Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Can Mesut Ozil answer the questions Emery’s team selections are posing?

As we consider the idea that Mesut Ozil wasn’t considered suitably robust to face Bournemouth away, James made an interesting point in yesterday’s Arsecast Extra about how Unai Emery works. He seems to be the kind of manager who will pick a team for a specific game, a line-up he feels will give him the best chance of winning that particular match, and as such maybe we need to consider the idea that his decision was made for Sunday’s encounter alone and it’s not necessarily one that speaks to Ozil’s long-term prospects.

It’s certainly worth thinking about, although it’s hard not to think that Emery is yet to be fully convinced by the German. And if he’s not sufficiently physical to play against one of the Premier League’s smallest teams, and one who will end up mid-table at best, then surely it raises questions about his potential inclusion against a hard working, hard running, high pressing and strong Sp*rs side on Sunday.

The context of the game is different, of course. We’re at home, it’s a big occasion, and Emery might well views Ozil’s positive qualities as an important way for him to get the win he wants, but right now I don’t think we can be 100% sure that he’ll play. I’d be surprised if he didn’t, but the manager has been nothing if not unpredictable when it comes to his team selections this season. Assuming Ozil doesn’t play on Thursday night in the Europa League, he’ll have gone a full three weeks without a game if he starts on Sunday in the derby.

The fact that he didn’t go away during the last Interlull added another layer of interest to the decision to leave him out. Alex Iwobi played twice for Nigeria, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan was selected off the back of two full games for Armenia yet they were included. Ozil didn’t travel, didn’t play, and as such was 100% fresh and ready for the trip to Bournemouth – he just wasn’t picked. And while I think there’s something to the point that James makes, when your biggest star and your highest paid player is left out of a game because the manager think it’s too physical for him, you’ve got a bit of a problem.

The flip side of it is that perhaps with Ozil in the side we’d have had more composure on the ball, more creativity and perhaps better control of the game. Of course he’s not going to be a battering ram or go around winning tackles but there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes. And just for the record, Iwobi made no tackles or interceptions, while Mkhitaryan won a couple of tackles, so it’s not as if their defensive contributions were key to us getting something from the game, although it might have been more about positional discipline.

It’s certainly an interesting situation though, and it’s clear Emery is no respecter of reputation or pay packet. He will point to the 2-1 win and three points as justification of his decision, and it’s hard to argue too much with that. This season he’s brought Ozil to far flung Europa League games, taken him off, left him out, and there was that training ground issue early in the season – all of which suggests that Emery is not going to influenced by the fact Ozil is a star.

And look, for me it’s a positive in as much as indulging any player because of who they are is generally not a good idea. If they’re doing amazing things, you can live with a lot, but does anyone really think that we’ve consistently seen the best of Ozil in the last 12 months? I realise there’s been a lot going on in his life, but in January he signed a £350,000 a week deal and there’s no way we’re getting anything close to value for money based on his performances.

Maybe Emery’s decision making is designed to get a reaction from the player. Sting his pride a bit to see if he’ll respond. When you’re a big name like Ozil to be left out against a side like Bournemouth with your manager questioning your in-game commitment, it’s got to hurt. Is he looking for an ‘I’ll show you’ response from him? He might well be. It’s what he should get, but maybe the test is about confirming doubts Emery has about Ozil’s character.

I’d like nothing more than for him to become more influential, to be the creative hub of this team because we know that when he’s on his game – as we saw against Leicester – he’s got the kind of quality that few others possess. His vision, his ability to find a pass and help us control possession are valuable assets, but that game was only a fleeting glimpse of a talent which has been shrouded in a kind of funk for months now, and overshadowed by the salary, whether you think that’s fair or not.

I remember saying on this blog some years ago after Theo Walcott became the highest paid player at the club – when he signed a new deal in circumstances very similar to that of Ozil – that there’s an expectation that comes with that. If this is what we’re prepared to pay you, then reasonably enough you have to live up to that by what you do on the pitch. I think that deal changed something about the way people thought about Theo. The frustration about the flaws in his game were amplified by the way he’d negotiated a new deal – like Ozil he had less than 6 months left and could have run it down and left on a free, while Arsenal were desperate not to let another big name leave after a series of painful departures. (RVP & Alexis etc).

In both scenarios it was poor from the club’s side because it weakens the negotiating position and strengthens the hand of the player and his agent. And let’s be very clear about this: they were both perfectly entitled to do that, and to secure the best deal possible for themselves under those circumstances. That’s business, that’s how it works, and clubs are just as ruthless as and when they view a player as expendable. It’s football.

Yet you can’t expect to become the highest paid player at a club and not have increased focus on how you play and what you contribute for that pay packet. That’s the scenario we’re in with Ozil since he put pen to paper back in January. What we’ve now got is player whose position in the first team isn’t secure, who has completed 90 minutes just five times in the Premier League this season, and since signing that new deal hasn’t enhanced his reputation but found it increasingly diminished.

Unai Emery has clearly taken a strong line with him. The glass half full outlook is that he’s demanding more from a player who was in a comfort zone under Arsene Wenger and it’s taking a bit of time to get what he wants from him. The half empty glass suggests that maybe Ozil just doesn’t fit with what Emery wants from his team, and his lack of involvement is an indicator that something might have to give.

Sunday may well tell us more, and if Ozil is in the team and guides us to a win that puts us above Sp*rs then we can reassess, yet right now it’s hard not to have questions. Can Ozil provide the answers?

Time will tell.

Arsecast Extra below, lots to discuss and consider after Bournemouth. Happy listening.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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