Mikel Arteta’s real message to Mesut Ozil after Arsenal’s highest-paid star claims disloyalty
Usually the prospect of a lengthy discussion about Mesut Ozil does not elicit the best of reactions from Mikel Arteta.
Often asked to address the absence of Arsenal’s best-paid player in the aftermath of a match where they either needed him or seemed to take another step into their post-Ozil future, Arteta would give the impression of a man who would willingly discuss any other topic from quantum physics to the tulip craze of Netherlands in the 17th century.
You could see his point after, for instance, a 2-0 win over Leicester City where the Gunners coped rather well without Ozil. Why am I addressing a player that didn’t play rather than the dozen or so that did? Arteta was deeply frustrated that a creditable win at the King Power Stadium was viewed by many through the status of one absentee.
On Wednesday there was no sign of Arteta’s usual reticence. How could he have expected anything but a lengthy discussion on his No.10 after the remarkable statement Ozil issued earlier that day, suggesting the club had not shown any loyalty to him in leaving him out of their Europa League and Premier League squads.
It was a topic that Arteta was prepared to address head on. No-one was resolved from blame, least of all himself.
“My job is to get the best out of every player, to contribute to the team and the performance,” he said. “Here, I feel that at the moment, today, that I’ve failed because I want the best possible Mesut for the team.
“In some moments I was able to get close to that but in other moments I haven’t been able to because I had to make the decision to leave him out of the squad.”
There was genuine pain in Arteta’s words, an acknowledgement that the last thing he had wanted was for a war of words to break out between Arsenal and their most high-profile player.
He was at pains to point back to his very first appearance as Arsenal manager. Seven days after the club had distanced themselves from Ozil after his comments over the plight of Uighur Muslims Arteta was trying to draw him back towards the club.
At the time he had acknowledged that it would be his job to get the best out of him. “I know when he clicks what he can bring to the team,” he said six days before restoring Ozil to his perfect position, the creative heart of Arsenal in the 4-2-3-1 that is always the surest bet to exploit the No.10’s talents.
For some it is still up for debate whether Arteta managed to do that. Was the Ozil that started 10 successive Premier League games, providing one goal and one assist in that period, the best that any Arsenal manager could reasonably have hoped to get?
Arteta is convinced not. Equally his decision to keep Ozil out of his Premier League and Europa League squads proved that the Arsenal manager is now out of ideas to coax more out of his World Cup winner.
And he would reaffirm time and time again that this was about what he and his staff could get out of Ozil and nothing more. “It’s nothing related to anything, any behaviour or things like I read, like the pay cuts. It’s not true, it’s my decision.”
In many ways this assessment is not too dissimilar to what both Arteta and technical director Edu said last month when they indicated that Ozil’s performances in training contributed to his diminished role.
“Players with performance in training, the game, they are going to have opportunities because Mikel already showed that,” Edu said when asked directly about Ozil. “It is for everyone.”
On this occasion there were no attempts from Arteta to lay the blame on Ozil or anyone else. That compares sharply to the player’s own statement, which seems to suggest that he had no agency in his own exile.
For some Arsenal and Ozil supporters that is the truth that they have come to see. There must, they reason, be some other factor behind this: be it wages, bonuses or politics. Arteta insists it is nothing of the sort.
Sadly in this extremely online war of words it rather feels like it is all too late for the two sides to build bridges. Ozil’s hurt shone through his statement, one where he even seemed to echo the belief that he has played his last game. Ultimately even if Arteta saw something to change his mind he cannot do so until January.
It is a cruel irony that Ozil, a player whose nuanced approach to football brought moments of transcendent brilliance for Arsenal, Real Madrid and Germany among others, is departing this stage with so little room left for grey areas.
On the evidence of his press conference performance, that is a matter of great pain for Arteta.