Arsenal fight Liverpool for Bakkali and suffer Morata blow
Gunners face competition for Belgian winger, but Cazorla, Ramsey and Zelalem commit to Emirates
REPORTS from Holland suggest that Liverpool are planning an audacious move for PSV Eindhoven's Zakaria Bakkali. Described, inevitably, by the Daily Express as a "starlet", the 18-year-old winger has been strongly linked to Arsenal and Real Madrid but apparently the Reds have now set their sights on the Belgian international of Moroccan descent.
The Express says that Bakkali is reluctant to sign a new contract with the Dutch outfit, who are growing increasingly concerned that the teenager might walk out at the end of the season. Bakkali's aunt and uncle act as his agents and it's believed they see his future outside Holland, either in England or Spain, particularly as their nephew has been struggling for game time at PSV this season.
A club insider is quoted as saying Arsenal are in pole position to land the wideman, telling Dutch hacks: "Bakkali is a player that Wenger rates highly... Arsenal have kept an eye on him and are aware that other teams want him, so could move in the summer to buy him."
Meanwhile the Gunners have announced that Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Gedion Zelalem have all signed new contracts. The 29-year-old Spaniard has become a fans' favourite since his arrival from Malaga in August 2012, while Ramsey endeared himself to Gooners up until Christmas with 13 goals in 27 games before injury sidelined him. As for the 17-year-old Zelalem, the German youth international made his competitive first-team debut during Arsenal's 4-0 victory over Coventry City in the FA Cup fourth round in January and is rated highly by the Arsenal coaching staff .
Announcing that he was delighted with the new contracts, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told the club website: "Cazorla and Ramsey are absolutely key players for us, and this news is a boost to the whole club. Gedion is very young of course, but he has shown already that he has fantastic promise, and we all look forward to his development with us."
The good news on contracts means that Arsenal will be able to focus their efforts on identifying new blood this summer. And International Business Times warns that the Gunners may need to dispatch their scouts across Europe to find a new striker after the gunners hopes of singing Alvaro Morata suffered a "huge set-back".
The reason is an injury to his Real Madrid team-mate Jese who will be out until the autumn after tearig a knee ligament during the Champions League tie against Schalke. Arsenal had hoped to sign Morata on loan in January with a view to a permanent move in the summer, but Real coach Carlo Ancelotti said no as he wanted cover in case of injury. Now that injury has arrived and with Jese out until next season, Ancelotti "may block his summer exit again".
Still with Real Madrid, and Talksport reports that Ancelotti is at loggerheads with club officials over the future of striker Angel di Maria. According to sources in Spain, Real are "keen" to sell the Argentine international but Ancelotti regards the 26-year-old sharpshooter as an integral member of his squad and wants him to stay at the Bernabeu. Di Maria's future has been the subject of intense speculation in the Spanish media ever since the arrival of Gareth Bale last summer, and the former Benfica star didn't help himself when he appeared to grab his nether regions while being substituted during a league match earlier in the season. Rumours linking the player to Arsenal have subsided, but according to Talksport Tottenham and Juventus are monitoring the situation, while Real could decide to use Di Maria as "a bargaining chip" in their pursuit of French playmaker and former Manchester United star Paul Pogba.
Finally, Caughtoffside claims that Brendan Rodgers has "set his sights" on Sporting Lisbon defender Marcos Rojo. The Liverpool gaffer has been impressed with what he's seen of the 23-year-old this season and believes that Rojo's versatility - he can play at centre-back or at left full-back – would bolster his back four at Anfield. According to Caughtoffside Sporting Lisbon are "cash-strapped" and are likely to sell to Liverpool as they look to balance their books in the summer.