Arsene Wenger claims those hailing Arsenal as better without Mesut Ozil are jumping too quickly to conclusions but his selection at Watford on Saturday will offer a more telling indicator of his plans.
Ozil is fit after injury, fresh and available while others are weary from long-haul travel and World Cup disappointment.
Without him in the team, Arsenal have won five of the last six and drawn at Chelsea and have not conceded in the Premier League since the 4-0 thrashing at Liverpool.
Arsene Wenger can call on Mesut Ozil against Watford after the German recovered from injury
Without the German in the team, Arsenal have won five of the last six and drawn at Chelsea
‘People go quickly to conclusions,’ said Wenger. ‘We live in the world where people have opinions and sometimes they are right and sometimes they are not always proven right on the longer period.
‘You need players who have quality and Ozil is one of the best players in the world.
‘Last season we played the last 11 games and won 10. We beat Man City in the FA Cup semi-final and Chelsea in the final and he played as well.
‘You can always find the example but it’s true we have done well recently.’
Ozil’s minor knee problem ruled him out of international duty with Germany and he has trained fully with the Arsenal squad since Monday and yet not certain to start at Watford, who are in good form.
‘He is only one week back in training and he has worked hard,’ said Wenger. ‘Of course, he is important but I have many players.’
Wenger said: ‘You need players who have quality… Ozil is one of the best players in the world’
Talks between Arsenal and Ozil stalled months ago. He can negotiate a move abroad in January
Ozil, 29 on Sunday, will out of contract at the end of the season, talks stalled months ago and he can negotiate and sign a pre-contract deal for a move to a foreign club in January.
Comments about ‘positive talks’ which were this week attributed to his agent by a Turkish website are disputed and Wenger insists there has been ‘no change’ to the his contract situation.
‘I cannot tell you what is really on his mind,’ said the manager. ‘I genuinely think he wants to stay, I’m always positive about that.’
Besiktas have declared an interest but a move to Turkey does not appeal to Ozil at this stage of his career. He would rather stay in London although there is no proposal on the table and his concerns about Arsenal go beyond money.
He expects an improvement on his £140,000-a-week basic and there was a double-money offer of £280,000 a week on the table in March but he backed away because Wenger’s own future was in doubt.
He also wanted assurances he would operate as a No 10 and, since signing his own contract extension, the manager has become tightly wed to his 3-4-2-1 system which eliminates the traditional playmaker’s role.
Besiktas have shown an interest in Ozil but the German star does not want to move to Turkey
The new team is being built with a stronger centre and a more powerful and direct front-three.
There have been sublime Ozil moments — it is a year since a hat-trick against Ludogorets — but four years at Arsenal cannot be deemed a success.
He has won the FA Cup three times and his presence helped lure Alexis Sanchez but he did not add the quality to conjure a title challenge. Rather, he has helped them into the Europa League
Ozil has never been prolific, more often the creator, but his influence has faded with no goals and no assists for Arsenal this season, and only three goals for his club in 2017.
Moreover, Wenger seems to be moving on. He proved in the past with Andriy Arshavin and Mathieu Flamini that he is prepared to leave out players he thinks are determined to leave.
Manchester City have been invited to revive their interest in Sanchez in January and Arsenal are expected to pursue interest in Monaco’s Thomas Lemar as a direct replacement.
When the subject of Ozil’s return to the team was raised, Wenger brought Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi into the equation and Danny Welbeck is fit again.
‘It gives me a lot of opportunities to keep them all focused and refreshed,’ said the Arsenal boss.
If he leaves him out at Watford, the writing is on the wall.