There’s no guarantee Tariq Lamptey would be an upgrade on Hector Bellerin for Arsenal

Hector Bellerin has long divided the Arsenal faithful. His form might fluctuate, but the fact that the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are said to have a serious interest in his services should highlight that at least on the continent, he is held in much higher regard.

Arsenal fans shouldn’t take the Spaniard for granted, even though now the Gunners are being linked with Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey, one of the Premier League’s brightest up and coming talents.

There’s excitement over the prospect of Lamptey joining Arsenal, but is there any guarantee he’d be an immediate upgrade at right back?

Lamptey’s performances caught the eye at the start of the season, with his energetic style, blistering pace and effectiveness in the final third earning him praise. However, injuries have limited the 20-year-old to just 11 Premier League appearances since the start of the campaign.

As a buying club, should that be a cause for concern? We’ve seen players transferred for huge sums only to spend most of their time on the sidelines, but that’s one of the risks you take and while you can never guarantee your new signing will stay fit, due diligence must be applied.

Kieran Tierney is the prime example of somebody whose injury record was suspect prior to the club agreeing to spend approximately £25m on him and, unfortunately, the Gunners have had to be without the Scottish defender on numerous occasions this season.

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Lamptey scored against Arsenal’s north London rivals Tottenham earlier this season | JOHN WALTON/Getty Images

The opposite example would be Thomas Partey, who prior to joining the Gunners had experienced very few injury concerns and is now having to be managed very carefully by Mikel Arteta and his team off the back of a number of issues.

As for the player’s ability, Lamptey is clearly talented but potential means nothing if unfulfilled and it wasn’t so long ago that Bellerin was being spoken about as having the makings of a top European star.

Is Lamptey’s ceiling higher than that of the former Barcelona man’s when he first broke into the Arsenal side? I wouldn’t be so sure.

Theo Walcott, Hector BellerinTheo Walcott, Hector Bellerin
As a youngster, Bellerin was tipped to go on and become one of world football’s best full-backs | Clive Rose/Getty Images

The 25-year-old has played 232 games for the Arsenal first-team and that experience is invaluable. He’s seen by his manager as one of the team’s leaders and is currently the vice-captain. If the Gunners were to land the Brighton defender it would bode well for the future of the side, particularly given the likelihood of Bellerin moving on, but does he improve Arsenal immediately?

As we’ve seen in the case of the current Arsenal man, in order to achieve the heights that are expected of those who make an impression at a young age, multiple things need to go your way. You need to stay injury-free, play alongside good professionals, be a part of a competent team, work under the right coach and be fully committed to your own development. Unfortunately, some of those things can be out of your control as a footballer and that’s why there are very few guarantees of success.

Taking into consideration all of the above, there is no guarantee Lamptey would be an upgrade on the Spaniard.

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Manchester United rejected chance to sign Pedro Neto in 2016

Manchester United turned down the chance to sign Wolves star Pedro Neto following a trial at Carrington in 2016.

The 20-year-old signed for Wolves in 2019 and has since blossomed into one of the most exciting young wingers in the Premier League, but was actually on the radar of the Red Devils before his ascent.

The Express report on Neto’s history with United, stating that he was invited to Carrington in 2016 for a trial after impressing with Braga in his native Portugal. His performances this season have prompted interest from Manchester City, while United are also likely to target a winger in the summer.

United – then managed by fellow Portuguese native Jose Mourinho – passed up on signing the teenager, however, and Neto returned to Braga following his assessment in Manchester. It only took a year for Neto to develop and he soon began to impress with Braga at youth and senior level.

This caught United’s eye once more as Mourinho began to receive intel on Neto, prompting the Red Devils to reignite their interest. A move never materialised, though, and Neto instead moved to Lazio in August 2017.

He failed to hit his stride there, but continued to impress for Portugal at youth level. That form prompted a move to Wolves in 2019 in a £16.1m deal, facilitated by notorious super agent Jorge Mendes – who has become key in bringing Portuguese talent to Molineux.

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Neto embraces fellow countryman Ruben Neves | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Neto has become the star man for Wolves following Diogo Jota’s exit and Raul Jimenez’s prolonged injury layoff, to date scoring five goals and contributing four assists during 2020/21. It’s his versatility and general ability on the ball which has impressed most though, as he’s shown that he can play on both flanks and take on defenders with both feet.

United are likely to bolster – or attempt to, anyway – their attacking options again this summer, and while they aren’t afraid to spend money where they see fit, trying to snatch Neto from another Premier League side would likely cost them a pretty penny.

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Dean Henderson set for run in Man Utd team in David de Gea’s absence

Manchester United have told goalkeeper Dean Henderson that he should be prepared to start the team’s next six games in all competitions, with Spaniard David de Gea away for personal reasons.

De Gea missed Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace, after which manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer refused to put a timeframe on his return to the team, suggesting Henderson may well be set for an extended run.

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De Gea was left out for personal reasons | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Well, according to the Manchester Evening News, that’s exactly the case as Henderson has been told he could play six games on the bounce, giving him the chance to start consecutive matches for the first time this season.

Henderson will be chomping at the bit for the chance to strut his stuff consistently, having been restricted to just 13 appearances before Wednesday’s game, but it could end up being something of a baptism of fire.

Next up for United is the short trip across Manchester to face league leaders City, who have won 21 games in a row, before Serie A high-flyers AC Milan rock up to Old Trafford for the first leg of their Europa League last 16 tie.

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Henderson could be in for some rough games | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

We’ll see the David Moyes derby as West Ham come to town before the return leg against Milan at San Siro, and the FA Cup quarter-final tie with Leicester City will bring a temporary end to club football in March.

It may be the chance Henderson has been waiting for. There have been plenty of calls from fans for the 23-year-old to be permanently promoted to the starting lineup, with De Gea’s form faltering over the last few months (years?), and Solskjaer hailed Henderson as a hero after his 90th-minute save denied Patrick van Aanholt and saw United pick up a hard-fought point against Palace.

“I can’t really say about David, it’s a private matter,” Solskjaer said. “Dean is ready if he’s called upon, you saw that. He kept his concentration.

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Henderson was United’s saviour | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

“I think maybe it would have been called offside [against Van Aanholt] but at the moment I thought that Dean saved us a point because it looked like that was a deciding moment and that was probably the biggest chance of the game, apart from Marcus in the first half.”

Reports have suggested that Henderson is prepared to leave United this summer if Solskjaer does not agree to make him the undisputed number one, so this could be his chance to prove he deserves it.

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Arsenal to target RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate in ‘summer rebuild’

Arsenal are monitoring RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate as they ponder a summer move for the centre-back.

The 21-year-old has emerged as a target after the Gunners terminated the contracts of both Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Shkodran Mustafi in January, trimming down the squad in the defensive area.

There is also still uncertainty surrounding the future of David Luiz, whose contract is due to expire at the end of the season, and it’s still unclear how much of a role William Saliba will play next season when he returns from his loan deal with Nice.

According to the Evening Standard, Arteta wants to bring young Frenchman Konate in as part of a ‘summer rebuild’, although Arsenal are likely to face competition from across Europe with the player said to be on several clubs’ radars.

Konate joined the Bundesliga outfit from Sochaux back in 2017 and the 21-year-old has played 88 times for RB Leipzig. He has only featured 14 times in all competitions this season however, having struggled with an ankle injury recently.

He did play the full 90 minutes in Leipzig’s two Champions League group stage clashes with Manchester United, as the German side edged the Red Devils out of the competition to earn a last 16 tie with Liverpool.

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Konate challenges Marcus Rashford in the Champions League | Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Speaking during his press conference ahead of the trip to Burnley on Saturday, Arteta revealed that plans were already in place for the upcoming summer transfer window, although his budget is likely to depend on what the club go on to achieve between now and the end of the current campaign.

If Arsenal were to sneak into next season’s Champions League they will receive a substantial financial boost. However, if they were to miss out on European competition altogether, they may need to get creative with the resources at their disposal.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must take more risks with his substitutes to turn draws into wins

A lethargic and goalless draw away at Crystal Palace, a team that bang a drum to muster up an atmosphere when their stadium is full, was a bad enough result for Manchester United.

Consider that Leicester, currently in third place, dropped points earlier on Wednesday evening and next up is a clash with rivals Manchester City, who sit 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, and that results feels even worse.

It was entirely avoidable and a summary of United’s declining performances since reaching the Premier League’s summit on January 12. The Red Devils have won just three times in their last ten – form that doesn’t even keep you in a division when it gets to the business end of things, let alone winning one.

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United have lost their mojo | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

There’s no sugar coating it; United should, at this point, be a comfortable second place at least, even if challenging for the league title felt a little premature.

But instead, they are now languishing and once again find themselves falling into a muddy top four battle that looks set to go to the death, and holds no guarantees of a Champions League finish.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to start both Nemanja Matic and Fred was immediately headache-inducing upon reading the team sheet an hour before kick off, but perhaps there was some justification with playing away from home and injuries. There was no need, however, for them both to still be on the pitch until 74 minutes in with the game still locked at 0-0.

The duo couldn’t hit a barn door when it came to making a forward pass – knowledge that is hardly new to anybody – and it resulted in Bruno Fernandes dropping deep, leaving the Red Devils with no way to progress through the middle of the pitch. Low and behold, Solskjaer’s substitutes woke United up, too; Daniel James and Scott McTominay both provided a thrust and looked lively, but they were introduced far too late.

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Solskjaer is too hesitant when looking to introduce substitutes to break up a tight game, even more so when he has what he feels are his best attackers on the pitch. He only made two of his three available substitutes last night and has opted against using all three changes in draws against Chelsea, West Brom, Everton and Arsenal in 2021. It’s a clear indication of his reluctance to take the risk and upset the flow of the side, but in lifeless draws, there is no flow to upset.

Not only is he too cautious in making all of his available changes, but Solskjaer continues to delay his substitutes which limits the effect they can have on the field. Donny van de Beek has learned all too often this season that you cannot make a proper impact with cameos from the 80th minute and onwards, while the rest of United’s players are also discovering the same fate.

Despite a triple change at half-time in the second leg against Real Sociedad – a Europa League tie which was already won after a 4-0 first leg victory – Solskjaer has only made a change on the hour once since United’s 3-2 win against Liverpool in late January, not counting two instances of a first-half enforced change for injury. It’s taken the Norwegian until at least the 70th minute to make a change against Chelsea, Newcastle and West Ham in the month of February.

Be it down to limitations on Solskjaer’s behalf regarding his in-game management, or a lack of trust in his options from the bench, something has to change for United. A lack of pragmatism to tweak the shape or make a change that could unlock a tight game and force them to play on the edge is beginning to take its toll, and will only continue to hurt them with important games to play.

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United didn’t even make a third change to push for a win against West Brom | Pool/Getty Images

Players get complacent and burnt out. The gridlock against the Eagles presented Solskjaer with an opportunity to play with one holding midfielder, experiment with players in a new position or throw in Amad Diallo and give his legs a proper stretch to try and effect the game as an unknown quantity to the opposition.

By no means is this calamitous (yet), nor is it reason to suggest he should lose his job, because United have made progress this season. But it is yet another sticking point for Solskjaer that he must learn from, and learn from fast, in order to avoid being dragged into a messy top four scrap or even surrendering the chance to win silverware once again.

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