Since Mesut Ozil first joined Arsenal in 2013, the headlines have never been far away from the German playmaker. His inclusion in the Arsenal side seemed to divide attention both at the Gunners’ best and worst - now he’s banished from the squad, he still can’t get away from those pesky spotlights.
Mikel Arteta’s side have struggled to create chances in recent months. With the attacking thrust shared among other players in the side such as Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe, many fans still question why Ozil - who played regularly under Arteta at the start of the season - has been excluded from the Premier League and Europa League squads.
With Ozil seemingly unsure himself in interviews and statements, and Arsenal refusing to address the matter directly, why are Arsenal freezing out their former record signing, exactly?
Let’s start at the beginning - of Ozil’s last contract, at least. With Arsenal running the risk of losing both their world-class talents in 2018 - Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil - CEO Ivan Gazidis and manager Arsene Wenger agreed to offer a whopping £350,000-a-week, three-year deal to Ozil, while the sulkier Sanchez left the club.
At the time, it felt important for Arsenal to prove they still had the pulling power to keep their stars. Soon enough though, Gazidis and Wenger departed with Unai Emery choosing not to field the top-paid player at the Emirates. There were rumours that Emery didn’t like his playing style and that Raul Sanllehi - Gazidis’s successor - didn’t like Ozil, either. But Ozil is the only figure of the three left in North London.
Rumours have surfaced lately though that a big chunk of that £350,000 relies on Ozil actually appearing in the team. Perhaps he gets goal or assist bonuses, too. With Arsenal now shelling out upwards of £200,000-a-week on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s new deal, can they even afford to play Ozil in the same team as their captain?
A photo posted by @m10_official on Dec 13, 2019 at 2:37am PST
In one of the more controversial Premier League social media conflicts of recent times, Mesut Ozil seemed to clash with his employers in December last year over the plight of Uighur Muslims in China.
The UN has estimated that up to two million people, mostly Uighur Muslims, have been detained in harsh conditions in Xinjiang. Ozil, who is Muslim himself, spoke out on his social networks about this situation, only for a backlash to come from the Chinese media. Arsenal then fanned the flames by releasing a statement claiming that “as a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”
Rumours are rife among fans that Ozil’s exclusion has something to do with this - despite the fact that Ozil played regularly under Arteta following this incident. Ozil has himself seemingly agreed, saying, “I will continue to train as best as I can and wherever possible use my voice against inhumanity and for justice”.
It’s an unlikely reason for his absence, but he certainly seems to think it had an impact.
What if… Mikel Arteta just doesn’t think Mesut Ozil is up to scratch, ability-wise?
It’s not outrageous to suggest that Ozil is a spent force. Since signing his last contract in north London, he has failed to deliver anything near to the form that he had provided for Arsenal in his earlier years at the club - for whatever reason that may be. Arteta built a 4-2-3-1 around Ozil in his early days at the club, so it’s not like he didn’t give him a chance. Maybe he was just unimpressed with the German.
As Arteta moves towards 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formations, too, squeezing in a luxury No.10 in Ozil’s mould becomes more and more difficult. He doesn’t offer much defensively or in transition, and his key passes stats dropped off while playing under Arteta. Perhaps the Gunners boss has just decided he’d rather try other players.
It sends a strong message if Arteta would rather choose 25 heads over his highest-paid star but with Arsenal lacking homegrown players, maybe the Spaniard genuinely sees his other overseas players as better options.
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, according to the cliche. Mesut Ozil has long been labelled a “lazy player” but talk about his attitude has long dogged the mercurial creator.
Interim boss Freddie Ljungberg - Arteta’s direct predecessor - was the last to publicly call out the German for his attitude after he kicked his gloves following his substitution. There was talk of Ozil not showing Emery respect either, while the No.10 has made sure to stay in Arsenal fans’ minds with an intensified social media presence since being frozen out.
Given that Arteta has set out “non-negotiables” of hard work and commitment to the club, it’s possible that Ozil has fallen short of this. Matteo Guendouzi would be the first to testify that once you’re out of Arteta’s plans, there can be no turning back.
A combination of the above
Ozil has repeatedly said that he has no desire to leave the club and even reportedly refused to leave when asked behind the scenes. It’s therefore probably just likely that since Arsenal don’t want Ozil anymore, they’re prepared to let him rot in the reserves and avoid shelling out any bonuses for him - especially following the COVID-19 enforced pinch.
Decision-makers at Arsenal clearly didn’t have an issue with Mikel Arteta fielding the German in his early days at the club, either. Arteta’s role of “head coach” was upgraded to “manager” over the summer too, so it’s unlikely that the decision to leave Ozil out of his squad was made over his head. He has clear ideas of how he wants Arsenal to play - and he doesn't seem to be trying to replace him directly or bemoaning the club for not giving him Ozil as an option to use.
This would be a cut-and-dry issue if Ozil wasn't so popular. Arsenal aren't publically addressing this in case they open themselves up to criticism. For example, if Arteta doesn't rate Ozil, it leaves him open to criticism every time he loses; if the money isn't there to pay Ozil, technical director Edu will have his transfer dealings of the summer scrutinised directly. All in all, it seems sensible for Arsenal to keep quiet and avoid the direct debate as to why he’s not involved.
This is a unique situation though in which, potentially, no one is actually in the wrong. Ozil is well within his rights to sit out his deal, while Arteta and Arsenal aren’t exactly being unreasonable to not want a highly-paid player around, especially after they've asked him to go. It’s a sad, messy and disappointing situation - who’d have thought we’d end up here when Arsenal broke their transfer record for Ozil?
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