x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Football round-up: Wenger expects even more from Ozil

Villas-Boas pleased with Tottenham; Real Madrid and Napoli pick wins.

Mesut Ozil's three assists helped Arsenal beat Stoke City. Adrian Dennis / AFP
Mesut Ozil's three assists helped Arsenal beat Stoke City. Adrian Dennis / AFP

LONDON // Arsene Wenger believes there is more to come from Mesut Ozil after the Germany international continued his impressive start to life at Arsenal.

Ozil has already provided three assists – more than any other Premier League player – after just two league games for his new club following his £42.4 million (Dh249.4m) move from Real Madrid.

The playmaker teed up two of the Gunners’ goals in the 3-1 victory over Stoke City and had a hand in the third when his free-kick was parried into the path of Aaron Ramsey by Asmir Begovic, the Stoke goalkeeper.

Wenger, the Arsenal manager, believes the club record signing is already showing his qualities, but claims he will display his full repertoire of skills when he has settled into his new surroundings.

“When you look at his numbers, the assists are not a coincidence, it is the reality of his game,” Wenger said after a win that left Arsenal top of the Premier League on goal difference from arch-rivals Tottenham.

“And I believe once he will be completely integrated you will see even more but he has shown today he is a great player,” the Frenchman added.

“It shows you that football is football. When you have a ball you make a good pass or a bad pass. The good players make a good pass and the bad players make a bad pass, whether it is in Spain or in England, it is exactly the same.

“He has good pace as well. Individually a lot of focus is on his passing but individually he can create.”

Wenger accepts Ozil’s arrival has had a major impact but believes it will be the contribution of his wider squad that determines whether Arsenal can sustain their position at the top of the table.

“Look, it’s not him only. He gave a lift to everyone at the club. For the rest, it will be the quality of our teamwork that will decide that,” Wenger said.

“The only thing about our position at the moment is we are in a position where we can focus on improvement in a stable environment. That is a good basis for the rest of the season.”

Ramsey’s sixth-minute opening goal was cancelled out by Geoff Cameron’s 26th-minute equaliser before Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna both headed home from Ozil set-pieces to clinch victory.

Wenger was forced to change his line-up before kick-off after Theo Walcott pulled up during the warm-up and the manager admitted concern over the England international’s injury.

“He had an abdominal muscle problem. Nobody can tell me what it is but it is a matter of days I hope,” Wenger said.

“He had a test before the game and I decided to play him. He had a little problem before the Marseille game and it became a bit worse.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes was left frustrated by his side’s failure to defend Arsenal’s set-pieces.

“We’re disappointed with scoreline in terms of way we conceded three goals from set plays. That’s something that doesn’t normally happen to Stoke teams.

“Arsenal are an outstanding team and they have added a top-class player in Ozil who had influence again today.

“We needed to keep him quiet and we did that in general play. He (Ozil) has excellent delivery from set-pieces but we didn’t get the details right.”

Hughes handed a debut to Austria striker Marko Arnautovic and the manager, himself a former Manchester United forward, said: “He did fine. I wanted to play him against top class opposition and it was important he did well. He has integrated very quickly.”

Villas-Boas satisfied with Spurs show

Andre Villas-Boas was delighted with the persistence and quality shown by Tottenham in their 1-0 win away to Cardiff City.

Sunday’s success in the Welsh capital, secured by Paulinho’s stoppage-time winner, left Tottenham level on points with Premier League leaders Arsenal but behind their arch north London rivals on goal difference.

It took some desperate defending and a dozen world-class saves from goalkeeper David Marshall to deny Tottenham for fully 92 minutes.

But when substitute Erik Lamela picked out Paulinho deep into injury time, Spurs were home and boasting a fourth win in five league games despite losing former talisman Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in a world record transfer.

“There could only be one winner,” Villas-Boas said.

“We played so open and tried so hard, that it would have been unfair to have left here with only one point. We got our reward in the end, but with the chances we created, if it wasn’t for Marshall, it could have been a more comfortable game,” the Portuguese added.

“Yes, it’s satisfying as I don’t see many teams coming here and winning against a team who are well-organised and well-managed. And yes, you do worry when you can’t score. I thought it might be one of those games.”

Madrid continue to win

Real Madrid shrugged off a warm-up injury suffered by Gareth Bale to move back to within two points of leaders Barcelona on Sunday thanks to a 4-1 win over Getafe.

Angel Lafita’s deflected strike had given the visitors a surprise early lead, but Pepe and a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty put Madrid in front at half-time before Isco and Ronaldo sealed the win in the second-half.

However, it was a frustrating day for Bale, who had been named in the starting line-up, as he was forced to miss what would have been his home debut at the Santiago Bernabeu after injuring his thigh in the warm-up.

“He had a small problem in the warm-up. I don’t think it is a big problem, but we have to wait till tomorrow [Monday] to do a scan to see how bad the injury is,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti.

“The player wasn’t comfortable, he was worried and so it was better to avoid problems.

“He wasn’t happy at the time because he was desperate to play his first game in the Bernabeu, but he has plenty of games ahead of him here.”

Reina clinches it for Napoli

Pepe Reina, the Napoli goalkeeper, ended Mario Balotelli’s streak of 21 successive penalties but failed to see his side reclaim top spot on Sunday despite a first league win over Milan at the San Siro in 27 years.

Napoli’s 2-1 win was their first Serie A victory over the Rossoneri at the San Siro since a side led by Argentine legend Diego Maradona beat Milan in April 1986.

But despite Rafael Benitez’s men dominating Massimiliano Allegri’s injury-hit side, the Azzurri failed to hold on to the two-goal lead that would have seen them reclaim top spot after Balotelli reduced the arrears in injury time.

It meant Roma, who scored second-half goals through Federico Balzaretti and Adem Ljajic to secure a 2-0 win over derby rivals Lazio, remain top thanks to superior goal difference.

Napoli, in second, also have 12 points with both sides now owning a two-point cushion on Inter, Fiorentina and Juventus after their respective wins over Sassuolo, Atalanta and Verona.