(Blog originally published on September 4, 2020. Original title: “Freezing Out Ozil, Arteta is Playing With Fire”)
I have been one of Mikel Arteta’s biggest supporters as manager of Arsenal Football Club. Following in the footsteps of my podcasting colleague Blackburn George, aka @arseblagger, I was among those who identified him as the most qualified successor to Arsene Wenger long before he was appointed.
But since football resumed after the suspension due to Covid-19, it seems to me Mikel Arteta is forgetting some of what initially made him successful in his job. He may have won the FA Cup but Arsenal failed to meet the minimum that was expected of him; make the top-6. That is the least of a club of Arsenal’s stature should achieve.
It seems to me Mikel Arteta decided he can succeed without Mesut Ozil. In my opinion it is a fatal mistake and if not rectified soon, Arsenal is likely to repeat the calamitous finish to last season and Arteta will have no one to blame but himself.
After Arteta’s first 10 premier league games as manager Arsenal almost went unbeaten, in the process defeating the old enemy Manchester United and played to an exciting loss Chelsea (Martinelli excelling with the goal of the season). As a result the mood among fans was transformed from general despair, as Emery’s team often found ways to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory, to near ecstasy. So extreme was the optimism, it led me to write a blog last January that “Expectations Are Too High For Mikel Arteta.”
At the time I was quite concerned about the lack of depth in the squad and warned Arteta in my blog that:
“….with the lack of depth in your squad and the rigors of the upcoming winter months, trying to succeed in all three competitions is a tall order. Every blogger and podcaster is raving about how since your first day starting with that memorable press conference, you have demanded energy and passion from the players.”
At the time I remarked how the energy Arteta required was making great demands on the players especially Mesut Ozil who was the creative focus of the team.
“The first half against Leeds on Monday was very telling. Once you left out three key players it took a toll on the quality of football. The lack of energy in the first half was quite worrying. Despite your pre-game instructions demanding the players take the Yorkshire team seriously, they all seemed leggy. Ozil, in particular, looked gassed and you had to sub him by the 75th minute marker. As in every game where Ozil was replaced , the quality of our midfield play deteriorated once he went to the bench.”
Ozil remains in quarantine
Little did we know that the corona virus would bring an abrupt suspension to the season. But even more shocking, when the season resumed, Mesut Ozil was seemingly no longer in the manager’s thinking.
Now rumors have been swirling that Ozil displeased the executives of the club and Arteta in particular because he was the only player who refused to take a paycut during the suspension. Apparently the players were convinced to make these cuts as their contribution to prevent staff layoffs from the club during the pandemic interruption of football. Seemingly Ozil was unconvinced and has been proven right when the club went ahead anyway with sacking of 55 employees in early July including long-serving scouts.
In my opinion not playing Ozil post-corona is one of the primary contributors to us not making the top-6 and I dare say the top-4, which at one point was in striking distance. This is not an idle opinion. It is based on facts and data as presented below.
|Arteta With and Without Ozil – Premier League|
The data set may be small but they clearly indicate that with Ozil we are a better all round team:
- Score at the same rate of 1.6 goals per game but defend much better conceding 25% less goals hence a superior goal difference.
- We accrued more points with Ozil, going nearly unbeaten versus losing 4 games, two of those to the likes of Villa and Brighton, both of whom flirted with relegation and were no doubt elated to snaggle a win from such unexpected quarters.
The data may not be conclusive but surely it puts to bed the notion that Ozil was weighing down the team when he played. To the contrary, he may have had only one goal and one assist, but a player of his quality made us stronger as a team rather than the loosey-goosey outfit that often was shambolic during the run-in.
Even more concerning is the weasely responses Arteta repeatedly made to the journos at his pressers when they would ask why is Ozil not playing. I have researched most of the transcripts as they are reported by Arsenal.com and frankly they do not put Arteta in a good light.
Take the response pre and post Aston Villa game which we lost disappointingly:
- 20 Jul 2020 prior to Aston Villa
on whether Mesut Ozil is likely to play against Aston Villa…
on whether that means he is likely to be involved…
- 21 Jul 2020 after the defeat to Aston Villa:
on Mesut Ozil…
on if that’s the best decision for the team…
If you parse the “before” and “after” responses, clearly it was a management decision to not play Ozil which we paid dearly for. Can you imagine if this had been Unai Emery.
In fact Arteta went on further to admit that the team lacked creativity. In his own words:
on if he doesn’t see the logic in selecting Ozil against low blocks…
We played other games as well and the answer is not just a player, it is a collective of patterns that have to happen and we did really well in certain ways but the end product of the final ball wasn’t good enough and the last chance that we had hit the post. But this is football.
Yet he left his most creative player on the bench whom he admits was in training. Is it any surprise Arsenal stumbled to defeat damaging its aspirations for top-6 and putting to bed, then and there, its miniscule top-4 chances.
Meanwhile as the new season beckons, the transfer whores are jizzing over Partey and Aouar as possible signings to replace Ozil. Now these may be exciting, up and coming prospects but none of the two are prolific chance creators at their current club, never played for a big club like Madrid, never won the champions league or similar big club competition, never been selected for their national team much less win a World Cup nor have they ever been selected once, much less 5-times, the player of-the-year for their country. Surely Mikel Arteta is not like these transfer harlots who think there is always an easy substitute for a top-top quality player.
In closing, I remain a believer in Mikel Arteta but, as he admitted after Villa, he makes mistakes. Everybody does. But the key is correcting those mistakes and avoid a repetition. Perhaps Arteta should take his own advice:
“I have been very open with Mesut from day one. Since I joined I thought that he was fit and he was willing and he wanted to perform at the level he can do. He has played every game with me I think. So that it is. The moment I see that he is ready again to do that, I will treat him like anybody else. I think I have been more than fair with him and I think he has responded in many games the way I want. That’s it.
Update: Thanks to a reader for pointing out Arsenal didn’t go unbeaten in Arteta’s first 10 games (with Ozil). It was 4-Wins, 1-Loss, 5-Draws. Correction made.