Sadio Mane has been speculated as a potential Ballon d'Or winner in recent weeks.

And the Liverpool forward is also gathering speculation about his club future.

The 30-year-old helped Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations in February and has netted 15 goals in Liverpool's Premier League title challenge.

TOP STORY – BARCA TO SWOOP FOR BAYERN TARGET MANE

Barcelona are ready to swoop in to sign Liverpool's Mane amid reported interest from Bayern Munich, Mundo Deportivo claims.

The Senegal international is reportedly interested in a switch and is moving into the final 12 months of his Liverpool contract.

Barcelona have missed out on Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland who will join Manchester City and are determined to land an elite forward this off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry is drawing attention from several clubs, with Real Madrid among the clubs interested, according to Fichajes.

- Newcastle United have made contact with Philippe Coutinho about a move, reports Goal. Coutinho is currently on loan with Aston Villa from Barcelona.

- The Guardian claims that West Ham United are plotting an off-season move for Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins. Villa would demand a £50m fee for the forward.

- Manchester United and Newcastle are both interested in signing Napoli's Victor Osimhen, claims Calciomercato. Napoli want 100m euros (£85.5m) for the Nigerian forward.

- Super Deporte claims that Sevilla are interested in a transfer for Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe.

Ivory Coast and Egypt will contest arguably the tie of the round on Wednesday as the two giants hope to book their passage to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Carlos Queiroz's Pharaohs failed to impress during the group stage, ultimately reaching the knockouts thanks to 1-0 wins over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan, teams many would expect them to beat comfortably.

They got the job done but now come up against one of the more eye-catching teams from the first round in Ivory Coast, who rounded off the group stage with a 3-1 win over defending champions Algeria.

In Wednesday's other last-16 contest, and the final game of the round, surprise package Equatorial Guinea will hope to continue their promising campaign against Mali, who will be firm favourites.

Ivory Coast v Egypt (16:00 GMT)

Mohamed Salah and Egypt have struggled to rise to the occasion so far in Cameroon – if they cannot get themselves up for this, they will surely be heading home.

This will be the 11th AFCON meeting between these two sides, making it the competition's most-played fixture, and Egypt boast a good record against the Elephants in knockout games.

Ivory Coast have not been successful in any of the previous four elimination clashes – the two most recent were in the 2006 final when Egypt won on penalties, and the semi-final two years later as they ran out 4-1 winners.

As such, Ivory Coast will surely feel they have a score to settle, and Egypt's record of losing each of their past two AFCON knockout matches should give them some optimism.

One to watch: Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast)

He may be struggling to get a look-in at club level with Arsenal, but Pepe is undoubtedly key for the Elephants. Only Algeria's Youcef Belaili (24) was directly involved in more shots than him in the group stage (19 – 12 shots, seven chances created), while the former Lille winger has been directly involved in more goals than any other Ivory Coast player in the tournament so far (three – two goals, one assist).

 

Mali v Equatorial Guinea (19:00)

Mali may have come through the group stage unbeaten, but Equatorial Guinea will not be writing themselves off producing a shock here.

After all, Les Aigles have had to largely rely on penalties to get their goals, highlighting that their route to this stage has not been entirely emphatic, while Equatorial Guinea have overcome greater odds.

In their previous four AFCON knockout games, they have progressed twice – both of those came in 2015, when they caused upsets by getting past Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This edition of the tournament has seen its fair share of shocks already. Could Mali be the latest to be guilty of complacency?

One to watch: Adama Noss Traore (Mali)

As mentioned, Mali have almost entirely got by on penalties, with three of their four goals coming via Ibrahima Kone's spot-kicks. That meant they scored just once from 27 open play shots in the group stage, yet their non-penalty expected goals (xG) of 3.6 suggests chance creation was not the issue. Traore was their most effective player in that respect with his set-piece deliveries, tallying a squad-high key passes.

 

A stoppage-time clanger from goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare meant Ivory Coast could only draw 2-2 with Sierra Leone at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Sangare attempted to prevent a late corner but shockingly let the ball squirm from his grasp and Steven Caulker was able to capitalise, crossing for Alhaji Kamara to scramble home.

It was the second costly major error from Ivory Coast who squandered a 12th-minute penalty when Franck Kessie saw his kick pushed away by Mohamed Kamara, after Wilfried Zaha was sent sprawling by Umaru Bangura.

Kamara was the hero of Sierra Leone's opening goalless draw against Algeria, but he was beaten here in the 25th minute when Zaha's excellent pass found Sebastien Haller, and the Ajax man took a touch before rifling into the bottom-right corner.

Sierra Leone surprisingly drew level in the 55th minute when Musa Kamara produced some outstanding footwork to drive into the penalty area and send a left-footed strike into the top-left corner.

Ivory Coast restored their lead with a delightful team goal in the 65th minute, the ball being worked swiftly from left to right before Nicolas Pepe drove a low 20-yard shot beyond the Sierra Leone goalkeeper. Yet there was a sucker-punch to come in the third minute of stoppage time, Sangare left embarrassed and injured in the process of conceding the dramatic equaliser.

Nicolas Pepe is not happy with his playing time at Arsenal, but his frustration is something manager Mikel Arteta is happy to see.

The winger started Tuesday's 5-1 EFL Cup quarter-final win over Sunderland, scoring Arsenal's second goal and setting up the final two for Eddie Nketiah and Charlie Patino.

That was only Pepe's eighth start of the season in all competitions. In total, he has played 759 minutes in 2021-22, fewer than youngster Gabriel Martinelli and the apparently out-of-favour Alexandre Lacazette.

Arteta said Pepe is putting up a fight to earn more minutes for the Gunners, something he wants to see from all of his squad players.

"A player that doesn't play, if he's happy you have a big problem and Nico has not been happy," he said of Arsenal's record signing.

"He's been trying to challenge us and asking us for more minutes because this is what he wants to do and rightly so and this is the attitude that we want from our players."

Pepe could be in line to face Norwich City in the Premier League on Boxing Day as Arsenal prepare for a run of three league games in five days.

It is still unclear whether former club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will return, the Gabon striker having been left out since being stripped of the armband for ill discipline this month.

Arteta would not rule out the striker from being involved as he stressed it was not a matter of waiting for Aubameyang to apologise.

"What I said is that we make the squad the day before and today, as it's still Wednesday, I haven't done the squad," he said.

"I think we have shown in this club that everybody can make mistakes or can have different ways of thinking or acting. I'm completely open to that, and it's not about that."

Monday marked two years since Arteta was appointed as Unai Emery's replacement at Arsenal.

The former Manchester City assistant has enjoyed mixed fortunes, winning the FA Cup but failing to secure a Champions League return while conducting an overhaul of the squad.

Since Arteta's appointment, Arsenal have won 37 of their 77 league games, gaining 127 points in total. Only Manchester United, Chelsea (both 142), Liverpool (160) and Man City (176) have taken more in that time.

Asked what he is most proud of during his time in charge, Arteta replied: "The atmosphere, the environment and the culture we have around the club and the sense of unity that we have from everybody who works at the club and the sense of unity that we have with our supporters that I think has come a long, long way.

"I think I have made a lot of mistakes for sure in this period, I would have time to reflect on that. I wish I had six trophies here next to me because that's what this club deserves!

"There are still a lot of things we need to get much better at, to improve, but I think the team is going in the right direction. That is the feeling that I have."

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta insists he wants Tuesday's EFL Cup hat-trick hero Eddie Nketiah to stay with the club amid his contract stand-off.

Nketiah is believed to be frustrated by a lack of opportunities at Arsenal, with Tuesday's cup quarter-final appearance in Arsenal's 5-1 win over Sunderland marking only his sixth this season in all competitions.

The 22-year-old's current deal expires at the end of this season and he may leave on a free transfer after turning down a new contract offer earlier this month.

"I tell you every day that we want to keep Eddie," Arteta said at the post-game news conference. "We see how he trains, that’s what he does every day, he works so hard and puts the ball in the net every session.

"I am really delighted with him. Every time we have needed him he has always responded."

He added: "We are trying [to re-sign him]. It’s not about anything else but minutes. He wants gametime, he wants to be on that field and that is the only reason to say, 'Can I do it here?' That’s the question. We all want him to stay."

Arteta has only used Nketiah three times in the Premier League this season, off the bench on all three occasions.

"The way we planned the squad and the way his situation looked in the window, he had a lot of options to go and we thought that was probably the best way to go," Arteta added.

"But the way we assembled the squad the situation changed and he decided to stay and it was hard to found minutes for him. But he’s finding the space right now and is using his minutes really well."

The Gunners boss admitted Nketiah's treble on Tuesday would boost his case for more minutes in the league.

"Recently he’s played more minutes than in the past and we’re going to need him and he’s going to play more minutes," the Spaniard said.

Arteta also labelled Charlie Patino's debut goal as a "beautiful moment" and heaped praise on Nicolas Pepe after a bright display against the Black Cats, having only been used 11 times this season.

Pepe scored Arsenal's second goal and set up their last two, including producing some wizardry down the right flank to tee up Nketiah's classy backheel finish.

"It is hard for everyone who doesn’t play," Arteta said about Pepe. "What they have to do is when they have the minutes, show on the pitch that they can do it and they are ready when the team needs him."

Arsenal could look to offload Nicolas Pepe in the January transfer window.

The 26-year-old has not lived up to his billing after being signed in 2019.

Pepe has scored once in nine appearances for the Gunners this season.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN SET FOR JANUARY PEPE SWOOP

Italian giants Milan are interested in signing Arsenal's Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe, claims Il Milanista.

Pepe has more than two years to run on his Gunners deal, having joined on a five-year contract from Lille in 2019 for a club-record fee of £72 million (€79m).

Arsenal may be willing to let Pepe go for a little as £25m in January.

ROUND-UP 

- Chelsea's Spanish full-back Cesar Azpilicueta is on Barcelona's transfer radar, according to SPORT. The 32-year-old's contract expires at the end of this season.

- Tottenham have joined Inter in having an interest in signing Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso, claims Kicker. Tolisso is out of contract at the end of this season.

- Fabrizio Romano reports that talks between Gavi and Barcelona on a five-year contract extension are progressing amid interest in the Spanish teenager from Chelsea.

- Jose Mourinho's Roma are considering a move to sign Atletico Madrid's Mexico international midfielder Hector Herrera in January, claims Calciomercato. Atletico are willing to cash in on Herrera, who is out of contract in mid-2022.

- Manchester City target Theo Hernandez is close to completing a contract renewal with Milan, according to Rudy Galetti. The Rossoneri have reached an agreement with him until 2026.

- FotoMac claims Mohamed Elneny's agent has reached an agreement with Arsenal for the Egyptian to leave in January. He was previously linked with Galatasaray.

- Lens midfielder Seko Fofana has been added to Newcastle United's shortlist of transfer targets, claims Foot Mercato.

Nicolas Pepe scored twice as Arsenal beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-0 to finish eighth in the Premier League, missing out on European qualification for the first time in 25 years.

Pepe put the Gunners ahead early in the second half on Sunday when he received the ball from Calum Chambers and produced a fine angled finish.

The Ivory Coast international added a second on the hour when he arrowed the ball into the net after a jinking run into the penalty area.

Arsenal's win was not enough to nudge them ahead of bitter rivals Tottenham, who claimed a 4-2 victory over Leicester City to deny the Foxes a Champions League spot.

Thomas Partey showed positive early intent with a long-range effort which flashed just wide of the post, while Granit Xhaka's volley shortly after was comfortably gathered by Robert Sanchez.

The lively Partey continued to look dangerous and Sanchez pushed his speculative shot away before he smothered Xhaka's free-kick.

Rob Holding thought he had poked the ball over the line from a corner just after the half hour only for the assistant referee to raise his flag for offside.

Brighton flickered into life before half-time with Jakub Moder's shot blocked and Lewis Dunk firing high into the stands.

Gabriel's looping header had Sanchez scrambling back but the ball bounced off the crossbar.

Pepe put Arsenal ahead four minutes into the second half with an exquisite finishing, chipping a cross from Chambers into the air with his left foot before crisply striking it low into the net with his right.

A fine ball from Martin Odegaard allowed Pepe to find space inside the box shortly afterwards and despite a crowded area he managed to direct his shot beyond Sanchez.

Mikel Arteta's men played out the remainder of the game with swagger as Partey struck the crossbar and Brighton rarely threatened, but there will be no continental competition for the Gunners next term.

Mikel Arteta described Arsenal's form in the last six months as "an incredible run" after a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace kept their hopes of qualifying for Europe alive.

West Ham's win at West Brom means that the highest Arsenal can finish, should they beat Brighton and Hove Albion on the final day of the season and both Tottenham and Everton fail to win, is seventh.

That would earn them a place in the Europa Conference League play-off round, with West Ham's result ruling Arsenal out of both major European club competitions for the first time since 1995-96.

But Arteta recalled a run of seven winless Premier League matches towards the end of 2020 as he reflected on the improvement in their season.

"If somebody would have said to us in November or December when we were in the position that we were in that we were going to have the chance to qualify for Europe, we'd have said you are crazy," the Gunners boss said. "But we've done it.

"I think with the results and the number of points we have managed to get in the months, we have earned the right to be in that position. Now it's time to deliver on the final day but unfortunately, it's not in our hands."

Arteta praised Nicolas Pepe for his role in the win at Selhurst Park and in helping to revive Arsenal's campaign.

Pepe opened the scoring with a close-range volley and capped the victory with a mazy dribble and finish for his side's third.

Arteta said of the 25-year-old Ivorian: "It's my feeling and it's everybody's feeling in the coaching staff, and his own feeling that he's come a long way this season.

"He hasn't had the consistency sometimes in the gametime, but I think in Europe he’s been terrific and in the Premier League he's started to show much more what he's like, and he's very hungry. 

"I think he's changed a lot in his mentality and his willingness to do much more."

Roy Hodgson admitted that the occasion of his final home game in charge of Crystal Palace somewhat overshadowed the football as his side lost 3-1 to Arsenal.

Christian Benteke looked to have salvaged a proud point for Hodgson's men when his diving header cancelled out Nicolas Pepe's opener. But Gabriel Martinelli and Pepe netted in injury time to keep Arsenal's European qualification hopes alive with a win.

Hodgson, who was given a guard of honour before the game and gave an emotional speech to the Selhurst Park crowd afterwards, said that it was not easy to concentrate on the match as his managerial career neared its end.

"It's been a very long journey," he told BT Sport.

"It was an emotional night tonight. I think the players have done exceptionally well to deal with the circumstances.

"It was a bitter disappointment that we couldn't at least go away with the draw because I thought our second-half performance merited that.

"It was probably the strangest feeling I've had in a dugout for a long, long time. We're all human, we try to make the best of situations and say the right things and do the right things, but you can't get away from the fact you're a human being with emotions."

Hodgson spoke about the experience of taking charge of the club he watched as a young boy, having been born and raised in Palace's locality of Croydon.

He replaced Frank de Boer as Palace manager in September 2017 before steering the club to 11th place in the Premier League in his first season, despite them having lost their first seven games.

"It's been very special," added Hodgson.

"It's been not an easy ride; keeping Palace in the Premier League is certainly not one of the easier jobs around, but it has been a real privilege to do it.

"It's quite strange that the circle that has lasted so long ends up here now with the club of my boyhood."

Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe scored dramatic injury-time goals as Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 3-1 at Selhurst Park to keep their hopes of European football next season alive.

Brazilian teenager Martinelli came off the bench to rescue his side, who remain in with a chance of a top-six finish with one game left of the Premier League campaign.

Christian Benteke's diving header had cancelled out Pepe's opener and put Palace on course to earn an impressive draw in Roy Hodgson's final home game as manager.

But Arsenal's attacking quality shone through as Martinelli tipped the game back in their favour before Pepe added a third with a superb individual effort.

Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe scored dramatic injury-time goals as Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 3-1 at Selhurst Park to keep their hopes of European football next season alive.

Brazilian teenager Martinelli came off the bench to rescue his side, who go into the final day of the Premier League campaign with a chance of qualifying for the Europa League.

Christian Benteke's diving header had cancelled out Pepe's opener and put Palace on course to earn an impressive draw in Roy Hodgson's final home game as manager.

But Arsenal's attacking quality shone through as Martinelli tipped the game back in their favour before Pepe added a third with a superb individual effort.

Sam Allardyce finally suffered the sinking feeling of relegation from the Premier League after Arsenal beat West Brom 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium.

Albion needed a victory in north London on Sunday to keep their slim hopes of avoiding the drop alive, but the Gunners sent them down with three games to play.

Emile Smith Rowe put Arsenal in front with his first Premier League goal and Nicolas Pepe added a stunning second six minutes later in a devastating first-half spell for the Baggies.

Matheus Pereira pulled one back midway through the second half, but Willian rubbed salt into Albion's wounds by scoring an elusive first Arsenal goal late on with a brilliant free-kick.

Victory for Arsenal, who are facing a tough task to qualify for European football next season, shattered Allardyce's proud record of having never been relegated from the top flight.

Unai Emery saw Villarreal claim a 2-1 advantage over former club Arsenal after an eventful first leg of their Europa League semi-final clash that saw both teams finish with 10 men.

Emery, who was dismissed by the Gunners in November 2019 after a poor run of form, watched on as Villarreal seized control thanks to first-half goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol.

Dani Ceballos' sending off only appeared to strengthen the hosts' hand, but Nicolas Pepe's spot-kick in the 73rd minute breathed fresh life into a contest that looked in danger of getting away from Mikel Arteta's team.

Former Tottenham midfielder Etienne Capoue then also saw red in a tie that is deliciously poised ahead of next week's return meeting.

Villarreal scored with the first effort of the game, Trigueros drilling home after Samuel Chukwueze's jinking run ended with the ball being tackled into his team-mate's path.

Shoddy Arsenal defending saw the lead doubled just prior to the half-hour mark when Gerard Moreno flicked on Dani Parejo's corner for Raul Albiol to volley home from close range.

Juan Foyth was excelling going forward but encountered problems against Pepe defensively and only a VAR check for handball in the build-up saved the defender from a penalty call going against him for a trip in the area.

Arsenal started the second half on the front foot but their outing worsened when Ceballos, already on a yellow card, was dismissed for a late challenge on Parejo.

Bernd Leno was called into action to deny the excellent Moreno and that moment proved even more pivotal when Trigueros clumsily tripped Bukayo Saka, Pepe's penalty sent down the middle and just past Geronimo Rulli.

There was even more room for optimism when Capoue hacked down Saka and was dismissed while leaving the field on a stretcher, but Villarreal clung on for a precious win despite returning captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang testing Rulli deep into added time.

Arsenal turned on the style with three goals in six first-half minutes to beat Slavia Prague 4-0 and progress through to the Europa League semi-finals 5-1 on aggregate.

A number of spurned opportunities came back to haunt Arsenal in last week's reverse fixture as Tomas Holes scored late on to cancel out Nicolas Pepe's opener in a 1-1 draw.

But the Gunners were at their efficient best in front of a sparse crowd on Thursday, completely wiping out Slavia's away-goals advantage through strikes from Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka inside 24 minutes.

Slavia had gone 23 games without defeat in all competitions and last lost at home in November 2019, but there was no sign of a comeback as Lacazette added a late fourth for Arsenal to set up a last-four tie with Unai Emery's Villarreal.


Emile Smith Rowe thought he had given Arsenal the lead on the night early on when tapping in after Saka's curler was pushed onto the post by Ondrej Kolar and fell into his path.

The goal was ruled out for offside following a lengthy VAR check, but Smith Rowe played in Pepe a minute later and the winger coolly slotted past Kolar for the visitors' opener.

A second away goal followed from the penalty spot three minutes later, Lacazette sending the keeper the wrong way after Jakub Hromada brought down the lively Saka.

Arsenal showed no signs of slowing as Saka carried the ball inside from the right and drilled a left-footed finish into the bottom-right corner from 18 yards, with Kolar rooted to the spot.

That left Slavia requiring four goals to advance but the Czech champions, who knocked out Leicester City and Rangers en route to this stage, struggled to muster a response.

Lacazette had a penalty appeal rejected when going down in the box but the Frenchman had the last laugh when finding the near post to round off a counter 13 minutes from time, sending Arsenal through with minimal fuss.

Tomas Holes scored in stoppage time to deny Nicolas Pepe the glory of a late winner as Slavia Prague snatched a 1-1 draw at Arsenal in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.

Pepe looked to have won the game for Mikel Arteta's men when he finished clinically after being played through by fellow substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with four minutes of normal time remaining.

But Czech champions Slavia, who knocked out Leicester City and Rangers in the previous two rounds, showed their resilience once again in Thursday's clash at Emirates Stadium as Holes swooped in the third added minute to head a precious away goal.

Arsenal twice hit the post with the game scoreless, with Alexandre Lacazette failing to convert when clean through on goal, but they now head into next week's reverse fixture in Prague needing to score at least once to avoid elimination.

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