EPL

Ozil maintains healthy relationship with Emery

By Sports Desk July 19, 2019

Mesut Ozil has claimed his relationship with Arsenal head coach Unai Emery is "really good" despite struggling to maintain form and a starting berth last season.

Ozil became the club's highest-paid player in 2018 after signing a three-year contract extension, but has battled with injury and inconsistency, starting only 20 of the Gunners' 38 Premier League games last term.

But despite continued speculation surrounding his future at the Emirates, the German believes he can play a part in Emery's plans this season and insists he gets on well with the Spaniard.

"I have had a lot of coaches in my career so of course every coach is different and wants something different from you as a player, but of course I had a few injuries before the season started last season so I had a tough time," Ozil said.

"At the end of the day, especially the end of the season I played a lot of games. I have a really good relationship with the coach, so we are speaking a lot and he wants to help me and I want to help the team."

Ozil has appeared in Arsenal's first two pre-season matches of their America tour, with the Gunners' most recent result a 2-1 win against German champions Bayern Munich.

The 30-year-old linked up well with Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang during the game and is feeling health ahead of the 2019-20 season.

"I am really happy," he said. "I am fit.

"We train really hard to be fit for the whole season and are doing our job very well. We work hard together and we showed, especially against Bayern Munich we look very fresh, we played our game and deserved to win.

"We are working hard and as an Arsenal player and Arsenal team we always have goals to win titles, so hopefully we can win titles this season with the team, and let's see what happens at the end of the season."

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  • Matic set to return for Man Utd against AZ but Pogba remains out Matic set to return for Man Utd against AZ but Pogba remains out

    Nemanja Matic is set to play for Manchester United against AZ in the Europa League on Thursday but Paul Pogba is not yet ready to return, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    Matic, 31, has been sidelined with injury since a 0-0 draw with the Eredivisie side back in October.

    The former Chelsea midfielder has been tipped to leave United in January, having found his place in Solskjaer's first-team plans come under threat during the opening weeks of the season, with Serie A clubs including Milan and Inter said to be interested.

    Matic is due to be given a chance to impress at Old Trafford, though, as United go in search of the draw they need to secure their place as winners of Group L.

    "He's fit," Solskjaer said on Wednesday. "He's due to be involved."

    Solskjaer also confirmed "it's a bit early" for Diogo Dalot to return, the full-back having only this week resumed training, while midfielder Pogba is still not ready to play following a troublesome ankle injury.

    "It's too early," Solskjaer said of Pogba. "We hope so [that he will return in 2019]. He's working hard to get fit so hopefully we can get him back on the pitch.

    "Let's get Paul fit first and then back in form and he'll play loads of games. He's one of the best players in the world and we're looking forward to having him back."

    In the absence of Pogba and Matic, Fred has begun to cement his place at the heart of the midfield, the Brazil international producing arguably his best performances for the club in the past week in the 2-1 Premier League wins over Tottenham and Manchester City.

    "Fred's had the confidence of the coaching staff and me and the players all the time," said Solskjaer. "This form is down to him because he's been working really hard. When he got the chance with Paul injured he grabbed it with both feet and we're really happy to see him perform at this level."

    Those two wins over some of United's biggest rivals have eased the pressure on Solskjaer, which had been growing due to his team's frustrating lack of consistency.

    Solskjaer, though, insists the belief in his plans to rebuild the team has never wavered, while he felt the decision to take largely a team of youngsters to Astana two weeks ago paid off thanks to the Spurs and City results.

    "Inside [the club], we've always had belief in what we're doing. It might change on the outside but it's results, you can't change that," Solskjaer said. "It's the nature of football. Sometimes, you've got the margins on your side.

    "I think the decision we made to send the young players to Astana made sure the players who stayed here were more ready because it was a hard week.

    "Results are always the proof in the end, but we've always believed in what we're doing it. It's going to be ups and downs, but we're on the right track. I see these boys every day in training, the attitude and skills they have got, so I'm not that worried."

    United have already qualified for the knockout phase and need only a point to guarantee top spot in the group, but Solskjaer insisted he wants to beat AZ.

    "Of course I'm bothered [about the result]," he added. "I'm not going to send the boys out and say, 'I don't care if you win or lose'.

    "Every game you play for Man United is a chance to prove yourself and to me and the supporters that you deserve to be part of the team for a long time."

  • Alisson lays down Liverpool challenge after first back-to-back clean sheets since September Alisson lays down Liverpool challenge after first back-to-back clean sheets since September

    Alisson has challenged Liverpool to sustain the defensive focus that has helped them secure back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since September.

    The Champions League holders reached the last 16 on Tuesday thanks to a 2-0 win away to Salzburg, with Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah scoring the goals.

    It was also Liverpool's second clean sheet in a row, following last Saturday's 3-0 Premier League win at Bournemouth, a result that leaves the Reds eight points clear at the top of the table.

    Since losing the Community Shield on penalties in August, Klopp's side have only lost once in all competitions - a 2-0 defeat to Napoli in September - but their defence has nonetheless come under scrutiny following a run of 13 matches in which they conceded at least one goal.

    However, with the Reds having now recorded consecutive clean sheets for the first time since victories over MK Dons and Sheffield United almost three months ago, Alisson - who played in neither of those September games - is eager to keep that run going.

    "It was just a matter of time and of focus," the goalkeeper told Liverpoolfc.com when asked how their defence has improved.

    "The last two games, we were focused for the full game. Even if they had chances we were there, the defenders were there, and I was there to help the team.

    "We just need to keep going with this focus because we know our quality and we know what we can do on the pitch when we put in our whole intensity.

    "You need to do that for 90 minutes – it's hard, we know, but I think we showed we can do this."

    Alisson had to make a string of saves in the first half to keep Salzburg at bay before two goals in quick succession after the interval put Liverpool in control.

    "In the first half they made our job more difficult with their intensity they put in," he said. "They had chances, of course, but we neutralised them in the chances, I could make the saves.

    "I'm happy with the result and happy with what we did on the pitch.

    "It was a difficult game for us, but we did very well, everybody playing together and moving together, defending in a good way and attacking in a good way.

    "I'm glad about the score, I'm glad about the clean sheet – but the three points were the most important thing we needed."

  • Can Manchester United hit rest of the Premier League with 'big six' form? Can Manchester United hit rest of the Premier League with 'big six' form?

    Manchester United claimed the derby bragging rights with a 2-1 victory over Premier League champions Manchester City last Saturday – concluding a validatory week for their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

    A blistering first-half performance on the counter-attack saw Anthony Martial score what proved to be the winner after Marcus Rashford netted from the penalty spot.

    The result came after Solskjaer claimed midweek victory over predecessor Jose Mourinho and his Tottenham side by the same scoreline, handing a huge boost to an Old Trafford reign that was attracting mounting scrutiny.

    United have also beaten Chelsea and Leicester City this season, while they remain the only side to take points off runaway leaders Liverpool.

    However, Everton sitting 14th in the table ahead of Sunday's match suggests they could spell trouble.

    Hitting the 'big six' for six

    Although no longer the fixture they were under Alex Ferguson when it comes to the biggest prizes in the game, United certainly have it in them to rise to the big occasion against teams aspiring to those heights.

    When facing sides who have started the game in the Premier League's top six, Solskjaer has won four, drawn three and lost two of nine matches after the success at the Etihad Stadium last time out.

    That amounts to a win percentage of 44.4 per cent, a number greater than the 40.7 per cent Mourinho enjoyed over the course of 27 games during his United tenure.

    Solksjaer's numbers are even more impressive when considering games against fellow members of the widely regarded 'big six' – City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea – and Leicester, the 2015-16 champions currently riding high in second.

    In 12 games against those opponents since succeeding Mourinho, Solskjaer has won half and drawn four, losing only twice – 2-0 at home to City last April, having done likewise away to Arsenal a month earlier.

    Mourinho only succeeded nine times in 22 of those games, a win percentage of 40.9, losing eight.

    Overrun by the also-rans

    Sitting alongside those wins over City, Chelsea, Leicester and Tottenham this season are Premier League losses to Crystal Palace, West Ham. Newcastle United and Bournemouth.

    Of that quartet, only 10th-placed Palace reside in the top half of the table.

    In games facing opponents in the bottom six on matchdays under Solskjaer, United have won six, drawn four and lost three, giving him a win percentage of 46.2.

    Mourinho was far more successful in such presumed straightforward encounters, winning 60.7 per cent (W17 D7 L4).

    Pogba to pick the lock?

    The sight of Martial, Rashford, Daniel James and Jesse Lingard tearing into the big spaces behind City's midfield at the Etihad did much to explain the unusual trend in United's results.

    That quartet in tandem amount to a formidable, livewire threat on the counter attack. However, operating in the small spaces afforded by deep-lying defences is a different proposition entirely.

    Paul Pogba is closing in on a return from an ankle injury and, whatever the France star might lack in tenacity, his added creativity and guile could prove a significant asset.

    Since returning to Old Trafford for a then-world record £89.3million from Juventus in 2016, Pogba has scored 24 goals in 97 Premier League games.

    He has also contributed 25 assists and has created 164 chances – one every 50 minutes.

    Lingard, who would probably be most vulnerable to a returning Pogba in Solskjaer's current XI, as Fred and Scott McTominay have thrived at the base of the midfield, has 22 goal involvements compared to Pogba's 49 over the same period.

    That breaks down into 13 goals and nine assists. He has created 87 chances, a little more than half Pogba's overall amount.

    Although the feelgood factor has returned to United in Pogba's absence, he could yet be the man to make it grow into something more sustainable under Solskjaer.

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