At Arsenal, Mesut Ozil may have to shape up or be shipped out
Despite Unai Emery's attempts to recognise his value and endorse his ability, German has yet to respond positively on pitch to new manager's tactics and philosophy
The fallout from Unai Emery’s first victory was dominated by someone who had little to do with it.
Mesut Ozil was absent from Arsenal’s win against West Ham United on Saturday, the club’s principal playmaker playing no part in a watershed moment for his new manager.
The official line was that Ozil was ill. It was maintained by Emery afterwards, the Spaniard insisting the German took sick on Thursday, missed training on Friday and was therefore not able to contribute on Saturday.
Yet rumours of a rift abound. Philosophies have supposedly clashed. Personalities, perhaps, too. Although Arsenal’s chief creator, the feeling is that, initially at least, Ozil does not possess the capacity to marry his undoubted style with Emery’s insistence on team-ethic substance.
Certainly, it has been a rocky beginning. Ozil started the season opener against Manchester City stationed wide right when he prefers a central role. Against Chelsea, he returned to the middle, but was hauled off after 68 minutes. Later, Emery indicated Ozil's presence was hindering his team's performance.
At the time not hiding his frustration, Ozil performed a long walk across the Stamford Bridge pitch. It suggested, still only a few months into Emery’s reign, that player and manager remain some way apart.
Even this early, it provides Emery with a real conundrum. His Sevilla sides were renowned for their pressing and high-intensity approach. At the moment, Ozil provides neither.
A lightweight component in a side that promises to be heavy on industry, he appears an ill-fit to post-Arsene Wenger Arsenal.
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In the past, Ozil was routinely indulged. A seemingly disinterested disposition was often overlooked in favour of his obvious quality. The stats emphasise why patience was afforded: since joining Arsenal in September 2013, Ozil has registered 50 assists in the Premier League, more than any other player.
In March, his free-kick to Shkodran Mustafi against Watford brought about not only Arsenal’s 1,000th goal in the Premier League, but ensured Ozil became the fastest player in Premier League history to reach half a century of assists. He needed 141 appearances to do so.
Not a single one has been added since, although Ozil would maybe point to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's wastefulness, or that Alexandre Lacazette still feels some way from his Lyon best.
Yet Ozil does represent a problem. His summer has been trying, an apparently already fragile fortitude tested.
After Germany crashed out of the World Cup, Ozil called an end to his international career. He claimed he had been made a scapegoat for his national team’s troubles, and to be fair, he has a creditable case.
Even at Arsenal, the criticism has been constant. Ozil’s talent remains unquestionable. His temperament? Not so much.
Saturday’s match was reportedly the eighth time in less than two years that he has missed a game citing illness. It hints at a player affected easily by everything that whirls around him.
How Emery works through the situation will be intriguing.
In January, Ozil signed a contract extension that made him the club’s highest earner. Recognising his value, and most probably to strengthen the relationship, Emery made Ozil captain. He has repeatedly endorsed the midfielder’s ability.
However, thus far it has not elicited a positive response. Aaron Ramsey seems a more natural fit at No 10, the Welshman supplying both the brio and the ballast to appease a manager who demands both.
Ramsey serves the dual function of assisting in attack and in defence; Ozil guarantees only one.
At Paris Saint-Germain, Emery had to handle Neymar and all that encompassed. Authority presumably extended at Arsenal, he is less likely to suffer fools now. So the current impasse - should it exist - constitutes another examination of Ozil’s constitution.
We may be three games into the Emery Era, but Ozil’s readiness to embrace a fresh perspective could determine how far into the new regime he lasts.
Updated: August 27, 2018 06:57 PM