Arsene Wenger successor needs to sort Mesut Ozil issue at Arsenal
Arsene Wenger has one Arsenal match remaining, but Mesut Ozil's club season finished a little while ago. After the Europa League exit against Atletico Madrid, he was effectively signed off from Premier League action to rest an aching body ahead of the World Cup.
Ozil's absence has attracted some raised eyebrows, but Wenger has not elaborated much on the mercurial Germany's tendency to go missing. That's understandable: firstly, the outgoing Arsenal boss has much more on his plate at the moment. However, perhaps more significantly, he knows that as of next season coaxing the best out of Ozil will be someone else's problem.
Ozil has had a strange 2017-18. The numbers are respectable if not astonishing: He has accumulated four goals and 12 assists in all competitions. At times, he has been sensational to watch -- there was a period just after Christmas when he seemed to playing with a purposefulness that has been largely lacking during his time in England.
It was around that time that he put pen to paper on a new long-term Arsenal contract. With Alexis Sanchez having left the club to join Manchester United, Ozil's decision to commit was regarded as a huge coup for Arsenal. He was identified as the player with the stature and the talent to lead Arsenal into the new era, and he was rewarded accordingly.
However, since signing his new contract, Ozil has featured in just six Premier League matches. A once occasional habit of missing away games appears to have become chronic. Every time Arsenal travel north of the Watford gap, he seems to come down with another bout of illness. His absenteeism has drawn ire from Martin Keown, and the quality of Ozil's performances in the matches he has turned up for appears to have dropped off significantly.
His unavailability may not be down to anything sinister. His agent insists he has been carrying an injury and Wenger has cited a back problem. To some extent, we must take the Arsenal manager at his word: Perhaps Ozil's immune system, and indeed his spine, are as compromised as they appear.
Nevertheless, there is still a debate to had. Whoever takes over as Arsenal manager will have to find a way to accommodate Ozil in a successful team. Arguably, that has not happened thus far in his five years in England.
A team with Ozil at its heart is yet to challenge seriously for the Premier League title. Wenger largely indulged Ozil's desire to play as a No.10, even when that meant leaving the remainder of Arsenal's midfield outnumbered and exposed. The truth is that few successful teams are able to accommodate anyone, however talented, in a free role. In Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal already have a midfielder who is prone to roaming from his given position. It remains to be seen if it's possible to fit the Welshman and Ozil into the same side and retain sufficient defensive security.
It will be fascinating to see if Wenger's successor is similarly indulgent of the club's prodigiously gifted playmaker. Will he continue to be afforded his favourite spot on the pitch? Similarly, will his capacity to miss games (and indeed go missing within games) be tolerated?
Perhaps a sterner hand will be just what Ozil needs. After all, he arguably played his best football under Jose Mourinho, who is not known for being particularly soft-hearted toward his players. If someone was prepared to crack the whip, Ozil's gifts might be applied a little more rigourously.
One thing is clear: Jettisoning him is not an option. Arsenal's decision to make him one of the highest-paid players in world football effectively priced him out of a move elsewhere. Ozil will be at Arsenal for the foreseeable future. When the Gunners interview prospective candidates for the manager's job, it might be wise to ask how the incoming coach intends to use the German. If Arsenal are to be successful next year, harnessing his volatile talents will be essential.
James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.