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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

Arsenal v Chelsea: Risk of playing Mesut Ozil and Alvaro Morata outweighing reward

Ahead of their Premier League game at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, Richard Jolly examines the struggles of two players who have gone from being assets to their respective sides to liabilities

Mesut Ozil has enjoyed very few moments of success on the pitch for Arsenal this season. Peter Nicholls / Reuters
Mesut Ozil has enjoyed very few moments of success on the pitch for Arsenal this season. Peter Nicholls / Reuters

Combined cost: around £100 million (Dh367.2m). Combined salary: some £500,000 a week. Combined contribution last week: nothing.

Mesut Ozil was omitted from Arsenal’s 18 for their defeat to West Ham United. Alvaro Morata did not make Chelsea’s matchday squad against Newcastle United and, if a hamstring injury had rendered him a doubt, it is far from a guarantee that he would have figured if fully fit.

Not when he has only started one of their last seven league games. Ozil, meanwhile, has only begun two of the Gunners’ last 10.

So when Arsenal and Chelsea meet on Saturday, rivals can have similar stories, of the troubles that occur when marquee signings go wrong. These are issues that cannot be fixed immediately, that overshadow much else.

When a disproportionate amount of the budget is devoted to one player and he underperforms, it can complicate the present and serve as a hindrance in the future alike.

Morata was supposed to be the focal point of Chelsea’s forward line for years. If he has been sidelined by injury, he has also been dropped for his supposed deputy, Olivier Giroud, and rendered superfluous when both Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri have used Eden Hazard as a false nine.

A striker with all the technical and physical attributes – except, seemingly, the powers of endurance to operate as an elite club’s major attacker for the whole season – his failings have been more mental; unhappy in England, he has not realised his considerable potential.

Given the enduring uncertainty if Hazard will leave and the ages of Willian and Pedro, Chelsea’s forward planning centred around Morata. Instead, he seems set to be exiled on loan, probably on loan, to Atletico Madrid, while Sarri could get a reunion with his former Napoli striker Gonzalo Higuain.

Problem solved? Not exactly.

Higuain is five years older than Morata and just the sort of expensive, ageing addition Chelsea had tried to avoid. Morata may be out of sight and out of mind while in Spain, but Chelsea could be preoccupied by the question of how to recoup as much of his £58 million (Dh274.2m) cost as possible.

Because the problem with marquee signings is the sums become too stratospheric to deter most would-be buyers. Arsenal would probably have to subsidise Ozil’s salary to a huge extent to find a taker; they would be paying and getting nothing in return.

Unai Emery last week said the German was “like another player” in selection decisions, but he is not paid like another. His £350,000-a-week wages consume too much of their income; they explain in part why Arsenal withdrew a large, if not as big, a contract initially offered to Aaron Ramsey, who they will now lose.

Alvaro Morata has cut an unhappy figure for Chelsea . Alastair Grant / AP Photo
Alvaro Morata has cut an unhappy figure for Chelsea . Alastair Grant / AP Photo

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Arsenal require a defensive upgrade but a doleful Emery conceded last week that they cannot afford to buy this month. They are hamstrung by their past and if they presented Ozil’s contract extension, signed 12 months ago, as a coup, it is apparent it is an error; at least with this manager.

If the theory was that a team would be built around Ozil, Emery has instead constructed a side without him. A talent long criticised for not tracking back may not conform to collectivist principles. Yet with a contract until 2021, Ozil – or his salary, anyway – may not be going anywhere. Arsenal’s room for manoeuvre in the transfer market feels limited ahead of a summer when they need multiple signings.

Chelsea’s budget may be bigger, but Morata represents a depreciating asset on the balance sheet and, when omitted or loaned out, offers no benefit on the football field.

If the potential rewards from making a major signing may be bigger, the risks when they prove to be misfits are considerable.

Updated: January 18, 2019 08:31 AM

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