When Mesut Özil was dropped for an away match against Bournemouth, Unai Emery was quoted as saying the match was “too demanding” for the mercurial playmaker. Even back then, many fans figured Özil was just being rested for the all-important home match against bitter rivals Tottenham. However, the German was dropped for that match as well. The North London Derby has always been of the most important matches of the season for both sides involved, and Arsenal’s best playmaker didn’t even make the matchday squad. What was the explanation this time? Apparently “back spasms” that he picked up during training, but many Arsenal fans had their doubts; many had the suspicion that Özil had fallen out with Emery. On Wednesday night, in a Carabao Cup tie against Tottenham, Özil once again found himself outside of the matchday squad. This time, Unai Emery said Özil was dropped because of “tactical reasons,” and this time, Arsenal lost 0-2.
Now, Arsenal fans are demanding a clear and better explanation. Mesut Özil seemed to be hitting a wonderful patch of form, including a goal and a stunning assist in a 3-1 victory over Leicester. But perhaps in the mind of the manager, that wasn’t enough. The explanations have been murky, first when he was dropped against West Ham because of an illness. It hasn’t been the only time Özil has missed a game because of an alleged sickness. Now, we’ve been told the away trip to Bournemouth was “too demanding” and he didn’t fit the cup tie against Tottenham because of “tactical reasons.” What could that possibly mean? While he isn’t the same player he once was, when he’s on it, Özil l is one of the best playmakers in the world, and sometimes, his mercurial talent has led many to believe that he is lazy; if he’s so talented, why isn’t he one of the best players in Europe anymore?
He’s been accused of lacking effort defensively, but it’s interesting to note that neither his teammates nor did Arsène Wenger have ever expressed an issue with his defensive contribution. In fact, in many games, he has demonstrated that he can get “stuck in,” so to speak, and he’s never been one to complain to the English media over tactics or differences with managers.
Taking into account Özil’s chance creation, his vision, and his link-up play with Lacazette and Aubameyang, one has to wonder why Emery seemingly doesn’t trust the German playmaker. For years, Arsenal had an inconsistent frontline that would waste the chances Özil created, an attack that disappeared into thin air during the 2013-2014 title race as well as other key games. However, with two consistent strikers, it would be a shame to suddenly cast off Özil. Therein lies the problem however: in February, Özil signed a new contract that would see him earn £350,000 a week, making him the second-highest paid player in the Premier League. However, that was then, with Wenger as manager and Ivan Gazidis as Chief Executive. Today, Emery is the head coach, the leader of Arsenal’s rebuilding project, whilst Raul Sanllehi is the new director of football. In short, Özil has to prove to a new leadership that he deserves his contract. Will he even get the chance?
With rumours now swirling of a January departure, the mood has turned sour for a considerable amount of Arsenal fans. After a 3-2 loss to relegation candidates Southampton, a 2-0 loss at home to rivals Tottenham and quizzical tactical decisions overall, the fanbase is taking sides. Many have taken Emery’s side, stating Emery deserves our trust, and if he wants him to leave, then we should too. Some Gunners have taken Özil’s side, arguing that the German has been in consistent form ever since joining in 2013, has caused little if any trouble, and he is being mistreated without cause. Perhaps this dispute with Arsenal’s star playmaker may have roots from his time at PSG.
Unai Emery is quoted as saying his job at PSG was to make Neymar happy. Some influential players and outlets in France took issue with Neymar’s special treatment, and there were indications that Neymar had differences with Unai Emery. However just recently, Neymar said, “I was really happy to work with him because he’s a really hard working guy. He really wanted to coach us and really wanted to study about football.”
Aside from the power struggle with Neymar, one can also draw links with Emery’s relationship with Hatem Ben Arfa, who infamously found himself at odds with him. The Frenchman was disrespectful to Emery, reported to be selfish on the ball and made a mockery of Unai Emery’s attempts to learn French. As a result, Emery completely shut out Ben Arfa. He did not make a single appearance for PSG since March 12, 2017, and left for Rennes this past summer. That situation was more toxic, but fans do fear this current saga could become long and drawn out with no end in sight.
This leads to another questionable handling of another Arsenal playmaker: Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey has been a crucial part of Arsenal since bursting on the scene in 2008, as a young Welsh midfielder with an eye for goal. Few players divide the opinion of Arsenal’s fanbase quite like him; some would argue he’s a distraction, while some would argue he’s a club legend. He scored the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over Hull City in the 2014 FA Cup, ending a 9-year trophy drought in the process, and capping off a productive breakout season that was cut short by injury.
Before that breakthrough season, Ramsey had dealt with serious injury complications, including a horrific leg injury suffered in 2010 at the hands of Ryan Shawcross. That injury robbed him of crucial development time, and could have ruined his potential. Nonetheless, Ramsey persevered as Wenger stood by the Cardiff product and even rewarded him with a new contract. Arsène Wenger wasn’t a perfect manager, and sometimes we were frustrated by his patience with certain players, but it has to be said that few coaches knew how to manage players as well as he did. Buoyed by a new contract and putting doubts over his contract to bed, Ramsey has become a central figure at the club, scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup on multiple occasions and recently notching two assists in a 4-2 North London Derby victory.
With Ramsey’s contract set to expire this coming summer, his departure from the Emirates seems inevitable, what with the club removing their contract offer and allowing him to leave, either in January or in the summer for free. Özil, whilst his bloated contract limits his chances of leaving, isn’t certain to stay either, as long as Emery continues to leave him out of the matchday squads.
Still, there’s hope. Today, for the first time since November 11, Mesut Özil started a Premier League match. While Ramsey looked on from the bench, Özil captained his side to victory against Burnley. By giving him the start, as well as the armband, Emery challenged Özil to justify his worth, and he certainly did. 14 minutes into the match, Özil played a pass that nobody in the Premier League, apart from Özil himself, is capable of playing. He received the ball in the box, and then, played a delicate chipped pass to Sead Kolašinac, who wasn’t even in the camera frame. Kolašinac latched onto the through ball and teed up Aubameyang, who converted for the opener. In injury time, as Burnley chased a last-minute equalizer, Özil sauntered and sashayed from midfield into the penalty box, where his deflected shot fell to Alex Iwobi, who scored the decisive final goal.
In the post-match presser, Emery praised Özil’s commitment and skills, dubbing his performance “a very good response.”
“He played like we need today,” said Emery.
It may be too late for Ramsey, but Arsenal are a better team with Unai Emery as the coach and with Mesut Özil as the playmaker. There’s no use in taking sides; both men make the Gunners a better team. If Arsenal are to succeed in their rebuilding project, the first step of which will be securing Champions League football, then they’ll need both Emery and Özil to work it out.
By: Chase James
Photo: PA Images