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It's time for Unai Emery to bring Ozil back in from the cold

For how much longer can Emery ignore his highest-paid player?

Mesut Ozil is subbed against Chelsea earlier in the season, setting the tone for what came next.
Mesut Ozil is subbed against Chelsea earlier in the season, setting the tone for what came next.
Image: EMPICS Sport

A LENGTHY PIECE in German football magazine 11Freunde this week revealed that the spiral staircase in Mesut Ozil’s London mansion is lined with a series of frames, all featuring the same picture of a flamingo.

You might read Ozil’s festooning of his walls with images of a flamboyant, elegant bird known largely for standing still as a deep and careful articulation of the truths of his own character…until you realise they are the stock images that came in the frame and he hasn’t bothered to change them. 

Perhaps there’s a truth in that. 

Ozil himself is out of the picture at Arsenal, and was this week reportedly told by Unai Emery that it would be best for all concerned if he cleared off and took his stock images somewhere else. 

The player won’t countenance leaving, and ahead of the visit of Chelsea on Saturday afternoon, Emery is creaking under the weight of his own conviction. 

Even in defeat to Chelsea at the beginning of the season, Emery enjoyed a warm glow of affection from Arsenal fans, but now he is feeling some substantial heat. 

Much of Emery’s early popularity at Arsenal came from the fact he simply wasn’t Arsene Wenger, hence the glow; nope, there’s no tactical-bumbling, cliche-mumbling, or zip-fumbling going on here.

In the 3-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge in August, Arsenal at least showed the faint outline of a coherent plan to play out from the back and press the opposition, but most telling was a substitution: after 68 minutes, with the game idling to be won, he sent on Aaron Ramsey in place of Ozil. 

No dreamy star gazing to be had here.

Five months later, the slow exiling of Ozil remains the defining mark of the early days of Emery’s reign. 

It’s admirable in a way: the hysterical reaction to Marcelo Bielsa’s 70-minute Microsoft Rumination shows just how novel genuine displays of honesty and principle are in English football, and Emery has been trying his best to stick to his at Arsenal. 

He evidently feels Ozil doesn’t work hard enough to fit his style of play, but there may be something deeper to his refusal to indulge the club’s highest paid player.

PSG’s absurdities mocked Emery’s better intentions in his previous job, and perhaps it was when he was forced to turn up to (and say he enjoyed) Neymar’s 26th birthday party alongside popular French entertainer DJ Snake that Emery realised that something had gone drastically wrong in the ancient manager/player dynamic. 

He faces a dilemma now, however: can the principles endure the pressure? 

With Arsenal in a kind of freefall of late, he must be tempted to compromise.

Dysfunction behind the scenes means that the club can’t afford to sign anyone on a permanent contract, so the defence will remain an unholy mess for another few months at least. Arsenal fans have been putting up with that chronic, gnawing anxiety for years though, so the concern is the attack. 

A once-sharp edge has been curiously blunted. Arsenal managed just two shots on target in the feeble defeat to West Ham last weekend, and mustered the same amount away to Liverpool.

Granted, those games are either side of a 4-1 Emirates thwacking of Fulham, but unlocking that defence is more akin to walking through an open door.

Ozil didn’t play in any of these games, and hasn’t made an appearance since the underwhelming 1-1 draw with Brighton on Stephen’s Day. His last appearance at the Emirates, however,  featured an assist along with the key pass in unlocking the Burnley defence for the opening goal. 

Arsenal’s slump in form comes at a particularly bad time: they have lost an eight-point buffer over Manchester United in the space of just a month and lie six points from Chelsea in fourth place, meaning anything but a win this weekend makes Champions League qualification improbable. 

Emery is perhaps best doing what few men have deigned to do, and push the red button marked Be More Like Brendan Rodgers. 

At Liverpool, Rodgers spent a season showing off his principles while going nowhere, so then got on with the business of finding others: he abandoned his convictions and stacked his team with as many attackers as he could find. 

Given their rickety foundations, the pragmatic approach for Emery is to renew focus on his attack, and Ozil is his best hope of reinvigorating it.

Should Emery continue to keep Ozil out in the cold and Arsenal fail to win against Chelsea, the league will likely turn into an exercise of excavating a few pointers to next year.

Then he will either be seen as the single-minded coach who wouldn’t countenance a lack of effort from his highest-paid star, or as the man who underachieved as he couldn’t get a tune out of his best player. Results will dictate into which category he will fall, and the latter is what did for Jose Mourinho. 

It might be time to bring Ozil back into the frame. 

Premier League fixtures (kick-off 3pm unless stated) 

Saturday 

Wolves v Leicester City (12.30pm) 

Liverpool v Crystal Palace 

Watford v Burnley

Newcastle v Cardiff City

Manchester United v Brighton 

Bournemouth v West Ham 

Southampton v Everton 

Arsenal v Chelsea (5.30pm) 

Sunday 

Huddersfield v Man City (1.30pm) 

Fulham v Spurs (4pm) 

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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