Where does Mesut Ozil fit into Unai Emery's plans?
By Joe Harker
When a new manager arrives at a football club there are some players whose futures are reasonably secure and others with question marks over their head. For those players who will always have a position whatever the formation the only danger is being so unfancied by the new boss, but for those with a specific role the fear that a new system might not include them is much greater.
Mesut Ozil is one of Arsenal's best players, though also one of the most specific. He's a number 10, a playmaking attacking midfielder whose job is to create chances and provide assists, defensive responsibilities aren't really part of his game. Ozil has been criticised in the past for not showing enough effort.
There's little more open for criticism in England than a clearly talented player who doesn't appear to work hard, it allows pundits and former players to trot out the much loved sentiment that hard work and getting stuck in are more valuable than talent. Some players in Ozil's role aren't meant to run around much, instead supposed to act as a focal point for the team and stay upfield even when the team are defending, though the Arsenal playmaker has never managed to escape the accusation that he doesn't try hard enough.
A clash of sorts with new manager Unai Emery seemed inevitable. The Spaniard was the sort of manager who values fitness and hard work, seen by some as an antidote to standards that had perhaps slipped in Arsene Wenger's last years. Since his arrival Emery has placed more of an emphasis on pressing and the team are running more.
Ozil has played in most of Arsenal's games this season, though he was dropped to the bench against Bournemouth with Emery saying the game was too "demanding". The player was not even in the squad for the North London Derby, with a back spasm cited as the reason though that explanation and the manager's version of the story are not convincing too many.
The main problem Arsenal have with Ozil is that on paper he is one of their best players, while the contract he signed at the start of the year means he is their highest paid player. They must surely have to find a place for him, the club can't be spending £300,000 a week on a player who isn't in the manager's plans.
Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright argued that Ozil is not currently earning his keep at the club, also mentioning Henrikh Mkhitaryan as another highly paid star not justifying his significant wages. The Gunners either need to find a way to get the best out of these players or move them on.
Arsenal fan Peter Wood writes in the Daily Mail that Ozil is one of the best players ever to play for the club, but questions whether the money spent on Ozil wouldn't be better spent on a different player. The best solution at the moment would be to get the most out of what they have, but that requires work from the player and manager.
Emery needs to carve out a place for Ozil in his team if he wants the player to stay, while Ozil needs to meet the standards set by his manager. Right now he seems to be getting picked on a game by game basis by Emery, not something usually done with the top earner in the team.
Ozil's situation at Arsenal can still be made to work but it will require a desire from both the player and manager to ensure things work out.