Mikel Arteta insists that he does not judge Mesut Ozil because of how much he earns and admits the German is probably unhappy when he doesn’t get picked to play.
Having been a regular before the Covid-19 lockdown, the 31-year-old hasn’t featured in any of Arsenal’s last four matches leading many to question whether his relationship with Arteta has turned sour.
The Spaniard cited tactical reasons when he left the World Cup winner out of the squad that faced Manchester City and then left the World Cup winner on the bench at Brighton and Southampton. Given his need to rotate his squad it was expected Ozil might feature at Sheffield United on Sunday only for a minor back injury to sideline him. The same injury now looks likely to keep him out of tomorrow’s visit to Norwich.
What exactly is going on? Is the player struggling in training? Are off-field factors an issue? Is there a directive from the top to not play him – something that Unai Emery mentioned – or is it something else? Understandably, people want to know, especially given he pockets £350,000 a week.
For Arteta, who shared a dressing room with Ozil for three seasons, the questions are a challenge that he has to navigate in pretty much every press conference.
He’s pretty adept at placating journalists with a bland answer, but it doesn’t stop them trying from another angle.
Here’s how the cat and mouse game played out today…
When it comes to Mesut Ozil and Guendouzi, a lot has been said and written about them, as far as you’re concerned do you think they still have a part to play in the games coming up towards the end of the season?
I said that everybody that I have in the squad, my job is to get the maximum out of them and to try to help them and support them. And if they are willing, everybody is welcome.
Do you think they are both willing?
I always hope that the players want to give their best.
Just on Mesut, I know he gets brought up a lot and it’s probably frustrating, but you were obviously a player here when he first arrived and I wondered how much he’s changed as a player and as a person in those years? Is the player we see now, the same one who joined all those years ago from Real Madrid?
I know him really well because as you said, I played with him. Mesut has unique qualities, he’s a very special player for the position he plays, how specific he is in the quality he has and what he can bring to the team. I don’t think much has changed.
Obviously, he adapted to the league and he needed some time but he started to perform pretty quickly. He established himself in this league for a long time which is something that is not easy to do.
So much is made of how much he earns, we know he’s the highest earner at the club, does that have any impact at all on your decision making on team selection?
Never. That’s an agreement that the player and club were really happy to do, to move ahead. That’s never a question. Players are paid what they deserve. There are both parties here and that I should never have to be something that I’m judging him about.
Sorry to keep banging on about Mesut, do you sense he’s feeling frustrated? Since he’s come out of lockdown he’s not played a minute. Are you sensing that he’s frustrated?
I’m expecting a player that is not playing to feel hurt and disappointed.
But is he showing that enough? You’ve said in the past that players that show the most are the ones you pick?
I believe that he’s not very happy because he’s not playing but as well he picked up an injury the other day and we have to wait and see how he evolves.
Does it frustrate you because we all know how good he is? Before lockdown he was playing every game for you, does it sort of frustrate you that he’s not producing his best form?
I want all my players at their best and to have the ability to pick them to help the squad as much as possible. That’s the only intention that I have.