Thursday 22 March 2018

Ozil gets call for Ostersunds trip

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil

Sam Dean

Arsene Wenger will unleash Mesut Ozil in the Europa League for the first time this season as he steps up Arsenal's campaign to win the competition and secure a return to the Champions League.

Wenger said Ozil would start tonight against Ostersunds FK, the Swedish team managed by Englishman Graham Potter, as the pressure increases on the north London side to find an alternative route into Europe's premier competition.

Defeat by Tottenham last weekend has left Arsenal floundering in sixth in the Premier League, eight points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

Asked if Ozil would start tonight, Wenger said: "Yes. At some stage it has to be his first game in this competition. He wants to do well in this competition.

"When you go into a competition it is to try to win it, no matter where we are in the league. The pressure might be higher maybe but we try to go as far as we can."


In the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette and the cup-tied Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wenger will play Danny Welbeck in a central attacking role.

"It is where I prefer him personally," Wenger said. "He had to wait a little bit to get back in the team but that gave him time to work on his fitness. He looks very sharp."

The fixture, which will be played in sub-zero temperatures in a stadium that holds just 8,000 fans, represents the most high-profile match in the Swedish side's history. Ostersund were formed in 1996, after Wenger had taken over as Arsenal manager.

It is a new frontier for the club and their manager, who has guided the side to three promotions, a Swedish Cup victory and now the last 32 of the Europa League since he took over in 2011.

They have already defeated Galatasary and Hertha Berlin in this European campaign, and achieved a creditable draw with Spanish side Athletic Bilbao.

Potter, who has become renowned in the city of Ostersund for the cultural productions, such as Swan Lake, that he and the team have performed for the local community, said that the contrast between his side and Arsenal reminds him of a third-round FA Cup tie.

"Normally in the third round of the FA Cup you have not beaten Galatasary or PAOK or Hertha Berlin," he said. "But in terms of the size of the two teams, absolutely."

The harsh conditions in Sweden have softened slightly this week, although Arsenal will still need to adjust to the below-freezing temperatures at the Jamtkraft Arena, which has an artificial pitch.

Asked if he was hoping the extreme weather would have lasted into this week, Potter said: "No, I'm not disappointed at all. The thing you don't want is for it to be a farce with the conditions.

"A couple of weeks ago it was -23C. That was cold. That wouldn't be pleasant for anybody.

"Now it's quite pleasant. It's like a spring morning for us. I think Arsenal will adapt, they are top players, top professionals. It's not the conditions that are a factor, it's how well we play."

Wenger admitted that he had never imagined he would be facing a team who were formed after he had joined Arsenal, but said: "What is great in life is that it can be bigger than your imagination. To come here is a pleasure. We have played 20 years all over Europe but we have never played here."

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