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Arsenal boss Arteta ready to axe defensive duo Mari and Kolasinac




Mikel Arteta is continuing to swing his axe at Arsenal this month, with defensive duo Pablo Mari and Sead Kolasinac looking set to be next out the Emirates exit door.

The Gunners chief is keen to let some of his fringe players depart in January, and has already allowed Ainsley Maitland-Niles to join Roma on loan, in the England international’s quest for more regular football.

Now the club’s fifth choice centre-back and third-choice left-back – the latter of whom actually enjoyed a late cameo appearance off the bench during the defeat by Forest – look set to follow.

Bosnian international Kolasinac – who spent the second half of last season on loan at German side Schalke only to return following their relegation from the Bundesliga – has long been linked with another move away given his position behind both Kieran Tierney and Nuno Tavares in the pecking order.

Kolasinac was tipped for a surprise move to fellow Premier League outfit Wolves in the build-up to the January window opening but the West Midlands side are well stocked in the position themselves, making it an odd link.

read also:EPL: Cavani transfer talks leave Man Utd coach Rangnick thankful

However, French outlet L’Equipe report that the 28-year-old has caught the eye of those over at Marseille and have expressed some confidence that a deal could be agreed given Arteta’s lack of interest in keeping the player.

The full-back is out of contract with the Gunners come the end of this season so if Marseille were to entice him to the south of France sooner it is unlikely Arsenal will receive much of a transfer fee.

It is a similar story for Mari in terms of Arsenal’s lack of desire to keep him at the club amid speculation the Spaniard is being watched closely by AC Milan scouts.

The Rossoneri have been left short in the central defensive department after losing Simon Kjaer to a knee injury and view Mari as an adequate deputy in his absence.

Alessio Romagnoli and Fikayo Tomori have also tested positive for Covid recently, meaning the Milan hierarchy have drawn up a shortlist of potential defenders that could be brought to the San Siro this month.

Brazilian defender Mari is one of those to have reportedly been identified according to Sky Sports Italy.

Arteta could sanction the exits of both and the repercussions would hardly be felt given the scarce amount of playing time both have received this season.



AFCON 2021: Malawi in prime position to tackle Nigeria in last 16 round



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Malawi’s Flames are currently the most likely team that will battle the Super Eagles for a quarter-final ticket at the ongoing AFCON 2021 on Sunday.

Group D winners Nigeria is expected to take on the best third losers in Group B, E or F.

At the moment, Malawi finished third in Group B with four points after they held Senegal to a goalless draw Tuesday night.

On the other hand, Sierra Leone are third in Group E with a round of games still to be played.

Read Also: AFCON 2021: Nigeria out to seal 100 per cent record in Group D

They have two points from as many matches and tackle second-placed Equatorial Guinea in the final group game tomorrow.

Tunisia are third this far in Group F with three points and they tackle group leaders Gambia in their final game on Thursday.


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Rwandan woman referee creates Africa Cup of Nations history



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Rwandan Salima Mukansanga became the first woman to referee an Africa Cup of Nations match when she oversaw the Group B clash between Guinea and Zimbabwe in Yaounde on Tuesday.

On Monday, a Confederation of African Football (CAF) statement said Mukansanga would handle the match with two female assistant referees, Carine Atemzabong of Cameroon and Fatiha Jermoumi of Morocco.

However, when the officials entered the pitch for the match at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in the Cameroonian capital, both assistant referees were males.

CAF did not immediately explain why the assistant referees were changed.

Mukansanga created history after the previous 32 editions of the flagship African tournament from 1957 were refereed exclusively by men.

Previously the Rwandan was the fourth official when Guinea defeated Malawi on 10 January in Bafoussam.

“We are super proud of Salima because she has had to work exceptionally hard to be where she is today,” said Confederation of African Football (CAF) referees’ boss Eddy Maillet from the Seychelles.

Read Also: EPL: Rooney ascent raises prospect of Everton return

“We know that as a woman she had to overcome serious obstacles to reach this level and she deserves a lot of credit.

“This moment is not just for Salima, but every young girl in Africa who has passion for football and who sees herself as a referee in the future.”

Leaders Guinea need one point to seal a second-round place while Zimbabwe are playing for pride having been eliminated after two losses.


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‘I feel like I’m at home’ – Caulker savouring AFCON adventure



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Steven Caulker sits outside a hotel on the slopes of Mount Cameroon reflecting on his journey from the Premier League and the England team to representing Sierra Leone at the Africa Cup of Nations.

“It is quite a colourful story over the last 10 years,” he admits.

In 2012 he made his England debut aged 20, scoring in a 4-2 defeat against Sweden.

Among England’s other debutants that night was Wilfried Zaha, but last weekend he and Caulker were on opposing sides as Sierra Leone held the Ivory Coast 2-2 in Douala.

“I had a brief chat with him and he congratulated me on my return to top-flight football,” central defender Caulker says of Zaha.

“My story is one of many ups and downs. It’s been a journey. We have both sort of gone different ways.”

Caulker played 123 times in the Premier League, notably for Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, but lost his way because of well-documented mental health problems and battles with addiction.

He has since relaunched his career, briefly in Scotland and now in Turkey, where he is playing for Gaziantep.

Having just turned 30, he also answered the call to represent a Sierra Leone side ranked 108th in the world and for whom he qualifies through his grandfather.

Caulker had visited on several occasions to undertake charity work and fell in love with the west African country, but it was another ex-England international with links to Sierra Leone who helped clear a path to the Cup of Nations.

“When I first visited I just felt such a love and warmth from the country that I wanted to do more and that has grown over time,” Caulker says.

“In the summer I received an Instagram message from Carlton Cole asking if I’d be interested and that he could put me in touch, so I then spoke with the coach and the president and they sold me the dream.”

Able to change allegiance having only played for England in a friendly, he is currently with his Sierra Leone team-mates in Buea in Cameroon’s troubled anglophone southwest.

It is where Sierra Leone are preparing for Thursday’s game against Equatorial Guinea, where a win will take them through to the last 16 after they held both reigning champions Algeria and the Ivorians.


He is the big star for Sierra Leone, and his coach John Keister believes Caulker’s impact has been transformative.

“We’re very pleased to have him. It just gives us another 30, 40, 50 percent,” says Keister.

“To have somebody at that level making a very big decision to come and represent Sierra Leone, a very small country, speaks volumes for the guy.”

Caulker is clearly more comfortable in his current surroundings than in the unforgiving environment of a Premier League dressing room.

“We love and respect each other. During my time in the Premier League I had that at clubs, and I also had a different experience where there was a few egos bouncing around. That can be quite challenging.

“Fitting in can sometimes be difficult, but here I genuinely feel like I’m at home.”

Caulker has been open about how he lost vast amounts of money gambling and struggled with alcohol, but he believes football still needs to do much more to help others with similar woes.

“It has improved in terms of talking about it, but in terms of action, I don’t see any. There are still many, many players who reach out to me in confidence who are struggling.

“I think it’s a sad situation.”

Caulker spent several months training on his own in 2018 feeling clubs were put off signing him because of his chequered past.

Then came the opportunity to move to Turkey for a fresh start at Alanyaspor.

Read Also: AFCON 2021: Nigeria out to seal 100 per cent record in Group D

“It fitted well. Being away, in warm weather, living on the beachfront, it suited the new me, the beginning of the new me I guess.”

He will return to Turkey after Sierra Leone’s campaign ends, but he has not given up on a return to where it all began.

“I am just living in the moment. If you had asked me six or seven months ago, I wouldn’t have predicted I would be here today.

“Life has a funny way of making things happen. I’m working hard. I’m clean and sober and I’m hoping one day I will return to the Premier League to complete the full circle.”


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