Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend’s topflight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Wenger should consider dropping Ozil
Arsenal were not expected to beat Bayern Munich. But circumstances can twist perspective, and as such, regrets are had. Mesut Ozil might have a few. Over recent weeks the scrutiny on his performances has intensified, as if it were not already in sharp focus after becoming the club's record signing. It appears, as demonstrated by his timid penalty versus Bayern Munich (so rarely does that stop-start technique seem to work), that he is suffering from a crisis in confidence.
The infamous Arsenal tale of Andrei Arshavin's career, which initially blossomed then withered into the shadows, has been re-whispered, yet that is surely a lazy and hasty comparison to make. Ozil, aged 25 and considering his proven quality at the highest level, is instead enduring a "bad moment," as managers often like to say these days. While the onus is on the player, his coach Arsene Wenger must also utilise his man-management skills to help the Germany international dig his way out of the pit of apprehension.
It is not, though, that Ozil has been awful, rather that his displays of late have not matched the standard that can rightly be expected from someone who cost 42.5 million pounds -- while his failure to appease the curious English demands for a player to, no matter what, aimlessly run about a lot have not helped alleviate the media pressure. It is, however, fairly demanded of big-name signings that they influence matches against big-name teams, and during the Gunners' recent run it can be argued he turned up only for the FA Cup win over Liverpool.
Wenger must now weigh up whether to see if Ozil can play himself back into form, or whether taking him out of the firing line -- a la Joe Hart at Manchester City -- for the next two matches, against Sunderland and Stoke, ahead of yet another gruelling sequence might do him some good. It does indeed appear he is running -- or not, as the case may be -- on fumes, therefore the psychological and physical rest could be to his benefit. With or without Ozil, start and sustain as Wenger's men did against Bayern when they host an improving Black Cats side and Arsenal should be back to winning ways and their title charge back on track.
Howard Webb needs an error-free outing
Human beings make mistakes. It is one of our many flaws. Those at the top of their game, though, should make fewer errors at the skill they are experts in. Howard Webb is a Premier League referee and, as per his selection to officiate at the 2014 World Cup, is considered the nation's best at the job at present. However, it is being noted that Webb is stuttering. Last weekend he overlooked a blatant foul in the box on Liverpool's Luis Suarez, while in January he was on the receiving end of Manchester United manager David Moyes' sharp tongue for not penalising Hugo Lloris when Lloris took out Ashley Young in the area.
Before we continue any further, put your conspiracy theories of bias in the bin. Take that bin, set fire to it and kick it off a bridge. They have no place here.
Instead, there needs to be a wondering about whether Webb's quality as a referee has been overstated. Perhaps it has been easier to believe he is a competent man in black by virtue of his demeanour and background as a policeman. Jonathan Liew, of The Telegraph, takes an in-depth look at Webb's statistics to add rational thought to the debate in his article here. Whatever the conclusion, the not-demoted Webb will referee this weekend, as Cardiff City host Hull City, seeking to repair his damaged reputation.
Solskjaer yet to make an impression
Speaking of Cardiff, their new manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has so far not had the desired effect in their attempts to avoid dropping out of a division that provides you with a far fatter paycheck than that below. The Welsh club are currently 19th in the Premier League, two points from safety. When Malky Mackay was eventually sacked, the club were in 16th, a point above the relegation zone. Solskjaer's only win in the league has come at home to Norwich, and even then the Canaries probably should not have lost. Hence, their home game versus Hull City on Saturday is huge and is perhaps a genuine opportunity of three points, as their opponents' form has been on the slide.
What is going on at Fulham?
What a mess this season has been at Craven Cottage. Already on to their third manager, from the outside it appears those at the top have stuck a straw into the nearby Thames and are now in a contaminated frenzy, wildly poking and prodding with the Fulham setup in the hope that somehow the right formula for survival is stumbled upon.
That Rene Meulensteen, who had not yet even been able to call on 11 million-pound January signing Kostas Mitroglou, was sacked after a draw at Old Trafford and a late loss versus Liverpool, the league's in-form team, was bewildering. Now in charge is Felix Magath, a coach who has a reputation, among other things, for getting teams out of a tight spot. The German makes his Cottagers debut at West Brom in "probably the most important game in this club's history."
Pepe Mel has a monkey on his back
Pepe Mel is only five matches into his West Brom career, but until he records his first win as manager of the Midlands club, then fingers will point to the zero that currently sits in that column. In the Spaniard's defence, he has faced Everton, Chelsea and Liverpool in his opening games and has managed to avoid defeat in each of those strenuous match-ups. Against those of the Baggies' ilk, however, losses were accrued versus Aston Villa and Crystal Palace. Mel's task is to squeeze out the type of performance his players put in against the big boys when they take on the likes of Fulham this weekend.