Sutton boss raring to add fuel to Gunners' fire

Bayern Munich 'keeper Manuel Neuer saving from Arsenal's Mesut Ozil during the German side's 5-1 Champions League last-16 first-leg win.
Bayern Munich 'keeper Manuel Neuer saving from Arsenal's Mesut Ozil during the German side's 5-1 Champions League last-16 first-leg win.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • The manager of Sutton United will have no qualms about doing all he can to add to the burden of under-fire Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger when their teams meet in the last 16 of the FA Cup on Monday.

The fifth-round tie sees non-league side Sutton at home to 12-time winners Arsenal.

The Gunners will make the trip from north to south-west London to play on the artificial pitch of Sutton's Gander Green Lane, with Wenger under intense pressure following a humiliating 5-1 defeat away to German giants Bayern Munich in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie.

That defeat came hot on the heels of recent shock league losses to Watford and Chelsea which appear to have scuppered Arsenal's hopes of a first Premier League title since 2004.

Even those once loyal to veteran manager Wenger - in charge at Arsenal since 1996 - have started to question whether the 67-year-old Frenchman will seek a renewal of his contract when it expires at the end of the season.

But Sutton manager Paul Doswell, whose side beat second-tier Leeds in the fourth round, was blunt when asked about Wenger's plight.

"Do I feel sympathy for him? No. He is well schooled, and he has been in the job for 20 years," said Doswell, whose team are currently 17th in the National League, the fifth tier of English football.

Wenger accepted Arsenal had "collapsed mentally" against Bayern and Gunners defender Laurent Koscielny, who went off injured four minutes into the second half with the score at 1-1, could not explain why.

"I don't know either," he told Arsenal TV.

"I think the first half was good - we were deep, like you need to be, and tried not to give them space or opportunities to score."

Yesterday, Mesut Ozil's agent came out in defence of the Arsenal midfielder, saying the player's languid body language is often mistaken for a perceived lack of effort and disputed claims that the German does not perform in big games.

Following anonymous displays in the defeats by Watford and Chelsea, Ozil did little to deflect the fierce criticism after putting in a timid performance in the loss to Bayern.

"I don't agree that Mesut has not had an impact on big matches. What about the win at home to Chelsea this season and Manchester United the year before?" Erkut Sogut told the BBC.

"What about the games for Germany against Italy and France at Euro 2016?

"People are always saying Mesut is not fighting or tackling, that he has poor body language, but that is how he is. Believe me, he is desperate to succeed."

Ozil, whose Arsenal deal runs out at the end of next season, has reportedly been locked in protracted negotiations with the club but talks over a new contract have stalled.

Sogut, however, insisted his player remains fully focused.

"I don't think the criticism has affected his performance or his mental state," the agent said.

"Mesut is committed to the club. There is no doubt that he will perform at 100 per cent, with total professionalism and commitment as long as he plays for Arsenal. Nothing will change that."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2017, with the headline 'Sutton boss raring to add fuel to Gunners' fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe