Barcelona remain determined to strengthen their squad despite financial constraints and could be ready to move for Adama Traore.

It appears the Wolves winger may be sold this month as Bruno Lage's men have already secured a potential replacement.

Any Barca deal would be complicated by interest from Tottenham, however – assuming they are prepared to match Wolves' demands.


TOP STORY – TOTTENHAM, BARCELONA ON ALERT AS WOLVES READY TO SELL TRAORE

Adama Traore could leave Wolves in January, and Barcelona and Tottenham are both interested in the winger, according to the Daily Star.

Wolves have previously insisted they want to keep the Spain international, but Monday's signing of Portugal Under-21s international Chiquinho could open the door for Traore's exit.

Spurs are keen but their proposed loan until the end of the season is not something Bruno Lage's side are prepared to accept, as they are holding out for a £25million sale.

Barca have been linked with the 25-year-old but they must be careful of their spending due to their financial problems.


ROUND-UP

Barcelona are determined to bring in a striker this month and Alvaro Morata remains the top target, according to Marca. However, negotiations with Juventus have proved difficult.

– It appears Dusan Vlahovic may not be leaving Fiorentina yet after all. Gianluca Di Marzio reports the Arsenal and Juventus target will be kept until the end of the season.

Manchester United have turned their attention to signing John McGinn from Aston Villa, but not until the close-season, the Telegraph says.

– Meanwhile, United striker Anthony Martial does not want to join another English club, leaving BarcaJuventus and Sevilla as his main options, Fabrizio Romano reports.

– Newcastle United's bid to sign a new centre-back took a blow as Monaco rejected their £33.4m (€40m) bid for Benoit Badiashile, L'Equipe claims.

– A striker is also on Newcastle's shopping list and they have launched a £25m (€30m) offer for Atalanta's Duvan Zapata, the Daily Record says.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Africa Cup of Nations campaign has finished without him even playing a game as Gabon confirmed he was returning to Arsenal for medical reasons.

Aubameyang tested positive for COVID-19 on January 6, ruling him out of Gabon's Group C opener with the Comoros.

Initially he was expected to return to action for the match against Ghana, which finished 1-1, with Aubameyang addressing the media the day before the game after returning a negative coronavirus test result.

But he was held back on medical grounds after the African Football Confederation (CAF) identified "cardiac lesions" – damage or abnormal change to body tissue – in health checks.

While apparently deemed to be not serious, Gabon have determined the best course of action is to send Aubameyang – and Nice midfielder Mario Lemina, who had a similar diagnosis after also contracting COVID-19 – back to his club for the appropriate medical follow-ups.

A statement read: "The Gabonese Football Federation has decided to put the players Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina back at the disposition of their clubs in order for them to follow more in-depth exams."

Aubameyang returns to Arsenal with his future at the club unclear.

The striker was stripped of the captaincy in December after reportedly returning late from a trip abroad, and he was subsequently ostracised from the starting XI.

He did not play again before being allowed to leave early for the AFCON, with Mikel Arteta revealing Gabon's request in that regard had been accepted because Aubameyang was not going to play against Manchester City at the start of the month.

Diego Costa confirmed he has left Atletico Mineiro after just five months with the Brazilian club, stoking rumours over a potential return to the Premier League with Arsenal.

The Brazil-born Spain international joined Galo in August on a short-term contract, having been granted his release from Atletico Madrid eight months earlier.

Costa's second spell in Madrid was far less successful on an individual level than his first, which had earned him a £32million move to Chelsea in 2014, with the striker generally impressing in the Premier League as he scored 52 goals in 89 matches.

His August switch to Atletico Mineiro provided Costa with the opportunity to regain fitness after several months away from competitive action.

He featured 19 times for the Belo Horizonte club and scored five times across all competitions, helping them to a Brasileiro and Copa do Brasil double.

Arsenal are said to be interested in signing the 33-year-old on a free transfer, with Mikel Arteta apparently keen for striker reinforcements after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was ostracised from the first team.

Costa offered no clues as to where he will end up, however, as he bade farewell to Galo.

"Today, officially, I say goodbye to Atletico," he wrote on Instagram.

"I would like to thank all [Atletico Mineiro fans] for all the support and affection I received from the first to the last day.

"Thank you so much for being part of my childhood dream of playing in Brazilian football and winning titles.

"I would also like to express my gratitude to the entire technical staff, medical department, employees and especially to my teammates who helped me daily, always doing everything to make me feel comfortable.

"The feeling that remains is gratitude to all of you Atleticanos. Thank you and I wish you all the success in the world!"

While Costa could potentially join Arsenal, the Gunners are expected to announce that centre-back Pablo Mari has left on loan for Udinese after struggling for first-team football following the arrival of Ben White.

Massimiliano Allegri says there is no questioning the "extraordinary" Paulo Dybala's value to Juventus and does not expect Arthur to leave this month.

Dybala's future is in doubt as the Argentina forward's contract expires at the end of the season and the 28-year-old has been linked with a move to Serie A rivals Inter.

Juve director Maurizio Arrivabene this week called for Dybala and his team-mates to show "character, grit and a desire to win" as the Turin giants battle for a Champions League spot.

Bianconeri head coach Allegri, who will take charge of the club for a 300th time when they face Udinese in Serie A on Saturday, says Dybala still has a big part to play.

He said: "The evaluations of the contracts are the job of the company, they are not things that concern me.

"I raised Dybala, he was a child when he arrived from Palermo, now he's grown up and he's an extraordinary player. I expect a lot [from Dybala] in this second part of the season. The value of the player is not discussed. He is a great player "

He added: "We are in a situation where we are temporarily out of the Champions League, so all the evaluations will be done in March/April. Juventus plans like this and we have to think about playing and working, we will see the rest later."

Midfielder Arthur has been strongly linked with a move to Premier League side Arsenal during the January transfer window.

Allegri is not planning for life without the Brazilian and also reiterated that Alvaro Morata will not be departing.

He said: "I don’t want to repeat myself. We have to get to the end of the season with these players in the best possible way.

"This means trying to reach the top four and go ahead in the Champions League and Coppa Italia."

Italy centre-back Leonardo Bonucci will miss Udinese's visit to Allianz Stadium due to a muscle injury.

Donny van de Beek has struggled to make much of an impression since his £35million move to Manchester United from Ajax in September 2020.

The Netherlands international was overlooked for regular selection by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and is also a fringe player under interim boss Ralf Rangnick.

But Van de Beek, who previously starred in a talented Ajax side, could be offered a route out of Old Trafford this month.


TOP STORY – DORTMUND, NEWCASTLE IN FOR VAN DE BEEK

Van de Beek is reportedly considering a move away in order to win back his place in the Netherlands side.

According to the Manchester Evening News, Bundesliga heavyweights Dortmund and Premier League strugglers Newcastle United are possible suitors for the midfielder.

However, United will have the final say on any loan deal, which would not be expected to contain an option to make the deal permanent at the end of the campaign.

The 24-year-old has featured 49 times for the Red Devils – just 19 of those being starts – since arriving at the club 16 months ago.


ROUND-UP

– Barcelona will make one final effort to sign Alvaro Morata this month, according to Sport. Memphis Depay could be used as part of any deal.

– Liverpool want to sign Jarrod Bowen and the West Ham forward is keen on the move, says Football Insider. It will not be in January, though.

– Desperate for a replacement for Kieran Trippier, Atletico Madrid are interested in Manchester United's Diogo Dalot, according to AS.

– Tuttomercatoweb says Arthur is keen on the idea of joining Arsenal on loan, but Juventus and Massimiliano Allegri have yet to okay any departure.

– Meanwhile, TMW also claims Paulo Dybala is not yet prepared to listen to offers from other clubs, with a contract summit with Juventus set for February.

– The Daily Mail reports that Arsenal are frontrunners to sign Youri Tielemans after Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers admitted the midfielder may leave the club.

Jurgen Klopp does not believe there is any team that would not miss Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, after Liverpool felt the duo's absence against Arsenal.

Salah and Mane, along with midfielder Naby Keita, are on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Mane scored a last-gasp winner on Monday for Senegal against Zimbabwe, and he and Guinea's Keita go head-to-head when their nations face off on Friday.

Salah, meanwhile, was kept quiet as Egypt slipped to a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in their opening group game. The forward, who has netted 23 times across all competitions this season for Liverpool, had just four touches in the opposition box and managed just one attempt, which did hit the target, in Monday's game.

Klopp would have loved to have the star duo at his disposal on Thursday, however, as Liverpool were frustrated by 10-man Arsenal in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final at Anfield.

Granit Xhaka's dismissal midway through the first half resulted in Mikel Arteta switching to an incredibly compact 5-3-1 system, which Liverpool were unable to break down.

The Reds had 78.1 per cent of the ball and 17 attempts to Arsenal's three, though only one of them – a stoppage-time effort from Curtis Jones – troubled Aaron Ramsdale.

Arsenal's goalkeeper had gifted Takumi Minamino a golden opportunity in the 90th minute, but the Japan international, who had a game-leading six attempts, failed to keep his shot down with the goal gaping. The chance was Liverpool's best of the game, according to Opta, with an expected goals (xG) value of 0.384.

 

Asked in a post-match news conference if Liverpool could have been better prepared for the absences of key players, Klopp replied: "Any team would miss Salah, Mane and Keita.

"Could we be prepared for it? I don't think so.

"We've known that already for years. This team was what we had tonight, it can play and score, definitely."

The Anfield leg of the semi-final had originally been set to be the second fixture, but a COVID-19 outbreak at Liverpool saw last week's game at Emirates Stadium postponed.

Klopp will now take his side down to north London next week knowing it is winner takes all for a place in the final against Chelsea.

"We weren't creative enough. We didn't do some things well enough but in the end it's 0-0, half-time [in the tie]," he said.

"We don't think this tie is over for us. We will give it a proper try next Thursday."

Should they progress to a Wembley showdown with Chelsea, Liverpool – who face Brentford in the Premier League on Sunday – will be bidding to win the EFL Cup for a record ninth time.

Mikel Arteta lauded the spirit of his Arsenal side after the Gunners battled to a goalless draw against Liverpool at Anfield.

Granit Xhaka was sent off midway through the first half in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final on Thursday, having lunged in high on Diogo Jota.

It is the fifth time Xhaka has been sent off since he made his Arsenal debut in 2016-17, more than any other Premier League player in that time.

Yet without key men Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who are with Senegal and Egypt respectively at the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool faltered in front of goal and failed to make their numerical advantage count.

Curtis Jones' stoppage-time effort was the Reds' only shot on target, with that attempt coming after Aaron Ramsdale had gifted Takumi Minamino (who had six attempts in total) a golden chance, only for the Japan forward to blaze it high over a gaping goal.

Based on Opta's expected goals (xG) model, Minamino's chance was the second best opportunity of the match – an xG value of 0.384 (a 38.4 per cent likelihood of scoring) – though Bukayo Saka had the best sighting of goal when his close-range effort (0.402 xG) was smothered by Alisson.

 

Arsenal, who were without regulars Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Thomas Partey, now head into next week's second leg on level pegging, with a place in the final against Chelsea on the line at Emirates Stadium.

"They showed great fight, determination, attitude, brotherhood," Arteta told Sky Sports.

"You could see the determination with which they were playing, they never gave up, it's extremely difficult in this situation against this opponent. Great credit to the boys.

"I don't know if it [the sending off] inspired them, but they certainly took the fight and I said to them before the game that you have to have a certain attitude to play in this ground, in difficult moments you have to act, you cannot be reactive because then it gets really complicated and I think the boys adapted really well in certain moments.

"We played the game that we had to play, not the game we wanted to play but the game we had to."

Arsenal performed well against Manchester City on New Year's Day, only to go down to Rodri's late winner in a game in which the Gunners were again reduced to 10 men – Gabriel Magalhaes sent off on that occasion. Since Arteta took charge in December 2019, his side have received 13 red cards in all competitions, five more than any other Premier League side in this period. 

The Gunners then slumped out of the FA Cup on Sunday, losing to Championship side Nottingham Forest 1-0, but Arteta suggested inconsistency was merely a symptom of a largely inexperienced side.

He said: "It's really difficult to explain, you see the performance against City where we probably deserved more, we played with 10 men then we play Forest and it was completely different.

"Today we got the level back and did what we had to do. It's an extremely young team, sometimes that inconsistency is going to happen."

Arsenal have now avoided defeat in four of their last eight away games in which they have been shown a red card in all competitions, though injuries to Bukayo Saka and Cedric Soares further complicated matters ahead of Sunday's north London derby clash with Tottenham.

"The motivation to play a derby brings the energy when you don’t have it, no excuses we're going to play the game now in the best possible way," Arteta added.

 

Takumi Minamino squandered a golden chance for Liverpool as 10-man Arsenal defended resolutely despite to draw 0-0 draw in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final.

The Anfield fixture had initially been scheduled as the second leg, but last week's match was postponed due to a number of coronavirus cases within Liverpool's squad.

Arsenal were thrashed 4-0 in their previous trip to the ground in November but a depleted Gunners side ensured the second leg will start on level terms following a stoic display, which was complicated by Granit Xhaka's 24th-minute red card.

Missing Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane due to the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool toiled in front of a packed Arsenal defence and when a golden chance did finally come, Minamino fluffed his lines.

Already shorn of the injured Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard, who had tested positive for COVID-19, Arsenal were dealt another blow when Cedric Soares limped off in the 11th minute.

The visitors would surely have been behind if not for Ben White's intervention, with the defender just managing to deny Roberto Firmino a tap-in.

Though they weathered an early storm, Arsenal's task was made harder when Xhaka received his marching orders for a desperate, high swipe at Diogo Jota just outside the Gunners' area.

Minamino, Liverpool's hero from the quarter-final win over Leicester City, almost caught out Aaron Ramsdale early in the second half with a long-range cross-shot that dropped just wide.

Alisson had to be alert to thwart Bukayo Saka at the other end in a rare Arsenal attack, but Minamino should have won it late on.

Ramsdale flapped at a cross and left his goal gaping, yet Minamino's first-time effort flew high over the crossbar.

What does it mean? Reds attack blunted

Liverpool are not the only team dealing with the loss of key players due to AFCON – Arsenal were missing midfielder Thomas Partey – but without Salah and Mane, Jurgen Klopp's side lacked the cutting edge to turn their dominance into goals, whose only shot on target came in stoppage time.

Mikel Arteta will have been thrilled with the grit his depleted team showed throughout, and will now be looking to make home advantage count in the second leg, though he will be without Xhaka, while Saka joined Cedric in trudging off with an injury issue late on.

White takes charge

With Arsenal going to a back five following Xhaka's dismissal, White proved a commanding figure at the back, having by that point already denied Liverpool a certain opener.

The England international made three tackles, three blocks and as many interceptions, all team-highs, while he also contributed five clearances, including one just in front of the line in injury time.

New year, same old Xhaka

Oh, Granit, it was all so predictable. The Arsenal midfielder was beaten for pace by Jota, who latched onto Andrew Robertson's brilliant diagonal, and in a desperate bid to deny the Liverpool forward a one-v-one with Ramsdale, he lashed out and caught the Portugal international in the stomach.

Xhaka, who had just nine touches in his 24 minutes on the pitch, has now been sent off five times in all competitions since his Arsenal debut in 2016-17. That number may seem surprisingly low, given his tendency to dive in rashly, but it is still more than any other Premier League player.

What's next?

Both teams are back in Premier League action on Sunday, with Liverpool hosting Brentford and Arsenal taking on north London rivals Tottenham prior to next week's second leg.

Arsenal midfielder Martin Odegaard missed their EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Liverpool and will likely sit out the north London derby after testing positive for COVID-19.

Odegaard will be sidelined for Sunday's clash with Spurs having returned a positive test shortly before the Gunners' game at Anfield on Thursday.

He is the latest member of Arsenal's playing and coaching staff to test positive for COVID-19, with Mikel Arteta also doing so last month.

The Gunners boss subsequently missed his side's 2-1 defeat by Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on New Year's Day, with assistant Albert Stuivenberg taking temporary charge.

Since arriving from Real Madrid on a permanent deal, Odegaard has played 18 times in the Premier League, with only Bukayo Saka (20) appearing more often for the Gunners.

Meanwhile, Emile Smith Rowe (eight) and Saka (six) are the only two Arsenal players to better the Norway captain's tally of four goals in the English top flight.

The Africa Cup of Nations group stage continues at pace on Friday, with four matches scheduled to take place.

Senegal, runners-up in 2019, face Guinea in Group B, with both teams having won their opening fixtures. Malawi and Zimbabwe take each other on in the other match in that group.

Meanwhile, Gabon are hoping to have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back for their clash with Ghana in Group C, while Morocco, winners against the Black Stars on matchday one, take on Comoros.

Senegal v Guinea (13:00 GMT)

Senegal and Guinea are meeting for the third time at the Africa Cup of Nations, with the former winning their first two encounters: 2-1 in the 1994 group stages and 3-2 in the 2006 quarter-finals.

In both matches, Guinea opened the scoring before eventually finishing as the losing side, and it is Senegal – led, of course, by Sadio Mane – who will be favourites on Friday, the Liverpool forward's 97th-minute penalty sealing an opening win against Zimbabwe.

Mane's fellow Red Naby Keita is Guinea's star man. He attempted more passes in the opposition half (26) than any of his team-mates in the 1-0 defeat of Malawi last time out and it was his precise ball that led to the only goal of the game.

Keita might have his work cut out against a Senegal midfield that will likely include Paris Saint-Germain's all-action Idrissa Gueye, the towering presence of Crystal Palace's Cheikhou Kouyate and Bayern Munich's versatile full-back Bouna Sarr, who had five attempts and played two key passes in the win over Zimbabwe.

One to watch: Sadio Mane

After his last-gasp winner on Monday, Mane has been directly involved in five of Senegal's past six AFCON goals, scoring four and providing one assist. Since his debut in the competition in January 2015, the former Southampton star has been directly involved in more goals than any other Senegal player.

 

Malawi v Zimbabwe (16:00)

After narrow defeats in their opening matches, Group B's other teams will be looking to bounce back knowing they could draw level with one of the pool's big sides with three points.

That being said, neither team exactly have a strong history in the competition. This will be the first encounter between the nations at an AFCON finals, with Malawi winning just one of their seven matches at the tournament (D1 L5).

Zimbabwe, meanwhile, are winless in their past seven AFCON matches (D2 L5), last claiming a victory in the competition in 2006, against Ghana (2-1).

It could be a case of an easily stoppable force meeting a highly movable object, however, with Malawi having failed to score in four of their past seven AFCON games, while Zimbabwe have never kept a clean sheet in 13 such matches, conceding 28 goals. No team has ever played more games in the competition without once keeping the ball out of their own net.

One to watch: Tino Kadewere (Zimbabwe)

Lyon forward Kadewere had to settle for a place on the bench in the first game, though he came on for the second half and had two attempts, which was bettered by only Knowledge Musona for Zimbabwe. In a squad shy of top-level European experience, Kadewere is undoubtedly the standout talent.

 

Morocco v Comoros (16:00)

After Senegal, Morocco are the second-best-ranked team at AFCON, currently placed 28th in the FIFA's world standings.

The Atlas Lions defeated Ghana in their opening Group C match and head into Friday's meeting with minnows Comoros as huge favourites, with Morocco looking to win their opening two matches at an AFCON in consecutive editions of the tournament, having only won both such games in one of their previous 16 appearances in the competition.

Comoros, who went down 1-0 to Gabon on Monday, will hope to avoid becoming the sixth AFCON debutants this century to lose their opening two matches, after Benin (2004), Botswana (2012), Burundi (2019), Niger (2012) and Zimbabwe (2004).

One to watch: Sofiane Boufal

Former Southampton midfielder Boufal scored an 83rd-minute winner against Ghana. No Moroccan player has netted in successive AFCON matches since Houssine Kharja in 2012.

 

Gabon v Ghana (19:00)

Friday's headline clash sees Gabon take on Ghana, and Aubameyang could well be back after he trained with his side following a negative coronavirus result.

Aubameyang, who has not played for Arsenal since early December and was recently stripped of the club captaincy due to a disciplinary breach, tested positive for COVID-19 upon his arrival for the AFCON, along with Mario Lemina.

Gabon will, however, be without coach Patrice Neveu, who is isolating. They are looking to win successive AFCON games for the first time since a run of three victories in 2012.

Four-time champions Ghana, meanwhile, have won just one of their past five group games (D2 L2), losing more in this run than in their previous 12 such matches combined (W9 D2 L1).

One to watch: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

There is no doubting Aubameyang's quality, even if the 32-year-old has been ostracised at Arsenal recently. Having been out of action for so long, it may take the former Borussia Dortmund star time to get up to speed, though he has the ability to be the difference-maker. 

Mikel Arteta may be confident that his side can still recruit any player in the world, but Arsenal may have to wait if they are to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina.

The in-demand Serbia international is the joint-fourth highest scorer in Europe's top five leagues this term and is wanted by an array of clubs across the continent.

While a January move has been touted, however, Fiorentina appear to be playing hardball when it comes to the future of the 21-year-old striker.


TOP STORY – FIORENTINA DEMANDS PREVENTING ARSENAL'S VLAHOVIC PURSUIT

Arsenal are reportedly willing to match Fiorentina's €75million (£62.62m) asking price for Vlahovic, which would make him the second-most expensive player in their history.

However, The Independent reports that the Serie A side want the majority of that money paid upfront, whereas Arsenal intend to spread the cost over the next four years.

The Gunners may therefore have to wait until the end of the campaign, at which point Vlahovic will have a year to run on his contract, before renegotiating with Fiorentina.

 


ROUND-UP

– It is shaping up to be a busy conclusion to the January window for Arsenal as Goal reports that the Premier League side have made contact with Juventus over a loan move for midfielder Arthur Melo, while Leicester City's Youri Tielemans is another potential target.

– L'Equipe claims that Paul Pogba remains a target for Paris Saint-Germain as he nears the end of his Manchester United contract. The midfielder has not featured since November due to injury and is not expected to return until next month.

– According to The Mail, Man Utd are eyeing a move for Brighton and Hove Albion's Tariq Lamptey as an upgrade on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot. Interim boss Ralf Rangnick is said to be a big fan of the right-sided player's versatility.

– Sticking with Rangnick and United, the German coach has put Ajax boss Erik ten Hag's name forward as the best option to replace him when his interim spell at Old Trafford ends in June. That is according to Le Parisien, with the French outlet also suggesting PSG's Mauricio Pochettino still remains in the frame.

– Ambitious Newcastle United have already brought in Kieran Trippier this month and more players look set to follow. Tuttomercato suggests that Roma's Chris Smalling could be lured to St James' Park as the Magpies desperately attempt to strengthen at centre-back.

Freiburg's Nico Schlotterbeck is attracting plenty of interest this month, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid among those being linked. Bayern appear to be leading that particular race if reports from Spain are anything to go by, with the defender supposedly keen to stay in the Bundesliga.

Jurgen Klopp is confident that Mohamed Salah will sign a new contract with Liverpool amid speculation around the forward's future.

Salah, who is currently on international duty with Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations, recently gave an interview to GQ in which he stated he is not asking for "crazy" money during negotiations, adding that he wants to stay but that the decision rests with the club.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of Thursday's EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, Klopp was asked about Salah's interview and whether he was at all worried the star might not re-sign, with just 18 months remaining on his current deal at Anfield.

"I know that Mo wants to stay. We want Mo to stay. That's where we are," Klopp told reporters. "These things take time. I think it is in a good place. I'm very positive about it.

"There is nothing to worry about, it is a normal process. He has a contract here for this season and next season. It is all fine."

 

Klopp was also asked about his comments after the win against Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup third round on Sunday that his players had returned "false positive" COVID-19 tests, which led to the first leg of the tie with Arsenal that had been scheduled to be played last week being postponed.

Liverpool requested that the game at the Emirates Stadium be pushed back by two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club that led to the training ground being closed for 48 hours.

But the German coach seemed to suggest many of those cases turned out to be false positives, with only Trent Alexander-Arnold returning another positive after re-testing.

"You get a positive test, then when you do a re-test a day, day and a half later, you get a result that makes it seem like a false positive because this test was negative," he clarified. 

"That doesn't change anything for your quarantine or whatever but if you need to know, you have to do a third test.

"Between the first and second, and second and third test you cannot use the players, so that's how the rules are.

"If you get a third test and that's negative as well, then that's it. It was now four days later, so we couldn't do anything different. When we got the positive tests, we had to consider that this was the right result."

Klopp confirmed that Alexander-Arnold is back in training along with Alisson, but Thiago Alcantara and Divock Origi remain sidelined by injury.

He also had a positive update on the status of Harvey Elliott, who has not played since suffering a fractured ankle in the 3-0 win at Leeds United in September.

"Harvey Elliott looks really promising out on the pitch now," said the Reds boss. "He didn't train with the team yet, but I don't think he's too far away from team training.

"What he's doing at the moment looks really good."

Mikel Arteta was unable to provide excuses on Sunday, after Arsenal crashed out of the FA Cup with a 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest.

"We are out of the competition and we have to apologise."

Arsenal have won the FA Cup a record 14 times, with their last triumph coming in Arteta's first half-season in charge. But while they will lament being on the end of a giant-killing, they have the chance to bounce back from only their second third-round exit in the past 26 seasons when they face Liverpool at Anfield on Thursday in the first leg of a semi-final in England's other major domestic cup competition.

Initially, the Anfield fixture of this EFL Cup tie was due to be played second but Liverpool's coronavirus crisis, which Jurgen Klopp revealed was ultimately down to several false-positives within the squad, led to the postponement of the first leg at Emirates Stadium, originally set to be played on January 6.

The Gunners lost 4-0 at the home of the Reds in November's Premier League meeting, as Arteta's men were dealt a harsh dose of reality after a 10-match unbeaten run across all competitions.

A further 10 games have passed since then, with Arsenal losing four and winning six.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang having been stripped of the captaincy and ostracised before travelling away for the Africa Cup of Nations, Arteta has once again turned mostly to youth as he looks to continue to grow a new "culture" at Arsenal, who sit fourth in the league.

Claiming some measure of revenge at Anfield could just prove Arteta's plan is the solution for long-term success, and four players seem crucial to that blueprint.

Super-sub Smith Rowe

Aubameyang's omission for a breach of club rules brought unnecessary noise in December, though results were not immediately impacted. With the 32-year-old not playing since December 6, Alexandre Lacazette has stepped in to spearhead Arsenal's attack, but behind him Arteta has an abundance of talent to choose from.

Emile Smith Rowe started the season brilliantly, though has only started one league game since November. That has not stopped the 21-year-old from being effective, however, with three of his eight league goals this season coming from the bench in recent wins over West Ham, Leeds United and Norwich City.

Smith Rowe has only played 63 league minutes since featuring for 70 in the December 2 loss to Manchester United, meaning he averages a goal every 21 minutes in that period. 

Asked about Smith Rowe's game time before the defeat to Forest, which the midfielder missed altogether, Arteta explained he had been carrying an injury, one which also means he is a doubt for Thursday's clash.

"The only reason that changed the dynamic was that [injury], and obviously now there are others who are doing well and have been performing well. That changed the situation, but I am very happy with him," Arteta told reporters, before adding that competition for places can only be positive.

"This is why we need that, we raise the level. Each player raises the level of the player next to him, and this is how you evolve as a team, how you create a culture around the team."

Few could say Smith Rowe isn't embracing that "culture", with his recent hot streak off the bench reflecting a commendable attitude.

 

Martin the maestro

One of the "others" Arteta was referring to will surely be Martin Odegaard, who signed permanently from Real Madrid following a bright loan spell last season. Given the Norway international burst onto the scene at the age of 15 in 2014, becoming the youngest footballer ever to play in his homeland's top tier, it would be easy to forget he has only just turned 23.

Only Bukayo Saka (38) has created more chances than Odegaard (34) in Arsenal's squad in all competitions this season, with the midfielder topping that metric per 90 minutes when it comes to players to have featured over two times, producing 2.1 opportunities on average.

His eight direct goal contributions ranks him fifth in the squad while his shot conversion rate of 18.2 is good for a midfielder. Indeed, only the outstanding Smith Rowe, who has converted 32.1 per cent (nine goals) of his 28 attempts can boast better among Arsenal's midfield contingent.

Yet with Smith Rowe's recent spell as an impact player, Odegaard has started behind the striker in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1, his eye for a pass and knack of finding space on the edge of the area a key facet to some slick attacking play.

That playmaking ability was on show in the 5-0 thrashing of Norwich on Boxing Day, with Odegaard providing the assists for Arsenal's opening two goals and a key role in their final strike.

While Odegaard (33) has had fewer touches in the opposition box than left-back Nuno Tavares (35) and completed just 10 dribbles compared to Smith Rowe's 23 and the team-leading Saka's 27, no Arsenal player has attempted more passes in the opposition half than Odegaard (523), with 80.9 per cent (423) proving successful.

Odegaard's ability to keep Arsenal in possession with neat and incisive passing has been crucial for the Gunners. Indeed, only centre-backs Ben White (933) and Gabriel Magalhaes (822) have found a team-mate on more occasions than the playmaker (703).

 

Wing wizards

Flanking Odegaard (or Smith Rowe), Saka and Gabriel Martinelli both head to Anfield in superb form. While Saka scored the opener in the 2-1 defeat to City on New Year's Day, Martinelli has directly contributed to six goals from 18 appearances.

Martinelli's devastating turn of pace was on show in a 4-1 rout of Leeds United last month, though the Brazilian flyer missed a golden chance to put Arsenal back in front in their defeat to City, slicing wide of an open goal – if we're being generous, perhaps he was put off by the referee. Still, he should have scored.

Nevertheless, his four goals have come from an xG value of 4.2, putting him just about on par based on the quality of chances he has been provided with, though that is in contrast to Saka.

The England winger's tally of seven goals is second only to Smith Rowe (nine), yet they have come from 4.6 xG, suggesting the 20-year-old is finishing chances the average player wouldn't ordinarily be expected to convert.

For example, his swept effort low into the corner against City was only the seventh-best chance of the game, while a wonderful solo strike at Norwich (his second goal of the game) registered an xG of just 0.03 – essentially, this translates to a three per cent likelihood of scoring.

 

Saka also leads the way for big chances created (defined by Opta as an opportunity from which a player would reasonably be expected to score) with eight, three more than any of his club-mates, and only Nicolas Pepe has provided more assists (five to four).

Not only is Saka already a proven creator of opportunities, but he is now putting them away with unerring accuracy.

Arsenal were dealt a harsh lesson on their last visit to Anfield, but with a second leg at home to look forward to and with Liverpool missing key duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Thursday could see Arteta's counter-attacking youngsters thrive, with a north London derby against Tottenham up after that.

Even if it again proves a step too far, there's no doubt the future is bright.

Arsenal were eliminated at the third-round stage of the FA Cup for only the second time in 26 seasons after Lewis Grabban secured Nottingham Forest a late 1-0 win on Sunday.

Mikel Arteta returned to the bench after a bout of coronavirus forced him to miss arguably their best performance of the season in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester City last weekend.

But he will not have been happy with what he saw at the City Ground, with the Gunners' lethargy and lack of inspiration in the early stages a sign of things to come.

The Premier League side were twice fortunate not to fall behind in the second half, but their luck finally ran out seven minutes from time, substitute Grabban getting the winner.

West Ham were handed a tasty trip to sixth-tier Kidderminster Harriers as the FA Cup served up a David and Goliath tie in the fourth-round draw.

David Moyes' Hammers beat top-flight rivals Leeds United 2-0 on Sunday to pass their first test in this season's competition, and now face a game they dare not lose.

Kidderminster and West Ham are five divisions apart in the English football system and both sit fifth in their respective leagues – the National League North and Premier League.

A stunning 2-1 third-round win over Championship outfit Reading carried Russell Penn's Kidderminster through to the last-32 stage, and now the West Midlands side can prepare for the visit of top-flight high-flyers to Aggborough.

Cup holders Leicester City, who saw off Watford on Saturday, were drawn to travel to either Nottingham Forest or Arsenal, who went into battle at the City Ground on Sunday evening.

Among the Premier League elite, Chelsea were handed a home draw against League One side Plymouth Argyle, Manchester City will host Fulham, Liverpool will tackle Cardiff City at Anfield, and Tottenham will welcome Brighton and Hove Albion.

Manchester United, who face Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Monday, will face Middlesbrough if they come through the tussle with Steven Gerrard's side.

There was perhaps a tinge of disappointment for League One side Cambridge United, who were not rewarded for upsetting Newcastle United with another glamorous tie against Premier League opposition. Instead, they will entertain Luton Town of the Championship, while National League side Boreham Wood, who knocked out AFC Wimbledon, were handed a trip to Bournemouth.

FA Cup fourth-round draw in full:

Crystal Palace v Hartlepool United, Bournemouth v Boreham Wood, Huddersfield Town v Barnsley, Peterborough United v QPR, Cambridge United v Luton Town, Southampton v Coventry City, Chelsea v Plymouth, Everton v Brentford, Kidderminster v West Ham, Manchester United or Aston Villa v Middlesbrough, Tottenham v Brighton and Hove Albion, Liverpool v Cardiff City, Stoke City v Wigan Athletic, Nottingham Forest or Arsenal v Leicester City, Manchester City v Fulham, Wolves v Norwich City.

Ties to be played on the weekend of February 4-7.

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