With Mesut Ozil not named in the squad, Arsenal lacked the needed creativity to break down Aston Villa. Mikel Arteta’s banishment of the German, however, is still justified.
Arsenal’s performance against Aston Villa in Tuesday night’s 1-0 loss left a lot to be desired. And that is being kind. Despite having beaten the two best teams in English football in the past week, when faced with relegation-threatened Aston Villa, they looked bereft of ideas and craft.
Of course, whenever that is the case, the controversial case of Mesut Ozil returns to the forefront of debate. For all of his faults, Ozil is the most creative player in the squad. He is uniquely qualified for games like this and the Gunners undoubtedly missed his lock-unpicking qualities. Even in a rough season, he has created more chances than any other player in the squad.
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Since the restart, though, Mikel Arteta has entirely banished Ozil from the first-team squad. The German has not played a single minute and has only been named in the matchday squad on two occasions, both of which he sat on the bench for the entire 90 minutes.
In his post-match press conference, Arteta was asked whether he was wrong to exclude Ozil from the squad when his team looked like they needed him to break down Villa’s stubborn defence in the closing stages. His response was to focus on the team, not the individual:
"“We played other games as well and the answer is not just a player, it is a collective of patterns that have to happen and we did really well in certain ways but the end product of the final ball wasn’t good enough and the last chance that we had hit the post. But this is football.”"
This is why Arteta has banished Ozil from the squad. It is not because he does not believe that Ozil is not good enough. Anyone can see the unique brilliance of the midfielder. Arteta played with him. More than most, he knows just how superb Ozil is. Arteta also started Ozil in every single Premier League match before lockdown, building the 4-2-3-1 shape around his creative talents.
Rather, the Arsenal head coach is attempting to instil a new culture and atmosphere at the club. He is ridding of the deadwood, the bad apples, the negative influences. He is trying to overturn a rotting, stagnant character that has undermined the team for more than a decade. And to do that, he must be ruthless with certain players.
When asked about whether omitting Ozil was a good decision or not, Arteta said, quite plainly, that he is making what he believes are the ‘best decisions for the team and the club’:
"“I don’t know. I try to make the best decisions for the team and the club. All I can say is sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong and sometimes I get it very wrong so all the time I will try my best.”"
This is not Arteta saying that Arsenal are a better team without Ozil. They are not, and he knows it. Rather, he is building for the future, and that means ripping everything down and starting over. Ozil and — in Arteta’s eyes — his poisonous attitude is not a part of that future. For that reason, the Spaniard is entirely justified to banish his former teammate. Arsenal are moving on.