After Mesut Özil scored a sumptuous hat-trick in Arsenal’s 6-0 Champions League thumping of Ludogorets, Arsene Wenger was asked what sets him apart from other players.
“Outstanding technique and decision-making,” came the coach’s reply, and it is this second attribute which Arsenal may soon find themselves on the wrong end of.
By entering the final 20 months of his contract (which runs until 2018), at 28 years old Özil is expecting a lucrative offer to remain with the Gunners. Add to that his standing as one of Arsenal’s marquee players, the German playmaker is reportedly looking for a hefty increase on his current £140k per week deal – but both parties remain in a stand-off.
The situation is further complicated by Arsenal’s title-winning ability – or lack of – and the player’s ambition. Having joined from Real Madrid in 2013, Özil has just one league title to his name. He wants more – or at least to mount a serious challenge.
Wenger truly believes that it’s not all about the money for his mercurial midfielder, though, in an honest and somewhat refreshing appraisal, can understand why it is relevant:
It’s normal players try to get the maximum out of the negotiations because they only have 10 years at the top level if all goes well. If you were a player you would try the same. You try to earn as much as you can.
Ideally you do not want players to go into the final year of their deals. They have to feel you meet their needs at the club and they get paid for it. So that is why we negotiate before.
I don’t think he needs convincing [to stay]. He wants to stay here. If you have a good bank, call me!
It’s not just money. Arsenal can win titles, of course. But that’s what we have to show. We are in a league where Man City, Man United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, everybody, fights and you cannot guarantee that to anybody.
Am I confident he will sign? It’s not my main worry now. We want to keep our best players, of course. The more I say that, the more he is in a stronger position.
What’s also making Özil’s position even stronger is his current form – especially in front of goal. Four goals in his last two games led to Wenger wanting, and expecting, even more:
When you see Özil finishing, you think a little bit that he doesn’t take his chances to shoot enough.
When you see him in training, he scores basically when he wants. You speak with the keepers and he’s one of the most difficult players to predict where he’ll put the ball. I’m happy that he scored and I hope that gives him the taste to try more.
He is 28 now. In the next four years he has to combine style and efficiency. He had always fantastic style; fantastic efficiency in assists. But efficiency in his position is also finishing and he has that in the locker. It’s not that he hasn’t got it.
At the time of his signing it was said that Arsenal collected exactly the same type of forward-thinking players in midfield, and even in attack, which was why his signing caused such a stir. Not because he was one of the best players in the world, or even the £42.5m outlay, but because he was seen as the type of player that Arsenal already had; they didn’t need yet another creative midfield presence who lacks ‘character’ and the physicality to dominate in the “world’s toughest league.”
The cynics lined up to harangue “Wenger’s expensive luxury” as another title-challenge faltered and the player adjusted to life in England, but now fully integral, Özil is his playmaker-in-chief and Gunners fans label him indispensable.
His critics still say he turns it on when it least matters – a true reflection of the Arsenal team – even pointing out his latest hat-trick came with the team already 3-0 up; at home; against European minnows.
The jokes about Arsenal competing for the “Top Four Trophy” towards the end of every season are as common on Twitter as a knuckle-dragging retort to a Gary Lineker refugee tweet, but with the Gunners being the fourth highest wage payers in the league there’s a direct correlation.
Money may not be the real issue but unless Arsenal demonstrate they can remain in the race for the league title this season, and perhaps progress to the final stages of the Champions League, then Özil will have to employ his excellent decision-making attribute off the pitch.