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Arsenal slipping towards crisis point as Arteta's Ozil dilemma deepens

 

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Arsenal's Mesut Ozil warms up at the AmEx. Photo: Gareth Fuller/Pool via REUTERS

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil warms up at the AmEx. Photo: Gareth Fuller/Pool via REUTERS

REUTERS

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil warms up at the AmEx. Photo: Gareth Fuller/Pool via REUTERS

Already in this restart Arsenal have managed to cram in the farce of David Luiz's anti-defending at Man City and the travesty of their best-paid player, Mesut Ozil, not kicking a ball in either of their defeats.

At Brighton an injury to Bernd Leno and Matteo Guendouzi grabbing Neal Maupay by the throat, after the home side's 2-1 win on Saturday, disguised the absurdity of the Ozil situation. Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Kieran Tierney and Emiliano Martinez (the 'keeper, by necessity) all appeared as subs but Ozil stayed on the bench, thus earning another £350,000 for watching back-to-back losses.

What to do about Ozil is a perennial dilemma but it felt sharper still at Brighton's Amex Stadium - and later when Alan Shearer laid into Arsenal on 'Match of the Day'. "I'm sure he knew it already, but he knows he has got a big, big, difficult job on his hands," Shearer said of manager Mikel Arteta, who blamed his players, not Leno's knee injury, for the result.

"When you look at the [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang situation with his contract, I don't see him signing a contract there. Because he'll look at the salary Mesut Ozil is on and say, 'OK, give me that'. And there's no way they can give him that. It was a huge mistake to give Mesut Ozil that salary. He can't even get into the team when they're going to Brighton," added Shearer.

Concentration lapses and poor finishing cost Arsenal at least a draw. The resolve shown by Brighton was also a factor. Graham Potter delivered his side, for their first game back, focused and energetic. After scoring the "scruffiest" goal of his career, Lewis Dunk, the Brighton captain, said: "We came into the game with the right frame of mind and need to approach the next few with the same mentality.

"But I think today showed the fight we've got in our dressing-room and the belief. It has gone well for us but we have to build on it. We pressed the reset button and it's worked."

With a winning goal by Maupay five minutes into added time, Brighton are perhaps six points from safety.

Underlying Arsenal's poor restart are contract and political rumblings, from Ozil's apparent determination to run down his deal to Aubameyang's future and the influence of the agent Kia Joorabchian on transfer dealings.

At least Arteta is clear-sighted. He said: "[It's] not about the characters, it's about how you compete in a Premier League match and it's for 100 minutes in this case. It's for every ball, it's for every action and the moment you lose attention, the opponent is going to punish you.

"It's not the first time it has happened and if you want to win games consistently at this level, it's a must and it's a non-negotiable. I know we have a young squad but we threw the game away."

Dominated For Ozil to be excluded from both games, however, suggests either a physical or psychological impediment. After the City match, Arteta said: "The moment I see he is ready to [give his best] again I will treat him like everyone else. I have been more than fair with him and he has responded in many games, the way I want."

Dominated at City, and dominating, for long spells, at Brighton, Arsenal lost both matches in contrasting ways, and now face Southampton, who easily disposed of Norwich.

Brighton's 100th win at the Amex and their first in the league in 2020 was leavened, for Arsenal, only by Nicolas Pepe's superb goal and the display of 18-year-old Bukayo Saka, who was excellent but is also out of contract next year and could leave.

The sense is of Arteta trying to coach Arsenal back to credibility while the club's decision-making hinders him. Ozil was a regular after he took over in December but is not in the right condition to play - after a 100-day break. Like Luiz's defending at City, Ozil's non-involvement at Brighton was ominous. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk