James Tarkowski: Burnley defender has exceeded expectations at Turf Moor


Burnley fans will have been worried when losing Michael Keane to Everton last summer. But the transformation of once bit part player James Tarkowski has been incredible, writes Sam May.

The 25-year-old was tasked of filling the boots of Michael Keane and he has done just that. Tarkowski’s meteoric rise in Sean Dyche’s back line has made all the difference for the Clarets in 2017.

His defensive presence is there to see and was most evident earlier on in the season when Burnley defeat Crystal Palace 1-0 when Frank De Boer was in charge of the Eagles. He managed to muscle out Christian Benteke and keep him quiet all game, claiming the man of the match award.

The defender yet again shown his authority and helped Burnley to a 1-1 draw at Anfield, despite the Reds 71% possession and 35 shots on target. He commanded his area and stood up to the task.

Tarkowski has the 2nd most defensive clearances per game (8.8) and the most shots blocked per game (1.7). He is also in the top ten among qualifying central defenders in total successful tackles (16) and interceptions (15) in the Premier League this season. He has made 74 clearances, more than any other central defender and 15 blocks.

A bargain buy from Brentford in February 2016, he has proved to be one of the best buys in the clubs history. After losing Keane to Everton, the question remained whether or not Burnley would use their lump sum for Keane to fill the opening in central defence. Instead, they built around the heart of the defence with purchases at left and right back along with the acquisition of Jack Cork to sit in a defensive midfield position.

Tarkowski’s growth will only continue under manager Sean Dyche. So how long will it be before he finally gets an England call-up?


Lautaro Martínez: Argentinian striker can replace Fernando Torres at Atlético Madrid


The 20-year-old is one of the Primera’s hottest prospects and an outside bet to make Argentina’s World Cup squad, he would be the perfect Fernando Torres replacement at Atlético Madrid, writes Sam May.

Racing’s star striker has been linked with a move to the Wanda Metropolitana in recent times and could replace Torres, should the Spanish striker move to the Premier League to link-up with ex-boss Rafa Benítez at Newcastle in January. Torres, 33, is in the twilight of his career and is said to be happy to seek pastures new.

Martínez looked set for a move to the Spanish capital in the summer, until club officials failed to close a deal with Primera División side Racing Club de Avellaneda, having travelled to Argentina to finalise a deal. He is however still on the radar, and boss Diego Simeone could pounce to secure the services of his fellow countryman.

He has made 11 international appearances for the Argentina U20 squad, scoring seven goals and is only going to improve going forward. Martínez was also the top-scorer at the Under 20 South American Championships in Ecuador with five goals. It isn’t just Atlético who are interested in his services, however. Borussia Dortmund scouts were at the Bombonera on Sunday to watch a glittering display from Racing Club’s wonderkid Lautaro Martínez, claims the star’s father.

“He is a player who has no limits on what he can achieve,” Martínez Sr. added, also recognising that Atlético have maintained their interest despite failing to come to an agreement. He has a €9 million buyout clause in his current contract, which is a bargain following his impressive form. Racing own 80% of his rights and Liniers de Bahía Blanca, where he started his career, own the remaining 20%.

Monaco, Manchester United, Arsenal and Atlético’s bitter rivals Real Madrid have all expressed interest in the impressive forward, so it seems competition for his signature will be tough.

Who is Kepa Arrizabalaga? The Spanish shot stopper linked with Real Madrid and Arsenal


La Liga champions are keen on the highly-rated young keeper as they look for an alternative to Manchester United’s David De Gea, writes Sam May.

It is understood Los Blancos are close to admitting defeat in their pursuit for Spain’s No.1 keeper and will turn their attention to the San Mamés youngster.

So who just is Arrizabalaga?

The 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper is one of the best young players in Europe. At 6ft 2ins, he is blessed with composure and maturity beyond his years. Making a number of high profile saves in the last year, his profile has risen.

Having played 22 times for the Spain Under-21s, he will look to challenge David De Gea in the near future. It’s Arrizabalaga’s decision-making and agility that makes him one of the recent stand out figures in La Liga.

Born in Ondarroa, in the Bay of Biscay, he has been with Athletic Bilbao since the age of ten-years-old. It is unlikely he will extend his stay and will seek a move away. He played at every age group for the club, went out on loan to second division sides Ponferradina and Valladolid, and was then named as third keeper for the first team by Marcelo Bielsa. It was current Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde who gradually made him first choice after originally alternating him with Athletic stalwart Gorka Iraizoz.

Currently in his final year of his Bilbao contract, from January, the keeper is able to sign a pre-contact with another club and both Real Madrid and Arsenal have expressed interest. As he is under 24, Arrizabalaga cannot move on a free transfer so a compensation package would have to be agreed.

A fee of around £18 million is understood to be enough to prize him away from Los Leones. Arsenal have previously scouted the promising keeper, but are unlikely going to be able to match the wages that could be offered by Florentino Perez.

In signing Arrizabalaga, either team would have a tremendous talent for a decade or so.


Who could replace Mesut Özil at Arsenal?


As it looks more and more likely that the German international could be heading for the exit at the Emirates, Sam May looks at a real option to replace him in North London.

The move by Arsène Wenger to secure the services of Alexandre Lacazette in the summer may have a significant effect on his next move. The replacement of Özil will be key and the door may already be ajar to secure his replacement. Step through Nabil Fekir.

Fekir, 24, is now starting the prime of his years and is a former team mate of the new Gunners star man Lacazette. They had a great understanding last term and no doubt the Frenchman would welcome his friend to the Emirates. By moving to Arsenal last summer Lacazette has unknowingly helped his friend. He now captains the Lyon side and is shining in his extra responsibility. His goal tally of nine in 10 games has already matched his total for last season. He scores free kicks, arrives late in the box for tap-in’s and even has a half way strike to his name – against Bordeaux.

On recent French international duty Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny was quoted “Fekir has great technical ability and makes a difference”. He was probably also impressed with how the central attacking midfielder is prepared to track back as well as drive for goal. Clearly something lacking in Özil’s makeup. He “sees“ situations and is a talent no doubt about that, but Fekir makes things happen. He takes charge, again something lacking generally at Arsenal, and badly needed.

No doubt Wenger was given a full report on his return from international duty. The premiership demands such commitment so Fekir could prove a hit with the North London faithful. Not since 2008 and the arrival of Karim Benzema on the scene at the Stade de Lyon are the powers in the corridors as excited.

The Lyon money men were happy to open, discuss and conclude the sale of their star man Lacazette to the Gunners. The fee of £52.7m was right, so London became his new place of work. He is scoring goals when on the pitch but is still settling in.

The addition of his former playmaker and feeder may turn both Fekir and Lacazette into the key force the gunners currently lack. It will all depend of the price being right. Expect no change from £75m Mr Wenger.