Thursday 24 October 2019

Kevin Palmer: Getting rid of Arsenal's biggest problem will be no easy task for Unai Emery

Mesut Ozil has been out of favour at Arsenal (Martin Rickett/PA)
Mesut Ozil has been out of favour at Arsenal (Martin Rickett/PA)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Mesut Ozil may have stepped out at Emirates Stadium for the final time as an Arsenal player in the crucial game against Brighton on Sunday and once again, he failed to deliver when his club needed him most.

Few players have divided opinion like the former German international who occasional flashes of genius have long since been drowned out by his relentless ability to turn in anonymous performances in Arsenal red and his role in Sunday's 1-1 draw against battling Brighton was no exception.

As he gently trotted over to take a corner in injury time of a game Arsenal had to win to keep alive their hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League, we were given a reminder that Ozil was, in fact, still participating in a game he had barely contributed to when his side were crying out for a leader.

This was another Ozil no-show, but this has become the norm for a player who arrived with such lofty expectations.

It was in the final hours of the 2013 summer transfer window that news broke of a transfer instantly hailed by Arsenal fans as a pivotal moment for a club that had not signed a marquee player as they battled to pay the debt incurred by the move to Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had promised that he would be able to sign the biggest names in the game once the club’s finances had been stabilised and the capture of World Cup winner Ozil from Real Madrid for a club record £42.4m was viewed as the starting point of their return to the big-time.

When Alexis Sanchez signed from Barcelona the following summer, Arsenal appeared to confirm they were back in the market for making statement signings designed to put them back in the mix for major honours.

Yet despite winning the FA Cup on three occasions, 30-year-old Ozil’s interview declaring he wants to see out the final two years of his contract last Thursday confirmed that a midfielder who divides opinion among Arsenal fans feels the need to plead his case to remain.

"I've got two more years on my contract and yes I want to stay," declared Ozil. "It's down to the club as well of course, but I’ve got two years here - after that I don’t know what happens."

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Mesut Ozil insists he will remain with Arsenal next season (Bradley Collyer/PA)

It says much about Ozil's diluted reputation among the club’s supporters that replies to Sky Sports’ Twitter post promoting their interview with Arsenal’s No.10 primarily feature defectors keen to see the back of a player they lost faith in long ago.

There will always be the hardcore Ozilites who will delight at telling anyone who cares to listen that this is a footballer only those with a deep knowledge of the game can appreciate, as they cite the flashing moments of brilliance he has produced at Arsenal as a basis for their defence.

Yet if a jury was to be formed from the assembled congregation at Emirates Stadium after today’s game against Brighton and handed the task of deciding whether Ozil would remain at Arsenal for the remainder lucrative contract, the verdict is unlikely to fall in his favour.

While Wenger did his best to paper over his Ozil problem until in his final two years at Arsenal despite being forced to make excuses for his enduring sickness problems, his replacement Unai Emery has expressed more than a few doubts over a player whose inability to rise to the challenge when the going gets tough has long since been his biggest flaw.

Arsenal have won three more games without Ozil than they have when he has been in their side this season and while his all-too familiar absence due to illness and unexplained injuries have been part of his story again this season, Emery has also dropped him for games where he feels his brand of subtlety will not be suitable.

In battles against opponents likely to deploy rugged tactics to break up Arsenal’s midfield or, even more significantly, in games when Emery feels his biggest earner would be a passenger he cannot trust, the decision has been made to leave him on the bench or out of the squad entirely.

That decision is especially pressing when Arsenal play away from home, with the damning statistic that Arsenal not won away from home with Ozil in their starting line-up since they beat Newcastle last September highlighting Emery’s concerns.

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Mesut Ozil, left, has struggled to establish himself under Unai Emery (Adam Davy/PA)

He has only played a full 90 minutes on eleven occasions this season and in a summer that will see Aaron Ramsey leave Arsenal to join Juventus on a free transfer after the club decided to trim their wage bill rather than give the Welshman a new deal, the writing may be on the wall for Ozil.

Emery now has to decide whether he can put his faith in Ozil when the pressure is applied and the heat is turned up in the second leg of their Europa League semi-final at Valencia next Thursday, yet the fact that Emery even needs to make that call on a player who is paid to be his match-winner when it matters most says much about the hole Arsenal have dug for themselves.

The contract Ozil was handed as the club viewed as the potential disaster of Sanchez and Ozil leaving for nothing last year has proved to an expensive mistake that is draining the wage bill, with Emery and the Arsenal hierarchy needing to find a way to off-load their most lavish luxury item.

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