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Arsenal came ‘really close’ to Philippe Coutinho signing before failed Houssem Aouar bid

Arsenal were “really close” to signing Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona in August according to Fabrizio Romano. The Gunners were linked with the Brazilian playmaker in the summer transfer window before making a move for Lyon’s Houssem Aouar.

Arsenal ultimately made seven additions in the summer, spending over £70million on Thomas Partey, Gabriel Magalhes, Pablo Mari and Runar Alex Runarsson.

Mikel Arteta also made Cedric Soares’ loan move permanent, re-signed Dani Ceballos on another season-long loan and brought Willian in on a free.

Partey was the headline acquisition with Arsenal spending £45m to bring the Ghanaian in from Atletico Madrid on deadline day.

But before Arteta brought the 27-year-old holding midfielder to the Emirates, the north London club had been keen to land Lyon’s Aouar.

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The Spanish coach identified the France international as the ideal option to add extra attack-minded quality to the Arsenal midfield.

The Londoners even had a bid of around £35million rejected for the 22-year-old with Lyon demanding closer to £55m to sell the player.

However, Romano claims that before launching a pursuit for the Frenchman – which ultimately failed with Arsenal turning to Partey instead – Barca midfielder Coutinho was very much on their radar.

The former Liverpool playmaker’s time at the Nou Camp looked almost certain to come to an end, although he has now become an important member of new manager Ronald Koeman’s side.

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But transfer expert Romano claims before his surprise u-turn in Barcelona, Coutinho was close to returning to the Premier League to link up with Arteta and co.

Even late in the window the 28-year-old was tipped to join Arsenal on a season-long loan deal.

Assessing Barca’s Champions League prospects, Romano told the Liverpool Echo: “I think it is really difficult to see Barcelona fighting for the Champions League because the night against Bayern Munich was something terrible.

“After this kind of defeat, we were expecting a revolution, not just in the manager but also in the players. We expected a new era for Barcelona but it is not like this because they just signed Sergino Dest.

“It was not a real revolution. They lost Arturo Vidal, Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic but they have no new stars in this moment.

“This season for Barcelona is like: ‘let’s start the change, let’s sell players and prepare the revolution for next year with a new president and new team’. And we have to see without or without Lionel Messi.

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“Before, Barca were considering to sell Philippe Coutinho and he was on the list to sell, so his agents were working to offer him to Tottenham, to Arsenal.

“Arsenal were really close and at the start of August, they were ready. But once Koeman arrived, he understood it was difficult to sign other players, for example Memphis Depay.”

Barca’s Ousmane Dembele was also tipped to leave the Catalan giants with Manchester United heavily linked in the final days before October 5.

But Romano also claims the Frenchman was subject of an approach from Liverpool, which Dembele wasn’t keen on.

“Ousmane Dembele [was not close to signing for Liverpool] because [Liverpool made] a simple loan with no buy option,” he continued.

Barcelona were considering the move to let him play but in September they changed their position because they needed money to sign Depay.

“Always, the player said no to Liverpool and Juventus – the player said it was not a matter of money; he wanted to stay [at Barcelona].”

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Arsenal ace Bernd Leno has Champions League belief despite Gunners’ Man City loss

Bernd Leno suggested Saturday’s narrow defeat to Manchester City was evidence that Arsenal are closing the gap on the top Premier League teams. The Gunners were easily brushed aside in the first game after lockdown, losing 3-0 at the Etihad. But the Arsenal stopper insisted that knocking Pep Guardiola’s men out of the FA Cup in July and going close against City again this weekend showed progress.

Raheem Sterling’s goal was the only thing separating the two sides as the hosts had to battle hard for the full three points.

And as Arsenal go in search of Champions League qualification this season, the German keeper is confident Mikel Arteta’s charges are making real progress.

“On one hand we’re disappointed, but on the other we played a good game,” said Leno.

“We competed against City and at the end you can see that the gap was very small.

“I think when you compare the first game after the lockdown, how we played here and lost 3-0 without any chances and how we played today, there’s a big, big difference. 

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“We are on the right track and today we lost this game, but next week we have to win and be confident in our play like this.

“I think we missed a little bit of the lucky punch. We tried at the end with set-pieces and crosses, but we couldn’t finish the action.

“It was our only main problem in the end, because I think we were better in the second-half and controlled the game, but maybe a good chance was missing.”

Gunners boss Arteta admitted their dismal record away to their rivals at the top of the table needs to improve.

Arsenal have now failed to beat any of their big six rivals – City, Liverpool, Man United, Spurs or Chelsea – in the last five years.

It is a record spanning 29 games and stretching back to January 2015 when Olivier Giroud scored to beat City at the Etihad.

Arteta said: “You want to go to every ground and win. To get into that position you have to do so many good things throughout 96 minutes and we’ve done a lot of them but at the end the games are decided in the boxes.

“The big teams, when you get there, you have to put them away. I’ve been in that dressing room for four years and I’ve seen a lot of teams come to the Etihad.

“To put the performance and play with the attitude, belief and resilience that we did, it’s really difficult, believe me.”

The Spaniard added: “Upset obviously not to get anything from the game the way the game went because I felt that we kept growing and growing and having more belief that we could actually get something from it.

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“At the same time I’m extremely proud about the way we played individually and collectively to put the performance that we put in tonight in this stadium. It’s not an easy thing to do.

“You need everything to go your way to get a win here and obviously when you have the three or four big chances we had you have to put them away because you know that in your box that’s going to be the case.”

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