Unai Emery might have made Mesut Ozil an Arsenal vice-captain for this season but the Gunners boss clearly doesn’t trust the enigmatic German. The Spaniard informed the press after Monday’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United that Ozil was not right for his game plan for the Old Trafford clash and it isn’t the first time he has decided against using him when visiting one of Arsenal’s top six rivals.
Last season, the World Cup winner missed or sat on the bench for the games at Old Trafford, Anfield and the Etihad Stadium, while he only came on for the final 18 minutes at Tottenham.
A little over 18 months ago, Arsenal made Ozil the highest paid player in club history and now he can’t ever get in the squad for their biggest matches. Instead, Emery has decided to give chances to the likes of Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock, and the trio haven’t let him down, showing great maturity.
With the kids doing alright, the questions are where does Ozil now fit in Emery’s plans and can he ever get back to the undroppable status he achieved under Arsene Wenger?
That would seem a tall order, despite having demonstrated his quality in one of his two appearances this season when playing ringmaster for Arsenal’s 5-0 League Cup win over Nottingham Forest. That night, he played twice as many key passes as any other Gunner but those aren’t the kind of matches where they need their top earner to shine.
To justify the big bucks, Ozil needs to be pulling up trees against the likes of United, Tottenham and Liverpool but that looks way beyond him at this time. Last season, he only created three big chances and recorded two assists in the Premier League, enough to see him just sneak in to Arsenal’s top-10 in both categories.
His performances under Emery have never been good enough and the former Paris Saint-Germain coach clearly would rather no use him, especially as he now has other playmakers to call upon.
The on-loan Dani Ceballos has settled quickly and already has two assists to his name in the league, while he’s also not afraid to get involved in the defensive side of the game, making the fourth most tackles of any of his team mates.
Ceballos’ defensive qualities mean he will likely keep his place in the team, such is Emery’s pragmatic approach. The Spaniard doesn’t want to be as open as Arsenal have been in the past and playing Ozil leaves them vulnerable, as demonstrated in the 2-2 draw at Watford when Arsenal were lucky to escape with a point.
However, with the right team around him and the right motivation, there is still the belief that Ozil could be a success for Arsenal. Monday’s game at Old Trafford was a perfect demonstration of the Gunners need of that type of player as they badly someone capable of unlocking Manchester United’s defence.
Using Ozil in that game would certainly have been a gamble but one worth taking in a match that was there to be won late on.
Emery isn’t a gambler though and would rather try to mould the still pliable youngsters or go with what he knows than turn to a maverick like Ozil. Who can blame him either given Emery’s contract runs out at the end of the season and he feels this the best way for the north Londoners to sneak into the top four, a finish which may earn him an extension.
Playing the kids will also win him favour amongst the supporters, many of who lost faith Ozil years ago.
But could Ozil ever win back the favour of the fans? The short answer would be no, not while Emery is at the helm. However, should the Spaniard move on and a less risk averted manager take the hot seat then it may not be the end of the story.