When quizzed on the whereabouts of Mesut Ozil last week, Unai Emery gave the strongest hint yet that his continued and, presumably, permanent omission from the squad was a decision sanctioned by those at the top level of the club.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the Crystal Palace match, the Spaniard said: “Here we have one agreed strategy as a club and a team. Because the most important thing is the club, the team and finding a performance.
“Previously we were all speaking between us to take that decision. I know all the supporters want to know something [more] but now is not the moment.”
In the aftermath of that interview, Ozil’s fate seemed sealed – as long as Emery was at the club, the German was going to be in the stands, with the full backing of the board.
Fast forward just three days and with the now rather infamous goings-on during the Palace clash dominating headlines across the world of football, there appears – almost miraculously – to have been an about turn from the manager.
Speaking to the press ahead of Wednesday’s Carabao Cup clash at Liverpool, Emery revealed there had been a meeting with Ozil, and the German, who was hitherto as far away from the squad as it was possible to be, was now back in contention.
Emery said: “[Ozil] is in the group so he has a chance to play. We have had this morning a very good conversation, Mesut and me, and I said to him I haven’t changed my idea about him. He knows what I want from him because it’s the same as last season in the first day of pre-season training when we had a conversation.
“It’s the same as one month ago and in that way, some circumstances weren’t helping us in every moment to be consistent or available to play. But I will say I think the last weeks he has progressively been training well and adding his spirit to help us. For example, our conversation this morning was because I wanted to listen to him about how he’s thinking now to help us and be with us tomorrow.
“Then if we are in the same spirit and the same idea, to play. It was a very good conversation and tomorrow he’s in the group.”
After weeks of near radio silence on the Ozil question, and with relations between the two seemingly irreparable, we find quite suddenly that broken bridges have been mended and the German is on the cusp of a return.
It’s possible but don’t be so sure. This feels like an easy win for a manager under a tremendous amount of pressure, an olive branch of mutual benefice. Ozil gets to return to the limelight with his reputation unscathed, while Emery can put out one of the myriad fires currently engulfing the club.
Ozil’s hand would have been bolstered immeasurably (as if it needed bolstering) by the very public show of support from the fans amid the tumult of Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Palace, with his name sung loudly as Emery felt the heat on the sidelines.
With the chasm between the manager, the players, and the fans widening to prodigious size, something had to be done and that easy win was sitting right there in front of Emery and the Arsenal PR machine.
Of course, relations may yet freeze again as quickly as they thawed and Ozil’s return may be a mere trifle, but the timing seems to be hugely significant.
The club needed some small piece of positivity to cling to as the flames threatened to engulf them and this felt like exactly that – bring back the man with the huge global fanbase, a man whose omission has made him a hero while others have become pantomime villains.
Was this a shrewd piece of manoeuvring from Emery, Raul, and Edu, or was this management by PR, responding in a knee-jerk fashion to the whims of angry fans?
As ever, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Ozil’s return may provide the missing piece to a disjointed, incongruous Arsenal side that stumbles from one average performance to the next, or it may not. It may prove to be nothing more than a pinprick of a distraction to draw fans’ attention away from the smoking wreckage that has formed around the manager and Granit Xhaka.
Whatever the outcome, the timing of this announcement was deliberate and the story behind it – after weeks of evasion and dead-batting from the manager – smells almost too good to be true.
There is still much for the manager and the board to do, though, and perhaps they all hope progress on the Ozil sideshow, particularly with a piece of news it knows will please fans, could gift them just enough time to come up with an escape route for Xhaka and the club as they battle to repair the damage done on Sunday.