It is now the perceived wisdom that the relationship between Unai Emery and Mesut Ozil is broken and the club is trying to move the German on. There are rumors of a possible loan deal in next January’s transfer window but it could be absolute bonkers given the history of fake news in football especially anything to do with a big club like Arsenal. Both mainstream and social media smell blood in the water and almost every arsehole trying to generate clicks and views for their website or twitter account has an incentive to fabricate any story relating to Ozil’s relationship with his current employers. For example, there is a so-called ITK on twitter who has garnered much attention peddling a rumor of Ozil paying off his team-mates on the training ground so they would lie about his failure to complete the club’s stipulated training regime.
Rumor or not, there is definitely something amiss in Ozil’s relationship with the head coach. It is self evident and really no need for me to go over ground covered in a previous blog. Despite being the most decorated member of the squad, despite his medals, despite being the highest paid Arsenal player, Ozil is rarely selected, not even making the squad for both league and cup games. The manager speaks of other players “deserving it more” and Ozil needing to prove himself in training. Language like this is code for a breakdown in player-manager relationship.
Ozil a regular in the 4-2-3-1
Yet when Emery started his tenure as manager of Arsenal Football Club, between August and November of last year, Ozil (and Ramsey) were regular fixtures on the team sheet. For most of the earliest matches the manager adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ozil playing as a #10 behind Lacazette. In an interviewed he explained:
“At first I used information from last year or the last two years. Mesut can play like a No 10 player, or starting on the right or left, in a different system, and he has a good mentality.”
Despite losing its first two games of the season to arguably stronger clubs, Manchester City and Chelsea, Emery was able to right the ship and subsequently went on a 22-game unbeaten run, albeit the beneficiary of a remarkable goal scoring streak by Aubayang who at one time had 7 goals from 8 or 9 shots.
But by November 2018, when Arsenal was at home to Liverpool, there was clear signs the manager was losing faith in the 4-2-3-1 formation. He surprised many, including yours truly, with a 4-3-3 set up versus the Scousers. Previous games had seen much tinkering with the line up half-way through games and sometimes before. Early substitutions were being made, demonstrating a lack of faith in the original game plan but Emery was being praised by many, fans and pundits alike, for his tactical flexibility in contrast to the rigidity of his predecessor. Drawing 1-1 with the very in-form Liverpool, then league leaders, was the occasion for much back-slapping and praise of Emery’s tactics. He himself was very keen to justify his constant tinkering to the press:
“I think we are taking a good performance using a different system and different players.
“For example, we started the last two matches playing 3-4-1-2.
“But we finished it playing 3-4-3, with players helping us in the 90th minute with a different system and different positions.”
Liverpool seem to have been the trigger for Emery to ditch the 4-2-3-1 and ultimately limited the need for a genuine #10 via the selection of Ozil. The EPL website provides the crucial evidence.
November 25, 2018: Bournemouth vs Arsenal. Formation 3-4-2-1. No Ozil.
December 2, 2018: Arsenal vs Spurs. Formation 3-4-3. No Ozil.
December 5, 2018: Man United vs Arsenal. Formation 3-4-2-1. No Ozil.
December 8, 2018: Arsenal vs Huddersfield. Formation 3-1-4-2. No Ozil.
December 16, 2018: Southampton vs Arsenal. Formation 3-4-3. No Ozil
It was only after the unbeaten run was ended by Southampton did Emery return to 4 at the back on December 26th in a game at home versus Burnley. This coincided with a recall for Ozil who was thrust into a 4-3-1-2 formation, a set up which was hardly to the liking of the German as he was the sole offensive outlet with three DMs behind him.
Coach without a clear philosophy
What is evident from November-December 2018 is how Emery revealed himself as having no clear tactical philosophy. He implemented five, yes five, different formations, none of which were suited to the role of an attacking #10 like Ozil. Instead we had a variable, inconsistent tactical system from week to week which gave emphasis to attacks down the flanks by the wingbacks. In retrospect it was during this period when Arsenal finally earned the identity of Cutback FC.
When your star player is frozen out of the team it is inevitable there will be a reaction. In the modern era the favorite medium of both player and management to vent and to get fans on their side is via a favorite agent or agents in the media. It is very noticeable that Emery and the club were the first to get their story out. In December 2018 after Arsenal lost 2-0 to Spurs in the Carabao Cup fans started grumbling and questioning why Ozil wasn’t playing. At first Emery was tight-lipped when asked by the press. But by mid January Ornstein had been briefed by the club and was doing the rounds. Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.
“They’re not just rumours. Unai Emery has suggested to Mesut Ozil that it would be best for him to leave the club. And the hierarchy of the club feels that they would like him to move on.
“I think that’s mainly financially driven for a player earning £350,000 per week but also related to that is the fact he is not performing anywhere near the level when he has played on a consistent basis as we know he can produce from the past.
“He has no desire to leave, Mesut Ozil, so he won’t be leaving in the January transfer window. I’m told he’s working extremely hard to get himself fit. Reports coming out of London Colney is that he’s now doing extra gym work and he has a positive demeanour. He’s determined to work his way back into the side.
“The word was he wasn’t doing a lot of the extra work most players were, and he is now. I’ve heard positive things about his behaviour, his commitment, his relationships with the teammates.
“I don’t think that’s ever been a problem, but he’s clearly out of favour with the manager and that’s a very expensive problem for the club to have.”
By the way this entire quotation is from Arseblog News who made a transcript of this Ornstein audio in its entirety. Hmm.
It seems to me that Ornstein was the vehicle to sow the idea into the heads of Arsenal fans that Ozil’s salary was a problem. The secondary anti-Ozil theme was he wasn’t working hard enough in training. Unlike what you would expect from an unbiased journalist, Ornstein never discussed Emery’s inability or refusal to fit him into his tactical setup. No wonder journos are held in such ill repute today.
After December 26th versus Burnley, Ozil was not to start another PL game until two months later when, on February 27th, he scored the 1st goal as Arsenal romped to a 5:1 win over Bournemouth. He ended the season with 24 appearances (4 as a substitute) with five goals and 2 assists, the most unproductive year as an “assister” in his six years with Arsenal.
The virtual non selection of Ozil in the first 8 matches of the 2019-20 PL season is simply the continuation of a long-term strategy by Emery, now openly backed by Don Raul, to get rid of the German. Ornstein’s talking points of January 2019, was confirmation the club wants to be shot of Ozil on the grounds that he is too much of a drag on the wage bill. I maintain it is more because Emery cannot fit him into his system, whatever that is.
As long as Ozil is around the place there is pressure on Emery to play him especially when results go against the club or the grumbling among the fanbase gets louder as the football becomes more unwatchable and unattractive. Moreover, as long as Emery is head coach of Arsenal there is no future for a traditional #10 in his team. He is either afraid or unable to implement a tactical system that can take full advantage of the special skills of someone like Ozil.
A great man once said:
“People are very harsh with Ozil because he’s a player who’s always very easy on his play but when you watch the game again after, the next day, you see what a player he is. Everything he does is intelligent.
“The timing of everything he does is absolutely perfect. You never catch him giving the ball too late. The number of players you catch giving the ball too late is unbelievable. You never get that with Ozil.
“The timing, he’s like a guy who plays the music, the timing of what he does is perfect, you don’t get many players like that.”
Too bad pearls are lost on swines.