The mystery surrounding Mesut Ozil intensified when he was left out of Arsenal’s squad for their 4-0 win over Standard Liege in the Europa League on Thursday. It was the sixth time in 10 games this season that the playmaker, Arsenal’s highest-paid player, has been omitted by Unai Emery.
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Ozil was confirmed as one of Emery’s five captains last week along with Granit Xhaka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Hector Bellerin, but while the rest of the leadership team have featured whenever they have been available, Arsenal’s No 10 has been a peripheral figure.
In fact, Ozil has only appeared in two games so far. He started the 2-2 draw against Watford last month but was replaced by Reiss Nelson in the 71st minute. Then, and despite wearing the captain’s armband for the night, he was substituted again during the 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup, making way for Dani Ceballos.
Why is Ozil not playing?
Ozil was unavailable for selection for Arsenal’s trip to Newcastle on the opening day of the season after he and team-mate Sead Kolasinac were victims of an attempted armed robbery in July, which was followed by what the club described as “further security incidents” at the time.
But while Kolasinac returned to the squad for Arsenal’s next game, appearing from the bench in the 2-1 win over Burnley at the Emirates Stadium, Ozil remained absent. There were suggestions he was suffering from sickness and he only came back into the fold when he was an unused substitute during the 2-2 draw with Tottenham at the start of September.
Mesut Ozil has only made two appearances this season
Emery left Arsenal supporters scratching their heads when he said Ozil had been “rested” for their Europa League opener against Frankfurt on September 19 despite only playing 71 minutes all season, but no excuses were offered on Thursday night. “When I decided he shouldn’t be in the squad it’s because I think other players deserved it more,” Emery said.
The implication was that Ozil is not working hard enough behind the scenes and it was not the first time Emery has hinted at it. Last season, he said he only selected players with a “big motivation” after Ozil was dropped for Arsenal’s meeting with Tottenham at Wembley in March.
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The issues were apparent throughout Emery’s first campaign at the club, culminating in Ozil’s substitution for academy rookie Joe Willock during the Europa League final defeat to Chelsea. Ozil insisted he has a “really good relationship” with Emery in July, but there is little evidence of it.
Emery said, in reference to Ozil, that he likes to create “friction” with players as a means of getting more out of them during an interview with Sky Sports in January. Ten months on, however, and it seems the approach has not yet yielded the results Emery wants to see.
What has he offered when he has played?
Ozil has only played 142 minutes in total this season and has not registered any goals or assists, but there have been flashes of his creative talents.
He was somewhat lost in the end-to-end mayhem of the draw against Watford, but it was his superb pass which released Ainsley Maitland-Niles to cross for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s second goal.
Then, against Forest, he was heavily involved in Arsenal’s attacks, making twice as many key passes (six) as any other player despite being withdrawn with 19 minutes still to play.
He has been less involved defensively, however. Ozil did not make a single tackle or interception across the two games and only made four ball recoveries in total. Is he doing enough without the ball to satisfy Emery?
Do Arsenal miss him?
The statistics certainly suggest a lack of creativity has been an issue for Arsenal this season. Their total of 12 goals puts them below Bournemouth and Leicester in the Premier League and that total would be even lower if not Aubameyang’s ruthless finishing. Arsenal have been outshot by their opponents in five of their seven Premier League games.
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No player has registered more than two assists for Arsenal in the Premier League. Their total of 96 shots puts them eighth in the division. They rank seventh for chances created from open play (64) behind newly-promoted Aston Villa, and sixth for expected goals (10.2) behind Bournemouth and Southampton.
Emery favouring youth?
0:57 Unai Emery says his Arsenal youngsters were more deserving of a starting place against Standard Liege than out-of-favour midfielder Mesut Ozil
Recent evidence suggests that Emery favours younger, hungrier alternatives in the attacking positions. Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson and Gabriel Martinelli all shone in the Europa League win over Standard Liege and all three have already featured in the Premier League too.
Hector Bellerin’s return from injury means Ainsley Maitland-Niles is another option further forward and there have also been eye-catching contributions from Bukayo Saka. The 18-year-old did not feature against Liege, but he shone against Eintracht Frankfurt and he was named man of the match on only his third Premier League appearance against Manchester United on Monday Night Football.