Our man Matthew Dunn looks at how things have changed for Arsenal’s controversial No.10
Unai Emery has Dennis Bergkamp to thank for breaking the stand-off that had developed with Mesut Ozil.
Tonight, Ozil is expected to be named in the starting line-up and will feature in the seventh successive game since he finally seemed to climb on board with Emery’s philosophy.
Before then, Ozil had been in and out of the team due to a mixture of illness, injury and tactical reasons. He had never featured in more than four games in a row under Emery.
However, following a significant social media post by Ozil on Twitter on February 15, Emery has not been able to do without him.
“When you start supporting a football club, you don’t support it because of the trophies, or a player, or history, you support it because you found yourself somewhere there; found a place where you belong,” Ozil wrote, identifying Arsenal legend Bergkamp as the source of his quote.
At the time, it was seen as the latest salvo in a battle of wills with disciplinarian Emery – who seemed to have had Ozil’s number from the moment the Arsenal no. 10 called off sick from the club’s third game of the season against West Ham.
The Arsenal manager had so little regard for the severity of Ozil’s supposed virus that he invited him into the dressing room to shake hands – and potentially ‘infect’ – the whole of the rest of the squad ahead of the game.
But that Bergkamp quote instead seems to be a surrender – an acceptance finally that the club and its fans are bigger even than its £350,000-a-week star player.
Since then, Ozil’s work-rate has increased, his determination to prove his worth has risen and although it has been tentative and some times unconvincing, there have even been a few attempts to track back.
All that has been missing has been some of Bergkamp’s goals and certainly Arsenal could do with some of them against Rennes tonight.
For all of Emery’s hard-line stance towards Ozil, he knows he possesses that extra level of quality Arsenal need to crack open a staunch defence, which is why bringing Ozil around rather than simply casting him aside has been his most telling achievement at Arsenal so far.
Emery needs to win the Europa League or finish in the top four for his first season to be considered a success and to do that he needs to achieve with Ozil something Wenger could never manage with Bergkamp.
He needs to get him flying.