The Situation On The Pitch.
While Arsène Wenger was in charge at the club, Mesut Özil was a fixture in the starting eleven. The German often divided opinion because of his languid body language and casual nature, but overall, he was one of the side’s most influential players. However, since the departure of the Frenchman, things haven’t worked out as he would have been hoping for.
A clash of styles with new head coach, Unai Emery, has seen our number ten restricted to limited performances, usually in the Cup competitions and Europa League. There have been glimpses of brilliance, as seen vs Leicester City last season, but the new system seems to have hindered the influence that he can have on games. In the past, we were a possession-based side who allowed Özil to drift as he pleased, picking up the ball in numerous dangerous areas between the lines. Wenger’s replacement places much more of an emphasis on working hard and midfielders with the ability to battle. Based on what we’ve seen so far during his tenure, creativity isn’t the focus of his midfield. We've often been subjected to a midfield of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Mattéo Guendouzi. While each of these players have their strengths, there isn’t exactly an abundance of creativity, which is particularly visible in games where we have the reliant share of the ball.
Over the summer, Mesut had a full pre-season because of his international retirement, and he performed quite well by all accounts. However, after eleven games this season, he has only featured twice. Admittedly, there were issues regarding his fitness, health and safety, but thankfully all of these appear to be things of the past.
Following these problems, he was eventually reintroduced into the side at Vicarage Road and was one of the only players that could return to London with any pride. He was substituted after 71 minutes and the side went on to throw away our slender lead and draw the game 2-2 with the Premier League’s 20th placed side.
Our following game was away to Eintracht Frankfurt. Two players were omitted from the travelling squad: Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mesut himself. When asked about this in his press conference, Unai claimed that he was resting the German. While this would have been a fair excuse if we saw Özil included in the starting XI in the follow-up game against Aston Villa, the German didn’t even get onto the pitch for a single minute. This is made even more interesting when you consider that we were 2-1 behind until the latter stages of the game, and Emery resorted to introducing an additional defensive midfielder in the form of Lucas Torreira in his place, when we were crying out for an injection of creativity at the time.
After our dramatic late win, our next game was a 5-0 victory vs Nottingham Forest in the League Cup third round. Mesut started and captained the side. Again, it was a relatively impressive cameo. He created six chances in 71 minutes. He was substituted in the first non-enforced change, and was visibly frustrated at his manager’s decision. Similarly to his exclusion against Eintracht Frankfurt, this wasn’t because Emery was saving our highest earner for Monday’s trip to Old Trafford. On this occasion, Mesut didn’t even make the matchday squad, and remained in London as his teammates travelled to face a struggling Manchester United side. We went on to draw this game 1-1 in a tie that was largely devoid of any real quality.
Following this disappointment, we faced Standard Liège in the Europa League. Despite clear off the field issues, most fans expected Özil to get a run out in a game which the squad was heavily rotated. However, to the surprise of many, myself included, he didn’t even make the bench. The side went on to attain a comfortable 4-0 win, but this was perhaps the most telling indication that we’ve seen to date which indicates that Mesut is not remotely in Unai Emery’s long-term plans at the club.
As I write this article, the international break is just beginning. Our last result was a 1-0 win over Bournemouth, and yet again Mesut was omitted from the squad entirely. Whilst the three points push us up to third place domestically, the game itself was a tough watch for any football fan. Neither side played particularly well and the lack of both creativity and quality in general was alarming for all involved.
Throughout the rest of the article, I will give my assessment regarding who, if anyone, is in the right in this convoluted rivalry, and what could be the potential solutions.
Admittedly, Mesut Özil is my favourite footballer, so you may predict that I will have a biased view of the situation. However, whilst there is an element of truth to this, I fully understand that the fortunes of the club come before any individual. As much as I love the German, if his departure would allow the club to progress collectively, then it’s the right step. Alternatively, if Unai Emery remaining as our head coach would see us earn numerous pieces of silverware in the coming years, that is the correct situation.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple though. There are faults on both sides, regardless of your point of view. Whilst Özil’s level of performance might have dropped since his lucrative new deal in early 2018, he still shows moments of brilliance that very few others in the squad can mirror. A clear example of this was at home to Leicester City last season, in arguably the best individual performance we’ve seen since Emery’s appointment.
For me, the squad isn’t benefiting from his exclusion for two reasons. Firstly, we have a visible lack of creativity in his absence, with a midfield often comprised of three defensive-minded players. Despite only featuring for 142 minutes out of a potential 990, Özil has created the fourth most chances in the squad. Whilst it is important to account for the sub-par opposition which he played against, this is an incredibly worrying statistic for the future.
If our manager does view Mesut as surplus to requirements, which he seemingly does, I sincerely hope that he has an external replacement lined up to take over his role, rather than persisting with the current crop of players. Whilst Dani Ceballos has shown moments of magic and Joe Willock has had a great season to date, I don’t think they’re ready just yet. Are they good footballers? Absolutely. Do I feel like they could be the main source of creativity in the side throughout the entirety of a season? Probably not.
The second negative issue which the spat is contributing towards is presumably unrest in the dressing-room. If there was an issue, it would be kept behind closed doors for obvious reasons, but I can’t imagine that it’s having no impact on the camp, personally. For your highest earner to be selected as one of the five captains of the squad, only to be omitted entirely for each of the next three games must raise a whole lot of questions.
Finally, a personal issue that I have with the situation is the difference in both transparency and treatment between the manager’s treatment of Özil as opposed to the rest of the squad.
So far this season, mistakes have been common in the Arsenal defence. We’ve seen individual errors cost the side on numerous occasions, with very few repercussions for those involved. I’m not going to single anyone out, but there are some players who can seemingly make as many mistakes as they like, while their place in the starting eleven is still secure. On the other hand, Mesut has one chance to prove himself every few weeks, and if the display isn’t immaculate, he is banished from the first team squad entirely.
As fans, we’re not suggesting that he should be playing 90 minutes twice a week throughout the entirety of the season, we’re asking for fair treatment. The opposing argument is often that he shouldn’t be guaranteed a place in the team, and that he should have to earn his spot like everyone else. Whilst I entirely agree with this, the opposite also applies. He shouldn’t be guaranteed to miss out either. He should have as much of a chance as anyone to be called up, regardless of the manager’s preferences. Unfortunately, it would appear that this isn’t the case. By the same stage last season, Mo Elneny had featured more often than Mesut Özil has so far this campaign. Do you really mean to tell me that the Egyptian had the capabilities to add more to the squad than Mesut?
The individual mistreatment of Özil can also be seen when observing the situation with Shkodran Mustafi. The defender made numerous errors last season and was available for other clubs to purchase during the summer. However, a move failed to materialize and he has remained an Arsenal player. Since then, he has trained as normal and been given opportunities accordingly. He hasn’t played every week, but he’s improved significantly when given the opportunity. Although it is evident that he isn’t in the long-term plans at Arsenal, he is still being utilized to good effect whilst he remains on our books.
This is an entirely different approach to the Özil situation. At times, Emery seems more concerned on remaining stubborn and proving that he has power over his players than the success of the club itself. If you plan on selling Mesut in the January transfer window, fine. However, excluding him entirely not only seems illogical for our success collectively, it also lowers the eventual fee that we will receive for his services and decreases the amount of clubs interested.
As a final point, I would like to account for the fact that Özil has handled the situation relatively well. He hasn’t spoken out to the media, or refused to train. He has kept his head down and focused on trying to prove his manager wrong. Whilst a solution seems a long way off as of right now, I think we can all agree on the fact that a resolution needs to be reached. This civil war within the club’s walls is creating a split within the fanbase, whether it intends to or not. Regardless of your individual views on either involved, the club comes first. Hopefully the saga won’t last much longer, and the right conception can be reached.
So, there you have it. That is my in depth opinion on the situation as a whole. If you disagree, feel free to leave a comment outlining your points. I will try to get back to as many of you as possible. Thank you for reading. Up the Arsenal.