first African player to score in three games in a row in all competitions, since Youssef En-Nesyri for Sevilla in March 2021.

But Arteta does not regret the decision to let the forward leave, despite the Gunners appearing short-handed with just Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah to call upon up top.

"We always make decisions in the best interests of the club and to get the best performances from the team," Arteta told Sky Sports when asked about Aubameyang's exit.

"We made that decision as three parties. One was the club, one was Auba, and the other was Barcelona. The three of us believed it was the right thing to do.

"That was a possibility, but I think when you have a clear direction and process of how you make your decisions, you have to be ruthless."

Looking at how the decision angered some Arsenal supporters, Arteta added: "You have to have a certain courage and consistency in those decisions.

"If one decision is to only bring in players we can afford, who are going to make the team much better straight away, and who are sustainable for our future, then that should be the case.

"So, even if you are tempted to do something, but you think it's going to bring you trouble in the coming months or years, you should not do it. I think we were brave not to do it."

Indeed, Arsenal have improved markedly since Aubameyang's departure, winning seven of nine top-flight games since the last time the former Borussia Dortmund star played.

Lacazette has filled the void that Aubameyang left, with his role in Jose Sa's late own goal securing a 2-1 win over Wolves in their last outing, and Arteta has been pleased with the 30-year-old, who has taken on the captaincy for now.

"Laca has a really important quality, which is that he makes the people around him better," Arteta said. "He understands the game really well, he's a really intelligent player and his work-rate is phenomenal.

"I think he's been very unlucky not to score another four, five, six goals in this period. We want to give him the confidence and he will do that but, for me, he scored last week against Wolves. He was there to make the final action to win the match."

Arsenal will look to continue their pursuit of the Champions League qualification spots when they travel to strugglers Watford on Sunday.

Ronald Koeman believes he was not afforded the same support successor Xavi has received from the Barcelona hierarchy and says he will not return to the club while Joan Laporta remains president.

In an interview with Dutch newspaper AD, Koeman also questioned why Lionel Messi had to leave Barca, only for the club to reinvest in new attackers under Xavi.

Koeman, who made 264 appearances for the Blaugrana as a player, was sacked as the club's head coach last October with the team sat ninth in LaLiga.

The former Netherlands boss has now opened up on his tenure in the Barca dugout, during which he battled with a dire financial situation and the departure of Camp Nou icon Messi, saying Laporta did not afford him the support he needed.

"I just wasn't Laporta's trainer," the 58-year-old said. "I had that feeling from the very first moment I met him, after he won the election [in January 2021]. There was no click. The necessary support from above was lacking.

"He told me a thousand times that Xavi would not become his trainer either, because he lacked the experience. But he needed a shield, someone to hide behind.

"You won't see me in the Camp Nou for a while, I can't do that yet. Not with this chairman. I can't pretend nothing happened.

"The time the new trainer was given was not given to me. I still find that painful. I was dealing with all those injuries, now Pedri is fit again, and Dembele. [Xavi] had the same problem as me in the beginning: many injured players.

"Every trainer needs time and patience from the leadership. Xavi got that, and reinforcements. He has gained three attackers [Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang], I would have liked that too.

"But I'm happy for the club, that things are going better now, and for the players."

 

Meanwhile, the Dutchman also admitted he was confused to see Laporta give the green light to the big-money signing of Torres in January, mere months after the club's financial crisis led to Messi's departure.  

"It was at the insistence of the club management that I agreed to the departure of some players," Koeman stressed. "In order to get the finances in order.

"But when you then see that they attract someone for 55million [the fee paid to Manchester City for Torres] shortly after they let Messi go, you wonder if there wasn't more going on.

"Why did Messi have to leave?"

The arrivals of Xavi and a host of new attackers have had a major impact on the Catalan club, and Barcelona go into Sunday's trip to Elche unbeaten in 10 LaLiga matches (six wins and four draws). 

This marks their longest unbeaten run in the competition since April 2021 (19 games), and the second longest current run in the competition (Sevilla are unbeaten in 12).

The Blaugrana are currently battling a host of clubs, including Atletico Madrid, Real Betis, and Real Sociedad, for Champions League qualification, sitting fourth in LaLiga with 13 games remaining.

Ousmane Dembele netted his first LaLiga goal of the season and added two assists in a dazzling cameo as Barcelona moved back into LaLiga's top four with a 4-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Dembele has become an unpopular figure with Barca fans after failing to agree an extension to his contract, which expires at the end of the season, but his thunderous effort six minutes after arriving from the bench made sure of a Camp Nou victory on Sunday.

After Atletico Madrid had leapfrogged the Blaugrana with their win on Saturday, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continued his fine recent scoring form to set Xavi's side on their way, before Dembele struck and then twice crossed for Luuk de Jong and the fit-again Memphis Depay in the closing stages.

And with Real Betis beaten by rivals Sevilla, Barca are now just a point behind third place with a game in hand as their season maintains its upwards trajectory.

 

Gerard Pique saw a header cleared on the line by Oier Zarraga while Ferran Torres tested Unai Simon with a stinging volley as Barca dominated the opening exchanges.

The reward for Xavi's hosts arrived on 37 minutes when Aubameyang acrobatically finished after Pique headed against the crossbar from Dani Alves' corner.

Torres should have doubled his side's advantage past the hour mark, but his tame effort was pushed away by the onrushing Simon, who then denied Aubameyang's weak header.

Simon was powerless to stop Dembele, though, as substitute Frenkie de Jong found the winger, who smashed a left-footed attempt in from the left side of the box, earning a touch off the post as he put the game beyond doubt.

There was still time for Luuk de Jong to flick a header into the bottom-left corner following Dembele's pinpoint delivery from the right, before the France international repeated the trick to find Depay, who turned in from close range for the final goal.

Atletico Madrid boosted their hopes of a top-four finish in LaLiga, as Renan Lodi netted twice in a hard-fought 2-0 home win over Celta Vigo.

Towards the end of a turgid first period, Lodi fired a deflected effort past Matias Diruto to give Diego Simeone's team the lead, then volleyed in a second on the hour, with Geoffrey Kondogbia providing assists for both goals. 

Simeone's solid rearguard stood firm as Atletico closed out the win in the latter stages, piling the pressure on top-four rivals Barcelona, who can move level with the Spanish champions by beating Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

After Atletico started slowly, Reinildo was forced into a brilliant block by Franco Cervi after 15 minutes.

Correa failed to meet Marcos Llorente's inviting cut-back at the other end, but Atletico did break the deadlock on 35 minutes.

Lodi was the scorer, beating Hugo Mallo before firing a low shot past Diruto, who looked to have been wrong-footed by a touch from the Celta skipper.

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