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Time for Unai Emery to start playing Mesut Özil

Treating Özil like an outcast is not helping the team.

Arsenal FC v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

I was never part of the Wenger Out movement, but I agreed that Arsenal were becoming a bit stale under Arsene Wenger. I welcomed the hiring of Unai Emery and was impressed with the manager’s handling of the team through the first four months of the season.

Unfortunately, some of Emery’s decision-making over the last six weeks has made me question his tactics. To be fair, he inherited a flawed squad with too many defensive liabilities. It’s obviously going to take Emery time to build the squad in his own image. Of course having a billionaire owner that refuses to spend any money doesn’t help.

Arsenal made a lot of critics eat crow during the club’s 22 game unbeaten run which began in mid-August and finally ended in defeat at Southampton in December. Since then, however, Arsenal are 5-5-1 in all competitions. They have been rather mediocre and at times downright awful.

Here are some sobering statistics. Arsenal were outshot by Manchester City last weekend 19-4. Only two of those four were on target, and the Gunners had exactly zero shots on goal in the second half.

The creative side of Arsenal’s game has been missing of late. The total number of shots on target in other recent matches makes for sorry reading.

  • 1/29 vs. Cardiff 4 shots on target
  • 1/12 at West Ham 2 shots on target
  • 12/29 at Liverpool 2 shots on target
  • 12/26 at Brighton 4 shots on target
  • 12/16 at Southampton 4 shots on target

For whatever reason, Emery has cast aside Arsenal’s highest paid player, Mesut Özil. In the Gunners’ last ten matches, Özil has played the full 90 minutes just once. He has been an unused substitute twice and wasn’t even named to the bench four times.

Whatever your thoughts are on Özil, the fact is that he is the Gunners’ highest paid player and a World Cup winner. He is also a creator of chances, and has been an assist machine since joining Arsenal. It was just three years ago that Özil led the Premier League with 19 assists.

The criticism of Özil for his defensive shortcomings is fair. However, with or without Özil, the Arsenal defense is problematic. He’s not the player that is going to fix the Gunners’ leaky backline. He is instead, a great ball handler, passer and is excellent at creating chances. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette need him in the lineup to create chances for them to score goals.

The bottom line is that Özil’s absence from Arsenal’s starting lineup is hurting the team. If Emery no longer wants him at the club, then he needs to sell him and find a suitable replacement. At this point, however, the situation is just creating more frustration and anxiety among the fan base. While he’s still a member of the squad, Ozil needs to play.