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

Leave a comment

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?

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.