Legendary former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who signed Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid seven years ago, has offered advice on how Mikel Arteta should handle the mercurial German who has yet to play in the Premier League this season.
Ozil, once heralded as being among the finest creative talents in the world game, is inching ever closer to the Arsenal exit door after being axed from Arteta’s Premier League and Europa League squads this season.
The 92-times capped ex-German international has become something of a pariah at the Emirates, even as Arteta’s Arsenal flounders in the Premier League this season, where they currently sit in 15th position – some 11 points behind early pacesetters (and heated rivals) Tottenham.
But with goalscoring now becoming a serious issue at the North London club as the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette continuing to flounder in front of goal, Wenger, now FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development, has suggested that Ozil’s creativity can still unlock Premier League defenses – so long as Arteta knows how to correctly handle him.
“He was not difficult to manage,” Wenger told the Caught Offside podcast of the player he paid Real Madrid £43 million ($56.8 million / €47 million) in 2013.
“He was a guy who had a special quality as a creative player and needed to have fun. He is an artist and these guys are a bit more sensitive.
“They need support and an environment that pushes them to give their best.“
If, as Wenger says, Ozil needs to be having “fun” to be effective, there certainly hasn’t been an air of overwhelming joviality at Arsenal so far this season.
Arteta, a protege of Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, was brought into the club to rebound from Unai Emery’s less-than-successful spell at the club, but in what is his first full season in charge Arsenal have endured their worst start to a top-flight campaign in 39 years.
But Wenger, who authored Arsenal’s “invincible” season 16 years ago, says that Arteta must get the balance of the team right to afford luxuries like Ozil.
“You have two ways to see a football team,” he explained.
“You get everybody to do the same – the same intensity of work, the same defensive work – or you find a compromise.
“You have a more creative player in the team who can do less defensive work but you build a team around him who can compensate for these deficiencies. That is what you have to think about.”
Of course, Wenger had the likes of Patrick Vieira to control the center of his midfield to afford the likes of Freddie Ljungberg or Thierry Henry license to operate in the final third – assets entirely unavailable to Arsenal’s Spanish head coach.
Ozil’s time at Arsenal appears over, but one wonders if Arteta’s continuing refusal to accommodate his talents in his starting XI is robbing Arteta and Arsenal of the one key weapon they have available to them to open even the most miserly of Premier League defenses.