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Freezing Out Ozil, Arteta Is Playing With Fire

Ozil and Arteta. Where has the love gone?

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
OZIL P W D L F A GD Points
In 10 4 5 1 16 9 7 17
Out 10 5 1 4 17 12 5 16

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.

Weasely excuses

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…

Mesut is training at the moment.

on whether that means he is likely to be involved…

Like every player that is training.

  • 21 Jul 2020 after the defeat to Aston Villa:

on Mesut Ozil…

I don’t know. I try to make the best decisions for the team and the club.

on if that’s the best decision for the team…

All I can say is sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong and sometimes I get it very wrong so all the time I will try my best.

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:

I think you cannot fault the effort of the players, but after the goal we needed to find ways to attack them better in the final third and we lacked that creativity and that final cross and spark.

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. 

17 Comments

  1. It still remains a mystery why Ozil was not involved post covid when we lacked creativity.

    Ozil played almost every game post Emery so it is ominous that Arteta know Ozil is so much useful for the team.

    Me thinks it was the management decision to sideline Ozil probably for his remarks on Chineese govt treatment of Ughyr Muslims.

    However you are right that had we played Ozil we could have secured top6 atleast.

    But do you think Shorts the idiot fan base is convinced that Ozil is not a liability rather is an asset for Arsenal?

    Reply
    • Of course most of the fanbase is going along with the narrative that Arsenal can succeed without Ozil. That is why I researched the 10 games with Ozil vs the 10 games without and discovered it makes a lie of the anti-Ozil narrative. With Ozil we had more points and went almost undefeated. If Arteta keeps up this charade and we continue to perform badly in the League, the same fans who are going along with the lie will turn on him like vultures.

      Reply
  2. For me, the most disappointing statement from Arteta was when he said a paycut doesn’t mean you get to make decisions about the club. Effectively throwing his support behind the owners taking the players’ money by lying to them.

    Maybe that is simply the reality of his position. We shall have to see how it goes now that Raul, the most immediate of threats, is gone. Arteta did say he and Edu were still deciding on how to restructure the club. That indicates the club has left these decisions to the football people rather than Josh Kroenke dictating from on high. Hopefully footballing sense will prevail and Ozil will find his way back into the team this season. Would be foolish to not use such an asset, not just on the pitch, but as a mentor to the young talent at the club.

    Reply
  3. Understand what you are saying and you make some good points, but you are wrong with your data. Arteta’s second game in charge, and first one at home was a defeat to Chelsea. We were not unbeaten in the league in Arteta’s first ten games. In addition, Ozil played in that game so your comparison above of games with and games without him is also incorrect.

    I think Ozil has been left out after lockdown over the wage cut issue. It is part of the whether ‘you are on the boat or not’ philosophy. If everyone has fresh page for this season, it will be interesting to see if Mesut is re-introduced. It is certainly a waste of talent to leave him out completely, but one way or another he has fallen foul of three different managers now so some of it has to be ‘on him’.

    I hope we see peak-Mesut again, but I am not holding my breath that even if re-introduced, he can ever recapture that magic.

    Reply
    • Thanks reader for spotting the error I made by wrongly observing that Arsenal went unbeaten in Arteta’s 1st 10 games (with Ozil). Correction made. (To err is human…) The data is still compelling and I stand by my thesis that we were a better team with Ozil.

      Reply
  4. I noticed that after the corona break when we came back without Ozil, the comments coming from the coach regarding his absence esp when we lost was very similar to unai’s responses but a bit more coherent in I can understand you are beating around the bush clearly regarding the questions asked and not just unclear like unai.

    I kinda realised that Arteta is a coach like unai and under instruction just like unai.
    Its his 1st job as the main man, in a continental model (director football, head coach) that he would understand coming from Barca/PSG as a youth so i would say he is fairly comfortable with it.

    I think he understands the limits of his power and knows he is not in a Wenger, Ferguson, Guardiola or Klopp position in having more control over footballing matters and decisions.

    Maybe trophies and CL football might bring him more control but for now he is in the same boat as unai. Time will tell.

    Reply
  5. I agree entirely with what you say.

    I thought that there were three players who refused to take a pay cut but the only one who the club deemed appropriate to reveal was Ozil.

    I have suspected that that was the reason for his post Covid exclusion, perhaps also because of his Chinese comments.

    Now that the television contract with China has been cancelled perhaps that “crime” may now be forgiven or overlooked.

    However, I also took the view that the main pressure for this was coming from Raul, as part of his plan to force Ozil out, to save money.

    Now that he has gone one hopes that Arteta has more leeway to consider the footballing side of the club rather than the financial.

    All this talk of more purchases is concerning because, firstly, I do not think the club has the money and secondly there was always the problem of new players taking time to fit in.

    As it is, Saliba and Gabriel are hardly very experienced players to be expected to propel us up the league because they are there. They both need to change to the EPL style of play which might not suit them so easily.

    Winning the FA Cup was nice but I think it may have given the wrong impression to the fan base that everything was hunky-dory.

    I think we are far from that.

    Our overreliance on Auba, worries me as it did when we were so overreliant on Ian Wright.

    When we had Henry we had a number of other regular goalscorers but now everything is built around Auba, which gives him so he thinks, the right to dictate to the club what it should be doing.

    Shades of RVP.

    All is not rosy in the club and I fear that there are too many rose tinted glasses being used

    Reply
  6. Is there any truth on ozil getting less app so we don’t need to pay any bonus to him? If this is this is the case, we will see him more at the start of this new season

    Reply
  7. “Our overreliance on Auba, worries me as it did when we were so overreliant on Ian Wright.”

    I have not checked the stats so do not really know if this is accurate but i would like to compare the spread of goal scorers in the team when Mesut is playing and when he is not. I would expect to see the goals spread amongst more team members when Ozil plays and concentrated amongst fewer members of the team when not playing. It would be interesting to know.

    Reply
  8. Even though we have seen the difference in results with and without Ozil, but I think even bigger difference the style of football we have played under Arteta with and without Ozil. Where one was full of high press, possession dominant, being on the front foot and playing right through the centre, the other was dull, sitting back with low blocks, playing extra defender with workhorse offensive players that offer more energy rather than creativity and playing the game from wings.

    Though the later has brought him success recently in shape of FA Cup and Community Shield but it’s the performance of this system and Arteta’s tactics over the whole coming season that will truly define his Arsenal tenure. And on that I do not think any fan would be excited by the prospect of the football style we witnessed post COVID.

    Creativity was never the issue in our midfield even during the worst of Arsene Wenger’s tenure. But now it is completely void of it and I don’t see any creative player being signed in this window either. So, even after that if you are not going to play Mesut Ozil then best of luck winning the league or getting Top 4 by playing this kind of football over 38 games. Because if we did not achieved any of that, Arteta alone will not survive based on his football style or philosophy. This is the part of the reason that Unai Emery felt the hammer as soon as the results went downhill.

    Reply
    • Btw Omi, you consistently observed in your match reports covering most of those last 10-games that Arteta’s style was “dull, sitting back with low blocks, playing extra defender with workhorse offensive players that offer more energy rather than creativity and playing the game from wings.” Like most of us you moderated your criticism and emphasized the positives. But as we enter a new season, I feel it is necessary to speak the truth. It is doubtful Arteta/Arsenal can succeed playing this style over 38 games. We shall see.

      Reply
      • Sitting deep yes. But I haven’t been bored with football under Arteta. I can’t remember which match it was. I think Watford, where I did a report and I was fascinated by the changes during the game, and how effortlessly the players moved around.

        Coaching defense is ‘easier’ than attack. But it is the foundation. Wenger had Adams and co. when he first came here and could immediately build on it. Arteta was deprived of stability in the side.

        We won’t have much of a pre-season either so it will take a little longer. The free flowing attack will come instinctively once everyone knows their roles. (The myth around Wenger not coaching tactics is just that. A myth.)

        In the meantime, the signings (and rumoured signings) seem to indicate a Wenger like preference for verticality. Left footed CB who can play out from the back? Wenger wanted that. Prioritising interceptions in defense? Another Wenger tactic. Using a CF to provide hold up play and through balls? Hello! From Bergkamp to RVP to Giroud.. All Wenger.

        About the most Guardiola thing I reckon Arteta does is the fullbacks coming into midfield. For the moment we’ll likely stick with this formation. When we switch to a back 4 I think we’ll resemble a Wenger team more than ever.

        Reply
        • You make a good point Shard. There is tactical variety in Arteta’s 5-3-21 system which is why it is wise to take a wait and see attitude before becoming over critical. But I insist; we were a better team with Ozil than without. Maybe he is unsuitable for matches where Arteta concedes possession and opportunistically counter-attacks superior technical teams like City, Liverpool and Chelsea. But against those 16 other clubs the goal is to get maximum points by going on the front foot. Without Ozil I am not optimistic we can be successful.

          Reply
  9. Shotts I’m holding fire on my thoughts about the no.10 until the window closes.

    Unlike Guendouzi he hasn’t been quite frozen out, apparently Ozil is not training by himself but with the squad.

    As per my comments on the previous post, there’s no ambiguity or doubt about the vision and style(s) of Football Arteta wants to play, or his appreciations of the obstacles in his way (such as the PGMOB).

    Where’s there’s doubt is regarding the owner’s vision. They took the piss out of the old gaffer, my concern with Arteta is: how long will he put with their bollocks? Before he takes up the soon to be desperate offers from the club that was known as Barcelona until Raul got his mitts in and relegated it into being nothing more then a vacuous financial vehicle. Which is a story that sounds scarily familiar…at the least we can understand how and why Raul got the job at the Arsenal in the first place! Yikes. The K’s really are quite a scary

    Reply
  10. Red_QuadrantSeptember 4, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    Those fans attacking Ozil right now have been weaponised by those who have been briefing against Ozil for over a year. I never believed anything the previous regime told the press about Ozil.

    At Arsenal, we never briefed against our own, but it started under an executive who left just after Wenger left started briefing against Wenger. The new executive took this nasty practice to the levels Barca uses in destroying players who they want out. Just see how they have treated Dembele.

    Ozil’s confirmed his refusal to take a pay cut, he also said he was not the only one who refused to take a pay cut, but Ozil was singled out by someone at the club who gave his name to the press. To me, and I could be wrong, Arteta was made to stop picking him because of the pay cut issue.

    Even after dropping Ozil, Arteta himself in an interview for Sky TV could not pretend, he was vivid and clear of his qualities. Here are Arteta’s words:

    “I know what Mesut brings. You only have to check his stats and look at what he’s able to do in those tight areas without any space…That’s all I can say.”

    It is not in doubt, to Arteta, this has never been about any lack of quality.

    The change of regime will bring peace to the club. The battle between the executives, led by Raul with the Owner’s naive son’s support, and the Board is over. We now have football people making football decisions with the Board in charge once again.

    Arteta has signalled his intentions, saying everyone starts with a clean slate. I took this as a new regime and a new start. I just hope this includes Ozil because the sliw to dead transfer market indicates we will need Ozil fit and firing on all cylinders next season.

    Reply
  11. […] I highlighted in my recent blog titled Freezing Out Ozil, Arteta Is Playing With Fire, sooner or later this charade will have an unhappy end. A manager who loses the trust and […]

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