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Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal reinforcement, Fulham striker, Saints exit

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The January transfer window is upon us, and while Chelsea has already made what could end up being the splash of the winter in signing Christian Pulisic, there are plenty more rumors to be had. January is often a time for bargain hunting, and while the Pulisic move bucks that trend, clubs that need immediate reinforcements will often look for players who want out of their current position immediately.

[ MORE: Hudson-Odoi leaving Chelsea | Emery denies Navas ]

So, that’s where we begin today’s roundup. Southampton is in massive trouble at the bottom of the Premier League table, sitting 18th and firmly in the relegation battle. Beyond rumors, new Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has come out and confirmed that a few key players could depart this January as teams pick apart the Southampton squad in preparation for their potential drop.

Hasenhuttl singled out players like Steven Davis and Manolo Gabbiadini as a pair who could pack their bags, with the Italian striker seemingly the more likely of the two to find greener pastures. Gabbiadini has not played a single minute under the German boss, scoring just one goal this season before Mark Hughes was fired. The 27-year-old came over from Napoli in the January 2017 transfer window and made an immediate impact, but has fallen completely off the table since as Southampton continues to struggle for Premier League safety.

In addition, while there are no solid rumors yet, freelance journalist Graham Ruthven speculates that another player who could be attractive to clubs could be midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg whose contract expires in the summer of 2021 and is considered a bright talent at just 23 years old. Still, giving clubs pause is his lack of discipline this season, having already sat one match for yellow card accumulation before finding himself riding the pine on a four-game suspension for a miserable challenge on Fernandinho in the dying minutes of a recent defeat to Manchester City.


While Saints looks to do its best to keep the talent at St. Mary’s, fellow relegation candidate Fulham is hoping to secure reinforcements as the Whites look to protect their massive summer investment. The club has enjoyed a small uptick in form under new manager Claudio Ranieri, but the defense still looks horrific, especially against the bigger and better clubs. While the back line is the most concerning aspect of the squad at the moment, Fulham has also struggled to convert solid chances into goals up front, with Aleksandar Mitrovic proving a hard worker but not always able to convert those chances. According to Sky Italy, Fulham is one of three clubs interested in Roma striker Gregoire Defrel, currently on loan at Sampdoria. The report says Watford and West Ham are also interested, but mentions that the Hammers could back off after signing Samir Nasri to a deal after a trial.

Defrel has scored six goals in 18 matches for Sampdoria so far this season, although four of those came on a pair of braces by the third game of the season, and has since grabbed just two in 891 Serie A minutes since. While Watford will be looking for players to assist them in their battle for a top-half place, Fulham may be not just more motivated but more desperate. The Thursday edition of Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport declares that Fulham is “in the lead” for the 27-year-old Frenchman.


While Fulham looks for attacking help, Arsenal is hoping to snag defensive reinforcements as the Gunners have had injuries and poor form plague their back line all season. Sitting in fifth in the table, if the Gunners are hopeful of making a run at Champions League play, they will need to fix their defensive issues with Rob Holding out long-term, Laurent Koscielny injury-prone at 33 years old, and Shkodran Mustafi barely back from a hamstring problem of his own. Only new signing Sokratis has made it through the festive period unscathed, and now manager Unai Emery will look to bring in help from the outside.

According to The Mirror, Arsenal is set for a battle with Torino for 27-year-old center-back Nicolas N’Koulou. The Cameroon international only joined Torino this summer, but his contract expires in the summer of 2020 leaving the Italian club with little options should they wish to turn their paltry $4 million investment into a large profit. N’Koulou has helped Torino to one of the most impressive defensive displays in Serie A this season, conceding just 19 goals in 19 matches, the fifth-best defensive record in the league behind the top three teams Juventus, Napoli, and Inter plus Fiorentina. Unfortunately for Torino, they have struggled mightily in front of net, supporting that defensive unit with just 24 goals, leaving them ninth in the table, just above Fiorentina who also has trouble scoring goals.

N’Koulou is as experienced as they come, with 72 caps for the Cameroon international team plus 19 Champions League appearances with Lyon and Marseille before his switch to the Italian top flight. The Mirror suggests that Torino “are keen to hold onto” N’Koulou, understandably given his importance to the club having played every single minute of the league season thus far, but his contract situation could force the club’s hand should they wish to earn a profit on his presence.


There is plenty of talk surrounding Toby Alderweireld this January, and understandably so. Spurs activated a clause in the Belgian’s contract that keeps him at the club an additional season, but also triggers the presence of a $31 million release clause that is activated during the early portion of the summer transfer window. Given Alderweireld’s market value of significantly higher than that, Spurs could be motivated to shop him this winter in the hopes of earning a higher return, avoiding losing him for such a small price this summer.

According to The Telegraph, French club Paris Saint-Germain could be interested in sweetening the pot for Alderweireld to ensure they are given priority in the race, reporting that the French side “could offer” fellow Belgian Thomas Meunier in return for Alderweireld. Meunier, a right-back, was one of Belgium’s more surprisingly impressive players at this summer’s World Cup and has parlayed that into 12 Ligue 1 appearances for PSG this season. It would be somewhat surprising that PSG would allow Meunier to leave given Dani Alves’ age and injury history, but his positional flexibility would be a good fit for Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs, with the ability to move forward and play wing-back should he be deployed in support of a back-three.

Three things learned: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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Liverpool took another huge step towards winning their first-ever Premier League title on Saturday, as Jurgen Klopp’s men demolished Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Unai Emery‘s Arsenal took the lead through Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but a quick double from Roberto Firmino and a goal each from Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah did the damage before half time, with Firmino completing his hat trick after the break.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Here’s what we learned from a lopsided encounter at Anfield, as Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the table.


FIRMINO HAUNTS ARSENAL AGAIN

Roberto Firmino had been going through a bit of a barren stretch before facing Arsenal on Saturday, but the Brazilian once again destroyed the Gunners with ease. Firmino hadn’t scored in his last five games for the Reds, but he scored twice in 60 seconds in the first half to swing the game in Liverpool’s favor. He then completed his hat trick in the second half to make it 5-1.

Firmino’s direct running twice caught out Arsenal’s defense, as it hurried them into making a hash of the clearance for his first and then he ripped up their entire defensive unit for his majestic second.

Robbie Fowler is the only Liverpool player to have scored more than Firmino’s eight goals against Arsenal in the Premier League, and the livewire has now been involved in 11 goals (eight goals, three assists) in seven games against the Gunners.

He may not have been red hot in recent months, but Firmino turned up when Liverpool needed him most to start their rout. When he’s at his best, he brings out the best in Salah and Mane too. He may not get all of the credit he deserves, but Firmino is pivotal if Liverpool is going to win the title this season. The no-look finish on his first goal proved his trademark swagger is finally back and that is great news for Klopp.


ARSENAL’S RAGGED DEFENSE STILL THEIR BIGGEST PROBLEM

The Gunners have looked solid enough when they have their best defensive unit fit and available. But that wasn’t the case, once again, at Liverpool as a makeshift defense which included veteran Stephan Lichtsteiner and a banged up Shkodran Mustafi (replaced at half time by Laurent Koscielny) and Sokratis at center back. Can we judge this Arsenal team based on the defense they put out? We can, even though they have struggled against the big boys in recent years, and especially Liverpool’s jet-fuelled offense.

They’ve now won just one of their last 13 PL away games against teams starting the day top of the table, losing the last seven on the trot by an aggregate score of 3-22. And they’ve now lost their last six PL games at Liverpool, conceding at least twice on each occasion.

Even if this is an Arsenal defense missing Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding, they should be able to not implode in the manner they did at Anfield. This theme cannot continue, especially away from the Emirates Stadium.

Having conceded three goals at Southampton, two at Manchester United and another at Brighton in their last three Premier League away games before visiting Anfield, Arsenal have now conceded 11 goals in their last four PL away games and picked up just two points in that run. Emery’s men were on a run of 22 games unbeaten in all competitions until two weeks ago, and a lot of that was down to a newfound defensive toughness.

That has evaporated as injuries have stacked up, but with Lucas Torreira struggling as their midfield terrier in front of the back four once again, Arsenal must plug the gaps which keep on appearing in their backline away from home. A porous defense away from home led to the eventual demise of Arsene Wenger last season and it threatens to derail the progress made by Emery early on this season too.


RAMPANT LIVERPOOL CONTINUE TITLE CHARGE

Liverpool have now won nine PL games on the spin and they’re unbeaten through their first 20 games. Heading into their clash at Manchester City on Jan. 3 (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) they are momentarily 10 points clear of City — who play on Sunday against Southampton — and Klopp’s side may well have the chance to all but end the challenge of their rivals with Tottenham (nine points back) slipping up this weekend too.

Who on earth can stop them? In truth, it is one team: themselves.

They are simply in imperious form. Unbeaten in 31 games at home, the last time Liverpool lost at Anfield was in April 2017. Klopp’s men have an air of confidence each time they walk out onto the pitch and they have the ability to rotate their squad with Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri coming in, and a wealth of options in midfield and attack. If injuries are kind to Liverpool, the strength in depth they have this season proves they can go all the way with Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson coming off the bench against Arsenal, as the likes of Naby Keita and Daniel Sturridge watched on from the sidelines.

Klopp’s team are a well-oiled machine and although they will be focusing on one game at a time between now and May, they are surely now allowed to dream of winning the title. Everyone connected with Liverpool Football Club is in dreamland. But if City beat Southampton tomorrow and then beat Liverpool, the lead atop the table for Klopp’s men will be back to four points. Lot of ifs there, but given their long wait for another league title and previous heartbreaks, nobody connected with Liverpool will be allowing complacency to creep in.


Premier League preview: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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There’s more than enough on the line to go around as Arsenal travels to Anfield to take on Liverpool at 12:30 p.m. ET live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

While unbeaten Liverpool is in a high-profile battle for the Premier League title – leading Tottenham by six points and Manchester City by seven – Arsenal is also deadlocked in a fight for a Champions League place. Unlike Liverpool though, Arsenal owns a deficit in its battle, two points behind and looking up at fourth-placed Chelsea.

[ WATCH LIVE: Liverpool vs. Arsenal live on NBCSports.com ]

Much of that deficit is down to a defensive crisis facing the Gunners, and they’re still in the midst of their injury troubles. Rob Holding is a long-term absentee, while Hector Bellerin will also miss out and the status of both Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi is unclear. Laurent Koscielny is in line to play, however, after suffering a small foot injury last time out and will likely partner with Sokratis yet again in central defense.

Aside from the defensive frailties, Mesut Ozil did not make the trip north and will not be available for Arsenal after suffering a knee injury against Brighton, withdrawn from that match at halftime. He looked sluggish throughout the opening 45 minutes of that game, and the Gunners attack was slightly neutered without him at full strength.

For the Reds, James Milner will be unavailable yet again due to a leg injury that kept him out of the Boxing Day win over Newcastle, but otherwise they are near full strength. Jurgen Klopp partnered Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum in central midfield as Liverpool slammed Newcastle, but with the festive period jammed full of fixtures, it’s possible that Naby Keita or Fabinho – or both – find the starting lineup this time around.

What they’re saying

Klopp on leading the PL table: “Not much [has changed], really. We didn’t think about the distance to other teams before [leading] it because it is just too early to think about it. If we are six points ahead with one game to go it is a big moment! In the moment, nothing happens.”

Emery on Liverpool winger Salah: “We spoke about the possibility to sign Salah to Paris St Germain when he was playing at Roma. We had some doubts – and then he signed for Liverpool and these doubts he has broken at Liverpool. Now, if you are speaking about the five top players in the world, one is Salah.”

Prediction

With Liverpool continuing to prove difficult to stop, Arsenal’s defensive difficulties will play right into the Reds’ hands. Still, the Gunners have improved their team unity under Unai Emery and will be a tough out for the Reds. Fixture congestion can throw results into the mixer, and this one finishes in a 2-2 draw after an exciting match.

PL Preview: Arsenal v. Burnley

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With Arsenal’s 21-match unbeaten run now in the past, the Gunners are just looking to stay above water through the festive period, with defensive frailties taking a toll. They must piece together a back line to stay afloat as the Gunners host Burnley at the Emirates at 7:30 a.m. ET on Saturday live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, and Konstantinos Mavropanos are all out injured, leaving the defensive unit for the Gunners thinner than ever. Thankfully, Sokratis is back from suspension, but he and Laurent Koscielny are the only healthy center-backs on the roster.

[ WATCH LIVE: Arsenal v. Burnley on NBCSports.com ]

The unbeaten run came to an end last time out, falling to relegation-threatened Southampton 3-2 with Stephen Lichtsteiner and Granit Xhaka joining forces with Koscielny in a three-man back line. Twice Arsenal fought back from a one-goal deficit before Charlie Austin secured all three points for the Saints in the 85th minute.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is also out injured for the Gunners, while Sead Kolasinac will be a gametime decision. Mesut Ozil is confirmed to be involved against Burnley after being left out of the squad in recent weeks for “tactical reasons” according to manager Unai Emery.

For Burnley, the Clarets have won just once over their last five matches, and would love to pick up points against the ailing Gunners before a critical run in the relegation battle, with games against Huddersfield Town and Fulham on the horizon. Sean Dyche‘s men will be without Aaron Lennon, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady are working to make a return.

Video preview

What they’re saying

Arsenal manager Emery on Burnley: “We have big respect for them. They are a good team, with good players. Defensively they are very hard and can play with a lot of long balls, a lot of crosses, to create chances to score.”

Burnley manager Dyche on playing bigger clubs: “If everyone thinks that every team in the Premier League is going to play the beautiful game, at the moment there’s only one winner and that’s Manchester City. We’ve got to find a way and we’ve done that consistently over the six years that I’ve been here. We’ve found a way of being successful. We’ve had to fight, we’ve had to work, we’ve played some good stuff at times, we’ve played some productive stuff, we’ve played some hard stuff, but we’ve found a way and I think that doesn’t change. When you’re playing these big clubs it’s very, very difficult. It’s more reality tactics rather than negative tactics for me.”

Prediction

Arsenal’s defensive woes will be taxing over the festive period, but at least two central defenders are healthy to play a normal back line. Barring any additional injuries during the match, the Gunners should be able to take down a sliding Burnley with no trouble, with Mesut Ozil back and playing a role. Look for Arsenal to win 2-0 and get back to winning ways.

PL Sunday preview: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield

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Premier League fixtures don’t get any bigger — or more heated — than Liverpool versus Manchester United, longtime rivals who’ll renew pleasantries at Anfield on Sunday…

[ MORE: Spurs grab stoppage-time win vs. Burnley | Man City go top again ]

Southampton v. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Heading into Sunday’s meeting at St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton haven’t won in 14 games (all competitions — after 90 minutes), while Arsenal haven’t lost in just as many games, in the PL alone (unbeaten in 22 games in all competitions). Predictably, Saints find themselves stuck in the relegation zone, with the halfway point of the season looming ever so large, and a new manager hoping to make his mark and a major impact on a club quickly spiraling out of control. Ralph Hasenhuttl made his debut as Southampton manager last weekend, but suffered a 1-0 defeat to fellow relegation battlers Cardiff City.

As for Arsenal, the unbeaten run has earned new manager Unai Emery a long leash with Gunners fans, but his side enters the week in fifth place, behind Chelsea on goal differential. Sunday could see the return of defender and captain Laurent Koscielny in league play after the 33-year-old Frenchman made his first appearance in seven months during Thursday’s Europa League victory over Qarabag.

INJURIES: Southampton — QUESTIONABLE: Ryan Bertrand (back), Danny Ings (hamstring), Shane Long (ankle), Cedirc Soares (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Sokratis Papastathopoulos (suspension), Danny Welbeck (ankle), Shkodran Mustafi (suspension), Rob Holding (knee)

Brighton & Hove Albion v. Chelsea — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Chelsea’s recent form has been a rollercoaster of results, alternating losses and wins in their last four league games. They did, however, put together perhaps the best performance of any side in the PL all season last time out, handing Manchester City their first defeat in a 2-0 conquering at Stamford Bridge. Maurizio Sarri‘s side came back down to earth on Thursday, though, as the Blues struggled to secure a 2-2 draw away to Hungarian side MOL Vidi FC in the Europa League, and the club’s fans were accused of spewing anti-Semitic chants and slurs just days after the very public incident involving four Chelsea fans and Man City star Raheem Sterling.

Brighton won’t be a pushover at Falmer Stadium, where the Seagulls have compiled and impressive 4W-2D-1L record this season. Chris Hughton‘s side has managed to knock off a handful of mid-table sides at home thus far, but a scalp the size of Chelsea would be easily the most impressive outing to date. Brighton dropped both league meetings with the Blues last season, losing 4-0 at home and 2-0 away.

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Shane Duffy (suspension) | Chelsea — OUT: Mateo Kovacic (thigh)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

For all that Jurgen Klopp has achieved since taking the Liverpool job in October 2015 — and he has done a great deal of good to re-establish the club, both domestically and on the continent — the second-most notable failure of Klopp’s tenure, behind only “winning a trophy,” remains his 0W-3D-2L record against Man United in league play. While the Reds have surpassed the Red Devils and long left them behind in the PL’s hierarchy, a victory over the bitter rivals from Manchester has remained elusive, including a 0W-2D-1L record at Anfield, site of Sunday’s showdown, with a grand total of one goal scored in the three games.

The tables have clearly turned from the days of United dominating the PL and winning 13 of 21 league titles from 1992 to 2013, period in which Liverpool managed a trio of second-place finishes — coming second to United once, and besting them twice. A win on Sunday would not only see Klopp knock off his bogey team for the first time, but would lift Liverpool back ahead of Man City in the title race; a win for United, meanwhile, would help them to hold off newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers for sixth place.

United, all but the forgotten side of the top-six, have endured hard times at both ends of the field this season — their 28 goals scored are the fewest of the PL’s elite, while their 26 goals conceded are the most of the six sides expected to compete for four UEFA Champions League places; Liverpool, in the same number of games, have conceded just six times, including just once during their current five-game winning streak.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Joel Matip (shoulder), Joe Gomez (ankle), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Trent Alexander-Arnold (knock) | Man United — OUT: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Victor Lindelof (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (hamstring), Scott McTominay (undisclosed), Luke Shaw (undisclosed)