Familiar defensive frailties have once again reared their ugly head, clinical strikers are suddenly missing their chances, and after a 22-match unbeaten run, Arsenal have lost two on the spin – the latter, a League Cup dismissal at the hands of rival Tottenham.
Fear not, Arsenal supporters, it’s not all doom and gloom on the streets of Islington, and while in the infantile stages of Unai Emery’s tenure, there are plenty of signs that the Gunners have turned a corrective corner.
Still, the north London lot can’t escape a recent trend of standoffs with its biggest stars. First, it was Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil’s respective contractual stalemates that threatened Arsene Wenger’s final days. The former was shipped off to Manchester, the latter penned a wage structure smashing deal that runs through 2021. Now add Aaron Ramsey to the pile.
Ozil’s contract was widely seen as a victory for a club transitioning towards a new era, and after ditching Die Mannschaft following World Cup disappointment, the 30-year-old’s sole focus became Arsenal. A few months on, and Ozil’s relationship with Emery appears to be disintegrating despite assurances from the manager on Friday.
This all begs the question: what should Arsenal do with Mesut Ozil?
Whether with a 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, Emery requires more from Ozil than he’s getting at the moment. The Spaniard implores his attacking players to press, and while Ozil is objectively one of Europe’s most creative playmakers, pace and pressure have never been his forte.
This explains why Ozil was not part of the 18-man squad for the cup defeat to Spurs. “But I spoke with him and with the regularity in the season, I am telling him what we need from him and he has the commitment to help us and the quality and the characteristics to help us when the team needs his moments in the pitch in one game,” Emery said during Friday’s presser.
In a 4-2-3-1 set-up, with Ozil nestled in the middle of an attacking midfield three as a No. 10, the German has yet to display the virtues required for the manager’s tactical change. The likes of Sead Kolasinac, Hector Bellerin, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have all bought into the gaffer’s ethos and are enjoying stellar campaigns. Others, like Granit Xhaka and Alex Iwobi, have profited from simplified instruction and limited roles. Even Ramsey, who appears destined to leave in the summer on a free transfer, is playing with heaps of heart and spirit, often as an influential second-half substitute.
Selling Ozil in January, or even loaning him out, would help lighten the wage bill and rid Emery’s squad of those who won’t prescribe to his tactics. Whether it was the alleged row in training with Emery or the slumped shoulders at Selhurst Park versus Crystal Palace following a 68th-minute change of Danny Welbeck, Ozil has work to do to repair his relationship with the manager. For the time being, it might be easier to ship him out.
Easier said than done. There aren’t a lot of sides in Europe that can afford Ozil’s opulent £300,000-a-week wages, nor are there many suitors looking to splash a significant amount of cash in the January window.
That has prompted rumors of a potential loan for Ozil, with out-of-favor Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Adrien Rabiot and Real Madrid wantaway Isco linked with a short-term switch. It’s unclear where Ozil would fit in with either of these teams or if Los Blancos’ chairman Florentino Perez would have the No. 10 back at the Bernabeu.
On his day, few are better than Ozil. Since making his league debut in 2006 with Schalke, Ozil is the only player across Europe’s top five leagues to register 1000 or more chances created. His 19 assists during the 2015-16 league campaign are second-best in Premier League history. Against Spurs in the cup, Arsenal’s glaring issue was a lack of creativity in the final third, especially with world-class strikers like Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette making smart runs between the channels. Ozil is a master at playing in the chasms between the lines, and while he may not be the first name on Emery’s starting XI, his inclusion against outfit’s the ilk of Saturday’s opponent, Burnley, makes sense.
“I want every player with a good mentality to help us and give us their characteristics and quality. We need Mesut Ozil,” Emery admitted on Friday.
Now it’s up to Ozil whether he wants to be a part of it or not.