Unai Emery is just a handful of games into his reign at Arsenal, but already he is facing up to the problem that Arsene Wenger never satisfactorily resolved.
Mesut Ozil’s arrival at the Emirates Stadium from Real Madrid five years ago was meant to usher in a new era for Arsenal, yet Wenger spent more time than he would have liked rebutting criticism of the Germany midfielder’s contribution.
And just three weeks into the new season, Wenger’s replacement as Gunners manager has already discovered that getting the best out of Ozil could prove to be no easy task.
If Emery can do successfully do that, his task of securing a top-four finish and a Champions League place will become an awful lot easier.
Fail, and like Wenger before him, he will not be able to avoid continuing scrutiny of the player’s performances.
Wenger always defended the player, highlighting Ozil’s more understated qualities such as the timing and delivery of passes to team-mates.
The playmaker agreed a new, three-and-a-half year contract in January worth around £350,000 per week.
But Ozil’s Arsenal career remains unfulfilled and Wenger’s approach to getting the best out of a player who has rarely dominated games for his club in the way he has often done for his country has understandably been questioned.
Emery appears to have taken a different stance and has already been forced to deny any rift with Ozil after the German missed the home victory over West Ham because of an illness.
It was claimed Ozil had stormed out of a training session when Emery urged him to try harder to adapt to his high-tempo pressing game.
– Physicality –
But, with the player’s cold now over, Emery confirmed Ozil is back in contention to line-up at Cardiff on Sunday.
“He’s training normally with the group, in every session this week,” Emery said.
“We started on Tuesday and every day he has been training with the group. He’s OK. Also I’m looking at him well every day.”
What is clear, however, was that Emery had wanted more from Ozil during the recent 3-2 defeat at Chelsea.
Having used Ozil in a wider position in the defeat to Manchester City, Emery moved the German inside into a more central role at Stamford Bridge before replacing him with Aaron Ramsey in the 68th minute.
Explaining the move after the game, Emery said: “I took him off to stop Chelsea progressing easily with the ball.”
Clearly, Emery wanted a more formidable presence in that part of the field and while physicality has never been a major part of Ozil’s game, the Spaniard would not be the first person to believe the 29-year-old could offer more.
It certainly seems as though Emery is taking a firmer approach than Wenger, whose light-touch approach to a number of squad issues drew criticism during his final seasons in north London.
Emery, though, will know his handling of Ozil is key. He must get the club’s best player on board as he attempts to make his mark at his new club.
Many manager’s would like build a team around a fit and in form Ozil.
The coming months will provide a telling test of the Spaniard’s ability to draw the best from the German.