Arsenal's £18m Ozil problem holds key to Arteta's transfer plans

Mesut Ozil Mikel Arteta
The Gunners boss is getting frustrated by the constant queries about his absent playmaker - but they are questions that will not go away

Mikel Arteta’s face visibly drops when he hears another question about Mesut Ozil coming his way during press conferences nowadays.

It does not matter how many times he says "nothing has changed", the questions just keep on coming. And they will, until Ozil decides it is time to leave Arsenal.

That is not likely to be any time soon, with the 31-year-old and his agent having always been insistent the German World Cup winner will see out his current contract, which runs until 2021.

So Arteta is going to have to get used to fielding questions about the playmaker on a regular basis - especially if he continues to leave him out of his squad each week.

“He is available,” said Arsenal’s head coach, when asked whether Ozil could feature against Watford on Sunday when the Gunners bring their Premier League season to a close.

That may well be the case, but Arsenal’s highest earner - who the club hand £350,000 ($445,000) a week to - is unlikely to be involved.

While Arsenal are warming up for next weekend’s FA Cup final against Chelsea, the likelihood is that Ozil will be sat at home watching on TV.

It is a situation that continues to hang like a dark cloud over the Emirates Stadium.

There has been no real explanation as to why Ozil - who was a regular starter under Arteta prior to the coronavirus-enforced lockdown - has been cast aside since the return.

We were told he was suffering from "back soreness", something Arteta would not expand on when pushed. But now that he is fit, his absence has been put down to "pure football reasons" by Arsenal’s head coach.

It is a similar situation to what was witnessed during Unai Emery’s tenure, although the Spaniard eventually caved to the pressure and brought Ozil back into the picture having seemingly attempted to force him out.

Whether Arteta does the same, remains to be seen.

Mesut Ozil Arsenal

Just like last summer, Arsenal would be delighted to get Ozil off the books when the transfer window opens later this month.

His wages, though, make that all but impossible.

Ozil stands to pocket around £18 million ($23m) from Arsenal if he stays next season, and he knows he will not be able to get that sort of money anywhere else.

Speaking in May, his agent, Dr Erkut Sogut, said: “There’s no chance he’ll leave. He is going into the end of this contract, he will be 32 years old, he will be a free agent, and it’s not a bad situation.”

It might not be a bad situation for Ozil, but it is a terrible one for Arsenal. Given the financial position the club is in, having to pay out £18m over the course of the next year for a player to sit at home on a match day will be nothing short of a disaster, and it will have a major impact on their capability in the transfer market.

Last summer, Josh Kroenke, the son of owner Stan, described Arsenal as having a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget. A few months later it was revealed the club had suffered a loss of £27.1m ($34m) for the year 2018-19 - Arsenal’s first operating loss since 2002.

The main reason for that? The £230m ($293m) wage bill. Without Champions League football it is not sustainable, and Arsenal have not had Champions League football now for three seasons.

The Europa League has at least softened the blow, but should Arsenal fail to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final on August 1, they will not even have that to fall back on next season.

All that makes Ozil’s continued presence at the club even tougher to take for those trying to guide Arsenal through what they describe as one of the most challenging periods in its history.

Mesut Ozil

Of course, Ozil’s wages are not his fault. Arsenal were happy to smash their wage bill to get him to stay in January 2018, something Arteta himself accepts.

"That (Ozil's contract) is an agreement that the player and club were happy to do, to move ahead and it is never something that I question,” said the Spaniard.

"I think players are paid whatever they deserve because there are two parties here and that should never be something I have to judge."

The issue is while Ozil is still at the club, the spotlight will continue to focus on him - especially if he is sat at home and not contributing on the pitch on a weekly basis.

That is why there is so much interest. That is why journalists ask Arteta each week if anything has changed. If Arsenal are winning, it is an easier question to brush aside, but when they are losing - such as at Aston Villa on Tuesday - it is a tougher one to ignore.

For all of Ozil’s flaws, particularly away from home, he remains Arsenal’s best creative talent. That is something that cannot be questioned.

He has not played since March 7, yet no player has created more chances for the Gunners under Arteta than the German playmaker.

Arsenal had nearly 70 per cent possession at Villa Park on Tuesday night, but did not manage a shot on target. When a team defends in a low block against the Gunners, they have no one who can unlock the door from the central areas.

“We needed to find ways to attack better in the final third,” admitted Arteta following the defeat in the Midlands. “We lacked that creativity and spark.”

Mesut Ozil Mikel Arteta

With that comment, attention immediately turned to Ozil and whether it would not be better to include the German against sides who were likely to sit deep and allow his team possession of the ball.

“The answer is not just a player,” replied Arteta. “I try to make the best decisions for the team and the club.

“Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong and sometimes I get it very wrong, but all the time I try my best.”

Arsenal’s attempts to get Ozil out are understandable. Should he leave this summer, it would save them £18m next season, money which could be spent elsewhere - either in terms of transfer fees or wages.

It is also easy to understand Arteta’s frustration at the constant barrage of questions about his playmaker, but he must accept that when results do not go his way and Arsenal struggle to create, the topic of his team's absent highest earner is always going to be a hot one.

At 31, Ozil may be past the peak of his powers. But he is still the best Arsenal have when it comes to unlocking the door and linking between midfield and attack.

So when things go wrong, the Ozil debate will start to rage once again. A player who brought so much excitement and joy to the club when he first arrived in 2013, has now become a millstone around Arsenal’s neck.

It is a debate that won’t end until the German finally brings his time in north London to a close. Unfortunately for Arsenal, the likelihood is that scenario is still £18m away.