After ‘resting’ Mesut Ozil, how will this play out for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal?

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This weekend record signing Mesut Ozil will be back in an Arsenal shirt, after missing last weekend’s 4-1 win over Sunderland with an apparent ‘dead leg’ the Gunners attacker is now deemed to be refreshed and ready to contribute.

Ozil, 25, missed an early penalty kick against Bayern Munich in the first leg of Arsenal’s UEFA Champions leg last 16 match a week ago and afterwards many suggested he should be dropped from the team after several lackluster displays.

Speaking in his prematch press conference before Arsenal’s trip to Stoke City this Saturday, manager Arsene Wenger believes a rest will do his $65 million man the world of good.

“Ozil had a difficult game against Bayern Munich. It’s good to refresh when you are under pressure.”

Will the pressure now be piled on Ozil’s shoulders?

Switching Real Madrid for Arsenal last summer in a humongous deal was always going to see Ozil’s performances come under the microscope, especially since the Gunners have hardly spent any cash on big-name players in previous seasons. The German international was brimming with confidence in the early stages of the season, as Arsenal raced clear at the PL’s summit. I was present on his Gunners debut at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland, and he was full of tricks and flicks and looked easy on the ball and confident in every department.

(MORE: No Ozil on the team sheet for Arsenal vs. Sunderland)

But as the harsh English winter has set in, Ozil has looked lost amongst the crunching tackles, boggy pitches and relentless schedule, domestically and in Europe. Many scoff at suggestions that the multimillionaire star is ‘tired’ or ‘jaded’ after a few months in the PL. But has anyone actually thought it through?

source: Getty Images
After disrespecting fans, lackluster displays and lacking in confidence, can Arsenal’s record signing Ozil (right) turn things around?

Since he has become a professional player Ozil has always been used to having a winter break. With Schalke, Werder Bremen and Real Madrid the young German prodigy always had two to three weeks off through December and January to recharge his batteries and kick on in the second half of the season. That sharpness and ability to have a break has been taken away from him since moving to the Premier League, as no such break exists.

Although that alone doesn’t explain why Ozil’s form has gone go downhill in the second half of the PL campaign. Confidence has played a big part too, as the German hasn’t scored since December 8 against Everton and only has two assists in his last 14 games in all competitions. To get over that rough patch, players usually get their head down and put in extra effort but several times, especially in the loss to Bayern and the heavy defeat away at Anfield, Ozil has been lambasted by his own players, fans and other pundits for not tracking back and working hard defensively. Ozil isn’t that type of player, Arsenal didn’t buy him to grind away in defense but to unlock opposition defenses, with speedy movements and tricks. As Austin Powers would put it, Ozil has lost his ‘mojo’ and his sharpness seems to have dissipated.

Contrary to the complaints about Ozil being ‘lazy’ he actually covered 11.69km against Bayern, as only Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini ran further. That shows Ozil is not lacking in overall fitness and begs the question, did he really need a rest? Mentally Ozil did, after the UCL defeat to Bayern, Wenger told journalists including myself that Ozil was visibly shaken by his penalty kick miss and that it did affect him for days afterwards too.

Unless this break included a trip to a sports psychologist to help get Ozil focused again, the only thing it would have done is to increase the pressure on his shoulders. Can Ozil handle that away at Stoke this weekend, and in the final weeks of the season?

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”