Since Mikel Arteta took over the Arsenal head coach position, Özil had featured in the vast majority of games under his former team-mate and now current manager. However, since the return of football following the COVID-19 pandemic Özil has not featured in any of the first three games back, failing to make the match-day squad for Arsenal’s 3-0 dismal away drubbing to Manchester City and only making the bench in away games to both Southampton and Brighton (being an unused substitute for both matches).
So what has changed for Özil since then, to lose his place in the Arsenal starting XI? Firstly, following the 3-0 away loss to Manchester City, where Özil was not picked in the twenty men match-day squad, manager Arteta clarified to the press later on that Özil was left out for ‘’tactical reasons’’. This can be explained by Arsenal’s formation change since the return of football, previously Arsenal were playing a 4-2-3-1 formation but since their return, they have moved more towards playing a 4-3-3 or an alternative 5-3-2 without the ball. Neither of those formations allow for a traditional playmaker to feature in behind the striker.
Another aspect of these so called ‘’tactical reasons’’ could be that Arteta, is a manger in the ‘’mould’’ of Pep Guardiola and that is contradicting with the very presence of Ozil on the field, it’s not too difficult to believe that if Arteta is trying to implement a hyper pressing style similar to that of Pep’s then it would make sense that Özil is not playing as much as he’d want to since he clearly does not suit that style of play that Arteta has in mind. His so called ‘languid’ and casual approach to the game off the ball may be exactly what’s keeping him out of the starting XI for now. Ozil’s ability to flourish is most opportune when playing against teams that defend deep down and prefer to allow the opposition to control more of the ball.
This isn’t the first time Özil has been dropped or has missed out on being in the team sheet for away matches either. Under Unai Emery who Özil had his differences with, Özil was quite often missing from the team sheets in away matches, one particular standout is an away game against Bournemouth where the controversial playmaker sat on the bench looking rather sulky and the quite discord and tension between the two was clear for all to see. For one manager to have a problem is something, but for that to persist when a completely different manager on board is something to sit up and take notice of.
Another explanation could be Mesut Özil’s dramatic and spectacular decline as a player over the past couple of years, a damning statistic to simplify this is that Andy Carroll has as many assists in his last eight Premier League appearances as Mesut Özil has in the last two seasons, as per Duncan Alexander. Unbelievable but true, from a record high 47 shots, 19 assists and 6 goals in 2015/16 to an abject and dismal 9 shots, 2 assists and 1 goal in 2019/20 so far, Ozil’s profligacy has fallen spectacularly over the years and it is this decline and lack of impact that could be the very reason why Arteta’s repeatedly chosen to ignore the highest paid player in his team so far.
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A final reason that could shed further light on Mesut Özil’s absence from the Arsenal team could be the pay cut issue of recent days. Over the past few months, football has been greatly affected by the emergence of COVID-19 and as clubs are bleeding money due to the lack of footfall, declining advertising and with seasons being cut short, for this reason Arsenal had asked players to take a 25% pay cut to help tide over this difficult time. The vast majority of the Arsenal squad had agreed to take pay cuts however Özil was not one of the players to do so.
His reasons for that could be endless, it could be because he sees the hypocrisy at board room level where Owners are paid millions in consultancy fees but players are asked to take pay-cuts or it could be because of a definitely assurance from the Owners or a lack of deferral system being introduced that other clubs where working on in the mean time. It’s well known fact Özil is on astronomical wages at Arsenal, but whats even more well known is his philanthropic and benevolent nature that has benefitted millions of kids across the globe so its not greed thats behind this but some other insecurity.
Nevertheless could his refusal to take a pay cut, toe the party line or do what his other team mates have seamlessly agreed to do, be the real reason he is missing out on first team action? Arteta’s nature and attitude demands that players show solidarity with one another and Ozil’s obstinance and refusal to walk down the beaten path could well be the reason for his exile so far.