Why Arsenal Star Should be Kept Out of the Squad
Despite a comfortable 2-0 victory away at Leicester in the third round of the Carabao Cup, it was a player outside the squad that dominated the post-match press conference. For what must have felt like the 100th time for manager Mikel Arteta, the early part of his interview was dominated by the absence of German World Cup winner Mesut Ozil. Predictably, the questions were met with indirect responses, but it is clear that something has changed behind the scenes in between the season being cut short and project restart. With one year left on his £350,000 per week contract, and no new information as to why he is being left out, it is time for fans to accept that Mesut Ozil will likely not play for Arsenal again, and for questions about his absence to stop dominating interviews.
“The squad is evolving”
Arteta’s response to the question on why Ozil was not involved is one which is obvious to most fans. The team is changing. Having begun the games before lockdown in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ozil in the number ten role, lockdown facilitated change and Arsenal finished the season using a 3-4-3 system, with no space for the German. This system saw Arsenal defeat Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea and was crucial to the Gunners lifting the FA Cup. Well suited to cover Arsenal’s clear deficiencies in defence and creative midfield, whilst allowing the forwards to express themselves and giving both Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin (Or Ainsley Maitland-Niles) creative freedom down both flanks, it is difficult to see where Ozil would have fitted in. Nor is he still at the level where he must play at all costs, and have a system built around him. For Arteta, no individual is more important than the team.
The new season has continued in much the same vein. And who can argue with the results? Since Arteta took over, only Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United have accumulated more points than the Gunners, whilst he also picked up his first piece of silverware. Three wins from three so far this season demonstrate the very real improvements that the Spanish manager has made since he rejoined the club. So, where is the issue?
Mesut Ozil has undoubtedly been one of the best Emirates era players for Arsenal since he joined from Real Madrid on deadline day of the September 2013 transfer window for 42.5 million pounds, a then-record signing for the Gunners. Who can forget the jubilation and sheer shock that accompanied the move. Finally, it seemed, Arsenal were going to compete at the very top again. To an extent, they were right; he helped end Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought, and went on to start in three FA cup wins, whilst contributing 33 goals and 58 assists in 184 Premier League games.
The decision to give him a new contract, however, was a massive mistake. Caught between a rock and a hard place, with both Sanchez’s and Ozil’s contracts due to expire at the end of the 2017-18 season, Arsenal probably felt they had to commit. It was understandable, given the backlash they would have received letting Arsenal’s only two superstars leave for free and trying to replace them in the summer. Of course, that does not make it right, and in hindsight, paying 18 million pounds a year for 42 appearances, six goals, four assists and a huge obstacle to every hint of progress is probably one of the worst financial decisions the club have made in recent history.
Yet despite this, many fans are desperate to see a resolution to the Ozil saga, either with a move away to free up money or a run of games to play his way into the side. The problem is, neither solution is likely. Few clubs could afford his astronomical wages even before the financial crash caused by a global pandemic, and this pandemic will have meant that the list has grown significantly shorter. On the other hand, whilst Ozil played a lot before lockdown, he did little to influence games, registering just two assists in the 2019/2020 season. In recent memory, only his performance against Leicester City in 2019 stands out. Is it surprising to see him left out then?
Arsenal are seemingly headed in the right direction, with a strong ethos, compact, difficult to beat side and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe to provide moments of magic. Of course, it is not the finished article; more bodies, ideally creative options, are needed in central midfield, and it is still unclear whether Arteta will stick with the 3-4-3 we have become so used to. Nevertheless, to bring Ozil in from the cold would be a regressive, not progressive, move. It is time for everyone to move on, and enjoy the football being played, as opposed to criticising those who aren’t.