Emery: Özil’s record salary doesn't guarantee him a place
£350,000-a-week player has been left out of starting line-up for past five league matches
Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil watches on the bench during his side’s match against Southampton on December 16th. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters
Unai Emery has spelled out what his recent team selections have already made plain: Mesut Özil’s status as Arsenal’s highest-paid player does not guarantee him a place in the team.
“For me the player’s salary is not important,” said Emery. “I don’t know the players’ salary because for me they are the same. To every player I give the same conversation and the same decision [about whether] to play or not.”
The manager did not even rule out the possibility of Özil being allowed to leave the club in January – “I am not thinking about this situation,” he said – but also suggested that Özil could have a long-term future at Arsenal. “Yes, why not?” he replied when asked.
Özil, who signed a new contract in February worth a reported £350,000 per week until 2021, has been left out of the starting line-up for Arsenal’s past five league matches after being dropped for November’s trip to Bournemouth over doubts about his ability to cope with the home side’s “physicality and intensity”.
Emery cited “tactical reasons” for omitting the player entirely from Wednesday’s Carabao Cup match against Tottenham. But the Spaniard has recalled Özil to the squad for Saturday’s Premier League match against Burnley and said he trusts the player to deliver what is expected from him if he plays. He said Özil has been left in no doubt about those expectations.
“I have spoken with him regularly throughout the season and I am telling him what we need from him,” said Emery. “He has the commitment to help us with his quality and characteristics when the team needs his moment on the pitch. But not just him, I spoke with every player, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively.”
Emery suggested that a “best Arsenal XI” is an abstract concept and that, in practical terms, his team will change from match to match. And that Özil may or may not be included. “[Özil] has scored three goals [in the Premier League this season] and he has given us assists. But some matches we need different things tactically or individually. But it’s not only him.
“For me every player is the same. If you make a difference between them because one has more salary – for me it has to be the same. The most important thing is to train every day with good behaviour, good commitment and to be okay for the match. Mesut is okay for [Saturday’s match]. There are 18 players in the squad and one of them is Mesut and I trust in our team and all our players.”
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is not fit enough to play against Burnley and nor is Shkodran Mustafi. Emery suggested he may not start Laurent Koscielny because asking the centre-back to play in a third match in a week after missing seven months through injury could be excessive. That could mean Granit Xhaka is deployed in central defence again with Emery still worryingly short of defensive options.