Emery vs Ozil: Who'll be the last man standing?
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Have you ever witnessed a transfer of power? Whether it's political or otherwise, successors can bring fresh ideas. Yet, once in power, the new boss often finds there are reasons for doing certain things a certain way.
At Arsenal, Unai Emery is charting his own course but still faces the same criticisms Arsene Wenger endured. Emery transformed Arsenal's midfield and built on Wenger's work in attack. The same defensive issues haunt him. There is one significant change that defines the transition, however. Mesut Ozil was the Frenchman's pet. Now, he is chained to Emery's doghouse.
In 2018/19, Ozil started 20 matches, his lowest seasonal total at the Emirates. Fans anticipated his departure in the summer. He's still in the squad. Emery even named him among his five captains. Then he left him out of the squad in seven of the Gunners' 11 matches to date. He started two of the remaining four, lasting 71 minutes on both occasions. The first was the two-goal draw with Watford on 15 September. The second was the 5-0 romp over Nottingham Forest in the EFL Cup nine days later. Whoscored assessed him average ratings among the Gunners' squad for both matches.
Emery is spoiled for choices in the midfield with Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock, Lucas Torreira, Mateo Guendouzi, Reiss Nelson and Gabriel Martinelli. Willock, Torreira and Nelson tore it up against Forest. On the one hand, Ozil is the most talented midfielder in the squad and average performances don't cut it. On the other, Ozil is the most talented player in the squad and you have to wonder what his form would be like if he were given a run of games rather than two, nine days apart, from 11. None of Emery's other choices offers what the German is capable of producing when given enough playing time.
Including Xhaka ahead of Ozil is questionable. The Swiss international's indecisiveness and errors have been a major setback for Emery this term. Regardless, Emery constantly turns to him while pretending he doesn't see Ozil.
You'd have to be daft to think there isn't a personal issue at the root of this. To his credit, Ozil keeps his council but you don't label a player a leader then exile him to the fringe of the squad.
Early in his tenure, Emery insisted that Ozil was lazy. That said, Joachim Low, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger all enjoyed playing the German playmaker to his greatest strength. If work-rate was a problem, you know the Portuguese wouldn't have tolerated it. With Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe in front of him, there's no reason Ozil couldn't lift Arsenal to greater heights.
The question that needs asking is why Ozil is still in the squad if he's as lazy as Emery intimated? Why wasn't he moved in the summer? All the evidence points to Ozil receiving support behind the scenes. Emery certainly isn't being patient with him. You don't leave a top-earner out of the squad or on the bench for an extended period. You either play or sell him. Someone with enough influence is forcing Emery to keep Ozil on the roster. This is Pogba v Mourinho with the volume muted.
Nor is this the first time Emery has an issue with a star. Remember how he pointedly stayed out of the feud between Neymar and Edinson Cavani when the Brazilian first arrived at the club. He let Dani Alves intervene in the squabble over a penalty kick then told the press the players would sort it. Since when doesn't a manager clearly assign spot-kick duties and since when doesn't he sort a player who ignores his decision? Emery clearly feels that world-class talent and a sublime sense of where to be on the pitch to create a scoring opportunity doesn't excuse Ozil from hustling and working in the trenches [although it did Neymar].
Many English fans agree with that philosophy but you don't see Jeff Bezos answering phones in the Amazon call-centre during a hectic shift or Elon Musk mopping the Tesla halls because a janitor called in sick. In the same manner that a goal from Sokratis would be an unexpected bonus, so should any intervention by an attacking midfielder in his own box. You don't bench Sokratis for not making a far-post run. Nor should you sit a player who will produce double digits in goals and assists because he isn't shoulder-barging Harry Kane.
Arsenal need Ozil. The German celebrated his 31st birthday a few days ago. Time isn't on his side. He'll soon bid farewell to football. Unai Emery shouldn't be wasting that precious time on a petty feud.
With the front three at their disposal, the Gunners should be rivalling Manchester City  and Liverpool  for goals. At the very least they should be challenging Chelsea's 19. Instead, their 13 strikes rank them below Leicester City , Tottenham and Aston Villa [15 each] and level with Bournemouth. Auba has seven of those goals. Lacazette had two before his ankle injury. Pepe has a single strike. While Granit Xhaka has produced four assists, starting Ozil as the attacking midfielder would inject some potency into the Gunners' withering attack.
Whether it's pride or personal issues, Emery needs to focus on his main reason for managing Arsenal. That's to win games rather than a battle of wills with his most gifted player. As for who'll be the last man standing if the handbags continue, ask Jose Mourinho.