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?

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE