Sunday 30 April 2017

Arsenal boss facing big call on playmaker for showdown

Wenger: “It’s important that we protect the second game. We must go there, not hide, but defend well as a team.” Photo credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Wenger: “It’s important that we protect the second game. We must go there, not hide, but defend well as a team.” Photo credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

Jermey Wilson

By the time Arsene Wenger had finished outlining his priority for Wednesday's Champions League date with Bayern Munich (stay in the game defensively) and then highlighted a growing concern (Mesut Ozil's loss of form), only one logical conclusion followed.

It is that serious thought is being given to dropping his £42.5m record signing for a match that will go a long way to determining both their futures.

Upset Bayern and the narrative surrounding Wenger's future again shifts; lose, and the season will end at best with the same top-four finish and FA Cup run that might currently delight any rival other than Chelsea, but which has done so little to appease restless Arsenal fans.

"It's important that we protect the second game. We must go there, not hide, but defend well as a team," said Wenger - clearly conscious of the pattern of six straight exits at the last 16 stage.

In fact, you have to go back to 2008 and AC Milan since Arsenal eliminated a team of Bayern's stature in the Champions League.

The question, then, is whether that wish is really compatible with leaving Ozil in his usual free role in front of a two-man midfield.

Luxury

Ozil represents the luxury oil rather than the engine of any team. He often becomes anonymous if the rest of the team are stuck in neutral - as they often were when beating Hull City by a flattering 2-0 margin on Saturday - and so there is a persuasive argument to use a third central midfielder against Bayern.

Wenger usually launches to Ozil's defence at the first hint of criticism, but the manager's candid reaction on Saturday was to "completely agree" with the observation that his playmaker is struggling.

There will be no such feelings toward Alexis Sanchez, whose work rate, as much as quality, was decisive in a win that temporarily eases, rather than ends, the tension that surrounds Arsenal.

Wenger had made an appeal in his programme notes for support from the fans and, while conscious of their anxiety right up until Sanchez's penalty in added time, he felt that they did "unite" and "show that they care".

However, with his future still so uncertain - and just two points separating positions second to sixth in the Premier League table - Wenger will know that the relief he felt can only be fleeting.

"Experience helps to anticipate the problems that you face when it doesn't work," he said.

"You know that if you do not win the confidence drops even more.

"That is not what is needed to go into a game like Bayern in the Champions League. I know we have not been brilliant, but we had to win." © Daily Telegraph, London.

Telegraph.co.uk

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