March 14 2014 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Arsene Wenger may be forced to field Mesut Ozil in today’s FA Cup fifth round clash against Liverpool but insists his club record signing is not feeling the strain of English football.
The German international made a flying start to life with the north Londoners after his £42.5million switch from Real Madrid in the summer. He scored five times in his first 10 games but only two strikes have followed in the 22 games since as his impact has appeared reduced, though he still has the third best assist record in the Premier League.
The increased intensity in the English top flight, coupled with the lack of a winter break that Ozil had become accustomed to during his time in La Liga and the Bundesliga have been cited as reasons for a dip in form.
But Wenger insisted his record buy is not feeling the strain, saying: “He doesn’t look too stressed.”
However, Wenger admitted that he had wanted to rest the attacker for today’s visit of Liverpool, ahead of a crunch Champions League last-16 first leg re-run against Bayern Munich.
Santi Cazorla was struck down with an illness on Friday that could see Ozil feature this afternoon.
“It’s possible, yes,” the Frenchman said when asked if his summer signing would face Liverpool.
“I maybe planned to play Cazorla, then if [Tomas] Rosicky has a problem, I don’t know.
“If those two are not there then I have to play Ozil.”
The FA Cup clash is a quick opportunity for the Gunners to atone for 5-1 Premier League thrashing they suffered in Liverpool last week, when Ozil was one of many players that put in a below par performance.
“At Liverpool he was not at his level at all, as was the team,” Wenger confessed.
“Against Man United he had quite a positive game. He was physically much sharper than at Liverpool.”
However, the midfielder is already thinking about the midweek European tussle with Bayern Munich, although he believes the cup holders are even stronger than they were last season.
Arsenal went closer than anybody to knocking Bayern out of Europe last season, losing on away goals after a 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena failed to overturn a 3-1 loss at home in the first leg.
The two sides renew their rivalry at the Emirates on Wednesday with Arsenal hoping for a better outcome than last year, and Ozil is cautiously optimistic.
“I have huge respect for Bayern,” he told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
“They are even better than they were last year, but we’re not going to hide.
“Anything is possible over two legs. I’m the kind of player who loves games like these.”
Wenger is confident that Arsenal are this term better placed to cope with Bayern’s strengths.
“I think we know them better,” the manager said. “We will be in a better condition, hopefully.
“After the disappointment of losing against Blackburn [in last year’s FA Cup fifth round], three days later [against Munich] it was very difficult for us.
“We are mentally better prepared to go into a game of that stature.”
The German giants appear to have an advantage over Arsenal in that they have benefitted from the longest winter break in European football and are currently racing away with the Bundesliga, while the north Londoners who are involved in a four-way fight for the Premier League.
“We’d love to be 12-13 points clear,” said Wenger of Bayern’s advantage in their own league.”
Munich are this season under the stewardship of former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola and Wenger believes they are an even more attacking unit than the side that won four trophies last term.
“They are a bit more offensive oriented,” the Frenchman said.
“How they are better? I don’t know because they won the Champions League, the [German] championship, the [German] cup and the [FIFA] world [club] championships, so I don’t know what more they can do.”
Bayern have not lost in the Bundesliga this term and have the potential to emulate Arsenal’s Invincibles side that romped to the 2004 Premier League title without suffering a defeat.
Wenger said: “The could do, yes, but they will lose, don’t worry.”