Wenger: Ozil, Mertesacker & Podolski to miss start of season

The Arsenal boss says that the Germany stars need a proper rest after their exploits in Brazil, arguing that big clubs always struggle in the season after a major tournament


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger expects World Cup winners Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski to miss the start of the new Premier League season.

The Germany internationals all played key roles as Joachim Low’s side triumphed in Brazil, beating Argentina 1-0 in the final on July 13.

The Gunners open their Premier League campaign on August 16 against Crystal Palace but Wenger does not envisage the trio being available for selection.

“I have given them a good break because I have experience of players who have been in the World Cup final. You need a rest,” the Frenchman told reporters.

“Will they be ready? Mertesacker prepares well – but for the first game … I don’t think they will be ready for August 16.

“A post-World Cup year is always very difficult and short; the World Cup final was July 13 and the start of the Premier League is August 16. From Fifa we are obliged to give four weeks’ holiday to the players so I don’t know how all that works together. It looks impossible to me.

“A post-World Cup year is always very difficult for every big club because the players have been away.”

Wenger is hopeful that the Gunners, currently in the United States on their pre-season tour, can add more silverware next season after having their long trophy drought by claiming FA Cup glory last campaign.

“We always have high expectations but we haven’t always fulfilled them,” he conceded. “We are very ambitious and last season we went 128 days at the top of the Premier League but were left frustrated because we couldn’t win it.

“Overall, we were very consistent, we won the FA Cup and we want to win more next season but the level of competition is very high and it’s very difficult to predict how much better other teams will be.

“We just have to ensure we have good preparation and hopefully we will have a good chance to win the title.”

AC Milan open door to Balotelli exit

The Serie A side are keen to sell the Italy international but, despite holding talks over the striker, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has suggested he will not sign another forward


EXCLUSIVE
By Gaia Brunelli

AC Milan are keen to sell Mario Balotelli this summer and would accept a €20 million offer for the controversial striker, Goal understands.

The Rossoneri will take part in the International Champions Cup, which kicks off on July 24, and are eager to put a move in place for the striker before the squad meets up for the pre-season tournament.

The former Manchester City striker, who is currently on holiday in New York, is understood to favour a return to the Premier League with Arsenal.

Goal revealed Gunners boss Arsene Wenger had arranged to meet with Balotelli’s agent Mino Raiola during the World Cup for talks over a move for the striker.

But, after signing Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona for €40m, Wenger has since ruled out signing another forward this summer.

“Up front we don’t need any more,” the French coach said. “It’s not especially for numbers.

“We need a goalkeeper for sure and, after that, it depends on how our midfielders get through without injuries until the start of the season. Maybe at centre-back we’ll still bring one in.”

Milan president Silvio Berlusconi reportedly claimed the club missed out on a €35m deal to sell Balotelli to an unnamed Premier League club because of the striker’s disappointing World Cup showing.

No Walcott until Autumn – Wenger

The England international has been out of action since a cruciate ligament injury at the turn of the year but the Gunners boss is pleased with his rate of recovery


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says that Theo Walcott is “progressing very well” in his recovery from injury but does not expect him back in action until after summer has ended.

The England international forward ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during an FA Cup game against Tottenham early in 2014 and missed out on the Three Lions’ World Cup campaign.

While the former Southampton man continues to recover, Wenger has suggested that new signing Alexis Sanchez will be deployed on the right, but he is happy with Walcott’s efforts to regain fitness.

“He’s progressing very well,” the Gunners boss told the club’s official website. “He’s worked very hard during the summer and we expect him to be back in full training at the end of August.

“[When he'll be back on the pitch is] difficult to predict. Once he’s back in full training it can be very quick. He has a good basis, which is what he’s working on now.”

Since joining the north Londoners from Southampton in January 2006, Walcott has made nearly 200 Premier League appearances for the club, with an overall goal record of 69 from 281 matches in all competitions.

Why Debuchy is the perfect replacement for Sagna at Arsenal

The 31-year-old’s departure was a blow but the Newcastle star’s experience, defensive qualities, aerial ability and winning mentality mark him out as a worthy successor


ANALYSIS
By Liam Twomey

In previous years, the departure of a club stalwart might have sparked talk of crisis at Arsenal. But Arsene Wenger has acted quickly in the wake of Bacary Sagna’s defection to Manchester City, with Newcastle right-back Mathieu Debuchy unveiled as the club’s latest signing on Thursday in a deal believed to have cost around €10 million.

Setback though it was, the protracted nature of Sagna’s departure from the Emirates Stadium afforded Wenger ample time to plan for a future without him. Sebastian Jung of Eintracht Frankfurt became a target as far back as January, while talks with Toulouse over Serge Aurier reached a very advanced stage.

But as Debuchy prepares to link up with his new Arsenal team-mates, Wenger can be confident that he has secured a very proficient footballer and proven Premier League performer who is capable of filling the void left by Sagna immediately.

At 28 it is hard to present the former Lille man as a long-term replacement, even if he is three years younger than Sagna, but if Wenger still harbours genuine hope that Carl Jenkinson can one day be that man – and, given the Arsenal manager’s traditionally unshakable faith in his youngsters, it would be no surprise – then Debuchy’s age and experience will be seen as a positive rather than a problem.

One suspects that for a club and a manager under increasing pressure to win now, Debuchy’s track record in the Premier League played a key role in him rising to the top of Wenger’s wishlist. For 18 months in England, the 28-year-old sparkled more frequently and brightly than most in a talented and temperamental Newcastle team fatally undermined by a maddeningly unambitious owner.

Debuchy made 3.3 successful tackles per match last season, a figure only bettered among right-backs in the Premier League by Jon Flanagan, Pablo Zabaleta and Cesar Azpilicueta (who played most of the campaign on the left). He also made 2.4 interceptions per game, a number that puts him above anyone else in the Newcastle squad and 14th in the entire division.

Aurier’s figures mark him out as a more devastating attacking force – the Ivorian created 32 chances in Ligue 1 last season, compared to 23 for Debuchy, and laid on two goals in three matches for his national side at this summer’s World Cup. But he was also often deployed as a wing-back with greater attacking than defensive responsibilities at Toulouse. Debuchy, in contrast, publicly voiced his frustration in May at being denied the freedom to roam forward by Alan Pardew as he does for France.

The Newcastle man’s total defensive contribution last season (factoring in tackles, interceptions and clearances) works out at 10.5 per game, compared to just eight for Aurier. He also made half as many defensive errors.

It might seem a strange thought but Wenger has chosen Debuchy primarily because of his defensive qualities. Even more surprisingly, the 28-year-old’s most prized attribute is his aerial ability. No specialist right-back in any of Europe’s top five leagues won more aerial duels (four) per game last season.

For Aurier that number was just 2.7, while Sagna – whose athleticism and aerial ability prompted Wenger to deploy him at centre-back on several occasions, despite his relatively modest height – boasts just 3.5.

Debuchy’s arrival almost certainly ensures that Arsenal’s right-back will not be targeted by the Premier League’s physical strikers and pinpoint crossers and his skills should maintain and perhaps even enhance the Gunners’ ability to defend set-pieces.

Then there is the mental aspect. In Sagna, Wenger lost one of the strongest and most experienced characters in his squad – and certainly the one most vocal in his desire to see Arsenal show greater ambition in the transfer market and win trophies. Such an attitude endeared him to Gunners fans and made the move to City more difficult to swallow. It is also hard to replace.

But unlike Sagna, Debuchy arrived in England already a champion, having capped a 20-year stay at Lille with an historic league-and-cup double in 2011. That the distinction already marks him out as one of the most decorated members of the Arsenal squad highlights how far Wenger’s men still have left to travel on the road back to glory.

Singling out Debuchy for praise back in January, Yohan Cabaye hailed his best friend and former clubmate’s “great mentality, great fight and great fitness” – not qualities easily associated with Arsenal in recent years. The new man will not turn the Gunners into winners on his own but this deal is a step in the right direction.

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