Saturday 16 February 2019

Analysis: Why injury-prone Mesut Ozil may not fit into Unai Emery's Arsenal future

Mesut Ozil's injury record has come under scrutiny recently. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Mesut Ozil's injury record has come under scrutiny recently. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

The Premier League's two highest paid players have dark clouds hovering over them right now and for Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil, the only jury that matters will soon pass judgement.

While Ozil's former Arsenal team-mate Alexis Sanchez struggles to justify his £500,000-a-week salary at Manchester United, Ozil's equally obscene £350,000 weekly pay packet continues to be pessimistically scrutinised. It will soon fall to Gunners boss Unai Emery to make a decision on whether he can take a chance on building his Gunners revolution around a player who has become a specialist in disappointment over recent years.

While Ozil's form on the field for Arsenal in the last three seasons has rarely justified his status as the star of their show, his alarming injury/sickness record suggests this is a footballer who comes with a high risk tariff that may not be worth banking on.

Emery is on a mission to change the flaky attitude that became the norm around Arsenal in Arsene Wenger's final years as the club's manager and as he has proved with his team selections in his first eight Premier League games, picking players on merit rather than reputation.

That policy explain why the always willing Alex Iwobi is emerging as a beneficiary of the clean slate Emery has laid down for all members of the Arsenal squad, with teenage midfielder Matteo Guendouzi and striker Alexandre Lacazette also shining under their new boss.

So while Ozil may be the richest of Emery's players, he may soon be a expensive side-show in an evolving team that will resume their increasingly impressive rise under their new leader against Leicester on Monday night.

"I am happy with what Mesut is contributing, but I always say he can do more," stated Emery. "I have a very good relationship with him and, professionally, I push him for improvements to give us the best in his qualities and performances. He is feeling like I am feeling: He can improve, he wants to do more.

"We need every player with a very big motivation every day in training and to continue improving and to continue helping us with his quality. It's the same with Mesut. The motivation is very important for us. We want to find this motivation every day from every player."

Ozil has shied away from media comments after his contentious departure from the Germany squad last summer, when he claimed he was a victim of "racism and disrespect" due to his Turkish roots.

The lack of clamour for Germany coach Joachim Low to find a way to bring Ozil back into his set-up suggests few in his homeland lament his exit from the national team set-up, even though the fallen world champions are struggling to find their mojo after a disastrous World Cup in Russia.

Yet Ozil still appears to have the backing of Emery for now, even if he has a big decision to make over whether he brings him back for the Leicester game tomorrow.

"I respect his decision with the player not playing with the national team," said Emery. "It means he could stay with us for this international break and he is now training with the team again ahead of this game against Leicester.

"I speak every day with the players, also with Mesut for the focus and concentration to perform the best for our performances. He is focused on Arsenal and does not have to think about the national team for now and this is positive for us."

It was Ivan Gazidis who sanctioned the contract for Ozil earlier this year and with his departure to a similar role at AC Milan now complete, there is a feeling that Arsenal's new ownership structure will target a more frugal approach now that unpopular American businessman Stan Kroenke owns all of Arsenal.

The club's move to restructure their expanding wage bill that exploded following the signings of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang last January is another reason why Ozil's future at the club will be threatened, with Arsenal likely to cash in on their asset if it is felt cheaper options will provide better long-term value for money.

Ozil needs to prove he can be a leader of Emery's Arsenal and he needs to do that quickly if he wants to re-shape his image as one of the most over-paid players in world football.

MESUT OZIL'S SICKNOTE RECORD

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil has missed a host of important games due to illness in the last couple of years, as this list confirms:

 

January 2017 - Ozil was struck down by flu over Christmas and missed the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on New Year's Day.

March 2017 - Ozil missed the trip to Liverpool after leaving the training ground with an illness during the week. He missed another game this month with what the club described as 'a tight hamstring'.

November 2017 - Ozil left the Arsenal team hotel hours before an away game at Burnley due to illness. Boss Arsene Wenger confirmed after the game he did not know what was wrong with the player.

February 2018 - He missed Arsenal's Europa League second leg tie against Ostersund due to 'illness', with Wenger admitting the player's immune system was a big concern.

April 2018 - Ozil missed Arsenal's 4-1 win over West Ham with what Wenger described as 'flu'.

May 2018 - After former Arsenal defender Martin Keown predicted Ozil would 'try and get out of playing' the few weeks of the season, he was duly absent for the club's last three matches.

August 2018 - Ozil was left out of the squad against West Ham, with new coach Emery confirming it was due to illness.

October 2018 - Ozil pulled out of the Arsenal squad prior to their game at Fulham before the last international break, citing a back problem.

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