Manchester United certainly can't be accused of standing still this year. A day after sealing the signing of Jadon Sancho, they confirmed a new contract for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until at least 2024.

But there's still plenty to press on with for Solskjaer and United. While the signing of Sancho addresses one area that has been a problem in recent years, it appears there are still two glaring weaknesses in the first-choice starting XI.

It would seem United have identified the man to take care of one of them, with Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane reportedly set to bolster their defensive options. In one sense it will have been a signing long in the making, given the club were supposedly close to buying him from Lens as a teenager only for Los Blancos to get the deal over the line in the end.

Although it took Varane a little time to truly establish himself at the Santiago Bernabeu, he's gone on to enjoy a hugely successful time in the Spanish capital, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns, among a host of other trophies.

Below, Stats Perform delves into the Opta data to see how Varane might improve United and where else they could do with reinforcements.

Physical dominance is the key

There are some obvious strengths that Varane would bring to United at the back – chief among them is his pace, which they arguably don't have a great deal of at centre-back.

While Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire may not be considered painfully slow, neither boasts the same kind of speed as the Frenchman and that would undoubtedly be a considerable asset for United.

Recent reports have suggested Solskjaer wants to play more attack-minded football in 2021-22, and having a faster centre-back could be crucial in that sense.

In theory, it would allow United to play slightly higher up the pitch. While they didn't exactly defend deep in 2020-21, their average starting position of 42.3 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams – Varane's pace could potentially provide them with a little more security in a high line.

In terms of possession, there's not a great deal separating Varane and Lindelof, the man whose position is surely in doubt. The Sweden international averaged fractionally more successful passes (58.1 to 55.9) and accurate passes in the opposing half (17.81 to 17.77) per 90 minutes last season, but that could be a reflection of slightly differing styles of play implemented by the teams rather than ability.

Opta sequence data suggests they are similar as well. While Lindelof (14) may have been involved in four more goal-ending passing sequences, the expected goals (xG) value attached to Varane in those instances is actually higher (8.9 to 8.8), meaning the current United man's influence is likely being exaggerated by particularly good finishing from his team-mates.

Even their ball carrying tendencies aren't hugely different, though Lindelof does boast a greater average carry distance of 11.3m to 10.9m, while his average progress up the pitch of 5.7m is a minor improvement on the 5.4m posted by the Madrid man.

But it could be argued United don't need their right-sided centre-back to be forward-thinking all the time because that's one of Maguire's key strengths. If anything, having a dependable partner could allow for their captain to have even greater prominence going forward, as he may feel more relaxed about stepping up with better protection behind.

And that's where Varane could really shine as an upgrade on Lindelof. The Swede's effectiveness in physical duels has been routinely questioned since he joined from Benfica in 2017 – a prime example being when Mbaye Diagne bullied him as West Brom scored in their 1-1 draw with United in February.

While it's impossible to guarantee Varane wouldn't have also been dominated in that instance, he does have a better record in situations where physicality is important. In 2020-21, he won 2.4 aerial duels per game across all competitions compared to Lindelof's 1.8.

That equates to a 72.3 per cent success rate for Varane, as opposed to 59.4 for Lindelof. In fact, Maguire – the most dominant defender in that respect in the Premier League last season (100 duels or more) – only marginally edges the World Cup winner (72.9 per cent).

But when we broaden the comparison to encompass all duels, Varane comes out on top among all three of them (66.5 per cent). Maguire wins 63.8 per cent of those contests, whereas that drops to 53.1 per cent for Lindelof.

United fans have been crying out for a more physically dominant defender to partner Maguire, and in Varane they may have identified a centre-back to rival him in those stakes.

Is the Fred-McTominay axis necessary?

Centre-back certainly isn't the only area United fans would be eager to see an upgrade – there's little doubt they have room for growth in midfield, regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba leaves.

The Frenchman actually featured more from the left during the second half of 2020-21 and looked more comfortable out there with some creative freedom, rather than sitting behind Bruno Fernandes in the middle.

That meant Fred and Scott McTominay were, more often than not, the first-choice pairing at the base of the midfield.

Now, it must be said that both players have clearly improved significantly over the past couple of years and they do offer a lot to United in certain areas.

For instance, in the Premier League in 2020-21, Fred won possession more often than any other United player (228) and his 81 tackle attempts were only bettered by Aaron Wan-Bissaka (88). McTominay ranked fourth for tackles (51) and joint-second for fouls won (42), which speaks to his improved ability on the ball as well as a knack for relieving defensive pressure in transition.

But neither are particularly creative. Fred laid on 25 key passes with an expected assists (xA) value of 2.1, while McTominay created 17 chances that combined to an xA total of 0.7.

Of course, you can't expect every outfield player to offer creativity. In many cases a player's productivity – or lack of – is intrinsically linked to the role they're playing or system they're part of, and Fernandes has done a lot of the heavy lifting. But United are a side who generally have more of the ball than their opponents – do they need two 'destroyers'?

If Solskjaer is to implement a more forward-thinking setup in 2021-22, he would be wise to finally ditch the Fred-McTominay axis. More often than not, it comes across as extremely conservative.

But the caveat to that is Solskjaer's rather limited options. Donny van de Beek endured a pretty dreadful first season as he showed very little authority whenever he played, Pogba was more useful towards the left so his lack of work rate off the ball wasn't exposed, and Nemanja Matic just isn't athletic enough anymore even if he is still a talented ball-player.

Pressure now on Ole

Who's to say if another midfielder, Varane and Sancho will be enough to overthrow Manchester City while also holding off a Liverpool side who promise to be back with a vengeance and defending European champions Chelsea.

But such decisive addressing of the team's weak points should at least give Solskjaer the right tools to work with. It'll then be on him to prove conclusively he's the right man for the job, because further under-achieving with such a strong squad won't be tolerated for long, regardless of his new contract.

Jose Mourinho was sacked less than a year after signing his renewal in January 2018.

Tottenham have confirmed the signing of Pierluigi Gollini from Atalanta, with the goalkeeper initially joining on a season-long loan deal that includes an option to buy.

Gollini has played 89 Serie A games across the past five seasons for Atalanta, having joined the Serie A club after a spell in English football at Aston Villa.

The 26-year-old had previously spent time at Manchester United earlier in his career, too, but it was at Hellas Verona where he made his first-team debut during the 2014-15 season.

After representing Italy at youth level, he made his debut for the Azzurri when coming on as a late substitute in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina in November 2019, though that remains his only international appearance to date.

Now part of Nuno Espirito Santos' squad at Spurs, Gollini is looking forward to working alongside Hugo Lloris – but also plans to prove he is a long-term option to be the new number one.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signed a new three-year contract, the Premier League club announced on Saturday.

Solskjaer's United finished as runners-up to Manchester City in the 2020-21 Premier League season and reached the final of the Europa League, losing 11-10 on penalties to Villarreal.

United confirmed the Norwegian's new deal contained an option for a further year.

Solskjaer said: "Everyone knows the feeling I have for this club, and I am delighted to have signed this new contract. It is an exciting time for Manchester United, we have built a squad with a good balance of youth and experienced players that are hungry for success.

"I have a fantastic coaching team around me, and we are all ready to take that next step on our journey. Manchester United wants to be winning the biggest and best trophies and that's what we are all striving for. We have improved, both on and off the pitch, and that will continue over the coming seasons.

"I can't wait to get out in front of a packed Old Trafford and get this campaign started."

Former United striker Solskjaer took over from Jose Mourinho on a caretaker basis in December 2018, after the Portuguese boss was sacked, and was handed the job on a permanent basis three months later.

He committed to a three-year deal at the time and has now signed up to stay at Old Trafford.

There is change afoot at the club, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward due to leave at the end of the year.

Woodward said Solskjaer had justified the club showing their faith in him with the extension.

"Ole and his staff have worked tirelessly putting the foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch," Woodward said.

"The results of that have become increasingly visible over the past two seasons and we are all looking forward to seeing this exciting team develop further in the years ahead.

"What is especially pleasing is the way this progress has been achieved with a blend of young, homegrown talent and top-class recruits, playing attacking football in the best traditions of Manchester United. We are more confident than ever that, under Ole's leadership, we are heading in the right direction."

Solskjaer has yet to win a trophy as boss of the Red Devils, or reach a major domestic cup final.

However, United have finished third and second in the league in his first two full seasons at the helm, guaranteeing lucrative Champions League income.

They finished five points ahead of third-placed Liverpool last term, losing just six of 38 domestic league games, albeit that was not enough to be competitive with City, who took the title by 12 points.

Their 2020-21 win percentage of 55.3 in the Premier League was the second highest United have achieved in a season since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013, beaten only by the 65.8 per cent they managed under Mourinho when finishing second in the 2017-18 campaign.

The 73 league goals they scored was the highest United have tallied in the post-Ferguson era, with the team's 12 away wins in the top flight also the most they have mustered since the long-serving Scot stepped aside.

In fact, United have not lost away from Old Trafford in the Premier League since going down 2-0 to Liverpool in January 2020 – that is a run of 26 matches.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signed a new three-year contract, the Premier League club announced on Saturday.

Jack Grealish was the player England fans wanted to see during Euro 2020.

Now a move to a bigger Premier League club might be on the cards.

Grealish is reportedly moving closer to leaving Aston Villa.

 

TOP STORY – CITY EYE GREALISH SWOOP

It seems increasingly unlikely Aston Villa will be able to hold onto Jack Grealish.

The England winger has agreed to personal terms with Manchester City, according to a Football Insider report.

Though he grew up a Villa fan and has spent his entire career with the club, save for a season on loan to Notts County, Grealish is in demand among the Premier League's big-money clubs.

City reportedly are preparing a £90million offer that would be difficult for Villa to refuse.

ROUND-UP

- With Paul Pogba and Manchester United at a stalemate in contract talks, the Telegraph says Paris Saint-Germain believe they can sign the midfielder with a £43million bid.

- Alexandre Lacazette is entering his final year under contract with Arsenal but the Gunners are ready to move on. According to the Sun, they are hoping to net £15m for Lacazette after paying £52m to sign him four years ago.

- Arsenal remain interested in a move for James Maddison, reports the Mirror, and they could explore a swap deal with Leicester City to get it done.

- PSG want to keep Moise Kean on a permanent deal after his year on loan from Everton, but Juventus also are interested, Le 10 Sport reports.

Jurgen Klopp revealed Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have looked "really good" in pre-season training with Liverpool, though made clear the need for patience over the returning duo.

Van Dijk and fellow centre-back Gomez were long-term absentees during the Reds' unsuccessful title defence in the 2020-21 campaign, making a combined total of just 12 Premier League appearances.

Both are closing in on a comeback but Klopp insisted after the 1-0 friendly win over Mainz on Friday that neither are likely to feature in the next fixture, which sees Liverpool take on Hertha Berlin.

Asked by the club's official website if the defenders could play next Thursday, he replied: "Yeah, it would still be a surprise, unfortunately. But they look really good.

"Look, I think, they do everything, they play football, we keep them in training, we do the things we can do, they don't do too much and stuff like this.

"We just have to be patient – we prepare for a full season, not for a pre-season game. I will not risk it for a game here, so we have to see.

"We have a lot of games still coming, pre-season games, but I don't see them being involved for the next one."

Liverpool recorded a first win during pre-season action thanks to a late own goal against Mainz, Luca Kilian turning Owen Beck's cross into the net in the 86th minute.

Klopp had included a host of first-team regulars in his starting XI, which saw Harvey Elliott utilised in a midfield role, before a much younger line-up were introduced after half-time.

A number of the squad remain absent following their exertions at Euro 2020 and the Copa America, though Scotland captain Andy Robertson has joined up with his team-mates in Austria.

"I am happy about a lot of situations I saw," the Liverpool boss said of the game against Mainz.

"I saw in the first half some really good football where we came through, we passed, we passed the ball quite quickly, quick enough against a good, organised side, a deep-defending side and this kind of stuff. It was far away from being perfect, but it is absolutely okay.

"Second half I saw the boys, the kids, fought for a result and they got it. They forced it and I am happy about that."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes Jadon Sancho has made the perfect step at the right time in his career, as he believes Manchester United's latest addition can showcase 'untapped talent' at Old Trafford.

United's long pursuit of Sancho has resulted in a deal that Stats Perform understands is worth £72.9million (€85m), making him the fourth most expensive signing in the club's history, behind Paul Pogba, Harry Maguire and Romelu Lukaku.

The 21-year-old, who left United's rivals Manchester City to join Borussia Dortmund in 2017, has signed until 2026 with an option for a further year.

Sancho scored 50 goals and provided 57 assists in 137 appearances across all competitions for BVB, with only Erling Haaland and Marco Reus having scored more since the winger made his debut.

In 104 Bundesliga appearances, Sancho netted 38 times, averaging a goal every 197 minutes, bettering the totals of the wide players he has joined at United in Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Daniel James.

Having secured a long-term target – Sancho was the subject of much speculation in 2020 – Solskjaer hailed the England international as the ideal player to bring into United's squad.

"Jadon epitomises the type of player I want to bring to the club, he is a forward player in the best traditions of Manchester United," Solskjaer told the club's official website.

"He will form an integral part of my squad for years to come and we look forward to seeing him blossom. His goals and assists records speak for themselves and he will also bring tremendous pace, flair and creativity to the team. 

"Old Trafford will give him the platform he needs to release his untapped talent and perform at the highest level. For a player of his age, Jadon has already achieved a great deal and showed the courage to go and prove himself abroad. We all look forward to welcoming Jadon to the squad as we prepare for the new campaign."

For his part, Sancho – who came through Watford's academy before moving to City at the age of 14 – explained it was always his plan to return to the Premier League.

He said: "I'll always be grateful to Dortmund for giving me the opportunity to play first team football, although I always knew that I would return to England one day.

"The chance to join Manchester United is a dream come true and I just cannot wait to perform in the Premier League. This is a young and exciting squad and I know, together, we can develop into something special to bring the success that the fans deserve. I am looking forward to working with the manager and his coaching team to further develop my game."

Sancho also thanked Dortmund directly, telling the Bundesliga club's official website: "I can't thank the people in charge at Borussia Dortmund enough for the chance they gave me as a very young player. 

"At BVB I was able to mature into the player I am today. The DFB-Pokal win last season was a great end to my time at BVB. But I will always remember the support and love of the incredible fans as something special."

Sadio Mane feels he has benefitted from an extended break as he looks to regain his best form for Liverpool in 2021-22.

Mane scored 11 times in the Premier League last season as Liverpool failed to defend their title.

That was his second-lowest tally for Liverpool since he joined from Southampton in 2016-17, with the Senegal forward only netting fewer league goals in the 2017-18 season (10), while last term also featured a run of just three strikes in 20 games before helping himself to a double against Crystal Palace on the final day.

Mane did however keep up his creativity, supplying seven assists from 61 chances created – the most opportunities he has crafted in a Premier League season since his arrival in England seven years ago.

Only in 2018-19 (3,085) did Mane play more minutes than in 2020-21 (2,810), and the 29-year-old believes the longer break he was able to have before he joined up with the Reds' pre-season training camp in Austria has provided a much-needed boost.

Asked if he felt in better shape compared to before the 2020-21 season, Mane told Liverpoolfc.com: "Yes, sure.

"I think it's always important as a player to have a break because I can say since I came to Liverpool this was the first time I have had four weeks or more holidays, so I think that sometimes helps a lot. 

"I could see from day one that everybody was looking sharp, which for me was unbelievable! I am not complaining about having one week or two weeks' holiday, but I think it's always extra [helpful] for us to have this long period of holiday. 

"At the same time, we have been working in individual training, which is also important because you could see from day one that everybody was looking sharp and ready to go for the new season.

"To be honest, everybody, and myself for sure, feels more ready. I always say tiredness is here [in the head] and obviously you have to be mentally strong to cope with it, but at the same time I think resting is the best thing.

"I think now we have all rested properly so this is another advantage for us. We are looking to be ready for the season now."

Liverpool fell way short of competing with Manchester City for the title, though Jurgen Klopp's side will point to the impact injuries to key players – mainly in defence – had on their efforts.

The Reds lost Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to season-ending injuries, while Jordan Henderson also failed to return after sustaining a problem in February.

"I think not only me, I think everybody [is excited]!" Mane said when asked how positive it was to see Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip back in training.

"As a player we all become like fans because if you see your team-mate getting back in training and fit, you just say, 'Wow!' 

"When I see Virgil, Joe and Joel, after every training session I say, 'My friend, how are you feeling?' because I think to have everybody back in the team is just incredible.

"Because we know what they are capable of doing for the team and for us the most important thing is the team, so having those players fit, 100 per cent – I think you can always see the smiles of the boys and say: 'Wow, what a season it’s going to be for us again.'"

Son Heung-min has pledged his future to Tottenham, with the South Korea star signing a new contract to keep him at the club until 2025.

Son joined Spurs from Bayer Leverkusen in 2015 and has gone on to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s best forwards, scoring 107 goals and providing 64 assists across 280 appearances in all competitions.

A key player under both Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho, Son's previous contract was due to run out in 2023.

However, Tottenham have moved to secure the future of the 29-year-old, who should play a big part in new manager Nuno Espirito Santo's team

Son said: "It was already a big honour to play here for six years, the club have showed me massive, massive respect and obviously I'm very happy to be here.

"It's like home, especially with the fans, the players, the staff. There was no decision. It was easy. I'm so happy to be here and will be so glad to see the fans again soon."

Fabio Paratici, Spurs' new managing director of football, said: "We are pleased to have agreed a new long-term contract with Son as we move towards the start of a new season and a new chapter for the club with Nuno Espirito Santo.

"Everyone can see the real positive impact he has on the club, both on and off the field, and we are delighted that he will play a part in what we are trying to achieve in the coming years."

Son’s link-up play with Kane has been a driving force for Spurs in recent times, with their partnership thriving last season.

Indeed, by early March, the duo had directly combined for 14 league goals, surpassing the record previously held by Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, who managed 13 when one set up the other in Blackburn Rovers' 1994-95 title winning season.

While Kane finished as the league's leading scorer, with 23 goals, Son contributed a further 17 to Spurs' cause, averaging a strike every 183 minutes.

Kane also topped the assist charts, with 14 from 49 chances created, though Son was more creative on the whole, crafting 75 goalscoring opportunities and registering 10 assists.

However, while Son will be at Tottenham heading into 2021-22, Kane's future is far from certain.

The England captain is said to be keen to leave Spurs, with widespread reports claiming he is aiming to secure a move to Manchester City.

Talks of a £100million offer from City surfaced during Euro 2020, while reports this week have suggested a £160million fee would be enough to persuade Spurs to sell their talisman.

It remains to be seen if City will lodge a formal offer, and in the meantime Spurs are set to confirm the loan signing of Atalanta goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini – their first arrival under Nuno.

Son Heung-min has pledged his future to Tottenham, with the South Korea star signing a new contract to keep him at the club until 2025.

Harry Kane looks like he might soon get his wish to leave Tottenham.

Spurs had previously dug in their heels and were determined that Kane, who is contracted until 2024, would stay.

The England captain won last season's Premier League Golden Boot with 23 goals, and now he could be heading to the champions.

 

TOP STORY – CITY SET FOR BUMPER KANE DEAL

Tottenham forward Harry Kane is poised for a £160million move to Manchester City, reports The Sun.

According to the report, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will allow Kane to exit the club for such a sum.

Kane is said by the newspaper to have agreed personal terms on a £400,000-a-week deal with City, which is reportedly double his current Tottenham contract.

 

ROUND-UP

- Paul Pogba has rejected a £50million contract offer at Manchester United and is set to leave this summer, according to The Mirror as rumours swirl about Paris Saint-Germain's interest.

- Marca reports that Kylian Mbappe will reject Paris Saint-Germain's latest contract offer and look to seal a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.

- Fabrizio Romano has reported that talks are ongoing between Atalanta and Tottenham for Cristian Romero with personal terms agreed and a €55m price tag on the table.

- Atalanta want Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez included in any deal, reports Sportitalia.

- Milan are interested in signing Chelsea midfielder Hakim Ziyech on loan, claims Calcio Mercato.

- Donyell Malen 's transfer from PSV Eindhoven to Borussia Dortmund is all but done according to Dutch outlet ED, with an anticipated €30m fee.

Pierluigi Gollini says he is excited about his "big opportunity" with Tottenham ahead of his official unveiling expected on Friday.

The 26-year-old Atalanta goalkeeper flew out on Thursday to sign on loan with Tottenham - with a €15 million (£12.8m) option to buy - where he will be Hugo Lloris' understudy.

Gollini has been Atalanta's preferred shot-stopper for the past three seasons, which marked three consecutive third-place finishes for the small Bergamo club.

The Italian has previously spent time in England with Manchester United and Aston Villa but was delighted by the opportunity that Spurs presented him.

“I am very happy. Clearly, it was difficult to leave a place that was like a second home and family," Gollini said.

"I thank Bergamo, as I felt loved here and what we did will remain in the history of the club, but this is a new experience.

“I am very happy and grateful to Tottenham for this big opportunity. Hugo Lloris is a World Cup winner, so it’s prestigious and an honour for me to play with him.”

Gollini added that Tottenham was the "best offer" he received and would have found it difficult remaining in Serie A for any club but Atalanta.

New Paris Saint-Germain signing Georginio Wijnaldum says he "would love" for Paul Pogba to play alongside him in the French capital.

PSG have been linked with 28-year-old midfielder Pogba, who is off contract at Manchester United in 2022.

Wijnaldum, who joined PSG from Liverpool last month, added fuel to the speculation fire, labelling Pogba an "extraordinary player".

“I would love to have Pogba with us,” Wijnaldum told RMC Sport. “He’s fantastic. I have played against him several times – what a player!

“If you ask any player from another team if he would like Pogba to join him, everyone will say yes because he is an extraordinary player, full of qualities.

"He has it all, one of the best midfielders in the world.”

Pogba said earlier this month that United were yet to table a "concrete proposal" for a new deal yet the Red Devils are understood to be keen to tie him down beyond 2022.

PSG have been linked with a cut-price €58 million (£50m) swoop for ex-Juventus man Pogba.

The Parisians have already signed Wijnaldum, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and Achraf Hakimi this off-season after finishing as 2020-21 Ligue 1 runners-up.

Chelsea's pre-season preparations in Ireland took a hit on Thursday as they had to cancel their friendly with Drogheda United due to one of the Blues' players becoming a coronavirus concern.

The Champions League winners were settling into their third day near Dublin when they had to tell the League of Ireland Premier Division team that one of their players had returned a possible positive COVID-19 test.

A Chelsea spokesman said: "Earlier today, we had a possible positive coronavirus case which we are investigating. The individual has been isolated from the rest of the group.

"We also decided, as a precaution, to cancel tonight's behind closed doors game against Drogheda."

Instead of the 90-minute workout, Thomas Tuchel held another training session as he attempts to combat an already poor pre-season due to many of his players being delayed in returning after Euro 2020 and Copa America duty.

Peterborough United provided the Blues' only pre-season preparation so far behind closed doors at Cobham, which Tuchel's men won 6-1, but Chelsea still have significant work to do before their European Super Cup clash with Villarreal on August 11.

Chelsea do, however, have additional friendlies scheduled against Bournemouth, Arsenal and Tottenham as they race the clock to get into shape for their first competitive game of 2021-22.

Chelsea head coach Tuchel is yet to strengthen this transfer window, instead watching the likes of Fikayo Tomori, Olivier Giroud and Victor Moses seek new challenges across various leagues in Europe.

Emile Smith Rowe will wear the number 10 shirt for Arsenal in 2021-22, with the midfielder having also agreed to a new contract.

Smith Rowe enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2020-21, with the 20-year-old making 33 appearances across all competitions.

In total, Smith Rowe scored four goals and contributed seven assists, the latter being a joint-high for Arsenal alongside Willian and fellow academy graduate Bukayo Saka.

Smith Rowe's big chance conversion rate of 60 per cent (3/5) also ranked him top of Arsenal's squad last term (minimum of two big chances).

Though it was his creativity that made Smith Rowe so effective. His 37 open-play key passes was only bettered by Kieran Tierney (41) and Saka (39) in the Gunners side, though both of them played at least 700 more minutes than him. The midfielder's 1.5 chances created per game was second only to Martin Odegaard (2.2 – minimum 100 minutes played).

However, his future had not been certain. With Arsenal reportedly looking to make Odegaard's move from Real Madrid permanent, Aston Villa had seen a series of bids rejected for Smith Rowe earlier in the transfer window.

But with Odegaard seemingly unobtainable, Arsenal have now tied Smith Rowe down to a new deal, though the Gunners did not specify the length of the contract.

Smith Rowe has also been given the number 10 shirt, which was last occupied by Mesut Ozil – the number is perhaps best associated in recent memory with Dennis Bergkamp, who was integral to Arsene Wenger's early success in north London.

"Everyone knows that No.10 is a big shirt and it is definitely a big position as well," Smith Rowe, who previously wore the number 35, told Arsenal's official website.

"So I'm buzzing to be honest, I can't wait to get on the pitch. It's really special – I can't explain the feeling when I found out. I've not really got the words to explain it right now!

"The legends that have played here and have worn the shirt… it's a bit too much right now but I'm sure I will calm down after a while. When I was younger I used to watch Dennis Bergkamp, and when I was going through the academy Mesut Ozil was here as well and getting the opportunity to train with him and play with him as well was unbelievable.

"I just want to keep working hard and hopefully I can play like them and replicate what they've done."

Mikel Arteta added: "As we all saw last season, Emile is an intelligent player with excellent ability. His sharpness on the turn and exceptional vision have already made him a key player for us.

"His attitude and willingness to learn have also been very impressive. Huge credit to our team in our academy who have given Emile a great education and have worked superbly to help with his development through the age groups."

Smith Rowe's signing follows on from Arsenal making two additions already this month, with Nuno Tavares having joined from Benfica and Albert Sambi Lokonga coming in from Anderlecht.

Arsenal were scheduled to appear in the Florida Cup – a pre-season tournament in Orlando – next week, but have withdrawn due to a COVID-19 outbreak within their camp.

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