Mesut Ozil dazzled on Arsenal debut despite being sick

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With two touches of his expensive left foot in the 11th minute of Arsenal’s win over Sunderland on Saturday afternoon, Mesut Ozil showed everyone why Arsene Wenger paid so much for him.

A high-looping ball was played to him on his debut by Kieran Gibbs down the left flank, and like an experienced ballerina Ozil cushioned the ball perfectly into his stride before slotting across a perfect pass for Olivier Giroud to run onto and finish first time.

In the first half Ozil was exquisite. The ‘King of the Assist’ had arrived in the Premier League.

Every time he touched the ball he oozed class. One touch, then a shimmy to get away from a defender, deft flicks around the corner to Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey and sublime passes through to Theo Walcott. He looked the real deal and worth every penny of the $60million the Gunners paid Real Madrid for him on transfer deadline day.

(MORE: Arsene Wenger lauds Giroud and Ramsey after Arsenal win)

But despite his sensational first 45 minutes in an Arsenal shirt, the German international faded a little in the second half.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger revealed exactly why that was in the post-game interview I was in.

“He [Ozil] was like the team, he had an outstanding first half and dropped in the second half,” Wenger said. “He was sick on Thursday night and I decided only today to play him, this morning. He had a stomach bug and didn’t feel well. He dropped a bit psychically in the second half but his first half was outstanding.”

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Ozil delicately controls a long ball on the way to his first assist in an Arsenal shirt.

Wenger also revealed that he wanted to start the 24-year-old attacker on the bench but had his hand forced after Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla was ruled out with an ankle injury.

“He would have certainly been [on the bench], due to the fact that he was sick I would not have taken a gamble. But i didn’t have much choice,” Wenger said. “Cazorla has an ankle problem, I don’t think he will play before the next international break.”

Yet with Ozil showing flashes of his true talent throughout a totally dominant first half display for Arsenal, you have to wonder whether or not the Gunners will actually miss Cazorla. Ozil was that good. Gasps of delighted emanated from the press box and the stands as Ozil slithered between Sunderland’s midfielders and continued to thread balls through to Giroud, Wilshere and Walcott with ease.

Safe to say, it was definitely worth splashing the cash for this guy.

His movement is that of a proper player. Ozil makes the game look so easy, and you can see why over the last five seasons across Europe’s top five leagues he has more assists than any other player, with 73.

(MORE: Arsenal ‘lucky’ after controversial victory over Sunderland)

Ozil never seemed rushed on his debut, always had time on the ball and often he wouldn’t lift his head up before playing a pass, as he’d already surveyed the situation before the incoming pass had even reached his feet. That’s the sign of a true creator.

But Wenger may have a problem when Cazorla returns to full-fitness… how will he fit them all into the same team?

Ozil, Wilshere, on-fire Ramsey, Cazorla and Flamini are all fighting for three central places. England international Wilshere was shunted out to the left for the majority of Arsenal’s win on Saturday but it seems as though the flexibility between him and Ozil will see them both drift between the left and the center.

No matter where the German international plays, Arsenal’s title credentials seem to be getting stronger as the season goes on.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”