Arsenal bolstered their chances of qualifying for the Champions League this season with a 2-0 win over Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium, with Mesut Ozil’s return to the starting eleven providing a timely boost.
Prior to the weekend victory over United, Ozil had not started against one of the established top-six sides since Arsenal drew 1-1 with Liverpool at the beginning of November 2018.
Emery’s selection policy has sparked huge debate about the former Real Madrid man’s long-term role at the club, and his lack of involvement has hinted at a potential fallout between player and manager.
It would have been fair to assume that Ozil was set to start on the substitutes bench after starting in midweek against Rennes, but Emery surprised plenty of fans and pundits by including him alongside Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey in midfield.
The elusive playmaker’s inclusion provided the Gunners with a creative outlet in the final-third and his ability to collect the ball in pockets of space caused United all kinds of problems.
Ozil’s return of four key passes was the highest recorded by any player on the pitch in a fixture which saw him rediscover his mojo at a perfect time for the club.
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The decision to start Ozil on Sunday proved to be a masterstroke from the Arsenal manager. His injection of guile added a dynamic to the attack which allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to thrive in a front-two.
With the race for the top-four likely to be decided by the finest of margins, Emery’s tactically astute call to bring Ozil into the starting eleven to expose the frailties of United’s midfield partnership could be season-defining both in the context of the game and the battle for European qualification.
The former Germany international proved he can still have a huge impact on Arsenal’s season and Emery deserves credit for a selection decision which added a substantial weight of credibility to their top-four ambitions.