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Manchester United head to the Emirates for clash with Arsenal

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta (left) and Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will see their teams clash on Sunday. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

It is always a big occasion when Arsenal and Manchester United meet, and the timing of Sunday’s English Premier League clash in London could allow both clubs to send a message about their potential title ambitions heading into the September international break.

After a surprising second-place finish last season, Arsenal, with seven points so far, have done their part to prove they are not going anywhere. Even their lone blemish on the season, a 2-2 home draw against Fulham last weekend, included an encouraging fightback from a goal down to briefly take a 2-1 lead.

They have also weathered a short-term injury absence of attacker Gabriel Jesus, with Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah each scoring twice over Arsenal’s first three matches.

With Jesus available on Sunday – having made a very brief cameo in the Fulham draw – manager Mikel Arteta admits a win would be a momentum builder, even if he thinks it is a bit too early to declare anyone a true challenger to Manchester City, the three-time defending champions.

“We all want to win games, we all want to play the best possible way,” the Spaniard said on Friday.

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“That’s (a victory) not going to dictate but it gives you momentum and belief. Before the international break, it’s very important to finish well and win your game and go into September with another block of games on a high.”

Despite dropping points last week, the Arsenal boss insisted he is pleased with the performance and remains positive.

“Really happy, I said against Fulham, and I have watched the game twice, that we played ten times better, six or ten, but we definitely played much better (than before). But it’s all about the results,” he added.

Jesus’ return will be a boost, while Takehiro Tomiyasu also returns from a one-game suspension. Oleksandr Zinchenko is close to a full recovery from a calf issue, but long-term absentees Jurrien Timber and Mohamed Elneny remain out.

The Gunners and the Red Devils have two wins apiece in their last four league meetings, with the home team winning on all four occasions, so Arteta’s men might have a slight advantage on Sunday.

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United, who have six points, have also certainly looked vulnerable at times this season, suffering a hefty 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur two weeks ago and having to overcome an early two-goal deficit in last weekend’s 3-2 home win over Nottingham Forest.

But Erik ten Hag’s men deserve credit for enduring some key absences early on, and the picture appears to be clearing heading into the weekend.

Summer signing Rasmus Hojlund is set to make his club debut and could even start after a back issue kept the Danish striker out in August

“He had a good training week, we still have a final training but he is doing well, he is responding well, so yeah he will be available for Sunday’s game,” ten Hag said on Friday.

And the club have added Sergio Reguilon on loan from Tottenham as well to fill an urgent need at left-back after a pair of injuries to Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia.

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“He is a very experienced player, a player for big clubs, a player that’s played already a lot of games in La Liga, in the Premier League,” ten Hag added of Reguilon.

“While we had a problem with Luke Shaw injured, Ty Malacia injured, they are for long term out, so I think we responded very well in that emergency situation.”

United were also able to get Moroccan standout Sofyan Amrabat on loan with an option to buy from Italian Serie A side Fiorentina to help bolster their midfield, following an injury to Mason Mount.

Veteran centre-back Raphael Varane is out for a few weeks after coming off at half-time against Forest, so Victor Lindelof should deputise on Sunday.

Reuters/ AFP

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian-born Man United’s new striker promises  creativity and unpredictability to fans

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Manchester United newcomer Joshua Zirkzee said fans can expect to see a creative, unpredictable player who developed his skills in cage football, and idolised Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

He is a Dutch, but has Nigerian mother.

The 23-year-old striker signed for the Red Devils on July 14 after an excellent season with Italian Serie A club Bologna, where he scored 11 goals and made five assists and helped them secure a place in the Champions League.

“Yeah, it’s been a roller-coaster the past few weeks, but some very good experiences. I’m very happy to be here,” Zirkzee said in an interview for United’s website on July 17.

“Obviously, (I’m arriving) at a good point, making a transfer to Manchester United is something very positive. So yeah, I just can’t wait to get started and continue what I basically did last season.”

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The 1.93m-tall Dutchman is technically gifted for a player his size, which he attributes to his childhood in Spijkenisse, in the south of the Netherlands where he developed his skills in Johan Cruyff cages – enclosed football pitches named after the Dutch football great.

“As a young boy growing up, playing mostly with tougher, bigger guys who are older than you makes you adapt, so I think that’s something that you learn at a young age in Holland, especially where I grew up,” Zirkzee added.

“(I’m a) creative player, good with the ball, I’m just a bit unpredictable at times.”

He laughingly recounted the countless times he got in trouble with his mother for coming home late.

“I hope she forgives me now for all the times I came home late, or if I broke something in the backyard,” he said.

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“Eventually, it all worked out pretty well… that was just life back when I was younger, playing football, forgetting about the time and getting back home late.”

Zirkzee also said that having a Dutch manager in Erik ten Hag is a “privilege” and the added presence of Ruud van Nistelrooy – the former Netherlands and United striker who joined ten Hag’s coaching staff earlier this week – will help him adjust to his new team.

But they are not the only reasons he made the move to United.

“Manchester United is a great, huge club so it’s just an extra privilege,” he said.

“Having some Dutch people around obviously makes it a bit easier, (but) to be fair I’m not too difficult adapting.

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“When I was younger, watching the Dutch national team, Manchester United, watching (van Nistelrooy) play, he was one of the guys who you pretend to be when you were playing with friends. So, having him out here is a bit special.

Zirkzee was a late addition to the Netherlands squad for the European Championship, making his senior debut in the quarter-final victory against Turkey.

On the heels of Euro 2024, he will be given some time off and is not expected to link up with his new teammates until early August.

Following his arrival at Old Trafford for a fee of about £36.5 million (S$63.6 million), United are set to sign Lille’s promising teenage defender Leny Yoro in a £52 million swoop, according to reports on July 17.

The 18-year-old had been linked with a move to European champions Real Madrid, but he has since travelled to England and has undergone a medical test with the Red Devils, before putting pen to paper.

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United will reportedly pay £52.7 million as an initial fee, with add-ons worth a further £6.7 million.

Yoro, who made his Lille debut at the age of 16, has been ranked as one of the best young players in Europe.

Ten Hag has been keen to land a new centre-back after Raphael Varane left at the end of last season.

Varane and Lisandro Martinez were United’s starting centre-backs in their FA Cup final victory over Manchester City in May, with Harry Maguire missing the showpiece due to an injury that also ruled him out of Euro 2024.

United have also been chasing Bayern Munich’s Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and is understood to have had two offers rejected for Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite.

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Reuters/AFP

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Sancho back in training with Man United after positive meeting with Ten Hag

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Jadon Sancho was back training with Manchester United for the first time in 10 months, with a club source confirming the winger and manager Erik ten Hag have resolved their differences following their public fallout last year.

Sancho and Ten Hag had a positive meeting at Carrington Training Centre and the two have decided to draw a line under last season’s drawn-out argument, the club source said.

The 24-year-old Sancho made just three appearances for United last season, spending the second half of the campaign on loan to Borussia Dortmund after his relationship with Ten Hag soured in September.

Ten Hag had left the winger out of his squad for United’s 3-1 loss to Arsenal, saying Sancho’s performances in training had not warranted a place in his team. Sancho immediately lashed out on social media, accusing Ten Hag of making him a “scapegoat.”

He was banished from the first team and trained with United’s youth squad before returning to his former club Dortmund in January, where he shone during their Champions League semi-final victory against Paris St Germain, earning praise from Ten Hag. Dortmund were beaten by Real Madrid in the final.

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“(Sancho) is a very good player… he showed why Manchester United bought him and he showed he represents a high value for Manchester United, which is good,” Ten Hag told reporters following Dortmund’s 1-0 win over PSG in the first leg.

“I’m happy for Jadon, for the performance, and we’ll see what is going to happen in the future.”

Sancho will not travel with the team to Norway for their pre-season opener against Rosenborg since he began training later than the other players but the club source said he would be available for selection after that.

-Reuters

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Another Nigerian blood replaces Ndidi at Leicester

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Wilfred Ndidi who has just left Leicester City will have another Nigerian blood replacing him.

Leicester has never been without a Nigerian since Ahmed Musa joined in 2016. Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho joined in 2017.

Another Nigerian blood, Caleb Okoli, a centre back, has just been signed from Italian  Serie A side Atalanta on a five-year contract. Born in Itali, Caleb Okoli is Igbo and Yoruba by descent.

The 22-year-old, who spent the last season on loan at Frosinone Calcio, represented Italy at the European Under-21 Championship last year.

“I think now is the right moment (for me) to make a step forward and a very big one. I’m very happy with the choice I made, so I’m very excited to start in the Premier League,” Okoli said in a statement. The clubs did not disclose financial details of the deal.

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