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Feb 27, 2014

Wenger: Ozil to return for Stoke trip

FC's Gab Marcotti responds to Arsene Wenger's claim that the EPL is the most difficult league in the world.

LONDON -- Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Mesut Ozil is set to return to the Arsenal team for the trip to Stoke on Saturday after he was given time off following his penalty miss in last week’s 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich.

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Wenger had said that Ozil would need time to recover after Manuel Neuer stopped his spot kick in the Champions League last-16 first-leg match and subsequently indicated that the Germany international would be rested.

Ozil played no part in the 4-1 success against Sunderland at the weekend and then spent time back in his homeland, but is now set to return to the squad for the visit to the Britannia Stadium.

“Ozil had a difficult game because he missed that penalty,” Wenger said at his prematch news conference. “It was on his mind and, when you are under this kind of pressure, it’s good to refresh.”

Wenger actually opted to give all of his players a two-day break this week, and showed agitation when the media questioned his decision.

“I don't see why that's suddenly a problem,” he said. “We have played since the beginning of December -- I do not have to justify here why [the players] had two days off. It's unbelievable. We are in a society where everyone wants to control everything. I don’t understand this question at all. We are entitled to have days off.”

However, the Frenchman regained his usual composure when one reporter told him that he was due to have a two-day break.

“That’s a scandal,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t understand because you don’t look tired and exhausted.”

Wenger believes his side, who currently sit one point behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, will need to be at their best to defeat Stoke this weekend.

Arsenal endured a number of tough games against the Potters during Tony Pulis’ time at the club and, although Mark Hughes has sought to change their approach this season, Wenger does not expect it to be straightforward.

“We went to Stoke before when they had a rough style and we had a very young team so it was difficult, but they have always had good players at Stoke,” he said. “They have shown that with their position in the league.

“Let’s not forget with Tony Pulis they have qualified for Europa League and that is not only down to the style of play but the quality as well.

“We had some bad memories and some good memories there. It is a stadium where before the pitch was narrow and difficult to play. As well, it was a bit more open to the wind, but we have shown recently that it’s down to our performance on the day. What is important is how well you play on Saturday when the kick-off starts.

“It’s always tough -- in Premier League it’s like that. You need to be at your best to find the resources to win. It’s a big game for us. At the weekend, we have to focus and get the three points. We did it against Sunderland, who are a tricky team, but we want to do it again against Stoke. We are in a period where you have to move forward.”

Wenger has hinted that club captain Thomas Vermaelen may play in a full-back role against Stoke with first-choice left-backs Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal struggling for fitness.

“I will put the best team out to win the game,” he added. “It’s not about individuals, it’s about the team. If needed, Thomas can play there. It’s not his preferred position, but we still have some time to make the decision.”

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