Emery under pressure over sick Ozil
German would have been dropped if he had been fit Ramsey helps Arsenal beat West Ham on his return
Unai Emery is facing the first big test of his Arsenal career after being forced to deny a training-ground row with topearner Mesut Ozil ahead of yesterday’s victory over West Ham United.
Ozil was not part of Emery’s squad to face West Ham, and a report emerged during the game that the German had argued with the head coach in training.
Emery claimed that no argument took place and that Ozil was absent from his squad because of a cold. But sources maintained that the former Real Madrid player had last week been told he must work harder and that his place was in jeopardy.
Ozil was allowed to return home on Friday after informing Emery that he did not feel well, although Emery also revealed that the 29-year-old was with him and the rest of the Arsenal squad ahead of kick-off yesterday.
Emery is understood to have been ready to drop Ozil, whether or not he was unwell, after substituting him in the defeat by Chelsea last weekend and it remains to be seen whether he can win his place back.
Arsenal handed the player a new £350,000-a-week contract, which runs until 2021, only in January but Emery does not seem afraid to put him on the substitutes’ bench.
Asked whether Ozil was dropped as a result of a row, Emery replied: “It isn’t true, that information. I don’t know who started it. If you ask me, the doctor or the club. He spoke with me and decided not to play today. He left training because he was going home. He was sick; blocked up with a cold.
“Today he was here. I said come if you feel better and he felt better today. Before the match, he was with the team and with me speaking. No problem with the player. Ask the doctor, he can explain better.”
Aaron Ramsey replaced Ozil and Emery made a point of praising the Welshman’s work-rate by saying: “He worked for 90 minutes. His spirit and experience is very important. He is a player the other players can give the ball to in difficult positions because he plays with a very high personality.”
Goals from Nacho Monreal and substitute Danny Welbeck, as well as an own goal from West Ham debutant Issa Diop, secured Emery’s first victory since succeeding Arsene Wenger.
“We needed to win and give the supporters three points,” said Emery. “But we need to improve.”
Mesut Ozil may have been complaining of an attack of the sniffles, but Arsenal were not caught cold without their highest earner as the Unai Emery era finally got up and running.
Arsenal are still a work in progress, particularly in defence, but they showed spirit and character, qualities Ozil is often accused of lacking, to come back from behind and beat West Ham United.
Head coach Emery has already proved he is not a man to compromise on his beliefs. He wants his team to pass out from the back, take risks and press high. He also wants total commitment. Players will be picked on their performances, not on their names or their pay packets.
Whether or not Ozil is up for the fight remains to be seen, but the players who started against West Ham, including the German’s replacement, Aaron Ramsey, proved they are.
They could have folded when they went behind to Marko Arnautovic’s opener and could easily have gone into hiding as they stared a third successive defeat in the face. But they regrouped and bringing in Ramsey for Ozil was not the only change Emery got right.
His decision to send on Alexandre Lacazette and play the second half with two strikers was a risk that paid off. It was Lacazette who forced West Ham debutant Issa Diop to put the ball into his own net and another substitute, Danny Welbeck, scored Arsenal’s third.
“The first XI are very important, but the players on the bench as well, the level of commitment,” said Emery. “They can play five minutes, 10 minutes, half an hour, 45 minutes, but we need them. Today, all three substitutes, not just Laca, made the difference and helped the team.”
Ramsey had a header ruled out for offside in the 11th minute, but, following a bright start by the hosts, West Ham took a deserved lead. Felipe Anderson had been moved into a role behind lone striker Arnautovic, who captained the Hammers in the absence of Mark Noble, and it was the Brazilian who set up the opening goal.
By running with the ball and exchanging a couple of passes with Arnautovic, Anderson pulled Shkodran Mustafi out of position, before the former Stoke City forward unleashed a shot past Petr Cech. It meant Arnautovic has been involved in 14 Premier League goals in 2018, a record only bettered by Mohamed Salah so far. When he was forced off with an injury in the second half, West Ham lost their forward impetus.
Emery needed his team to respond quickly and they did, as Nacho Monreal was at the back post five minutes later to control a Hector Bellerin pass and smash the ball into the net.
That should have given Arsenal momentum, but it was West Ham who finished the half better. Cech first saved from Michail Antonio, then Robert Snodgrass should have scored after he was found free in the penalty area.
Emery’s predecessor, Arsene Wenger, was often criticised for being too slow to change players or tactics to respond to the opposition, but the Spaniard showed he will not hang around.
Lacazette replaced Alex Iwobi for the start of the second half, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang moved out to the left as Emery attempted to send the Gunners out on the front foot.
The change almost paid immediate dividends, as Lacazette produced a cross from which Mustafi nearly scored. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz
‘The first XI are very important, but the players on the bench as well, the level of commitment’
Fabianski did brilliantly to tip the defender’s header wide.
Fabianksi then produced a good save to deny Lacazette and Monreal miskicked his attempted follow up, before Arnautovic was forced off and West Ham lost their main attacking threat. Eleven minutes later, Arsenal took the lead in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Diop, a £22 million signing from Toulouse, made a terrible attempt to clear, sending the ball straight into the air. It eventually dropped for Lacazette who sent it back into the area on the turn. Diop watched in despair as it bounced off him and past Fabianksi.
Aubameyang could have eased Arsenal’s nerves by quickly adding a third, but his replacement, Welbeck, made sure West Ham remain pointless by scoring from Bellerin’s cross in time added on for stoppages.
“I’m not happy with the result, but I am very happy with the performance of the team,” said West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini. “I demand we play as a big team, and I think that was the performance of the big team.
“We were unlucky to concede the own goal, and I think we created double the chances of Arsenal. We still don’t have any points, but we have improved with every game.”
On the substitution and possible injury to Arnaoutovic, Pellegrini added: “He had a pain on the back of his knee, but we will see.”
Ill health: Mesut Ozil was not in the Arsenal squad yesterday after missing training on Friday due to sickness
Ultimate impact: Danny Welbeck scores Arsenal’s third goal in stoppage time to seal victory over West Ham after coming on as a substitute