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City clear the way for Arsenal to land Northern Ireland star Evans for £20m

By Graham Luney

Arsenal are now firm favourites to land Jonny Evans before the transfer window closes on Wednesday.

The Gunners are hoping a £20m bid will be enough to snap up the Northern Ireland international who can leave in the summer for only £3m if West Brom are relegated.

The Baggies have agreed a deal to land Zamalek defender Ali Gabr, initially on loan with a view to a permanent deal, while Manchester City, who were also showing interest in Evans, are closing in on a £57m deal to land Athletic Bilbao centre-half Aymeric Laporte. Evans has 18 months to run on his contract at the Hawthorns but boss Alan Pardew is reportedly keen to provide funds for a striker pivotal to keeping his 19th-placed side in the Premier League.

West Brom value Evans at around £23m but Arsenal are hopeful agreement can be reached. The Gunners had feared there was a reluctance on Evans' part to move south but now it appears a deal may be done as early as this weekend.

"We are open to strengthening the team," said Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. "But at the moment we are not close to signing anyone."

It appears any move would for Evans would have to be sealed by Sunday after Pardew set a January 28 deadline for any sale to be completed.

Evans, who spent nine years at Manchester United, has played 22 times for West Brom so far this season, scoring twice.

The Gunners, meanwhile, are continuing talks to sign Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

They have increased their bid to £50.9m with Olivier Giroud ready to move in the opposite direction.

Evans’ international team-mate Oliver Norwood has also been the subject of transfer speculation with Brighton rejecting a bid from Fulham to make his loan move permanent.

Norwood has hailed Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill’s decision to stay on and turn down Scotland.

“It’s great to be part of the Northern Ireland team with what we’ve achieved so far and coming so close again to getting to the World Cup and now we’ve got the fantastic news this week that Michael’s not going to Scotland. He saw sense and we’re happy,” said Norwood.

“We went into the Euro 2016 tournament in France with people saying that we didn’t deserve to be there, that we wouldn’t get a point, that it was embarrassing.

“To prove people wrong is always nice in any walk of life, but when you are part of a group who had got there with Northern Ireland and you see what it means to a country and to a group of players and staff, it was unbelievable being stood on that pitch at the end. It was like we had won the Euros actually.”

Meanwhile, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi scored the goals as Barcelona’s established stars kept new signing Philippe Coutinho out of the limelight as they qualified for the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey with a 2-0 win over city rivals Espanyol.

Barcelona were behind after the first leg but went through 2-1 on aggregate thanks to first-half goals from Suarez and Messi.

They join Valencia, Sevilla and Leganes in the last four, the latter after they had dumped Real Madrid out of the competition on Wednesday evening.

Suarez gave the home side the lead, drawing them level on aggregate in the tie.

Messi extended Barcelona’s lead to finish the job.

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