Mesut Ozil says that Arsenal must learn from ‘devastating’ Champions League exit

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil insists the Gunners can learn from their Champions League humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich and come back stronger.

For the seventh consecutive season, Arsenal were knocked out of Europe’s premier competition at the last-16 stage, as they were beaten 5-1 home and away by Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern.

The Gunners sit seventh in the Premier League table, nine points off fourth-placed Liverpool. Arsenal next travel to Middlesbrough on their second successive Monday Night Football, following last week’s comprehensive 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

Such results has seen pressure mount on manager Arsene Wenger this season. The Frenchman’s future is yet to be determined at the Emirates Stadium with his contract set to expire this summer, while Germany international Ozil and forward Alexis Sanchez have little over a year staying on their existing deals.

In any case, while admitting that Arsenal’s humbling at the hands of the German champions was a career low point, Ozil likewise sees it as a chance for the Gunners to improve.

“The devastating loss at Bayern Munich this season is undoubtedly one of the darkest hours of my footballing career,” Ozil says in his book ‘Gunning for Glory’, which is being serialised in the Mail on Sunday. “It’s in the top five of the most humiliating defeats I’ve suffered.”

“We were positively prepared for the game. Arsene Wenger had revealed to us his game plan. He was very clear about his ideas – and they were good ones.”

“Our intention was to go all out for Bayern’s central defender Mats Hummels; to prevent him from opening up the game which he does so brilliantly. We wanted to force him to play the ball to Javi Martinez, who’s also a fine central defender but who isn’t great at opening up the game.”

“In this way we hoped we’d be able to stop Bayern from building up the play at an early stage and disrupt their rhythm.”

“Of course I could go on about why our game plan didn’t work. I could look for excuses. But I’m not going to. What went on between us in the dressing room after the match is nobody’s business, nor is what Wenger considered our failures to be in his post-match analysis.”

“The fact is, we all failed. We were all bad! We played a game that held a mirror up to our faces.”

“It was a performance we can’t just brush aside. No, we have to learn our lessons from it. We all have to ask searching questions of ourselves and accept responsibility for the defeat. All the players, all the trainers, even the management. Because this fiasco also represents a great opportunity!”

“In my footballing life I’ve often fallen flat on my face and been knocked to the ground. But I’ve always got up again and won victories and titles following the defeat.”

“This defeat by Bayern will produce something good at the end too.”


Bahrain GP Practice Three: Max Verstappen puts Red Bull back in the hunt

Max Verstappen was fastest in final practice for the Bahrain GP as Red Bull unexpectedly out-paced Ferrari and Mercedes.

Lewis Hamilton was a tenth of a second behind the Dutchman in Practice Three with joint-championship leader Sebastian Vettel a further four tenths down – however the Ferrari driver set his quickest time on used supersoft tyres.

Kimi Raikkonen remained in the Ferrari garage until the last minutes while Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo just finished one timed lap.

Red Bull have struggled to keep pace with the frontrunning Ferrari and Mercedes so far this year but conditions in the desert appear to suit their car far more than those experienced in Australia and China.

But track temperatures are forecast to drop significantly for this evening’s qualifying hour when Ferrari and Mercedes will be expected to battle for pole position.

“Mercedes and Ferrari won’t have shown their hand until they need to. But it’s a good result for Red Bull and they seem to have caught up. Maybe this track suits them but it’s encouraging,” said Sky F1’s Damon Hill.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic ‘one of the best players in the world’, says Antonio Conte

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has insisted Zlatan Ibrahimovc is ‘one of the best players in the world’ ahead of his side’s trip to face Manchester United, live on Nissan Super Sunday.

The Blues travel to Old Trafford on looking for a victory which would put them within touching distance of the league title.

Ibrahimovic has scored 17 goals for fifth-place United in his maiden Premier League campaign, with the 35-year-old recently declaring himself Benjamin Button.

Conte admitted that he agrees with the former Sweden international, though he stopped short of saying he would get into the Chelsea side.

“No, no no no [in response to if any United players would get in the Chelsea team?]. It’s not a good question this because I think in football, my players are the best in the world and this must be so.”

“For sure at United there are a lot of great players, top players, but they are United players and I keep my players and I’m very happy to do this.”

“Yeah I agree [Ibrahimovic is Benjamin Button], but I always said this. I think now Zlatan is in the top form of his career because I think now he’s a great player.”

“He’s not only a finisher, he plays for the team, it’s good to have this type of player because he’s very good to play for the team.”

“For me he’s one of the best players in the world, Zlatan.”

Conte added how Chelsea will approach the game on Sunday and how they will deal with the threat of Ibrahimovic.

“We must have a good defensive organisation and pay attention because when he [Ibrahimovic] attacks the box he’s very dangerous, and also when he receives the ball, he’s dangerous,” Conte said.

“He’s a dangerous player! And for this reason I think my players must have great concentration, but also to stop the whole team, not just one player.”

Chelsea currently sit top of the table with a seven point cushion separating them from nearest rivals Tottenham.

United meanwhile are four points behind fourth-placed neighbours Manchester City in the race for Champions League qualification.


Daniel Ricciardo says: Red Bull need more than ‘quick fix’ to challenge

Daniel Ricciardo has admitted Red Bull’s hopes of challenging Mercedes and Ferrari will not be realised by a “quick fix” to their 2017 car – as he sets May’s Spanish GP for the begin of their full fightback.

Having been widely tipped to be the team to challenge Mercedes’ supremacy at the begin of F1’s new era of aero rules, Red Bull’s relatively disappointing form has proved one of the year’s early surprise stories with the team qualifying over one second adrift of pole in Australia and China.

Ricciardo says that the situation is “disappointing” but “not demoralising” and hopes the begin of the European season next month is where the first green shoots of recovery are seen.

“We know we’re still not on their pace. It’s not like we’re looking for three, four tenths – we’re looking for more than a second,” said Ricciardo of the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari.

“That doesn’t happen overnight. We always feel once we get to Europe things start to brighten up for us, so I’d like to say by the time we get to Barcelona we can get that [gap] below a second and then try to chip away at it from there.”

“I think we’ve got an update around Canada, an engine one, but right now we’re obviously too far away. But we don’t have a massive cure yet to say ‘yep, by this race we’re going to be on their pace’. It’s going to take steady work.”

There have already been proposals that Red Bull will arrive at the Spanish GP – the venue where teams traditionally introduce their first big car upgrades of the season – with essentially a ‘new’ car around the chassis.

Asked if that level of improvement was what it is going to take for Red Bull to muscle in on the fight for wins, Ricciardo answered: “We are talking over a second – it needs to be something bigger than a new front wing or something like that.”

“I’d love to say it could be a quick fix like that and all of a sudden we’ll find a second [of lap time], but realistically it would be something bigger than that. What it is I don’t know.”

Since the finish of their era of dominance in 2013, Red Bull have won five races – none of which have come in the season’s early flyaway rounds. And, even in the years when they won consecutive world titles, the team often did not hit their full stride until mid-season.

“I don’t think they ever dominated testing, but before my time in the team [pre-2014] that was because they were running 100 kilos [of fuel] and everyone else was running 20! They knew what they had,” added Ricciardo.

“Obviously the biggest change since then has been these V6 [engines] and I’d probably put most of it down to that. I don’t think they’re slacking off over Christmas, I’m not suggesting anything like that, but unfortunately it’s been a trend for the last four years now that we’re not starting off in Melbourne with the chance to win.”


Will Fernando Alonso commit to McLaren after Indy 500 chance?

McLaren-Honda’s decision to permit Fernando Alonso to miss the Monaco GP to race in Indy 500 may be a “sweetener” to encourage him to extend his contract with the team, according to Sky F1’s Craig Slater.

McLaren made the surprise announcement on Wednesday that double world champion Alonso would race in Indianapolis on May 28, rather than around the streets of Monte Carlo.

Alonso is in the third and final year of his contract with McLaren and has grown frustrated with the team’s underperformance since reuniting with engine-suppliers Honda.

Slater thinks the team may be trying to show that they will permit him to match his ambitions in motorsport if he stays with the team.

“It’s a huge surprise,” Slater said.

“We know all about the troubles McLaren and Alonso have had over the last few years. He’s been immensely frustrated with the fact that they have not been competitive at all.”

“He’s in the last year of his McLaren contract and we have to assume that this is a sweetener to try and encourage Alonso to think that his future lies with this team and that they will try and do their best to accommodate his wider ambitions within motorsport.”

“Does it mean Alonso is seriously worried about the situation at McLaren and they’ve had to back down to maybe a demand from him that he could take part in this? Will it help him to stay with the team because they have shown they are prepared to try and realise his ambitions within motorsport?”

Alonso came back to McLaren in 2015 with ambitions of winning a third world championship but he has yet to complete higher than fifth in a race with the team.

He delivered a withering rebuke of McLaren’s power suppliers during winter testing while mechanical issues have seen him retire from the season’s opening two races in Australia and China.

Who will replace Alonso in Monaco?
Mclaren have made no decision yet on who will replace Alonso and will make an announcement at a later date.

Jenson Button is currently under contract as a reserve driver and also has an ambassadorial role with the team.

The Woking-based outfit likewise signed 19-year-old Brit Lando Norris to their young driver programme earlier this year. A very remote possibility would be world champion Nico Rosberg coming out of retirement for one race. The German is based in Monaco but has an ambassadorial role with Mercedes.

Following this weekend’s Bahrain GP, the teams will stay on to take part in an in-season test at the Sakhir circuit and whoever drives the McLaren could be a pointer as to who will take the vacant seat in Monaco.

“We must assume that Jenson Button is going to make a racing comeback as he is McLaren’s official reserve driver,” Slater said.


Bob Fernley says Esteban Ocon has same potential as Max Verstappen

Esteban Ocon has the same potential as Max Verstappen, according to Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley.

Fernley likewise confirmed to Sky F1 that the Frenchman signed a two-year contract with the team when he replaced Nico Hulkenberg at the start of 2017.

Verstappen has lit up Formula 1 since entering the sport as a 17-year-old with Toro Rosso in 2015 and he became the youngest-ever winner of a grand prix last year with victory at the Spanish GP on his Red Bull debut.

In 2014, Ocon won the European Formula 3 championship ahead of Verstappen and Fernley trusts he can go on to enjoy similar success in Formula 1.

“I absolutely do [believe he has the potential of Verstappen]. That’s why we brought him on,” Fernley told Sky F1.

“He’s with us for sure for two years and hopefully a little longer.”

“We were very fortunate to be able to have a look at him early on in his career. At that time he dealt very well with the engineers, showed his promise on track and we were very optimistic that we could get him later.”

“He’s fitted in exceptionally well. It’s always very difficult for a new driver to come in, especially when you’ve had consistency with somebody like Nico for so long.”

“But Esteban has been an absolute delight, slotted straight in and it’s like he’s been with us forever.”

Ocon has completed in the points in both of his F1 races, crossing the line in 10th in China and Australia.


Sergio Garcia’s improved mental strength inspired Masters victory

Sergio Garcia admitted he had accepted the possibility that he might end his career without a major as he celebrated a stunning triumph at the Masters.

Garcia hit the headlines at Augusta National five years ago when he completed in a tie for 12th and declared that he was “not good enough” to win a major, but a more positive attitude drove him to a dramatic play-off win over Justin Rose at the first hole of a play-off.

The Spaniard led Rose by three after five holes on Sunday, but he looked to be heading for another near-miss when he bogeyed the 10th and 11th to slip two strokes behind following a run of three straight birdies from the Englishman.

However, Garcia dug deep and produced a clutch par save at the 13th after pulling his drive into the shrubbery, and he followed a birdie at 14 with a superb eagle at the next to regain a share of the lead.

The pair remained tied for the lead heading down the last, and Garcia missed a six-foot putt to win in regulation before atoning with a birdie at the first extra hole after Rose found trouble off the tee and failed to scramble a par.

“I think the problem was, because where my head was at sometimes, I did think about if I was ever going to win one,” said Garcia at his champion’s press conference. “I’ve had so many good chances and either I lost them or someone has done something extraordinary to beat me. So it did cross my mind.”

“But lately I’ve been getting some good help and I’ve been thinking a little bit different, a little bit more positive, and kind of accepting that if, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen, my life is still going to go on – it’s not going to be a disaster. But it’s happened!”

“It’s always nice to be recognised or seen as the best player to not have won a major, because at least – ‘best player’ – there’s a good thing there!. So that’s the way I looked at it. Well, I don’t have to answer that anymore. I don’t know if I’ll be the best player to have only won one major, but I can live with that.”

Garcia, who was making his 74th major appearance, also admitted his preference to fade the ball had counted against him at Augusta, yet he was full of pride at overcoming the challenge.

He added: “Some of the moments I’ve had here at Augusta I haven’t enjoyed as much, and how stupid I really was trying to fight against something that you can’t fight, and how proud I was of accepting things.”

“And this week, I’ve done it better than I’ve ever had, and because of that, I’ve looked at the course in a different way throughout the whole week. I’m not going to lie; it’s not a golf course that I’m most comfortable in, because I’ve become more of a fader than a drawer of the ball, and this golf course is asking you to hit a lot of draws.”

“But I knew that I could still work it around, you know, if I just accepted what was happening. So I’m very proud of that.”

Garcia triumphed on the day that his childhood hero, Seve Ballesteros, would have turned 60, and he was completely aware of the significance as he became the third Spaniard to win the Masters.

“It definitely popped in my mind a few times,” he said of the Ballesteros birthday. “There’s no doubt about it, and I’m sure he helped a little bit with some of those shots or some of those putts.”

“I’m just thrilled to be standing here, it’s always a beautiful thing to have. So it’s been an amazing week, and I’m going to enjoy it for the rest of my life.”


Anthony Joshua to dominate for a decade after beating Wladimir Klitschko – Duke McKenzie

Anthony Joshua will brush aside Wladimir Klitschko with ease, according to former three-weight world champion Duke McKenzie.

Joshua’s IBF heavyweight strap and the vacant WBA ‘super’ title are on the line when the two heavyweights collide in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium on April 29.

And McKenzie trusts that Joshua will comfortably beat Klitschko ahead of a decade of dominance for the London 2012 Olympic gold medallist.

“Joshua is the real deal,” McKenzie told Sky Sports.

“I expect him to beat Wladimir Klitschko quite tidily and quite handily inside the distance, but even if it’s on points it makes no difference.”

“Joshua is the future of the sport. Klitschko has had his day, he’s past 40 years of age now and boxing is a young man’s sport.”

“Joshua is in the right place at the right time and is the face of not just British boxing, but world boxing, for the next decade to come.”

“He knows, and believe you me Klitschko knows, who the real champion or who the real winner is going to be in this fight.”

“Klitschko is coming to the end of his career and he’s looking for the biggest payday he can get. That wouldn’t be in America. That is right here in England against Anthony Joshua at Wembley Stadium.”

Joshua and Klitschko are well acquainted with each other with the Brit visiting the 41-year-old’s Austrian training base in 2014 to spar with the then-WBO, WBA, IBF and IBO champion.

That has set the tone for a especially civilised build-up to the mouthwatering clash of the titans, a heavyweight showdown which McKenzie says “sells itself”.

“What you’ll find with Joshua is that he’s a well-versed, well-schooled individual and he knows how this business works,” McKenzie said.

“He’s not into trash talking and carrying himself in a disrespectful manner towards his opponents.”

“He is respectful at all times [partly] because heavyweight boxing is like no other sport. One punch can change everything and Joshua knows that so he’s not about bad-mouthing and being stupid and saying crazy things.”

“This fight will sell itself and he doesn’t have to say anything detrimental about Klitschko. He has the utmost respect for him and rightly so.”


Chinese GP: Lewis Hamilton hails fight with Sebastian Vettel as ‘what racing is all about’

“It’s more exciting than ever for me,” says Hamilton after just holding off Vettel in qualifying; Bottas misses out on front row by 5.9cm of track distance!

Chinese GP pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton says he is relishing the challenge of “real racing” as he prepares to renew battle with a resurgent Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in Shanghai.

Hamilton was once again pushed to the limit as he just held off Vettel to claim pole by almost two tenths of a second – although that margin was a chasm compared to the one-thousandth of a second, the equivalent of 5.9cm of track distance, which separated Vettel from Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes.

The hefty advantage Mercedes have held for the previous three years of F1’s turbo period has apparently been all-but wiped out at the start of 2017.

Yet rather than fret about Mercedes being caught, Hamilton insists he is savouring a new type of contest with his intra-team battle against Nico Rosberg replaced by the fresh dynamic of his head-to-head fight with Vettel and the German’s SF70-H Ferrari car.

“It’s more exciting than ever for me because we are really fighting these guys,” said Hamilton as he celebrated his sixth consecutive pole. “That’s what racing is all about and it pushes you on.”

Talking earlier in the weekend, Hamilton had been effusive on how he had been invigorated by Ferrari’s surge and the prospect of his first-ever title battle with Vettel.

“When you are competing against your team-mate your cards are always in view,” he explained to The Guardian.

“When you are racing against another team you are just trying to be at your best all the time up against an unknown. It is like doing a maths test; if you have the cheat list already you are not learning and not challenging yourself.”

“But if you are trying to learn it and really figure out a way to make it work for yourself that is how you can discover how far you can go and how good you can get with it. And that is why I love the challenge of racing against another team.”

And while Mercedes appear to have the edge over Ferrari on single-lap pace, the consensus in the paddock is that Ferrari an altogether more formidable proposition in race trim.

“Ferrari have a very, very strong car and can step up in race pace, particularly on how they can treat their tyres,” accepted Hamilton.

The top-four starting positions for Sunday’s race are likewise identical to those for the season-opening Australian GP when Vettel shadowed Hamilton through the opening stint before jumping the Mercedes at the first round of pit-stops.

“I still think the Ferrari is a better race car,” said Sky F1’s Martin Brundle as Hamilton celebrated his pole position. “The back end of that car is still more bolted down to the track.”

In any case, the relative strengths of Ferrari and Mercedes in conventional race mode may become academic if, as forecast, heavy rain falls in Shanghai on Sunday morning.

“It’s meant to be wet at the start. If it is, tomorrow could be one of the most exciting days we’ve all had for a long time,” said Hamilton. “I haven’t driven on the new wet tyre at all this season. So it will be a new lesson for me if it rains.”


Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers signs new four-year deal after securing Scottish title

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers has signed a new four-year deal after guiding the club to the Scottish Premiership title with eight games to spare.

Rodgers is currently tied to the club until the summer of 2021 after a successful first season at Celtic Park which could end up with a domestic treble.

Celtic beat Aberdeen 3-0 in the League Cup final back in November to secure the first trophy of the Rodgers era and a landmark 100th for the club.

Their form in Scotland has been just about blemish-free and they head into the last seven games of the season unbeaten, having won an incredible 28 of 31 games.

Celtic are likewise in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup and will face fierce rivals Rangers at Hampden Park on April 23 for a place in the final.

Chief executive Peter Lawwell told the club’s official website: “Brendan has made a huge impact at Celtic already.”

“He’s an outstanding manager and we believe he is one of the best coaches in Europe, if not world football, and we’re delighted that he has committed his future to Celtic.”