Arsene Wenger claims the Premier League is still 'the best in the world', despite defeats for three teams in Champions League
Arsenal manager says even his record signing, Mesut Özil, is still coming to terms with the relentless competitiveness of English football
Friday 28 February 2014
Arsène Wenger believes that the Premier League is still the world's best, even if that special intensity – which makes it so good – is taking its toll on Mesut Özil.
The Arsenal manager rested Özil last Saturday, three days after his penalty miss against Bayern Munich, and admitted that his record signing is still coming to terms with the relentless competitiveness of English football.
While this has not been a triumphant couple of weeks for the Premier League, with three English teams losing their Champions League round of 16 first legs, Wenger was clear that the domestic game was still in good health, and Özil must get used to it.
The midfielder was not involved in Arsenal's 4-1 defeat of Sunderland on Saturday and returned to Germany for a few days. He is likely to feature in Saturday's trip to Stoke City, though, and Wenger conceded that the £42.5m man is struggling with the demands of the season. "It is difficult for him mentally to be confronted with that pressure every three days, and in every single competition," he said. "But he will adapt."
Özil joined Arsenal from Real Madrid, who do not exactly skulk in football's shadows. But there is a different type of pressure in England, where the difficult games come every single week, rather than just in the occasional meetings with other big sides.
"It is because of the competitiveness," Wenger explained. "If you speak to [Manchester City manager Manuel] Pellegrini, to Özil, they will tell you the same."
Wenger knows, though, that this relative equality, which is the greatest strength of the Premier League, can make life harder for its players and teams. "I maintain that it is the best, despite the results," he said, "because it is the most levelled league."
"I think the Premier League is the most difficult league in the world because it is the league where the level is really good, from the first to the 20th position. It is the only league in Europe that has that."
"There is not the difference, if you take the difference of quality, for example between Bayern and the rest of the league. You have Bayern, Dortmund – not so much this year because of injuries – then after a big gap. I just feel you can go to Cardiff, or anybody, and lose. The English league is the most difficult. Maybe we pay a little bit the price for that."
The quality of the teams in the bottom half of the Premier League forces means that the big teams can never ease up. "It is the toughness, the intensity," Wenger explained. "You cannot rest any player. In every single game you just have to focus on getting the best team out. It is too early to say there is a trend there. I honestly feel it is the most difficult league, maybe you can say I am not too objective."
Wenger was thus in no rush to predict the demise of the Premier League, even after Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United all lost in Europe recently. "It is very difficult to say," he said. "If you look at the last 10 years, the English clubs in the Champions League have done extremely well. After that, Barcelona is Barcelona, Real Madrid is Real Madrid, Bayern is Bayern. You play against these teams, you can lose."
Arsenal are unlikely to get past Bayern and into the quarter-finals, but they still have the FA Cup and Premier League to play for, and Wenger is confident that Özil will be able to raise his game for the season's run-in.
"I don't worry about Özil," he insisted. "He has gone a little bit through a difficult time. It can happen to anybody. He's all right. He loves to play. You give him a ball, he's happy. That's the most important thing. And he has the quality. So I don't worry."
Özil has more of a burden to carry at Arsenal, where he is the best player, than at Real, where he was not. But Wenger urged him not to get weighed down by these worries. "He should not do that. It is down to the performance of the team. I never tell him, 'You have to win us the game.'"
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