Arsène Wenger believes that Mesut Özil has benefited from a short step away from the spotlight, and the Arsenal manager said that the club's record signing may be putting too much pressure on himself.
Özil was distraught after missing a crucial penalty in the Champions League last-16 first-leg defeat at home to Bayern Munich last Wednesday and was not in the squad for Saturday's home win over Sunderland in the Premier League. The official explanation was that he was suffering from a dead leg.
Wenger gave his players Sunday and Monday off, with some of them, including Özil, taking the opportunity to return to their home countries for time with their families. But Wenger said the German midfielder looked fresh in training and would come back into the team for Saturday's league game at Stoke City. As usual, it feels like a must-win for the club as they fight for their first championship since 2004. They go into the weekend in second place, one point behind the leaders, Chelsea.
"I never tell Mesut: 'You have to win us the game,'" Wenger said, when discussing the pressure on Özil, which relates, in part, to his £42.5m price tag. "He shouldn't do that. It's down to the performance of the team. But maybe he feels that a bit in a different way than I do. I just want him to enjoy it and play well.
"It is difficult for him mentally to be confronted with that pressure every three days and in every single competition. But he will adapt. He had a difficult game [against Bayern] because he missed that penalty and it was on his mind. Sometimes, when you are under this kind of pressure, it's good to refresh."
Wenger was prickly on the subject of the players' two-day break. "Many clubs have two days off," he said. "We played since the beginning of December, we don't have to justify why we have two days off. I don't see why that suddenly is a problem. It's unbelievable. We are in a society where everybody wants to control everything. It is unusual? We are entitled to do unusual things."
Wenger talked about the "toughness" and "intensity" of the English game, and he invited his audience to "speak to [Manuel] Pellegrini [the Manchester City manager], speak to Özil and they will tell you the same". But he has no doubts about Özil's capacity to rediscover the form that he showed on his arrival from Real Madrid in September. "I don't worry about Özil," Wenger said. "He has gone a little bit through a difficult time. It can happen to anybody. He looks all right. He loves to play. You give him a ball and he's happy. That's the most important thing. And he has the quality. You always have to be behind your players. The best way is to show him support."
Wenger has selection doubts over the left-backs Kieran Gibbs (hamstring) and Nacho Monreal (foot) but the club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, is fit after a calf injury lay-off. Wenger said that Vermaelen could deputise at left-back, although Gibbs is expected to be available.