As far as transfer rumors go, Gonzalo Higuaín to Arsenal actually makes some sense

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Gonzalo Higuaín has the strange distinction of being in a middle ground with the Real Madrid faithful – somebody who’s both respected for his service yet seen as a place to potentially upgrade. After six years at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madridistas have seen the former River Plate attacker grow into somebody who can contribute at the highest of levels. Over the last five seasons, he’s averaged 21.8 all-competition goals while rarely truly holding down the No. 9’s role. A prolific scorer while not a truly world class talent, Higuaín’s performance almost forces fans to ask how good the team would be if they went out and got top-level striker.

It was thought that’s what Real was doing four years ago when they bought Karim Benzema from Lyon. But Benzema, while serving as essentially a co-starter with Higuaín, has failed to match the Argentine’s production. In league play, Benzema has scored a goal every 132 minutes since joining Real Madrid. Higuaín (who is the same age Benzema) has scored every 96 minutes.

Regardless, over the past four years, there have been persistent murmurs that Higuaín would move on. This year’s latest has him landing at the Emirates this summer, Arsenal thought to be primed for a spending spree. Between the Gunners’ need, the likely tweaks Real Madrid will make, and Higuaín’s potential price (which would come in just above Arsenal’s record fee, £15 million), the move is not completely implausible.

And stylistically, you can see the fit. Higuaín, while versatile, can play the type of along the line number nine capable of making runs that Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, and Mikel Arteta could pick out. He may not be physical, and his hold up play may not be that renown, but Higuaín’s strike race in Spain speaks for itself. A year after losing Robin van Persie, Arsenal could use another high-output striker.

Here’s the Telegraph, more reputable than your regular tabloid fishwrap (and linked, above), with the rumor:

With £70 million to spend, Arsenal are preparing for their most adventurous transfer window under Arsène Wenger and are conscious of the need to move quickly within a market that will become intense following all the major managerial changes.
Wenger was interested in Higuaín before he even joined Real Madrid from River Plate in 2007 and there is a feeling that he could now be attainable for what would be a club-record transfer fee of £19 million.

I just don’t see Arsenal spending £70 million (seriously, who can?), but if Higuaín can be had for under £20 million, that keeps Arsenal in play. The bigger problem may be the player’s wage demands, whatever they may be.

The Telegraph has more names from Arsenal’s wishlist, players like Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic and Borussia Dortmund’s Lukasz Piszczek reminding us silly season is almost upon us.

Higuaín, however, seems like a less-silly link than most.

Manchester derby “the game of the season”

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Whatever way you slice it up, Thursday’s Manchester derby is huge.

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Manchester City host Manchester United (Watch, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola‘s side just one point ahead of United in the Premier League table.

City currently occupy fourth spot and the final UEFA Champions League qualification berth but are coming off the back of a damaging FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal after extra time.

United and Jose Mourinho haven’t lost in 23 Premier League games, the longest current unbeaten streak across Europe’s top five leagues, and are in the UEFA Europa League semifinals as their banged up squad have stood tall in the final months of the campaign.

Speaking ahead of the derby, one of United’s stars this season believes everything comes down to this one game.

“It is going to be the game of the season,” Ander Herrera said. “We are one point behind them. If we win we have the chance to finish in the top four, if they win it is going to be very difficult. It is the game of the season.

“Make or break? Probably. Both teams are in a good moment so if one of us wins the game we are not going to lose a lot of games, or make mistakes after that. Us or them. It is going to be key. I don’t know the ‘winner takes all’ expression but it is going to be a massive game. We are in a very good moment, a very good run and we respect them but we are doing a lot of good things and we have to show it on Thursday.”

Herrera’s comments say it all.

It is fair to say that both Manchester clubs have flattered to deceive for much of this season with Guardiola’s tactics yet to flourish in England and Mourinho’s rebuild hampered by injuries and a lack of goals at crucial moments.

On Thursday there will be a raucous atmosphere at the Etihad as both teams are aware of what is at stake.

More of the pressure may well be on City who now have just a place in the top four to focus on and with many previously giving United no chance of finishing in the top four, a win at City would take them above their “noisy neighbors” and into the UCL spots.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alex Sanchez this weekend ]

The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

[ MORE: Bayern scouted Kyle Walker, Alexis Sanchez over the weekend ]

The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.