If Arsenal are an enigma, then what does that make Mesut Ozil?
There’s no punchline by the way, just a question that hangs in the air.
At Saturday lunchtime Arsenal crushed Spurs 2-0 at the Emirates with Mesut Ozil and Alexi Sanchez both putting in performances seemingly guided by agents sat on their shoulders reminding them that the world is watching and that if they want to get out of here then today is the day to step up. I’ve seen it a million times. It’s hard to know if certain players truly care or really are ripping up trees for the cause until the dynamic changes and the question becomes about their own futures and not the greater good of the club.
In football we players call it the Craig Bellamy effect. You don’t see him all season but there he is, electrifying matches, scoring key goals, chasing down empty crisp packets and not giving defenders a moment’s peace. And always just as the next transfer window comes in to view.
The Sunday papers could not rain plaudits down on Ozil fast enough. Fine. Here’s a thinker though. Where was Ozil at Stoke, Liverpool, Watford and Manchester City, all games that Arsenal lost? After those matches the same papers were accusing Ozil of constantly going missing.
Up at Stoke, out of the limelight and under physical intimidation, it can be easy to hide simply because nobody from an elite club that you may want to join is watching. But big players are capable of stepping up.
Some have pride in every game but some will save themselves for the right conditions. On Saturday Arsenal played a North London derby live on Sky. I’ve yet to meet a player that doesn’t want to play well in the games that are live on Sky.
I used to try just that little bit harder because I knew that people who didn’t usually see me play outside of that evening’s Match of the Day highlights would be watching me. And that could have been anybody.
Old work colleagues, old schoolmates and extended family but also the wider footballing community too. And you never know where that can lead. One good game. Sometimes that’s all you need. I tried that little bit harder.
My argument hinges on the fact that Ozil will leave Arsenal. And of that I’m almost certain. Almost. The January transfer window is around the corner and Arsenal have fairly recent form when it comes to cashing in on players instead of letting them leave for free. In 2012 the Gunners sold Robin Van Persie to Manchester United for £22.5m, a year prior to the Dutch marksman becoming a Bosman free.
Can Wenger, a man that sees football tactically but economically too, allow himself and Arsenal to outlay the best part of £100m for the services of two players before watching them join bigger clubs with deeper pockets for free?
That would go against everything that Wenger has ever believed in as a manager. Wenger is a manager that believes clubs should only spend a percentage of what they earn. He managed to move Arsenal from Highbury to the Emirates stadium and have it paid off.
Everything must stack up, historically his biggest players have been sold for fees higher than they were bought for.
But here is the fly in the ointment. Arsenal are not in the Champions League and the fight for the top four places in the Premier League is as strong as it’s been for several years. To get there, Wenger needs Mesut Ozil and Alexi Sanchez. Something will have to give which leads us to another question.
Can Wenger evolve by giving up everything he believes in, can he finally embrace the spendthrift culture of the clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United? And if he does, will he be in danger of undoing everything that he currently stands for as Arsenal manager.
Could the need to change and qualify for the Champions League end up costing Wenger his own job, or is he willing to achieve that goal before stepping down and leaving a huge problem for his successor? Something that Sir Alex Ferguson did at Manchester United and which helped to cement his legacy as a genius.
For all the questions Arsenal remain sixth. Watching the game at home I couldn’t help but ask myself where they might have found themselves after 12 games if they had set up anything like as aggressively against other teams that they have come unstuck against so far this season.
The tempo was fantastic, the closing down was superb and the front foot approach that allowed the rest of the team to squeeze in behind the front three in order to limit Spurs’ passing game was so successful that you’d have to assume that Arsenal will now play that way for the remainder of the season.
It must come as a huge source of frustration to the Arsenal players that Wenger has only just allowed them the freedom to play this way. I got the sense that it was do or die for Arsenal on Saturday.
To my mind it has come far too late to keep Sanchez. The Chilean will be gone from Arsenal certainly by the summer.
As for Ozil, well, he may still be tempted to stay but Europe’s big clubs will certainly circle the German and ask their own questions of Arsenal. It may well come down to the toss of a contract.
The result against Spurs is clearly a good one but it has done is throw up a mass of difficult questions for Arsenal, for Wenger and for Ozil too.
Who knows what will happen as we head towards the second half of the season. That’s the thing with enigmas, they are very difficult to understand, much less predict.
Our man inside the game is used to seeing big players step things up as a transfer window approaches.