Freddie Ljungberg says he’ll deal with Mesut Ozil in private after the German reacted badly to being substituted off in Sunday’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester City.
The German cut a disgruntled figure as he trudged off the pitch just before the hour mark with the cloud coming close to subjecting him to the same treatment dished out to Granit Xhaka in November. Replaced by Emile Smith Rowe, the club’s highest-earner then kicked his gloves to the floor before slumping down on the bench.
It’s not unusual for a player to be annoyed at being taken off and Ljungberg maintains he has no problem with Ozil being angry about the situation.
“He should be annoyed when he comes off,” the Swede told his post-game press conference.
“But I’m the coach at the moment and I made the decision I wanted more energy in the team. We want possession but sometimes we need to run and tackle and win the ball back.
“I think Emile did extremely well in Belgium on Thursday, and I wanted to give him a chance. I think he did well when he came on.”
Facing the Sky Sports cameras, he added: “How he reacts is up to him and we will deal with it later. I’m here on a day-to-day basis but of course we want players in the right way.”
Ljungberg was also asked about the political storm Ozil had kicked up when he took to social media on Friday to castigate fellow Muslims for not doing more to raise awareness of the alleged persecution of the Muslim Uighur minority at the hands of the Chinese government.
Arsenal, who have huge commercial tie-ups in Asia and have toured the region several times in recent years, were quick to distance themselves from the comments via a statement on Chinese social media site Weibo, on which Ozil has over 4 million followers.
“Regarding the comments made by Mesut Ozil on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement. The content published is Ozil’s personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”
That didn’t stop Chinese state broadcaster CCTV pulling a feed of yesterday’s game nor and the Chinese Football Association expressing outrage and disappointment at Ozil’s stance. Some fans in the region filmed themselves burning Ozil shirts. Reporting in The Athletic, Gunnerblog says that the player has even had his fan club banned and “his Chinese internet footprint largely scrubbed out”.
“The China thing, that’s a political discussion so I’ll leave that for the club to deal with,” said Ljungberg when quizzed.
“I think there will be a statement or there has been a statement.”
As the Guardian and many others, including Ken Early of the Irish Times, have pointed out in recent days, Arsenal’s non-political stance seems to be one that seeks to protect commercial interests in China above everything else, which is a disappointing from an organisation that is happy to talk about its values in other contexts.