Arsene Wenger: Project Big Picture U-turn 'surprising', and in defence of Mesut Ozil

Former Arsenal manager tells Sky Sports News he is 'surprised' by Liverpool and Man Utd U-turn as Project Big Picture unanimously rejected

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says the English game needs a full restructure

Arsene Wenger has warned that 92 clubs is "too many to survive" and that the English game must be restructured - but only on sporting merit.

The former Arsenal manager - who is FIFA's chief of global football development - says he does not believe there were only two clubs behind the Project Big Picture proposals, which were drawn up by Liverpool's owners and backed by Manchester United.

But the 70-year-old has questioned why the plan was then unanimously rejected by the 20 Premier League clubs on Wednesday.

"That is not very brave from people who thought about that for a long time," he told Sky Sports News. "Suddenly the project, then the next day they vote against their own project."

Wenger, who this week warned the £250m bailout for EFL clubs proposed in the project would not be enough, does say the entire football league needs restructuring.

But he says it must be done by "respecting the basis of the competition - that means sporting merit".

He added: "You have 92 clubs and that is too many to survive in England. Why? Today the modern fan supports the national team, supports a big club and supports his local team.

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"The local supporters shrink and the smaller clubs have more difficulties to survive. Maybe you have to reduce the number of professional clubs.

"Maybe the second solution is to better share what is coming into the elite with the other clubs."

'Ozil-Arsenal confrontation not just down to sport'

Mesut Ozil during a training session at London Colney on September 22, 2020 0:52
Wenger suggests that Mesut Ozil's absence from matches is due to confrontation rather than ability

Earlier this week, Wenger backed his old club Arsenal to win the Premier League under Mikel Arteta but said he is surprised at the level of investment in the squad in recent seasons.

Arteta has left Mesut Ozil - signed by Wenger in 2013 for a then-club-record £42m - out of his Europa League squad and, with the international transfer window closed, the playmaker's position in Arteta's plans is unclear.

The 32-year-old may be left in limbo if he is not included in Arteta's final Premier League squad when it is confirmed on October 20.

Wenger, who defends Ozil in his new autobiography My Life in Red and White, insists he has not been in contact with the player since leaving Arsenal.

If Ozil cannot play in the Europa League, I'm sorry, but this guy has won things, he's a world champion, he's an exceptional football player.
Arsene Wenger

"I don't know what's happening on a daily basis, I will just say one thing," he said. "Creative players are perfectionists, they are a bit more sensitive and sometimes they need to be encouraged because, of course, if I want to play a risky pass I need to be confident. Creative players make the pass that makes a team dangerous.

"Mesut Ozil is an exceptional football player. What happens at the moment between him and the club looks to be more confrontational. It's not based only on sport.

"If Ozil cannot play in the Europa League, I'm sorry, but this guy has won things, he's a world champion, he's an exceptional football player.

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"Why is he not playing at the moment? I don't know. When you're a football player you have to respect the decision of your manager and fight to get the confidence back and fight to get back in the team. He can fight, contrary to what people think. He has enough quality to get back into the team, that's down to him now."

Asked why Ozil is not in Arteta's plans, Wenger said: "I don't know.

"I believe he can play in the Premier League. You practice every day and you make sure if it doesn't work you can go and play somewhere else."

Wenger leaning towards managing national team

Wenger, who has not returned to the Emirates since he left Arsenal in 2018, plans to focus on his role at football's world governing body for at least the next year, but did not rule out a return to a management role.

"I have the chance to work again," he said. "I have offers to work in clubs.

"Maybe in the next year or two I will focus on the FIFA role and then after that we will see."

Asked if he would favour managing a club or country, he said: "Maybe more on the international side, than club."

My Life in Red and White by Arsene Wenger, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, is out now (£25) and is available to buy here

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