Arsenal's Mesut Ozil defended over Bayern Munich penalty miss and 'liability' tag by team-mates
Arsenal’s German stars have jumped to the defence of compatriot Mesut Ozil amid claims the club’s £42million record signing has become a liability less than six months on.
Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski insist the Gunners 25-year-old playmaker, will come through the crisis in confidence that saw him miss a critical penalty in the first leg of a Champions League last-16 against holders Bayern Munich at the Emirates.
Had he netted, the eighth-minute spot-kick would have changed the complexion of the tie completely.
Instead, keeper Manuel Neuer saved his tame, down-the-middle shot, Bayern grew into the game and have taken a 2-0 lead home to Bavaria for next month's second leg.
The Londoners' midfield workhorse Mathieu Flamini was seen verbally tearing into Ozil, a blockbuster August capture from Real Madrid, during Tuesday night's match.
Ozil is shown in TV pictures angrily pulling away after being pushed by the Frenchman as the pair made their way out of the Arsenal six-yard box.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger admitted after the match that Ozil’s form had become a concern, while ex-Chelsea and Germany superstar Michael Ballack - a Sky Sports pundit for the game - claimed his countryman looked as though he does not yet have “the acceptance of his team-mates”.
International and club team-mate Lukas Podolski used social media to say: “Thats football! Trust in Mesut, he will give it back twice in return and make all of us happy. Friends stand together. Let’s go AFC!”
Mertesacker, who himself berated Ozil for not acknowledging Arsenal’s travelling fans after a loss at Manchester City in December, said of the incident with Flamini: “It is good that we encourage each other.
“We have to do well as a team, so I think talking to each other is the best thing we can do, especially with 10 men.
“We need everyone on the pitch with his full mental strength and maturity. He tries to keep everyone alive and I think that is massive for the team, so I won’t assess that as an argument.
“It is good to be alive and to show each other that we are ready to fight.”
Ozil later posted a message on his official Facebook account to apologise for his penalty miss.
The German wrote: "The next morning doesn't feel better either. sorry guys - it wasn't planned that way. outnumbered it was really hard to win against this team."
In a scathing assessment of Ozil’s performance on Tuesday, Ballack had said: “He looks a bit lost in this team.
“When he came here, there was so much expectation with the quality he has. The first games he looked good, played well and was comfortable.
“He likes to have the ball. But sometimes it looks like he is in a tactical position where he has to work a lot defensively and I was watching one situation where Flamini was moaning to him.
“It seems like he does not have the acceptance of his team - also Mertesacker, two months ago, when he was shouting at him on the pitch.
“A player like him should be untouchable - with his quality he should be untouchable and bring out so much in the team. But it looks like he has not the acceptance.”
Mertesacker added, however: “It is not only up to Mesut, he will come back even stronger. We speak all the time during the game. We need to encourage each other.
“He has played a lot of games. But he is a massive player and we need him at his best. Game by game, I think he will come back even stronger.
“It is obvious that when you miss a pen in the first 10 minutes you are disappointed. But you have to get over it quickly, that is the main thing.”
* BAYERN forward Robben has told the German press he did NOT spit at Bacary Sagna in an incident during Tuesday's match that saw fans watching on TV react with fury on Twitter.
Robben maintained it was sweat which television cameras showed dripping off his face onto the Arsenal defender.