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Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsdale and Emile Smith Rowe discuss club’s US tour and European return, plus World Cup aims

Aaron Ramsdale and Emile Smith Rowe are both focused on earning a place in England’s World Cup squad this winter – and then want to cap off the season by helping Arsenal back into the Champions League.

The World Cup takes place in Qatar in November and December, providing a unique mid-season break to the club season. The timing also makes it imperative that those hopeful of booking a ticket on the plane start the campaign well.

It is a scenario that Ramsdale – who started England’s previous two fixtures – accepts, although he knows he has his work cut out trying to dislodge Jordan Pickford from the No 1 spot.

“You’re always looking at it but there’s huge stumbling blocks in the way in Jordan Pickford,” Ramsdale told Sky Sports. “He’s been amazing for England so it’ll be interesting to see how we all start the season.

“It’s not just me and Jordan – there’s Nick Pope, Sam Johnstone, Dean Henderson. We’re all going to be playing in the Premier League this year so it’s not a formality that I’ll be on the plane.

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says there are no transfer updates on any of their potential signings – including Oleksandr Zinchenko – but admits the club are still in the market for players

“It’s not a formality that I might play so the first few months of the season are huge for all of us.”

Ramsdale’s place in Gareth Southgate’s squad currently appears more certain than Smith Rowe’s, who featured for the senior side in March but dropped back down to the U21s for the most recent international fixtures last month.

The attacking midfielder says returning to the senior side in time for the World Cup is a “major goal” for him, adding: “It’s a kid’s dream to play in the World Cup.

“For me, I’m just focused on getting back fit as soon as possible so I can get back playing with my team-mates and then let’s see what happens.

“Making the World Cup squad is a major goal for me this season.”

While starting the season in good form is important for all World Cup hopefuls, it could also prove key to Arsenal’s chances of finally returning to the Champions League.

The Gunners have not played in the competition since the 2016/17 season but are back in the Europa League this year after enduring a campaign without European football last time out.

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New Arsenal signing Gabriel Jesus says fellow Brazilian and the club’s technical director Edu played an important role in his decision to move to the club

But that is not enough to satisfy the club according to Smith Rowe, who said: “The Champions League is where Arsenal belong. For a club of Arsenal’s size that is where we need to be playing.

“We just need to keep working hard and hopefully we can get back there.”

Ramsdale views the Europa League as an opportunity for Arsenal to add to their trophy cabinet, saying: “We’re in the Europa League to win it so lifting that trophy and getting into the Champions League would be a great season for us.

“Getting into the Champions League has got to be the aim at the start of every season.”

It looked as though Arsenal would end their wait to return to the top table of European football last season but defeats to Tottenham and Newcastle in May saw them drop out of the Premier League’s top four at just the wrong time.

But Ramsdale prefers to take the positives from that situation, explaining: “Every disappointment can be a learning curve and it’s how you get the best out of that situation. It will be a new learning curve this season with European football which is something not everyone in the squad has had before.

“There were positives to take out of last season but it was a disappointing end for us. We’re over that now and we’re looking forward.”

Arsenal have been preparing for the new campaign in America, where they began their tour with a 2-0 win over Everton in Baltimore last weekend. Mikel Arteta’s side also take on Orlando City and Chelsea in Florida this week before heading back to London.

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Highlights of the pre-season friendly between Arsenal and Everton last weekend

“The fans have been amazing,” Ramsdale said when asked about the reception the team have received in the US. “It’s the first time I’ve been away to the States with the club and the reception we got from the airport is great to see, as well as at the stadium.

“It’s been a very good tour so far. We had a tough test the other night against Everton.

“We’re working hard on the training pitch. We want to win our two remaining games, but it’s there for fitness as well and that’s what we’re getting out of them.”

Arsenal confident on Zinchenko deal | Leno to Fulham talks continue

Man City Zinchenko
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Oleksandr Zinchenko could join former Manchester City team-mate Gabriel Jesus at Arsenal

Arsenal hope to conclude a deal with Manchester City to sign Oleksandr Zinchenko early this week.

It is understood the total transfer fee for the Ukraine international will be worth in the region of £30m, with personal terms not expected to be a problem.

Talks are continuing over the deal and there is growing confidence that it can be completed soon.

Talks continue between Arsenal and Fulham over the sale of goalkeeper Bernd Leno, though a gap in valuation still exists.

Arsenal are open to allowing him to leave as he has entered the final year of his contract and they have back-up in recently-signed USA international ‘keeper Matt Turner.

Elsewhere, Valencia are interested in signing Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira.

Torreira has entered the final year of his contract and Arsenal are listening to offers, having spent the last two seasons on loan – at Atletico Madrid in 2020/21 and at Fiorentina last season.

Clubs in the Championship and the Bundesliga are also interested in signing striker Folarin Balogun on loan.

Balogun is on the club’s pre-season tour and manager Mikel Arteta will decide if his development is best served at Arsenal next season or on loan.

Why versatile, reliable Zinchenko fits Arsenal’s bill

Manchester City defender Oleksandr Zinchenko is wanted by Arsenal

Sky Sports football journalist Sam Blitz:

“Mikel Arteta has been looking at additions at left-back and central midfield in this summer transfer window. The Gunners wanted Ajax’s Lisandro Martinez, who has experience in playing in both positions as well as centre-half, but has moved to Manchester United. Leicester’s Youri Tielemans has also been looked at but that interest has cooled in recent weeks.

“There is reason why the Arsenal manager needs support in that role. At left-back, Kieran Tierney has picked up long-term injuries in the last two seasons at crucial moments and while Nuno Tavares was signed as cover last summer, the young Portuguese full-back struggled in the big moments and ended up behind Cedric Soares and Granit Xhaka in the left-back pecking order come the end of the season.

“In midfield, Xhaka is a mainstay in Arteta’s team but there is little competition for his specific role. Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny and Albert Sambi Lokonga all compete for the same position at the base of Arsenal’s midfield, leaving Xhaka to a No 8 role.

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“Should he play in midfield, a role he undertakes regularly at international level, Zinchenko would compete with Xhaka at Arsenal – and a closer look at their respective heatmaps last season shows that the two play in the same area of the pitch, even though the Ukrainian played at left-back and the Arsenal man operated from midfield.

Oleksandr Zinchenko plays a more central-attacking role for Ukraine
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Oleksandr Zinchenko plays a more central attacking role for Ukraine

“On the ball, Zinchenko’s passing statistics are superior to Xhaka’s – but that is to be expected given Guardiola’s City keep the ball and use it better than Arsenal. Zinchenko and City defended a lot less than Arsenal last summer, but the Ukrainian international’s defensive stats still trump Xhaka’s. Zinchenko won more tackles, interceptions and challenges in the air than the Swiss midfielder – a reminder that the two players operate in roughly the same area of the pitch.”

Read the full feature here.



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