His response said it all. Unai Emery told the media “the player’s salary is not important” when asked about Mesut Özil’s place in the team. “Every player is the same,” was a philosophy which didn’t work in Paris where ego ruled the roost. That is not going to happen at Arsenal; the Spaniard is determined that it’s his way or the highway; players can like it or lump it.
The German is in today’s squad. Emery pointed to his philosophy which limits Özil’s use in his own tactical system:
Sometimes we play with one striker only. If we didn’t play well, it demands of us to play with two strikers. When you play with two strikers then it is more difficult to play with a No 10.
It depends on how you line up and you need players with quality, with intensity, players who are faster, players who are calm with the ball. You need players defensively and offensively.
Injury is forcing Emery’s hand today. While “we need different opinions tactically for one match, but we need the ball,” Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s absence creates Özil’s opportunity. The Armenian isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but he fits Emery’s work ethic far better than the German.
The inherent contradiction of Özil’s absence at Bournemouth because he couldn’t cope with their “intensity and physicality” when facing a stereotypically English side isn’t lost on anyone. Burnley are more nuanced in their approach than just lumping the ball forward but rely heavily on teamwork and hard work; “Physicality and intensity” are key elements.
Özil’s guile will come in useful, however. Burnley’s obduracy last weekend showed it’s going to be a long afternoon. After the Southampton defeat, it must be a winning one. This season’s top four ambitions don’t hang on it but will shape it nonetheless.
The Sort Of Headache Aspirin Can’t Cure
Far more of a headache for Emery is the defence: Bellerin and Mustafi are both out. While Lichtsteiner is the obvious replacement for the former, we don’t have another centre-back. Sead Kolasinac is also likely to miss out so Nacho Monreal is needed on the left unless Maitland-Niles features.
An altogether unsatisfactory situation for the coach to deal with, it surely rules out a back three? After last weekend’s debacle, there is no evidence to support a makeshift trio at the heart of the defence.
Particularly when Laurent Koscielny’s ring-rustiness is clearly evident. Only match minutes resolve that issue but the Premier League is an unforgiving arena in which to recover fitness.
There’s a suggestion Koscielny may be rested at lunchtime. That’s just madness; we don’t have the defensive options to justify that unless Emery is promoting a youngster. Sokratis is a calming influence for the most part so it’s not unreasonable to think that may happen.
It won’t, however. Emery is “pleased” with Xhaka’s efforts for the team and willingness to cover for defensive injuries. That he was better as a wing-back against Leicester than a centre-back is undeniable. However, the Foxes were whupped by that point and Xhaka kept his head for 35 minutes against a toothless attack.
This is an altogether unsatisfactory situation for the coach to deal with. Appointed before last summer’s window opened, cover for his preferred back-three was necessary but we didn’t get that sorted.
Once it was decided that Calum Chambers was going out on loan, the internal solutions were vital at that point or we needed to sign another central defender. His departure left five at the club with one injured and Mavropanos soon joined Koscielny on the sidelines.
The recruitment in these times needs to be considerably sharper.
Which brings us to the XI to play today. It’s not far off being officially announced but I’ll have a stab at it:
Leno; Koscielny, Sokratis, Xhaka; Lichtsteiner, Torreira, Guendouzi, Monreal; Iwobi, Özil; Aubameyang
We’re stretched thin in every department at a traditionally intense period of the season. Ramsey in midfield, Elneny too, with Lacazette are our experienced options; it’s a concerning situation. Our lack of depth is starkly apparent.
Bellerin and Mustafi are both short-term problems but as Kolasinac proves, short-term very quickly becomes a longer spell on the sidelines. It would be a huge boost to the squad if the winter’s activity is completed early in the window.
Those are thoughts for another day. This afternoon is the immediate concern and three points vitally important.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.