Unless you’ve been living under a rock (probably preferable in these uncertain times), you’ll probably know that Unai Emery and Mesut Ozil haven’t been signing off their Whatsapp messages to each other with the ‘face blowing a kiss’ emoji in recent weeks.
For a variety of reasons (sniffles, gammy knee, big boy opponents), the German’s game time has been severely limited since November.
Given he’s also retired from international football, our midfielder is basically spending a lot of time in the gym and then watching box sets at the weekend. All a bit odd given he’s the club’s most highly paid player by some distance.
Does Unai not like Mesut? Has someone at the club decided we need to force him out? Is the decision purely tactical? Or is it something else?
To date, the Spaniard has played a pretty straight bat when asked about the subject by the media, but now he’s hinted at a new reason for why he’s been benching the club’s star player – it’s a motivational tactic.
“At certain times, you have to provoke friction with footballers,” Emery told Sky Sports.
“From that friction, you can get something more out of them, something from inside, a greater sense of ambition or maybe even a complaint – a complaint regarding the team can be positive.
“As a manager, you have to be careful because that friction can break a relationship. But I believe in always looking for more, both individually and collectively, with conversations which are comfortable but also with conversations which are less comfortable.”
He added: “In the end, the main thing with any footballer is that their qualities are used to benefit the team. As a manager, you have to get the maximum out of that player and at the same time make sure that he fits with the rest of the team so that everyone is better.
“We know that we have to put pressure on the players, to push them. So if a player is giving 70 per cent, he gives 80 per cent. Then if he is giving 80 per cent, he gives 90 per cent. There is always another step, another push. Psychology is an aspect which can help to find it.”
If Emery’s recent treatment of Ozil is a tactic to improve him, it’s certainly bold. In the aftermath of the player’s falling out with the German national team set-up, he insisted that the Arsenal family had Ozil’s back.
He appears to have decided that the softly, softly approach wasn’t working and subsequently changed tack. Time will tell whether things are about to improve between the pair. If there isn’t a thawing in the relationship, we have a massive problem on our hands.