Friday 20 September 2019

Ozil's Arsenal days numbered as Emery tackles inheritance issues

Brighton 1 Arsenal 1

Mesut Ozil of Arsenal is challenged by Pascal Grob of Brighton & Hove Albion. Photo: Getty
Mesut Ozil of Arsenal is challenged by Pascal Grob of Brighton & Hove Albion. Photo: Getty

Paul Hayward

With his cap on tight and hood pulled over the hat, Mesut Ozil was taking no chances as he headed down the tunnel here. He looked like a man striving for invisibility - a condition he has achieved too often for his manager's liking.

Ozil left the field at half-time to be replaced by Alex Iwobi, and kept his eyes on the floor as he made his way back to the dressing-room after 90 minutes, swaddled in the attire of someone who spent half the game spectating. By any measure, this was a miserable evening for the most gifted of Unai Emery's players and will add more fuel to the theory that he is finished as an Arsenal star.

Bernd Leno of Arsenal saves the ball on the goal line. Photo: Getty
Bernd Leno of Arsenal saves the ball on the goal line. Photo: Getty

To recite the doubts about Ozil as a Premier League footballer would take us just about to New Year's Day, so a short summary will do. In a game obsessed with pressing and work-rate, Ozil is an artist who refuses to play the artisan. If he sees the pitch as a canvas, it is not the sort you would find in a boxing ring.

This approach worked fine when he was winning a World Cup with Germany, from a starting point on the left, but in fast, physical Premier League games it can render him irrelevant.

Emery denied there was anything unusual about him 'hooking' his No 10 at half-time, but nobody was fooled. "It's only tactical," he said. "We did it before in matches, changing the idea at half-time with other players, and today I decided to do it with Mesut."

In fairness to Emery, he has forced accountability on this Arsenal squad. Where players were protected by Arsene Wenger, Emery judges them game by game, and is not afraid to make big changes during matches. Most Arsenal fans welcome this. Under Wenger, players could under-perform week after week but remain in contention for a starting place. Breaking this complacency was a vital first step for the new manager - and Emery took it. But there is another problem now, and it jumped out at him again here.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal challenges for the ball with Martin Montoya of Brighton & Hove Albion. Photo: Getty
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal challenges for the ball with Martin Montoya of Brighton & Hove Albion. Photo: Getty

The back half of Emery's side was a mess once the Seagulls, encouraged by Jurgen Locadia's 34th minute equaliser, elected to go long and direct. Not with hit and hope, but with accurate passes behind Arsenal's defenders, who were undone by Locadia's goal, from a long clearance which Stephan Lichsteiner could only glance with his head into the path of Brighton's left-sided striker.

Again and again, Arsenal were spooked by balls that obliged them to turn and retreat from the high line favoured by Emery, who has been lumbered with the club's poor recruitment in this area over many seasons.

With a visit to Liverpool approaching, Emery is still trying to fuse the pantomime horse of a forward, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has scored 23 times in 32 league games, with a back line that often features Granit Xhaka these days, and where the best centre-back, Laurent Koscielny, is nowhere near his best after injury. Missing, for Emery, were Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal, Shkodran Mustafi and Konstantinos Mavropanos.

So when Emery talks of his "process," task No 1 must surely be to upgrade his defenders, to allow Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi (a promising combination) to operate with more confidence in central midfield, and the two strikers, Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, to hunt for goals without feeling they are having to carry their defence.

Ozil is accountable for his own floatiness but not Arsenal's poor judgement over several years in their signing of defenders. Plainly, though, Emery has lost faith in him, and it looks terminal, because Ozil is unlikely to reinvent himself now. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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