Report: Arsenal closing in on Hickey deal

As one season comes to an end, so the planning for the next begins in earnest.

Arsenal may have squandered the chance to play Champions League football but the return of European action, in the form of the Europa League, means we have to add depth to the squad.

The Gunners have already signed American keeper Matt Turner to provide backup to Aaron Ramsdale, we’re closing in on a deal for Sao Paulo’s teenage striker Marquinhos – earmarked as one for the future – and now attention has turned to another raid on Serie A side Bologna.

After last summer’s successful acquisition of Takehiro Tomiyasu, it’s widely reported that we’re keen on Scotland international Aaron Hickey.

The 19-year-old joined Bologna from Hearts two years ago and has since become a regular under head coach Sinisa Mihajlovic. This season, he’s featured 35 times in Serie A, scoring five goals and making one assist.

Primarily a left-back, Hickey is a versatile operator with experience at centre-back, right-back and even midfield. It’s an attractive mix for Mikel Arteta who harbours concerns about the repeated injury issues experienced by Kieran Tierney and an erratic debut season by Nuno Tavares.

On Monday, Corriere di Bologna claimed a Gunners offer in the region of €20-25 million was imminent. Despite interest from Brentford, Calciomercato now claims a deal taking the Scot to Emirates Stadium is close and “only the last details are missing”.

Having signed Hickey for just £1.5 million – a coup given they faced competition from Bayern Munich – it’s potentially a fine piece of business from a club with a growing reputation for scouting rough diamonds.

Arteta: We built the team we could build

Mikel Arteta pushed back on suggestions that Arsenal should have been more active in the January transfer window even though his thin squad looks set to come up short in its quest for Champions League football.

A 2-0 defeat to Newcastle means a top four finish is now out of the Gunners’ hands heading into the final game of the season and with rivals Sp*rs facing relegated Norwich, few expect our neighbours to slip up.

While Arsenal can take credit for maintaining a challenge for so long, especially given the low expectations at the start of the season, it’s clear that last night’s insipid performance hit the manager hard.

Not only did his players look tired, but they were also bereft of ideas on the ball, positionally questionable and lost far too many battles all over the pitch. Would mid-season squad reinforcements have helped? Would any of the players allowed to leave have made a difference? Is it a wholly pointless exercise to indulge in this level of whataboutery?

“We have done what we can, and with what we were allowed to do, what we could do and the resources we had from the start of the season,” Arteta replied when asked if he had any regrets about not doing more in the transfer window.

“The team that we were able to build is what we were able to build and it’s the team that has taken us all the way here.”

It’s clear that Arteta is proud of the efforts of his players and stressed that if anyone is to blame for the late-season collapse, it’s him.

“No, I am the maximum responsible (person) all the time,” he said.

“If somebody has created an expectation this year that no one in this room probably would talk about at the start of this season, it’s those players that are there. I will always defend them. But tonight that’s a really, really difficult thing to do.”

While it feels like a line has already been drawn under this season, Arteta somehow needs to get his players up for the season finale against Everton on Sunday. Just in case of a miracle.

“Now we have to swallow everything, digest it and tomorrow is another day,” he said.

“We will still have five days to prepare that match. We know what we have to do. There’s not a lot of words I think that are needed after the performance tonight.

He added: “We need to win and we need a defeat from Sp*rs, and we know that in football, that’s always possible, and if anything happens, you have to be there in order to do that.

“Today, you have to put your head down, swallow all the disappointment that we all feel, hopefully, and tomorrow start again.”

Newcastle 2-0 Arsenal – player ratings

With a chance to go back into the top four, Arsenal froze at St James’ Park, going down 2-0 to home side, leaving needing a miracle to reach next season’s Champions League.

It was all square at the break but a Ben White own goal put the home side ahead, and although we made attacking changes, we couldn’t get a hold on the game at all. Late on Bruno Guimares doubled the lead and that was always going to be that.

Here’s how the players rated this evening.

Read the Newcastle 2-0 Arsenal report and see the goals here

Newcastle 2-0 Arsenal – Player Ratings

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Xhaka: We didn’t do what the coaches asked

Granit Xhaka didn’t hold any punches in his assessment of Arsenal’s horrible 2-0 defeat to Newcastle.

Pointing the blame firmly at his teammates for not executing Mikel Arteta’s plans, he sounded as disappointed as you might expect given the timing of such a below-par performance.

Here’s what he had to say when he faced the Sky Sports cameras…

On a devastating result…

It’s so difficult to find the right words after the game. We came here to show a different game but from the first minute until the 90th minute, we didn’t deserve to be on the pitch today.

On why the team were so below par…

I don’t know. I can’t explain to you why. We didn’t do what the game plan was, not listening to the coach, doing our own things and when you do that, these games happen. What happened was a disaster performance and like this, you don’t deserve to play Champions League, you don’t even deserve to play Europa League. It’s very hard to take it at the moment. I don’t know why we’re not doing what the coaches ask for.

On whether the youngsters felt the pressure of the game…

If someone isn’t ready for this game, stay at home. It doesn’t matter the age, you can be 30, you can be 35, you can be 10, you can be 18. If you’re not ready or you’re nervous, stay on the bench, stay at home, don’t come here. We need people to have balls, sorry to say that, to come here and play. We knew this game was maybe the most important for us but with a performance like this, its not acceptable. I’m very, very, very sad for us, very disappointed and I feel very sorry for the people who came here to support us. I feel very, very sorry for the Arsenal supporters. This is not the way we wanted to go. It’s the only thing I can say, it’s to say sorry. Other things, I don’t have other words.

Arteta: We had nothing in the game

Mikel Arteta was left hugely disappointed as his young squad produced a terrible performance at Newcastle on a night when only a win would do in the race to finish fourth.

After the 2-0 defeat, the Spaniard was interviewed by Sky Sports. Here’s what he had to say…

On a tough night…

It’s a really difficult night to swallow. Newcastle deserved to win the match comfortably, they were much better than us from the beginning to the last minute. We had nothing in the game.

On how he explains the performance…

They were much better in every department, better in the duels, the second balls, every time they kicked the ball up, they could manage to do so. We were poor with the ball, we didn’t defend restarts of play or set pieces the way we have to do. We had nothing in the game.

On why they were poor…

A lot of things happen during the night, the substitutions we had to make through injuries, everything. It’s no excuse, Newcastle deserves to win the match from the beginning because they were much better than us in everything that a football requires to be on top of that.

On his side lacking experience…

That’s what we have to think about. It’s true that we could not cope with the game that we had to play here.

On whether he was worried from the kick off…

Yeah, yeah, yeah and we tried to change something and it didn’t make it better. We had some moments where we looked a bit better, the start of the second half was a tiny bit better, we understood better what we had to do but the execution was so poor. The goals that we gave away were extremely poor and they deserved to win the match.

On Arsenal conceding the opener after making a foul throw…

We know that’s where is starts.

On what he’s said to his players…

What I’m saying here, that it’s extremely disappointing that Newcastle were 10 times better than us and fully deserved the match. The performance was nowhere near the level we had to play if you want to play in the Champions League.

On being shocked by the performance…

I am incredibly disappointed. I don’t know if the word is stunned. When you see the team that we have at the moment, there is a lot of question marks in a lot of positions because, the injuries and the suspension that we have. Again, it’s not an excuse, we weren’t at the races.

On how many players were not 100 per cent fit…

It’s not about 100 per cent. When you jump on the pitch you can’t use anything else as an excuse, they are the players that we had, we’ve been playing like that the last few weeks and trying to get through that. Players want to be on the pitch, which is a credit to the players, but today, we weren’t good enough.

On it being the worst performance of the season…

I don’t know. But it’s a very painful one.

On surrendering a six-point lead over Spurs…

A lot has happened to the squad with the amount of injuries we’ve picked up and the changes we’ve had to make but still, it was in our hands. Today, it’s not in our hands. We have to beat Everton and we have to wait for Norwich to beat Sp*rs. There’s always a chance in football and you have to be there just in case that chance appears.

Report: Newcastle 2-0 Arsenal (inc. goals)

Result: Newcastle 2-0 Arsenal 
Competition: 
Premier League
Date: 
16 May 2022
Venue: 
St James’ Park

Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, Gabriel, White, Tavares, Elneny, Xhaka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Saka, Nketiah.

Subs: Leno, Cedric, Swanson, Oulad M’Hand, Lokonga, Patino, Martinelli, Pepe, Lacazette


Arsenal’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League suffered a crushing blow at St James’ Park as Newcastle ran out 2-0 winners.

A Ben White own goal and a late strike by Bruno Guimaraes did the damage as the Gunners’ stretched squad ran out of steam when a win was a necessity.

The result leaves the Gunners two points behind Sp*rs heading into the final match of the season which, coupled with our neighbours’ superior goal difference, means our only chance of finishing above them is if they suffer an unlikely defeat to relegated Norwich.

It’s heartbreaking to say it, but it looks like we’ll have to settle for Europa League football.

Pre-game

Having left White Hart Lane unsure whether he’d be able to cobble together a functioning defence for the remainder of the season, it was a big plus for Mikel Arteta that both Gabriel and Ben White were fit enough to start, especially with Rob Holding suspended. It also allowed him to field Takehiro Tomiyasu in his preferred right-back position with Nuno Tavares tasked with marshalling the left flank. Emile Smith Rowe was given the nod ahead of Gabriel Martinelli on the left flank, otherwise, it was the same side that started on Thursday.

First Half

Given the frenetic pre-game atmosphere, the home side were always going to come out fast. We really didn’t want to give them anything to cheer about so when Ramsdale twice slipped over clearing the ball inside two minutes, the omens weren’t great. 

Our keeper’s nervy start continued when Almiron closed him down in the six-yard box and nearly had his tenacity rewarded with a goal. When our keeper slipped over a third time on 17 minutes, he started to look concerned by his footwear. It was like he was playing on ice. 

He wasn’t much better with his hands. A cross from the right went straight through him and he was thankful for White’s presence and emergency clearance. By that point, the centre-back had already gone in the book for a foul on Wilson. 

Having barely got into the Newcastle half in the opening 20 minutes, two Saka efforts, the first blocked and the second scuffed, hinted at life in the Gunners attacking unit. It wasn’t much, but it was something. 

Given they’ve rarely dominated possession this season, it was hugely frustrating that we let Newcastle have so much of the ball. They won eight corners in the first half and came close to breaking the deadlock via Joelinton’s head only for Tomiyasu to get a vital touch. Ramsdale was also forced into a fine save as Saint-Maximin arrowed a low drive at his near post after cutting in off the left flank. 

The tempo was momentarily sucked from the game when Tomiyasu went down with an injury. As Arteta held an impromptu team talk, the Japan international, clutching his hamstring, was replaced by Cedric. The halftime whistle came as a relief.

Second half

The opening minutes of the second period were overshadowed by a head injury to Schar who had a coming together with Nketiah as the pair challenged for the ball in the air. Our striker went in the book as the Swiss defender underwent treatment. He was replaced by Lascelles, who took to the field as a concussion substitute. 

When the game restarted, Newcastle continued to dominate the centre of the park. Arteta didn’t wait long to switch things up. Smith Rowe, who looked completely out of sorts, was replaced by Martinelli. The Brazilian’s introduction buoyed the travelling fans who turned up the volume. Almost immediately they were silenced. 

After Tavares was penalised for a foul throw, the home side worked the ball from back to front, eventually freeing Joelinton to race into space down the left. The Brazilian played a dangerous low ball towards the near post where White, stretching to stop it from reaching Wilson, diverted it into his own net. (1-0)

Having not won an away game coming from behind this season, the goal felt like a dagger in the heart. Now needing two goals, Arteta sacrificed Tavares, went three at the back and asked Lacazette to partner Nketiah.

It didn’t change much. Newcastle continued to dominate and Wilson came close to doubling their lead with a flying volley that flew just over Ramsdale’s bar. We just couldn’t build up a head of steam, not helped by Martinelli and Lacazette both requiring treatment. 

Elneny did test Dubravka with an effort from range but that was the best we could offer heading into the final 20 minutes. We were living by the skin of our teeth and were thankful for a great block by White to deny Wilson. 

Due to the earlier concussion substitution, we were allowed another change and sent on Pepe for Gabriel. Xhaka retreated to the backline, if you can call it that. 

We had nothing to lose but now looked seriously disjointed – loads of players up top, but nobody behind to bring any sense of order to things. When Pepe gave away the ball making a simple 10-yard pass, Ramsdale had to dig us out of a hole when Murphy went one-on-one on the break. There was a cockiness about the Geordies exemplified by Wilson trying his luck from miles out. His effort just went wide. 

The reprieve was temporary. With six minutes remaining, Newcastle finally doubled their lead as Guimaraes pounced on a loose ball to slide home a finish that beat the despairing dives of White and Cedric. (2-0)

Any hopes of finishing fourth were extinguished in that moment. There can be no complaints about the result this evening. We knew what we had to do and didn’t at any point get to grips with the task at hand. 

On the touchline, Arteta looked forlorn. He and his players have worked so hard this season. They’ve dared to dream of the Champions League but, barring a miracle at Carrow Road on Sunday, we’re going to come up short.

White, Gabriel and Smith Rowe start: Newcastle v Arsenal team news

Arsenal take on Newcastle at St James’ Park this evening, looking for three points to take us back into the top four.

Here are the official line-ups.

Newcastle: To follow

Subs:

Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, Gabriel, White, Tavares, Elneny, Xhaka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe, Saka, Nketiah.

Subs: Leno, Cedric, Swanson, Oulad M’Hand, Lokonga, Patino, Martinelli, Pepe, Lacazette

Follow the game on the Arseblog live blog

Elneny: If Arsenal want me, it’s my club

Mo Elneny has reiterated his desire to stay at Arsenal beyond his current deal although he doesn’t yet know whether the club wants to keep him.

Six weeks ago, the idea the Egypt international might be offered a new contract was inconceivable, however, a run of five consecutive games covering for the injured Thomas Partey has reminded the manager and fanbase of his qualities.

Set to be a free agent in July, it’s been reported that Mikel Arteta wants to retain the midfielder’s experience as the club gears up for a return to European action.

While regular football at Emirates Stadium is far from guaranteed, Elneny is open to extending a stay that started in 2016.

“I’ve said before, if Arsenal want me, it’s my club, my family, but it’s not my decision,” he told Sky Sports. “I have to wait for them to say ‘Mo, we want you’.

“Since the first day I have been here, it has felt like a family. We really work like that here, it’s such a beautiful club.”

Elneny’s hard work behind the scenes and the patience he’s shown while on the sidelines this season has earned him a big fan in Arteta. It’s clear their relationship, which dates back to the boss’ playing days, is built on mutual trust.

“I always believed. I do my job, I let Mikel [Arteta] do his job too and respect his decisions. He always does the right thing for the team, that’s what I believe.

“Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka were playing and doing really well, there was never anything to explain, I understood. I just knew I had to be ready, we work as a team and in football everything can change in one second.

“When you suddenly are playing and the fans can see you, when you feel you play well, when you’re winning, you feel that change. I’m really proud when I hear something good about me, and they see how hard I work for this club.”

“It’s a good place to be” – Arteta accentuates the positives as season reaches climax

Beat Newcastle. Beat Everton. Qualify for the Champions League.

Since losing to Sp*rs on Thursday night, Mikel Arteta has framed Arsenal’s final week of the season in the simplest of terms.

It’s a high-pressure situation but one the Spaniard views as a reward for months of graft on and off the pitch.

While he’ll be able to point to a season of progress whatever happens, having come so far, his focus is squarely on finishing the job.

“We want to be playing in the Champions League, that’s the aim,” he said ahead of the trip to St James’ Park.

“We’ve come so far, it’s in our hands and we want to now capitalise on that. The excitement and the opportunity is there and we really want to go for it.

“It’s excitement, this is what we’ve built over the last few months,” he added.

“That’s the target now, it’s in our hands and we want to deliver that.

“It is a good place to be. It is in our hands we have done a lot in the past few months to be in this position so let’s go for it.”

After defeat in the north London derby, Arteta deflected blame from his players by inferring the standard of the officiating had ruined the game – the Gunners conceded a soft penalty and were reduced to 10 men before the break.

The Spaniard immediately became a lightning rod for the media’s attention but he denies trying to manufacture a “them against us” culture inside the dressing room.

“Whatever we do, we will try to defend the club in the right way, like we have always tried to do,” he said.

“The other night I tried to do it as well … I was being clear and honest. I think that is my job and my responsibility, when I talk on behalf of the club, to express how we feel. And if I cannot do it, I prefer not to.”

From here on out, the only talking that matters is that done on the pitch.

Saliba crowned Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year

William Saliba has been named Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year and earned a place in Ligue 1’s Team of the Year to cap off a very productive season-long loan at Marseille.

The 21-year-old has excelled at the Stade Velodrome since signing last July making 51 appearances in total, including 36 starts out of a possible 37 in the league.

During that time, he’s also been promoted to the France senior squad making his debut in March.

While Marseille have made it very clear they’d like to keep Saliba for at least another year, and other clubs are sniffing around, it’s looking very likely that the centre-back will be brought back into the fold by Mikel Arteta in pre-season.

Despite signing for the Gunners three years ago, the Frenchman is yet to make his senior debut for Arsenal.

Had he not picked up an untimely fifth booking of the season, which has earned him a one-game suspension, Saliba would be due to line up for Marseille in their final game of the season against Strasbourg on Saturday. Instead, he’ll have to watch from the stands as Jorge Sampaoli’s men bid to finish second.