Ozil's understudies steal Arsenal limelight

By Liam Twomey at Emirates Stadium

Football matches – particularly big football matches – are often sold as clashes of individuals. It makes for a more compelling, personal narrative. In many cases, it makes sense, and in some, it’s just plain easier.

At the Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening it was not just Arsenal against Liverpool, it was Mesut Ozil against Luis Suarez, a duel between the marquee signing who already enjoys hero status with the Gunners and the man who we have good reason to suspect wishes he did instead.

Ultimately, though, the difference between triumph and disaster is almost always the result of collective performance. In flashes, both Ozil and Suarez lived up to their billings as talismanic influences on their respective teams, and little separated the quality of their performances. In the end, the German emerged victorious because of the superiority of his supporting cast.

Ozil has an air of Bergkamp about him. His purpose is not to control matches, but to drift in and out of proceedings, exerting influence with often understated and occasionally spectacular class. His intelligence helped Arsenal win the midfield battle and pull Liverpool’s system all over the place, but it was not the decisive contribution.

He was instead a cog in the increasingly polished and stylish machine that is Arsene Wenger’s midfield. Liverpool’s three-man defence and two-man partnership of Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson never got a grip on the Gunners’ fluid passing and movement.

Mikel Arteta broke up attacks with a minimum of fuss and set his team on the front foot time and again. Tomas Rosicky was a dynamic, tidy bundle of energy. Santi Cazorla threatened repeatedly with late runs into the penalty area and took his goal beautifully. And when his moment came, Aaron Ramsey provided further evidence to suggest the Premier League will spend another season in the thrall of a brilliant young Welshman.

Up front, Olivier Giroud delivered a masterclass in hold-up play. Though his finishing touch let him down badly in the second half, he did his best work with his back to goal, repeatedly finding his midfielders in positions to do damage. Some of his lay-offs were Ozil-esque. In defence, although the menacing Suarez was a constant threat, in the main, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker shackled the Premier League’s deadliest strike partnership with surprising ease.

Title-winning sides need outstanding individuals, and Ozil has undoubtedly brought some much-needed star quality to Arsenal. But without collective strength it is nowhere near enough. On this form and in this transitional season, Wenger will be confident his best XI can best any other in the country. In fact, with every passing week, the real challenge looks increasingly to keep it in condition to produce this kind of football come May.

Arsenal are already stretched beyond belief. There is no need for a plan B when plan A works as well as this, but Saturday’s bench consisted of inexperienced potential and experienced mediocrity. Wenger will, of course, point to Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Mathieu Flamini, Lukas Podolski and others who are still to come back, and he is right. But the test will be to ensure they are not replaced on the treatment table by more influential casualties as the matches stack up.

For Liverpool, a respectable but comprehensive defeat provides a check on the title talk which Brendan Rodgers, to his credit, always insisted was unrealistic.

His side caused Arsenal problems – particularly when Philippe Coutinho’s introduction in place of the hapless Aly Cissokho facilitated a change in formation – and Suarez has already proved he will perform superbly even if his mind and heart are longing to be elsewhere.

His partnership with Daniel Sturridge is justifiably one of the most feared in the country, but Saturday proved it cannot rescue them every time. Liverpool can harbour genuine hopes of gate-crashing the top four, but more convincing 90-minute performances are required before they can dream higher.

As things stand, Arsenal remain at the top of the league, and Ozil effortlessly continues to make a mockery of the notion that foreigners need time to adapt to the English game. What Wenger will take the greatest pleasure in, however, is that his new superstar is not the only source of pride.

Source : Goal.Com

Ronaldo breaks Messi's record for Champions League goals in a calendar year

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Cristiano Ronaldo has broken the record held for Champions League goals scored in a calendar year after his second-half strike for Real Madrid at Juventus on Tuesday - overtaking the mark previously set by Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo latched on to a Karim Benzema pass in the 52nd minute and beat Gianluigi Buffon with a right-footed finish to level the scores at 1-1 after Arturo Vidal had blasted the Bianconeri in front from the penalty spot in the first half.

It was the Portuguese's eighth goal in four Group B games this term and his 14th in the Champions League this calendar year, a total which sees him surpass Messi's 13 strikes in 2012.

Ronaldo's goal was his 59th in the Champions League. The Portuguese now trails only Messi (63) and Raul (71). He also needs just one more strike to set a new group stage record currently shared with Hernan Crespo, Filippo Inzaghi and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Messi, meanwhile, can add to his tally for Barca on Wednesday at home to AC Milan. The Argentine has hit seven goals in the Champions League in 2013, having been restricted by injury at the end of last season and also at the beginning of the current campaign.

Source : Goal.Com

Rooney: Arsenal must be sick of me

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney has teased Arsenal ahead of their vital Premier League clash on Sunday by suggesting that they must be sick of playing against him.

The 28-year-old attacker has scored more goals against the north London club than any other side, and also netted his 100th goal in the Premier League during a 3-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium in 2010.

Rooney claims he will "always remember" the memories, namely his wonder-strike against the club as a teenager for Everton, along with his goal that ended the Gunners' 49-game unbeaten run.

"Arsenal do crop up quite often," the England international told reporters. "It's a bit weird. I'm sure they must be sick of the sight of me at times. That first goal for Everton does seem like a long time ago.

"It was obviously a special goal for me, plus they were 32 games unbeaten. And I will always remember the 2004 game. There had been a lot of hype around it because of what happened the year before with Ruud van Nistelrooy.

"That was as tense as I ever remember it before a game. Arsenal were a fantastic team and it was a great feeling to beat them 2-0 and end that record."

United are currently on an eight-game unbeaten stretch and Rooney believes him and his team-mates can use their momentum to close the gap on table-topping Arsenal.

"It's the perfect fixture for us," he argued. "Arsenal are obviously doing really well but with our current form, so it's a chance for us to get a bit closer in the table.

"I said it before: it will be interesting to see whether they can maintain that because over the last six or seven years they have faded off. Certainly, they seem in a better place. They seem stronger.

"We know we will have to be at our best to beat them but we're capable of that. I've always enjoyed my games against them and it's always been a big game. Hopefully we can get the right result on Sunday."

Source : Goal.Com

Why Nuri Sahin flopped in Spain and England, unlike Arsenal magician Mesut Ozil

 By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

The comparisons were understandable. Born just over a month apart, each in Germany with Turkish roots, and impressing as youngsters in the Bundesliga in their formative years, Mesut Ozil and Nuri Sahin both left to join Real Madrid and subsequently moved to England. But while one enjoyed spectacular success in La Liga and is now blossoming in the Premier League, the other failed to hit the heights in Spain and England.

Both men were identified by Jose Mourinho as key components for the Portuguese at Real. Ozil settled quickly and connected instantly with fans at the Santiago Bernabeu and, in an era dominated by Pep Guardiola's brilliant Barcelona, Madrid now had a footballer who was a match technically for the midfield masters at Camp Nou.

Something similar was expected of Sahin. Nuri became the youngest player to appear in the Bundesliga as he made his debut at 16 years and 344 days in 2005 and, following a year-long loan at Feyenoord, later led Borussia Dortmund to the title in 2010-11 - at the tender age of 22. Sahin scored seven and assisted eight in BVB's success that season, yet his contribution was much more than that - he had pulled the strings in midfield for Jurgen Klopp's team and was voted Bundesliga Player of the Season.
 A move to Madrid was his reward and the youngster was tipped for great things. "Sahin is going to become one of the best midfielders around in Europe over the next few years," Germany legend Paul Breitner said at the time. It sounded good - and it sounded plausible.

CONTRASTING FORTUNES IN SPAIN & ENGLAND
  
MESUT OZIL
At Real Madrid
(2010-2013)

At Arsenal
(2013- )     159 games
(105 in Liga)

11 games (seven in EPL)     27 goals,
71 assists

Two goals, five assists
 NURI SAHIN
At Real Madrid
(2011-2012)

At Liverpool
(2012)     10 games
(four in Liga)

12 games (seven in EPL)     One goal, one assist

Three goals, three assists
But so far, so good quickly became too much, too young as Sahin struggled in Spain. While Ozil continued to impress in his second season at the Santiago Bernabeu, Nuri disappeared almost without trace.
 The Turkey midfielder missed pre-season with a medial ligament injury and his recovery was a slow and arduous process. And when he eventually returned in November, Madrid were in full flow en route to winning La Liga in 2011-12. Mourinho's maximum intensity style seemed unsuited to a player who had missed months of preparation work and Nuri featured minimally.

Mourinho saw Sahin as an alternative to Xabi Alonso in midfield in Madrid's double pivot. The Portuguese believed pairing the two together would see the side lose some stability in defence - especially given Nuri's fragile fitness - but was also reluctant to rest Alonso in any Liga or Champions League fixtures.

Xabi's importance cannot be understated, with current coach Carlo Ancelotti still struggling to find a balance in midfield when the Basque is missing, as he has been for almost all of this season so far.

So Sahin was playing catch-up and even when he did start for Madrid in a Champions League quarter-final first leg against APOEL in March, Mourinho questioned his ability to face the top teams. "Turkey can decide whether he plays or not," he said. "But it is easier to play for a country than for a club like Real Madrid. We are in no mood for joking or giving playing time to players performing less than others. It will be difficult for Sahin."

It was. The German-born midfielder ended the season with a winner's medal but had featured only four times in La Liga and in 10 games overall for the Spanish side. By comparison, Ozil ended the campaign with over 50 appearances in all competitions and 17 assists in La Liga - a Primera Division high.

"On top of the competition in every position at Real, Nuri was unlucky to be injured from the beginning of the season until the autumn," former Madrid and Germany defender Christoph Metzelder told Goal. "And at a club like Real, nobody is waiting for a new signing who arrives in the team at that stage. So his conditions at the start were extremely difficult.
 "There were already world-class players in his position. And if you are not able to get your playing time, be part of the process, show good performances and gain confidence and get the respect of your team-mates and the public, then it gets hard.“

Ozil stayed and shone for another season at Madrid (and would probably still be at the club if Mourinho had remained in charge), but Sahin was forced to move on and a loan to Liverpool looked likely to revive his promising career following a stagnant season in Spain.

It was not be be, however, as Sahin failed to fulfil his early promise at Anfield and ended up making just 12 appearances for the Reds in the opening half of the 2012-13 season before returning to Dortmund on loan, complaining he had been misused by the Premier League outfit. And having hailed Brendan Rodgers on arrival at Anfield in the summer of 2012, the midfielder took a parting shot at the Liverpool boss as he left Merseyside in January.
I did not fail at Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers wanted me to play as a number 10. It's not my real position.

- Nuri Sahin earlier this year
   

"I did not fail at Liverpool," Sahin said. "Brendan Rodgers wanted me to play as a number 10. But I do not play behind the strikers. I talked to him and asked him why he was playing me there. It is not my real position. The coach could not answer me … Still, no regrets. To play at Anfield was a wonderful experience. And maybe if I had not gone there I would not have been able to return to Borussia Dortmund. For that, I am happy. Thank God I have left Brendan Rodgers."

Sahin is now rebuilding his reputation at Dortmund (still on loan but expected to return to BVB on a permanent basis) and is starting to look like the player Madrid bought in the summer of 2011, following fogettable spells at Real and Liverpool - where he never found his ideal position nor a regular starting spot amid fears he would fail to cope physically with the demands of the Premier League.

Ozil, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength. Surprisingly sold by Real to Arsenal on deadline day (against the wishes of most madridistas), Mesut has slotted in seamlessly under Arsene Wenger in north London and has cemented his standing at international level with some peerless performances for Germany in the lead-up to next summer's World Cup in Brazil.

"Ozil is an outstanding football player," Metzelder said of his former international team-mate. "He has astonishing abilities and he is a player that makes the players around him better. That is something you don't see very often these days. There are many good players who look for the goal themselves, who want to score beautifully and who have great ratio. But there are few players who hold their head up and look for the player who is in a better position.

    Ozil is an outstanding player. He has astonishing abilities. Nuri was unlucky to be injured at Real Madrid...

- Christoph Metzelder (ex-Germany)
   

"For example Olivier Giroud is benefiting big time right now from Mesut Ozil. That says a lot for Ozil and it looks like he is the missing piece at an Arsenal team that have sold their best players in recent years.“

Two players with similar stories but very different fortunes in Spain and England now go head to head on Wednesday as Dortmund host Arsenal in the Champions League. And while Ozil continues to grow in stature away from home, Sahin is just happy to be back where it all began. What a difference two years can make.

Source : Goal.Com

AC Milan now Messi's biggest victim in the Champions League

 By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Lionel Messi has now scored more goals for Barcelona versus AC Milan than against any other team in the Champions League.

Messi scored twice in the Camp Nou clash on Wednesday night, which Barca won 3-1, to take his tally to eight goals in as many games against the Italian side.

The Argentine had failed to net in his previous three matches, but converted from the penalty spot in the first half and added another late in the game after he was set up by Cesc Fabregas and went on to beat Christian Abbiati with a fine finish.

MESSI'S FAVOURITE CL VICTIMS

AC Milan     8 games     8 goals
Leverkusen      2 games     6 goals
Arsenal      4 games     6 goals

Leo now has six goals in the Champions League this term (having missed the trip to Celtic through injury) and 65 in all in Europe's premier club competition, leaving him just six adrift of the tournament's all-time top scorer: Raul.
And eight of those have come against Milan. Messi failed to net in the 2-2 draw at Camp Nou back in September, 2011 but did convert a penalty in the 3-2 win at San Siro in a second group game in November of that year. The two teams then met again in the quarter-finals and the Argentine netted two more from the spot in Barcelona following a goalless game in Italy.

The Catalans lost 2-0 in Milan last season in the first leg of the teams' last-16 tie, but Messi struck twice (his first from open play against the Rossoneri) in a remarkable 4-0 turnaround in March. He then added another at San Siro last month (his only goal in October), before Wednesday's double made it eight from eight.

Previously, Messi's biggest 'victims' in the Champions League were Bayer Leverkusen (six in just two games) and Arsenal (six in four) and the Rossoneri (six in seven).

Milan now have that dubious honour outright, however, although the Italians can console themselves that at least it has taken Leo eight games to reach the figure, while half of the goals have come from the penalty spot.

Source : Goal.Com

Messi mauls Milan, Ramsey gives Klopp's men a kicking & Napoli leave Marseille in tears - Champions League in pictures

 Why So Serious? | Balotelli looks poised ahead of Milan's clash with Barcelona.

Barcelona, Arsenal and Chelsea all secured wins in Wednesday's Champions League matches, but there was plenty of drama in store regardless of the usual winning suspects.

Olympique de Marseille took the lead at Napoli but players such as Mathieu Valbuena were left in tears when Rafa Benitez's men fought back to beat the visitors 3-2, scuppering the French side's chances of progress in the competition.

Eight matches were played on the elite continental stage in all on Wednesday - below Goal checks out the top photos doing the rounds following the completion of each game...
Messi back on track | He made up for his three games without a goal with a Camp Nou double
Lip-biting Baup | The Marseille coach looks on nervously as his team battled valiantly with Napoli
Piovaccari pearler | He gave Steaua the lead at Basel with a thumping finish
Down in the dumps | Borussia Dortmund went behind thanks to the on-fire Aaron Ramsey
Ozil factor | The German celebrates with Ramsey as Arsenal get revenge on BVB

Group F remains wide open though Arsenal's away win over Dortmund spices things up, while Napoli knocked Marseille out of the tournament essentially with a win at the San Paolo.

Atletico Madrid continued their outstanding European run with a 4-0 victory at home to Austria Vienna, securing their spot in the last 16, and leaving the the Austrians, Zenit St Petersburg and Porto (the latter of whom drew 1-1 on Wednesday) to fight for the runner-up place.

Barca qualified from Group H with a 3-1 win over AC Milan, while Ajax ensured Celtic's last 16 hopes took a dent with a 1-0 win in Amsterdam.

Anybody can qualify from Group E still, though Chelsea's 3-0 win over Schalke leaves them on the brink, while Steaua Bucharest conceding in stoppage-time at Basel leaves them hanging by a thread.
Foul magnet Neymar | The Barca star won a penalty after being brought down by Abate
Unhappy returns | Ex-Real Madrid star Kaka witnessed his new team defeated at Camp Nou
Double Eto'o | The Chelsea forward scored twice as Mourinho's men walked over Schalke
Schone a light | Beautiful attacking build-up was finished by the Ajax man in style to win 1-0
Bugging out | Steve Mandanda flails on the floor as Marseille slip to defeat in Italy
Fall from grace | Chelsea beat Schalke 6-0 on aggregate in their UCL group games this season
Atletico rampage | Raul Garcia was among the stars at Atletico thumped Austria Vienna
Hot & cold Hulk | The Zenit forward played well at times but failed to score a vital penalty
Check out the best snaps of the European action on Wednesday, as Barcelona went through and Arsenal edged Borussia Dortmund

Source : Goal.Com

Rampaging Ramsey is now world-class

 Mesut Ozil's move has been the catalyst for Arsenal's revival but victory in Dortmund proves it is the in-form Welshman who is really driving their assault on silverware.

By Tom J Doyle

Another big test, another big victory - Arsenal's critics have been watching and waiting for them to stumble and fall like so often before. Yet after beating Borussia Dortmund 1-0 at Signal Iduna Park on Wednesday night, the Gunners are beginning to look like the genuine article.

"Arsenal can win it," acknowledged Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp in the aftermath of the 2013 finalists' shock defeat before offering the caveat: "If they don't play Bayern Munich."

But is the toppling of another teutonic titan even beyond the rejuvenated north London team? The fact that Arsene Wenger's side sit five points clear in the Premier League and top of the 'Group of Death', of course, is in no small part due to the feel-good factor that £40 million club-record signing Mesut Ozil has brought. But the true testament to their growing maturity is that the German playmaker is not their standout performer.

MAN OF THE MOMENT
RAMSEY RATING VS DORTMUND

Showed great feet in possession, looking very calm and keen to probe from deep. He did his best to get up and support the forwards and scored another valuable goal with a second-half header.
FROM OUR LIVE! COMMENTARY
  
GOOOOOAAAAL!! ARSENAL TAKE A SURPRISE LEAD! BVB give possession away in the final third and the Gunners shift play out to Ozil on the right. His cross is cushioned down by Giroud and Ramsey follows up to head the ball past Weidenfeller. Arsenal lead!
With yet another valuable goal to cap a memorable display, Aaron Ramsey can lay legitimate claims to being the Premier League's top player so far this season - a scenario unthinkable to even the most ardent of Arsenal fans 12 months ago.
The Wales captain - awarded the club's player of the month award for the fourth time in a row on Wednesday - is unrecognisable from the timid midfielder of yesteryear, during a career horribly stalled by a nasty leg break in 2010.

Ten goals in 17 appearances suggests this is finally his season to shine and, allied to his impressive passing, tackling and athleticism, Ramsey can now be considered one of the most dangerous box-to-box midfielders in world football.

Alongside the impeccable Welshman also stand the players like Olivier Giroud, Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky, a trio few would have opted for with a title challenge in mind. However, all three have been simply inspirational during this campaign.

Giroud has found the form and confidence that persuaded Wenger to part with just under £10m last summer - and the France striker now offers the ideal blend of brains and brawn as the target man of a 4-2-3-1 system with goals to boot.

His assist for Ramsey against Dortmund typified his sense of awareness and bravery in leading the line so his team-mates could prosper - a perfect example of what Wenger labelled as a "very mature performance" by his side.

Exposed for his lack of pace in the past, Mertesacker has been the rock at the heart of the Gunners defence, keeping opponents at bay and offering a calming presence to a young back line - with a noticeable impact on Wojciech Szczesny.

Rosicky, meanwhile, has forced his way back into Wenger's plans after spells on the sidelines, operating in advanced positions with an effervescent abandon that belies his years and fully deserves his place in front of younger talents.

With the likes of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struggling to get a kick, there is a genuine competition for places like never before, as top-class players are forced to watch from the sidelines.

A responsible Gunners fan would urge caution - after all, Arsenal have shown in recent seasons that a tough defeat can have a disastrous impact on a dressing room that has been devoid of real leadership. No medals are usually handed out in November.

An injury to Ramsey or Giroud, the side's only reliable striker, could still derail Wenger's best-laid plans, while the fans could react negatively to a lull in form after such a bright start.

But with two keys wins under their belts in just four days - they beat Liverpool 2-0 on Saturday - it is impossible not to be excited by the potential of this Arsenal squad as they head to Manchester United on Sunday for another big test of their credentials.

Klopp may prefer 'heavy metal' football to Wenger's 'orchestra' but the Gunners have proved they have got the best tunes at the moment. With his huge transfer fee, Ozil is still the conductor but, look a little closer, and it's Wenger's unsung Gunners who are really carrying the beat.

Source : Goal.Com