SINGAPORE: Every manager, secretly, wants to hear his best players say that they have given up on national team football to concentrate on their club career. Unai Emery is no different. He has not said this publicly about Mesut Ozil but he offered an indirect opinion by appointing the 29-year-old as Arsenal’s captain for the Singapore victory over Paris Saint-Germain.
The reward was a 5:1 victory though Emery was not misled by the margin of victory, knowing better than almost anyone that his old club were missing most of their senior players and still adapting to the demands of Thomas Tuchel, his successor.
One of the benefits, for Arsenal, of Germany’s World Cup disaster was an early end to their campaign and thus Ozil’s early return to preparations for the new Premier season which the Gunners open at home to champions Manchester City on August 12.
The now-former Germany international appeared to enjoy a first public outing under his new club manager who had promised: “We will be a loving family for him” after the furore over the World Cup fall-out.
Ozil responded with a goal inside 13 minutes of the International Champions Cup match. It was a Bundesliga exiles’ ‘special’. Henrikh Mkhitaryan released Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang down the right wing and Ozil beat Gigi Buffon from close range.
The criticism of Ozil in England has always been his tendency to vanish into the midfield shadows for long periods of a game. Former manager Arsene Wenger always said he wanted more goals from Ozil without providing him the tactical platform. Against PSG Emery pushed Ozil further forward in the centre of midfield so that sometimes he was operating as a second striker alongside Aubameyang and then substitute Alexandre Lacazette.
At the start of the second half PSG equalised with a Christopher Nkunku penalty after Saed Kolasinac tripped Timothy Weah. But, as substitutes came and went on both sides, so Arsenal regained control immediately after Ozil’s 64th-minute replacement by teenager Reiss Nelson.
The 18-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe helped set up two goals inside four minutes for Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah. Further goals came from Rob Holding and and 19-year-old Nketiah again in the final minutes.
Emery, summing up the game, the context and Ozil’s new role, said: “We are trying to give a sense of responsibility to all the players. I think Mesut can take that responsibility as a captain but let’s not forget Laurent (Koscielny) because he is captain as well.
“We want to give him and our players the best position they feel most comfortable in on the pitch. But it depends because Mesut can also play on the right and go inside. We want to find a space for him and the other players where they can use their qualities through good positioning. I think in the first half today we played good football with quality players but I want to improve the pressing.”
Ex-Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno played all the first half while ex-Dortmund centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos was substituted, like Ozil, after 64 minutes. Koscielny will miss the first half of term through injury so the likelihood is that Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi will be the starting central defensive partnership.
PSG were far below strength, with Buffon and Adrien Rabiot their only established senior professionals. Hence Tuchel accepted the result as a disappointing but predictable outcome of the imbalance in the two teams’ strengths and preparation levels.
Tuchel said: “Of course we did not want it to end like this. We resisted well in the first period but then we left Arsenal too much space in the middle of the pitch. We lost confidence and made mistakes. I had seen us play a good passing game against Bayern and I thought we could do it again tonight. But Arsenal are a quality team. My players did their best and we cannot blame them.”