Arteta’s on-field evolution papers over pre-existing cracks in the foundations.
The ‘Mystery of Mesut’ has been the defining soap opera narrative at Arsenal ever since the “will they, won’t they” climaxed in 2018’s season finale, with Arsene Wenger finally riding off into the sunset. Once Europe’s ‘King of the Assist’, Mesut Ozil’s reputation has taken somewhat of a battering. Unfairly called out as lazy, and not working hard enough – Opta stats showing he ran more that most of his team mate – he’s been accused of stealing a wage – yet actively participates in all training sessions – then there was the late night special when he and Kolasinac were mugged at knife point, the press and fans’ banter mocking his behaviour of hiding in the car during the assault. It’s been a rough time for Mesut Ozil, yet he has – until now – remained an Arsenal player and committed to the club. And why not? At £350k a week, he has no reason to leave. The story has taken a latest twist this week, with Ozil unregistered by Arsenal for Premier League and Europa League duty. Ozil’s last season at the Emirates will be fulfilling media events, and not one single on-field occasion. This is the end of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.
Arteta’s On-field Evolution
To be fair to Ozil and Arteta, this is nothing of a surprise. Since Arsene Wenger left, and even for a period whilst he was finishing his reign – Ozil’s form had dropped off. His ability to influence games was waning, and without his key passes in Arsenal’s attacks, he didn’t contribute enough to the team strategy.
Arteta has since developed somewhat of an evolution at Arsenal. A focus shift has occurred, with more emphasis on pace, passing from the back, and pressing swiftly from the front. In this time, Arsenal’s form has improved significantly – not to mention the three successes at Wembley vs Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool. No mean feat. This evolution has come at the expense of Mesut Ozil, and justifiably, he has no place in Arteta’s plans. It’s cruel, but it’s reality.
It’s not just harsh on Ozil, but other players of a similar vein are feeling the impact too. Look at Dele Alli at Tottenham, who no longer implement the #10 role behind the striker. Some teams do still maximise that position, James Maddison at Leicester is thriving there. But whilst the trend of football moves to a 4-3-3 formation with wide strikers, an anchor man and two central midfielders, the longer players like Dele and Ozil need to sit it out or find a new team.
What’s astonishing about this whole fiasco, is the incredibly poor timing of this decision-making, and complete lack of understanding between the on-field management, and the off-field management – whether that is the Manager, the Press Officer, the Head of Finance, Chairman, Owners, even Wenger himself who carries so much weight at the Emirates.
Mesut Ozil’s HIGH salary of £350k per week has been shared widely, casting doubts in the first instance as to how that was ever offered in the first place. This new contract was offered as the prior one was running down, and there was a fear of the player leaving on a free (as Aaron Ramsey has, Jack Wilshere did, and Alexis Sanchez came close to – costing the club millions in revenue). In racing to save that situation, they made him the highest paid player at the club. Interestingly at that time, he wasn’t even a guaranteed starter – the writing was already on the wall – but the club made the move anyway – to protect their asset.
At £350k a week, Ozil is not just Arsenal’s highest paid player but one of the best paid players in world football. His performance since sitting on this salary has diminished with stakeholders all around Arsenal dumbstruck as to the purpose of keeping him around as non-playing staff when that £17.5m annual could have been used to help balance the books – and not force the sale of players like Martinez to Aston Villa.
It’s not just the playing staff that Ozil’s salary could be contributing in more effective ways – as seen by Arsenal’s 50+ redundancies, including the infamous Gunnarsaurus. The story behind letting go their club mascot is filled with such disgrace, not from the business point of view, but the brand management and public relations teams. The fact that, it’s completely swayed public opinion to start supporting Mesut Ozil is embarrassing. From stealing a wage to the ultimate public servant in offering to pay the salary of the man behind the mask – and keep him in employment – when the average person is struggling with Covid-19 lockdown.
There are some very questionable business decisions being made, but the most bizarre again comes back to their treatment of Mesut Ozil, communication from the team to the board, and projections of their own finances.
With Mesut Ozil’s position in the team being disputed, and ultimately concluded by being unregistered and now a non-playing member of staff WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU LET THE TRANSFER DEADLINE PASS?! This is insane. For the next 8 months, Mesut Ozil will cost Arsenal approximately £11m in wages. He cannot play for them, he can contribute on the training field, he can make public appearances – for £11m. In contrast, Gareth Bale is costing a total of £20m for his one season at Tottenham.
Understandably, they would not want to lose him to a rival – but who even is a rival? Ozil may have refused Arsenal’s attempts to let him go, a story we’re yet to hear – but if he is unable to play any football given the football decision, I am sure he would accept a temporary challenge of going anywhere – including the Championship – for the sake of playing some football in 6 months. He also needs to ensure match fitness to maximise the potential of a new contract with a new team in the summer. The situation SCREAMS of bad management, and bad management from the top of the board. A problem like Mesut has been a problem for almost 4 years and yet they have still failed having reached this point again.
Along with handling the other incidents at the club it’s hard to have belief they know what they’re doing. Arteta’s keeping things progressing on the pitch – aside from going away to the Big 6 – Arsenal have 100% winning record this season, definitely something to have optimism about. But if they’re unable to get their shit together behind the scenes, these soap operas will continue to destabilise the club.