As soon as Mesut Ozil was spotted on the Arsenal bench for the weekend’s away day at Bournemouth, there was gossiping. Was this a sign that the German no longer had a place at the North London club? Or that there had been an argument between the playmaker and Unai Emery? Would he be off in the January transfer window?
As it turned out Emery had an explanation for Ozil’s omission from the Arsenal team. “We thought about how we can be better in the match today, with a very demanding match physically with their intensity against us and we decided,” the Spaniard said after the 2-1 win on the south coast.
In essence, Emery opted for a more physical style to combat what Bournemouth would throw at his team. In the end, it was a strategy that worked well, as Arsenal claimed all three points to edge them closer to the Premier League’s top four places, just a single point behind Chelsea.
Rather than being criticised for his flexibility, Emery should be praised for it. For years under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal were typecast, with good reason, as a team that would play one, and only one, way. It didn’t matter the opposition or the situation, Wenger’s side would attempt to impose their natural game.
Of course, that didn’t always work and Arsenal suffered for it. Now, Emery is taking measures to be more pragmatic, to make better use of the squad he has, and against Bournemouth it worked. The Gunners didn’t need Ozil to grind out the win over Bournemouth and as manager Emery was entitled to take the decision he did.
Increasingly in the modern game, it’s assumed that every top player will play every minute of every match. We perhaps have Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to thank for this zeitgeist, such is their superhuman drive to do exactly that – play every minute of every match. It should, however, be entirely normal for a manager to alter his team depending on the task at hand.
There have been suggestions that Emery and Ozil don’t always see eye to eye, that the two figures clashed earlier in the season. If that is truly the case, it’s unlikely the German will have been enamoured with the decision to leave him out of the team on Sunday, even if Emery could offer vindication.
In so many ways, Emery is the manager Arsenal have needed for years. He is in the antidote to the latter part of the Wenger era, and his versatility and pragmatism is just another aspect of that. Dropping Ozil, just as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was benched for a spell earlier in the season, demonstrates this. Let’s move on from the hysteria of the Spaniard’s decision on Sunday.
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