“He’ll be at Arsenal, 100 per cent. He has a contract that is impossible for any club to even match at his age, and I don’t see any realistic scenario.
“He’s not going to China or Turkey, that’s not in his interests. He’s not going to go on loan, what’s the point in that? Arsenal will have to deal with him, and they might be thinking how long will Emery be there?”
The ‘they’ in that final sentence from Rafael Honigstein, speaking on Sky Sports transfer podcast, is not Arsenal, but the Ozil camp. It’s clear that things are not particularly great between the German and Unai Emery, and despite the relative calm that we had between the time in January when it emerged the Head Coach had told the club’s biggest star he’d be better off finding a new club, and the end of the season, it feels like this could be about to flare up again.
That’s even in spite of Ozil suggesting that Emery could do for Arsenal what Jurgen Klopp has done for Liverpool. Those were very kind words, you’d have to say, because right now, after the way last season ended, it feels like we’re a very long way from that being the case. Some will point to parallels between the two managers, a relatively poor league finish and a Europa League final defeat in the early part of their careers at their new clubs, but that’s coincidence rather than one following the same path and trajectory of the other. Just because one kicked on from there doesn’t mean the other will.
Obviously, I’d be very happy if Emery could have the same kind of impact, but they’re not the same kind of men or characters, and it feels like so much of what Klopp has done at Liverpool is down to his personality and the way he’s imprinted that on his work, while with the greatest of respect, the Spaniard isn’t as effusive or captivating. Which isn’t to say he can’t be effective, but it’s just a stretch to compare the two.
Nevertheless, things had calmed down between Ozil and Emery. His absences from the team last season weren’t simply due to injury or illness, there were issues behind the scenes that impacted some of those decisions, and the manager wasn’t exactly unclear about the fact he expected more from him in training and on the pitch. His hard line approach to the playmaker seemed to soften though, perhaps out of necessity, and it felt like things were on the right track as he was more involved in the second half of the season, albeit not particularly effective.
Fast forward to the 77th minute of the Europa League final with Arsenal 4-1 down to Chelsea. Ozil’s number went up, he was being replaced by 19 year old Joe Willock, a player with potential but with little first team experience. That was a very pointed change by Emery. Was Ozil any worse than anyone else on the night? Not particularly. I don’t really buy into the idea that he was tasked with a man marking job on Jorginho which blunted his ability to contribute. We’ve seen that exact same performance from him plenty of times before when he’s been all right but nothing more, and on nights and occasions like that one in Baku, you need more from players of his stature.
To be fair, you need more from your coach as well, because Jorginho aside the system was always going to leave Ozil a relatively isolated figure, especially if Chelsea cut off the supply to our wing-backs which they more or less did all night. So you have a back five, two deep-ish lying midfielders, and nobody to connect with two strikers and a number 10. All the same, hauling Ozil off wasn’t a change designed to change the game. Willock came on and did well, had a couple of chances to score so he actually did that, but Emery knew the match was lost. He knew we weren’t coming back, and his substitution was a message to Ozil.
‘Off you come, and here’s what I think of you and your contribution this season, I’m replacing you with a kid in front of the world.’
Ozil’s reaction was plain to everyone. I don’t put too much stock in what Turkish lip-readers have to say about it, but we could all see him muttering angrily on the bench as he sat down, emasculated during our biggest game of the season, and all of a sudden that calm between coach and our biggest earner was gone. Maybe they had a heart to heart about it afterwards and cleared the air, but I very much doubt it.
Now, we have a situation where a player who is basically incompatible with the head coach is digging in, and his motivation appears not to get back on side with him but to wait it out and see if he gets sacked so things might be better with a new man. Is he entitled to do that? Of course. He has a contract, Arsenal gave it to him, and like anyone else he’s well within his rights to stay put. It’s not a great message for your star player to be sending out though, is it?
Conversely, Emery is perfectly allowed to make his mind up about players, which ones he think fit into the team and the squad the way he wants them to. Which ones he thinks work hard, set the right example, contribute on the pitch, and so on. After 12 months I think we can safely say that Ozil isn’t his kind of player. He tried the hard line approach with him early on and it seemed to work, but it’s ended up badly because of the change of approach midway through the season. I think he tried a softer approach because that’s what Ozil prefers, that’s what he was used to under Arsene Wenger who gave him special treatment, days off when he wanted them, and everything else. He was the teacher’s pet, and under Emery he was just like everyone else.
All of which is to say that whichever side of this particular fence you’re on, the main issue is that Arsenal have a big, big problem. I don’t think either Ozil or Emery have handled this ongoing clash of personalities particularly well. When a star player is sending messages via his friends in the media that he’s happy to wait it out until the coach is sacked, then that’s bad. And Emery’s decision to publicly humiliate the player has backfired too. It hasn’t made Ozil think ‘Oh, I better go somewhere else’, it’s made him even more intransigent, not least because he’s not exactly in a position of weakness.
So now an already difficult situation has become even more complicated. You can imagine that Raul Sanllehi would love to have the £350,000 a week that Ozil earns to play around with. You can imagine how as a club we want to refresh and rebuild, without this toxic situation bubbling under the whole time. A clash like this between player and coach is no good for anyone, first and foremost the club itself.
It feels like we have two meek rams butting heads at the expense of what’s best for Arsenal, and I hope there’s someone with the strength of personality and the power to do something about it, because if we carry this into a new season we’re making what looks like an already difficult campaign even more so.
Have a listen to this week’s Arsecast, in which I chat with Philippe Auclair about FIFA, corruption in football, what Arsenal have to do this summer, and lots more. Till tomorrow.