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Ozil's vanishing act a real worry for Arsenal

Reuters
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Arsenal's Mesut Ozil reacts after missing a penalty against Bayern Munich during their Champions …

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - When Arsenal paid a club record 42 million pounds for Mesut Ozil last August it was with nights like Tuesday in Munich in mind.

Trailing 2-0 from the first leg of the Champions League last 16 tie against holders Bayern, it was the perfect stage for Germany playmaker Ozil to deliver a grandstand performance.

What transpired, however, was a brief cameo as Ozil vanished at halftime with a hamstring niggle after being virtually invisible for the opening 45 minutes in the Allianz.

Arsenal eventually bowed out after a battling 1-1 draw - Lukas Podolski equalising with a rocket shot after Bastian Schweinsteiger had put Bayern 3-0 up on aggregate - and there season is in danger of fizzling out.

After setting the pace in the Premier League Arsenal are now seven points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand after registering only one league win in their last four.

Their best bet of ending a nine-year wait for silverware rests with the FA Cup where they face second tier Wigan Athletic in the semi-finals.

Manager Arsene Wenger will point to long-term injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, while Jack Wilshere is now also sidelined with a broken foot sustained on England duty.

He also highlighted keeper Wojciech Szczesny's red card in the first leg against Bayern as a turning point in the tie.

Ozil's worrying loss of form will be as perplexing for the Frenchman as his likely three-week lay-off.

He has not scored in the Premier League since before Christmas and, more tellingly, his ability to influence games with a range of passing that made him "king of the assists" earlier in the campaign has waned.

His penalty miss against Bayern in the first leg at the Emirates appeared to drain his already fragile confidence and the way he was jeered by Bayern's fans on Tuesday summed up a horror tie for the former Real Madrid man.

Paying so much money for Ozil was always going to be something of a gamble but when he began the season in scintillating form it looked as though the investment could spur Arsenal to silverware.

However, with injuries taking their toll and Ozil struggling to maintain his form, Arsenal's failure to bolster their ranks, particularly in attack, during the January transfer window could ultimately prove to be their undoing yet again.

The addition of the injured Kim Kallstrom on loan from Russian side Spartak Moscow was hardly a statement of intent from the Gunners who at the time were going toe-to-toe with Chelsea and Manchester City.

With a tough-looking run of fixtures to come, they are now behind a free-scoring Liverpool side and defeat in the north London derby at fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday would leave them looking anxiously over their shoulders.

"We want to finish the season strongly now and achieve something," German defender Per Mertesacker told UEFA.

"We have to get the Champions League out of our system and take the positives into our next game."

After a slow start Arsenal finished last season like an express train, pipping Tottenham for fourth place to ensure another season in the Champions League.

This time the worry is that they peaked too early and the optimism they carried into the New Year will give way to the sense of under-achievement that has dogged the club since they won the FA Cup in 2005.

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