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.

Mascherano still believes Neymar is “the future” of Barcelona

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The Neymar-to-PSG saga has escalated quickly, and signs of the Brazilian’s move to Paris are growing, but one Barcelona player remains confident that his compatriot will stay in Spain ahead of the new La Liga season.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

PSG has shown a willingness over recent days to meet Barca’s worldly $260 million transfer fee for the 25-year-old, while Neymar has reportedly alerted his teammates that he will in fact be heading to the Parc des Princes next month.

Veteran Barcelona midfielder/defender Javier Mascherano is one of the Blaugrana players that hopes Neymar will stick around and help anchor the La Liga giants for years to come despite a possible massive payday in store.

“Obviously he is young and I hope he’s here with Barcelona for many more years,” the Argentina defender said to ESPN.

“He is a really important player for the club. Because of his age, he’s the future of the club and we hope we can keep on counting on him.

“He’s accustomed to the pressure and people talking. There’s always going to be rumours and news around him.

“It’s really difficult to give advice. Firstly, I’m not anyone to be giving advice and secondly, I see him really happy here, really happy. [Barca] are a club that have made it possible for him to perform at his best. But after that, each person has to make their own decisions.”

If Neymar does bolt for Paris the complexion of the MSN-Barca attack changes drastically despite still boasting elite talents Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

[ MORE: Man United drops Man City in Houston “Manchester Derby” ]

Barca has done little in the transfer market this summer, only adding Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu and Nelson Semedo of Benfica. The club continues to pursue Liverpool attacker Philippe Coutinho, however, the Reds recently rejected a bid of $93 million.

‘Nothing is impossible’: Bonucci brings hope to AC Milan

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MILAN (AP) Nothing is impossible. That’s AC Milan’s new unofficial slogan following Leonardo Bonucci’s surprise transfer from defending six-time Serie A champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Neymar reportedly tells Barca teammates he’s off to PSG ]

Presenting fans to Bonucci via Weibo on Friday, Milan CEO Marco Fassone recounted how Italy’s top defender moved to a rival club.

“It started by chance and it seemed impossible but Leo interrupted me right away and said, `Nothing is impossible. When there’s desire to do things you can get them done.”‘

Milan has been on a spending spree following the club’s sale to a Chinese-led consortium for $800 million in April, and Bonucci is the top acquisition, so far.

“Leo doesn’t require introductions,” Fassone said. “It’s an extraordinary reinforcement for us. … He completes a mosaic sought after by (Milan chief sport officer Massimiliano) Mirabelli – a mix of younger players and experienced leaders who will make the road ahead easier.”

Other recent signings by Milan included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Bonucci thanked Kessie for letting him wear his preferred No. 19 shirt, and pointed to Milan’s seven European Cups and Champions League titles as a reference point for a club that did not even qualify for continental play the last three years and hasn’t won Serie A since 2011.

“Milan deserves to be among the elite again in Italy and Europe,” Bonucci said. “When you are united you win. The strength has to be that of the squad whereas singular players alone can do nothing. We can get back to the top and that’s what this club deserves.”

Bonucci’s transfer fee reportedly topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

Meanwhile, Juventus is reportedly near to signing prized winger Federico Bernardeschi from Fiorentina for a reported fee of 40 million euros ($45 million). The Gazzetta dello Sport reported Juventus will sign the 23-year-old Bernardeschi to five-year contract worth 4 million euros ($4.6 million) per season.

Vertonghen: “We need to level up” like rest of PL contenders

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Tottenham put up a heck of a title fight in 2016/17 as the club attempted to chase down Premier League champions Chelsea, but Spurs have been inactive this summer as Mauricio Pochettino‘s group gears up for next month.

[ MORE: Striker Morata signs five-year contract with Chelsea ]

The London side finished second in the PL a season ago — a record-high for the club during the modern Premier League Era.

[ VIDEO: History of the North London Derby ]

However, Pochettino and Co. have made no moves in the transfer market this summer, while its competitors — Chelsea, Manchester United, etc. — have all made significant roster additions to bolster their lineups.

Defender Jan Vertonghen says that Spurs must compete with the rest of the PL’s elite in the transfer market if the club is to finally realize its goal of finishing atop England’s top flight.

“The way our rivals are strengthening this season, we need to be aware of that and we need to level up as well,” Vertonghen told ESPN FC.

“I’m not saying with new players, but we need to take our levels up and I think we can. I’m the oldest outfield player in the team and I feel very fit. The younger guys can improve even more. It can definitely be our year and we want it to be our year.

“Luckily we almost kept everyone from this year. Obviously the window is not closed yet but if we can keep these guys, we can do the same thing again. It’ll be a bit harder because we play at Wembley! [The pitch] is a lot bigger but the training pitches have already been adapted.

While Spurs certainly benefit from having one of the strongest young groups of players in England, the club’s lack of spending is a bit concerning, especially after its recent loss of Kyle Walker — who joined Manchester City for a record fee.

Zouma signs new Chelsea contract, is immediately loaned to Stoke City

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Kurt Zouma‘s long-term future is secure at Chelsea, but his short-term future will be away from Stamford Bridge.

The France international centerback signed a new six-year contract with Chelsea and was promptly sent out on a season-long loan to Stoke City. Zouma made just three starts and nine total appearances last season as he came back from a torn ACL suffered in February 2016.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“It is fantastic Kurt has chosen to commit his future to Chelsea,” Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo said in a statement. “He has shown his talent since joining us three years ago, and has returned from a serious injury with a fantastic attitude.

“Now he has the opportunity to play regularly in the Premier League and we will be monitoring his progress closely while he is at Stoke.”

The move to Stoke will give Zouma a new experience, playing for a mid-table side in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in at centerback, battling with American Geoff Cameron and Englishman Ryan Shawcross.

Even with John Terry leaving the club, Zouma was likely to be second-choice in the back three for Chelsea and if he wants to make France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, he’ll have to play regularly.