Emery on Mesut Ozil: ‘The key is in his hands’

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Mesut Ozil’s continued absence at Arsenal has baffled many and it is quite clear Unai Emery doesn’t see the German playmaker fitting into his plans.

But the Gunners boss has challenged Ozil to grab the bull by the horns, in as many words, and wants the 30-year-old (the highest-paid player in Arsenal’s history) to get back to full fitness as soon as possible.

Ahead of Arsenal’s UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg against BATE Borisov on Thursday (Arsenal trail 1-0 from the first leg in Belarus), Emery gave an update on Ozil’s progress.

“The key is in his hands and he is working very well this week, ” Emery said. “He needs to be consistent in training and for matches, without injury or being sick. Without that we can see the best Mesut with us.”

Ozil last played for Arsenal against Cardiff City on Jan. 29 and before that he went a month without playing from late December until late January. He’s been out with a combination of small injuries and illnesses, while Emery has also chosen not to select him at all in some matchday squads.

Do Arsenal miss him? The stats suggest the Gunners are a better team without Ozil and you can argue that they are better balanced without him. This season they’ve only won 56 percent of the 18 games Ozil has played in compared to 65 percent of 20 games without him.

Emery’s strong stance on Ozil not fitting into his philosophy seems to have focused the rest of the squad, but now seems like a good time to try and find a spot for the mercurial talent in the lineup.

The likes of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have been used in wide attacking roles by Emery in recent weeks but with Ozil now having a full week of training under his belt, surely he will be used against BATE, Southampton, Bournemouth and Tottenham in Arsenal’s next four games.

Having a fit and focused Ozil back in the team will be like having a new signing for Arsenal, but it is still unclear exactly where he will slot in. In Emery’s 3-4-3 formation, his role as a central playmaker has disappeared and the best chance he has of playing a pivotal role this season is if Emery changes to a 3-4-2-1 formation with Lacazette and Ozil underneath Aubameyang in attack.