One of the biggest (and most annoying) Arsenal stories during the restart was the prolonged absences of Mesut Özil and Matteo Guendouzi from the first team for reasons that were never officially disclosed. I mean, we had a pretty good idea what they were, but nothing was ever Officially Official.
The reason for Matteo Guendouzi’s exile was relatively clear — discipline. The Neal Maupay incident, where he grabbed the Brighton attacker by the throat at the final whistle after having reportedly made insulting salary-comparison comments to him during the match, was the final straw. But Guendouzi had already had a handful of other training ground and off-field incidents to his name that had him on thin ice. When Guendouzi had a meeting with Mikel Arteta and the higher-ups at the club, he reportedly was defiant and refused to apologize for his actions. Whether he needed to apologize is another question, but Arteta and the club felt that he did, and in the end, that is what matters.
Why Mesut Özil was left off the team sheet (save for one match) during the restart is a tougher case. He confirmed that a handful of his absences were injury related — he has dealt with back issues for a few seasons now, and they flared up again. But he was quick to declare himself fit, several times, on social media and was still left out of the squad.
Özil was one of only a handful of Arsenal players who refused to take a paycut in late March at the start of the coronavirus shutdown. He said he declined because the club did not make it clear how the money saved would be used and whether it would help club employees. Turns out, he was right. Or his concerns were valid given the 55 employees laid off through redundancy in August. The speculation is that the higher-ups at the club were not happy that Özil didn’t jump on board and that he may have been benched for it.
Both Guendouzi and Özil are useful players and would help Arsenal this season. The Granit Xhaka - Dani Ceballos partnership blossomed toward the end of last season, but the two of them can’t play every game. Guendouzi can play at the base of the midfield (and depending on your opinion of his play, might be an upgrade). Özil, while maybe not suited for the big matches anymore, is exactly the type of creative player Arsenal need to break down lesser teams playing a low block. He could also be a super-sub, coming on late when Arsenal need a goal for some creative, attacking spark. It’s also generally a bad look to have your highest earner nowhere near the first team.
Finding a way to mend those fences and bring both back into the fold would be a Good Thing. Through it all, Mikel Arteta maintained that there is a place for everyone who wants on-board the good ship Arsenal, and that the door was definitely not closed for good for anybody. And the reconciliation looks to be underway already.
Matteo Guendouzi was pictured training with the first team on Friday (and it turns out he has been all week), which is significant because for the last few weeks of the restart, he was training on his own on the side. When Mikel Arteta was asked about the young midfielder he said, “Matteo has been training like any other player in the squad. It is a new season and we had some really positive conversations between both parties, now he’s back with the group, he is training really well.” When asked about the transfer rumors surrounding Guendouzi, Arteta mostly dodged the question but added that most of what had been written was wrong.
It seems like whatever issues existed with Guendouzi have been smoothed over and that we might see him at some point in the next few matches. Or at least that is the way Arsenal want to make it seem so as to rehabilitate his transfer value.
Özil’s situation is a bit murkier. Edu insisted that his inclusion would be based on his “performance” both on the pitch and on the training ground and that he hopes that Arsenal’s “big” player can play a role in the upcoming season. Arteta said, “All of the players that we have here are available here...and have all been training and putting in maximum effort in every training session and this is what I expect from all of them.” Özil featured in Arsenal’s closed-doors friendly against Aston Villa last week. That said, he also played in the friendlies before the restart and then didn’t get a minute once the matches counted. The same goes for training. He’s with the first team, but he was the entire time he was being left out of the matchday squads, too.
Özil has declared himself fit and ready to go, but it remains to be seen whether Mikel Arteta agrees. I think Mesut Özil will play for Arsenal at some point this season. I have no idea whether that will be as a sometime Premier League starter, a super-sub, or a cup-only player. Your guess is as good as mine.