Unai Emery Plays Down Mesut Ozil's Absence for Arsenal's Defeat vs. BATE Borisov

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2019

BARYSAW, BELARUS - FEBRUARY 14: Arsenal head coach Unai Emery looks on during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 First Leg match between BATE Borisov and Arsenal at Borisov-Arena on February 14, 2019 in Borisov, Belarus. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)
MB Media/Getty Images

Unai Emery doesn't think the decision to leave Mesut Ozil out of the squad for Arsenal's shock 1-0 defeat away to BATE Borisov in the UEFA Europa League last 32 on Thursday impacted the result.

The Gunners head coach downplayed Ozil's absence and what it meant for his team's ability to create chances in Belarus, per Football.London's Charles Watts:

"Every player is OK to play. Today those that were here, we can win with them and we deserved that. Last week we won and we played with the same players. For me today there was no difference to the performance. We deserved to win but didn’t get the result."

"They were very organised defensively and they found the moment in the game. It’s not for one player or another. We can win with every player and lose with the same players."

Emery's reference to winning without Ozil last week is telling. Arsenal beat Huddersfield Town 2-1 away on Saturday but had less possession and fewer shots than the side rooted to the bottom of the Premier League.

Although Emery's men bossed the ball at the Borisov Arena, the quality of the chances they created left a lot to be desired:

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Squawka Football @Squawka

@muhammadbutt 02': Henrikh Mkhitaryan 51': Alexandre Lacazette Just two of Arsenal's 16 shots against BATE Borisov were on target. 😫 https://t.co/qWNMUufIeb

A performance lacking in pace and ideas in the final third raised further questions about Emery's ongoing willingness to leave Ozil on the outside looking in. The club's highest-earner has only started two matches in all competitions since Christmas.

He was substituted at halftime of the 1-1 draw away to Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League on December 26. Ozil next played 76 minutes of the 2-1 home win over Cardiff City on January 29.

Emery revealed on Wednesday how Ozil had trained but wasn't ready yet, per Watts.

However, the issue surely goes deeper considering how little a player who is not injured and earning £350,000 per week has played. Ozil doesn't have the physical qualities to suit the energetic pressing game Emery wants.

Ozil's absence didn't negatively impact Arsenal in Belarus, according to Emery.
Ozil's absence didn't negatively impact Arsenal in Belarus, according to Emery.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Even so, his ability to pick passes to unlock defences is something an Arsenal team drab going forward is missing. Emery's alternatives, Alex Iwobi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Barcelona loanee Denis Suarez, can't match Ozil's technique, vision and flair.

An apparent standoff between manager and star player has appeared to intensify after Ozil liked an Instagram comment criticising Emery's decision to leave him out against BATE, according to Metro.

The longer Arsenal struggle without Ozil, the more the situation will threaten to derail the club's season. Former Gunners centre-back Martin Keown labelled the lack of answers about Ozil's status under Emery "embarrassing" during an appearance for BT Sport (h/t Jake Polden of the Daily Mirror).

Emery hasn't found a way to get the best out of Ozil.
Emery hasn't found a way to get the best out of Ozil.MB Media/Getty Images

Deciding Ozil's future can define Emery's tenure. Arsenal's investment in Ozil is considerable, and one not likely to be matched by clubs perhaps prepared to take him away from north London.

Ozil's importance as the Gunners' creative catalyst may also eventually divide the dressing room.

For his part, Ozil is acting like a dedicated Arsenal player, offering his sympathy and support ahead of the second leg at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday, February 21:

Mesut Özil @MesutOzil1088

Not the result we wanted, but we still can do it in the 2nd leg and reach the next round! Let's bounce back at the Emirates especially for our fans ⚽👊🏼 #COYG 🔴⚪ #M1Ö #BATARS #UEL @Arsenal

Needing goals to overturn an aggregate deficit, Emery may have no choice but to bring Ozil back into the fold. The Spaniard is under mounting pressure to prove he can get Arsenal back into the UEFA Champions League.

Achieving a top-four finish in England's top flight will require winning a tight scrap with Manchester United and Chelsea. It means winning the Europa League could be the more likely route back to the continent's big table, a journey set to require all of Arsenal's talent, including the gifted and expensive playmaker being left out in the cold by Emery.     

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