Speaking ahead of Sunday’s League Cup Final between Manchester City and Sunderland in Marylebone at the official live blog event of the Capital One Cup, former Birmingham City and Portsmouth striker and Football League Show expert Steve Claridge gave an exclusive interview for the Transfer Tavern.
The well-travelled former striker was proved correct in his pre-match prediction by claiming that the Citizens would inflict defeat on the Black Cats by two clear goals but following a weekend whereby Arsenal had fallen to a highly damaging away defeat at Stoke City, as an avid Gooner, I had to catch a word on his thoughts about the Gunners.
I was particularly interested in his thoughts regarding Mesut Ozil who was nursed back into the Arsenal fold, coming on as a second-half substitute against the Potters after being left out altogether against Sunderland a week before, following that penalty miss against Bayern Munich that clearly got into his psyche.
Having started life at Arsenal so admirably, racking up one of his trademark assists on his debut away to Sunderland, it has proved an understatement that the reserved German superstar hasn’t looked himself in recent months.
With Arsenal having resided in top spot for an almighty spell this 2013/14, they now trail London rivals Chelsea by four points and have to play the Blues and Tottenham away while Manchester City are yet to visit the Emirates Stadium.
With an FA Cup quarter final against Everton to contend with, not to mention next week’s second leg against European champions Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, the Gunners truly needed to win at the Britannia Stadium to convince everybody – and themselves, crucially – that they aren’t set to crack, which they so often do at this stage in the season.
So a fixture pile up aside, what to do about a problem like Mesut? Claridge believes he isn’t struggling due to fitness.
Claridge: “My problem with Mesut Ozil is that unless he is playing fantastically well, I question what his impact in the game is because he’s certainly not going to run back and affect the game without the ball.
“Arsenal are, in all honesty, not good enough to carry players like that, they’ve got enough people who don’t want to do that job, or do it reluctantly shall we say, without having another one.
“With the role he has, he has to control the game with the ball and he hasn’t done that. When you’re also playing poorly and very averagely at the moment, giving the ball away in key areas and not really doing enough to get it back, then you’ve got a potent mix of a player who is giving you a massive problem.
“To leave him out (against Sunderland) probably makes sense but what it also does is take you back to the same old Arsenal as last year or the year before in doing exactly what we imagined they might do”
Clearly rested by Wenger due to psychological issues of the mind, it is hoped by everyone connected with Arsenal that Ozil will return to the fold for the latter stages of the season, refreshed and invigorated to get the Gunners over the line, whether that is most likely, a triumphant FA Cup campaign at this stage, following last weekend’s league disappointment.
Some Gunners supporters have criticised Ozil for lacking the fight or visual desire to wrestle back the momentum in crunch games, often citing that he looks tired or jaded in response to adapting to the physicality’s of the English game in his debut season.
However, for Claridge, it isn’t fitness that is the problem for Ozil, but something all the more psychological.
Claridge: “I think we’re getting caught up a little bit in players that can’t play two or three games in a week.
“I don’t get the bit where everyone’s supposed to be that much fitter than they used to be, and yet we used to play two or three games, no problem.
“If you ask the players, would you rather play Tuesday and Saturday or would you rather play Saturday and be dropped on Tuesday, I’m telling you now; there’s something wrong with someone who says they’d rather rest in the week.
“If you’re not fit enough to play three games a week, go and get yourself fit because it isn’t about the fitness, it’s about the mental side of it.
“Now I understand that the scrutiny is such that people have to be at the top of their game every week because if you have one bad game, everyone says you’re rubbish, have a good game and everyone says you’re brilliant so there are no in-betweens.
“What you’ve got to look at is you’ve got to be as close to good as possible bit if you’re a pro, and everybody knows what it takes to be a pro now, there’s no excuse. You should be able to complete two or three games a week with no problems.”
After all, modern day football can often prove so fickle. Samir Nasri didn’t tear up any trees in his first season for the Gunners and then look what happened. Time is definitely on Ozil’s side and the fans should get behind this special talent.
In regards to football being fickle, you only have to look at the fact that Manchester United’s Robin van Persie is possibly looking at a route back into the Emirates Stadium this summer, and what’s worse is that there seems to be some small potential in these exclusive scoops. God forbid!
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