If Arsenal entertain serious hopes of making it into the top four or into the latter stages of the Europa League, the deliberate omission of Mesut Ozil has to come to an end.
Whatever you think of him, and there is no doubt he divides opinion, this squad is not improved by his absence, we do not play better with him sat on the sofa in London, and our options to change games are not more plentiful without him.
Against BATE Borisov last night (Thursday), we were ponderous, lethargic, and lacking any real sense of cohesion or purpose.
There were some good moments, presentable chances, and encouraging passages of play but, for the most part, it was stale, predictable, and reasonably easy for the hosts to live with.
On another day, the Gunners would have been two or three goals to the good before BATE’s strike ever became an issue but, as has increasingly been the case in recent months, we failed to take the chances that came our way.
Worse than that, we failed to impose ourselves and really control the game against a Belarusian side who, by all accounts, are in the middle of their pre-season preparations.
This was no battling draw at Brighton, this was defeat against an unfit, rag-tag bunch of amateurs from a far corner of Europe who, in truth, would be out of place in the Championship.
No reasonable fan could have watched last night’s effort or, indeed, a large number of our performances in recent months, and thought ‘we couldn’t have done any better with Ozil in the team’.
I get that the manager doesn’t want him. I understand that the hierarchy want to encourage him to leave, but they are doing so at the expense of the team. I refuse to believe that Ozil would offer any less than Denis Suarez who, in truth, has drifted around our midfield and played a few tame passes. In fact, the most exciting thing he has done is score a few eye-catching goals in training.
If Unai Emery wants rid of Ozil, that’s fine, put him up for sale in the summer, tell him he is no longer wanted, contact agents the world over and offer his services. Until then, however, he has to be in our match day squads. He has to.
In matches like last night, where there is no craft or guile, no impetus, no cunning, no free-thinking, we need the talents of our World Cup-winning midfielder. There is no escaping it.
He is capable of finding a pass in a way that no other player at the club can, he can spot a run and create chance with the very best. He may not be able to do it in every single game but he can’t do it at all if he is told to sit at home every week.
I don’t say he is a panacea or that he will transform the fortunes of this embattled side but he certainly would not make it any worse, only a fool would think so.
Emery has to put his ego aside. He is under tremendous pressure to get this team back into the Champions League and he has to utilise all the tools at his disposal. Why wouldn’t you? It would cost him little to play Ozil in a game such as last night’s.
If his primary focus is the Premier League, he can take a first-teamer out of the firing line by accommodating the German in his ‘second string’ side.
When you have Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerik Aubameyang in the team and on the bench, what on earth was the point of bringing Eddie Nketiah all the way to Belarus? Is he a better option from the bench than Ozil?
Plainly, this issue with the German has gone on far too long and, in truth, looks as though it is beyond saving. Quite where it has arisen from and why may never be known but I honestly believe it has hurt the team’s chances up until now and will continue to do so for the rest of the season.
If we fail to turn this one around next week and things go from mediocre to abject in the league, it may even end costing Emery his job.
Would that be a price worth paying to make a point? That’s a decision the Spaniard needs to sit down and think hard about between now and the next leg of this tie.
I want Arsenal to finish in the top four this season and, ideally, I’d like them to win the Europa League too. Are their chances of doing that better or worse with Ozil frozen out of the squad? The answer is obvious.