Arsenal will warm up for next Wednesday’s Europa League final clash against Chelsea by playing a closed-doors friendly against Austrian side LASK Linz this Thursday.
The fixture, due to be played at the club’s London Colney training ground, will be Arsenal’s first since the end of the Premier League season last Sunday, and helps the team avoid a 17-day gap between then and the May 29 final, said to have been a concern for manager Unai Emery.
LASK finished runners up in the Austrian Bundesliga, 12 points behind champions Red Bull Salzburg.
Chelsea also played a friendly ahead of the final, facing American side New England Revolution last Wednesday in the United States. But that game resulted in the injury of key midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon that will keep him out for nine months.
However, Arsenal’s fixture against LASK will feature the team’s top players, despite the risk of similar injuries which could deplete the squad ahead of the final in Baku.
Having finished fifth in the league, Emery’s side enter the game against Chelsea with added incentive, as winning the trophy will come with the additional prize of qualifying for the Champions League – which Chelsea have already sealed by finishing third.
With the kind of exorbitant transfer fees being tossed about in the transfer market, clubs are always going to be on the lookout for a shrewd loan deal.
The arrangement can often be beneficial to all parties. They can also be hit and miss at times but the risk is certainly worth the reward and there have been a few this season that have proved as much.
Here are five of the best over the 2018/19 campaign.
From featuring in France Football’s biggest flops over the first half of the 2018/19 season to being coveted by the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, it’s been quite a remarkable turnaround for Youri Tielemans.
Having been hailed as a future star for Belgium during his teenage years, the midfielder’s talent has never been in doubt. However, after a superb final season with Anderlecht – during which he scored 18 goals in 53 appearances – his move to AS Monaco in the summer of 2017 hasn’t lived up to expectations.
Tielemans has failed to establish himself as a regular starter at the French club under both Leonardo Jardim and Thierry Henry while the former’s return prompted a loan move to Leicester City in January.
The pace and intensity of the Premier League didn’t faze the 22-year-old one bit. After starting well under Claude Puel, he flourished within new manager Brendan Rodgers’ system, registering three goals and four assists in 13 appearances.
His ability in tight spaces, passing range and runs from midfield have been a revelation. The Foxes will hope to strike a permanent deal for him this summer but will likely face stiff competitions from higher bidders.
Unsatisfied with his limited playing time at Barcelona, Paco Alcacer made a smart move joining Borussia Dortmund on loan at the start of the season. The Spaniard immediately built a reputation as a super sub, scoring several goals in the closing stages of games.
The 25-year-old showed a remarkable ability to identify weak spots in the defence and take advantage of tiring legs with his sharp, goal-poaching instincts. Alcacer enjoyed great success in the Bundesliga this season, scoring 18 goals in 26 appearances – 15 of those appearances came off the bench.
His goal against Fortuna Dusseldorf in December was his 10th off the bench, setting a new Bundesliga record for goals from a substitute in a single season.
It was no surprise then when Dortmund exercised their option to buy him for €23 million on February 1, securing his services on a five-year contract.
After three solid seasons at Benfica without really standing out, the Portuguese outfit agreed to loan Raul Jimenez to Wolves for the 2018/19 Premier League season. The striker proved to be a revelation for the newly-promoted side, leading the line with aplomb.
Under Nuno Espirito Santo, Jimenez has been integral to Wolves’ system with his clever movement and link-up play. He’s provided their attack with a clear focal point and it doesn’t hurt that he’s also led the way with 13 goals and seven assists in the league. His four goals in the FA Cup helped them to a semi-finals appearance.
In the second half of the season, he forged a lethal partnership up front with compatriot Diogo Jota. That combination looks likely to carry the impressive mid-table side to greater things next season.
Such has been Jimenez’s impact that the Premier League outfit have taken up their option to buy the Mexican forward for a club-record €38 million. The striker was named Wolves’ Players’ Player of the season.
The players' player of the season... get back up on stage Raul Jimenez!!— Wolves (@Wolves) May 14, 2019
In January 2015, Martin Odegaard was unveiled at the Santiago Bernabeu to much fanfare after Real Madrid beat the likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs to his signature. Two years and just five goals for Castilla later, supporters were ready to give up on the teenage prodigy.
After a loan spell at Heerenveen last season seemed to do him some good, he returned to the Eredivisie for the 2018/19 campaign with Vitesse. Odegaard made a marked improvement from his three goals and five assists in 43 appearances last term. He finished with eight goals and 10 assists in 35 appearances this time.
A greater maturity has been witnessed in his game as he’s helped Vitesse qualify for the Europa League. His 3.4 key passes per game is second in the Dutch league only to Hakim Ziyech – Ajax’s star playmaker he’s touted to replace next season.
A fee of €20 million has been talked about but after the season he’s had, Madrid are only interested in discussing a loan deal with the Dutch champions. Los Blancos have been linked to Christian Eriksen but as comparisons between Odegaard and the Dane continue to grow, they may be inclined to wait for the 20-year-old to develop into the player they desire.
The 2018/19 season was Duvan Zapata’s fourth successive one on loan. After initially coming to Italy with Napoli in 2015, he was deemed surplus to requirements two average seasons later. After a two-year loan spell at Udinese, he spent one season on loan at Sampdoria who were obligated to buy. He was again loaned out to Atalanta last summer.
Zapata had just one goal to his name by the start of December but that’s when the tide began to turn. After scoring against former side Napoli, he bagged a hat-trick against another former team in Udinese, going on to enjoy an eight-game scoring streak.
With 22 goals and seven assists in 36 Serie A games, the Colombian tied for second place in the scoring charts, above Cristiano Ronaldo. His incredible physicality and powerful play made him a handful for defenders.
Now that he’s added a substantial number of goals to the equation, he’s a sought-after player this summer with Chelsea (though they’re appealing a transfer ban) and West Ham in particular among the suitors.
Jose Mourinho says he’ll be back in management this summer as he continues to be linked with several high-profile jobs.
After being sacked by Manchester United in December Mourinho had said he would wait until finding his next role. Since then, there was talk he could join Lyon, especially after current manager Bruno Genesio confirmed he would be leaving at the end of the season, and this week Juventus parted company with Massimiliano Allegri.
Bayern Munich are said to be considering sacking Niko Kovac, while there is the remote possibility of a sensational return to Chelsea, who remain unsure over Maurizio Sarri after an inconsistent debut season in England.
“I have a lot of qualities and one of them is to respect other clubs and their management,” Mourinho told French radio station RMC. “I have never spoken like ‘this club wanted me, they contacted me’.
“When I left Manchester United in December, I immediately took the decision I want to work from summer. I hope to be back to work in July in a project I really like.”
Mourinho, who has also managed Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Porto during an illustrious if sometimes controversial career, refused to be drawn on his United exit, saying he could not speak freely about the manner of his departure, which came after the club’s worst-ever start to a Premier League season and amid rumours of the manager falling out with several of the squad’s players, most notably Paul Pogba.
“It’s difficult for me to talk about Manchester,” he said. “I can’t talk about them in the same joy and freedom as I talk about other clubs.”