Star midfielder Mesut Ozil has missed Arsenal’s last four matches and may be absent again when the Gunners host Huddersfield Town on Saturday.
The 30-year-old playmaker is being treated for a back problem and manager Unai Emery has hinted that he could be passed fit on Friday if he comes through sessions with the club’s physiotherapist unscathed.
The German had been on the training ground on Thursday “running and touching the ball”, Emery told a press conference.
But even if Ozil is given the green light to return there are no guarantees that Emery will pick the club’s highest earner, even for the bench.
That despite being a World Cup winner in 2014, and a player with skills few others on the planet can reproduce, especially when it comes to setting up colleagues to score.
Emery, it seems, had already decided he could do without the former Germany international in his comprehensive overhaul of a squad that had forgotten how to win trophies under previous manager Arsene Wenger.
It was the Frenchman who had sanctioned a salary-doubling, £350,000-a-week, three-year contract extension for Ozil just three months before stepping down as manager.
Ozil’s omission from the starting line-up at Bournemouth on November 25 was the big reveal to a world that could not fail to notice.
Emery’s explanation could hardly be misinterpreted either: Ozil was named on the bench — and left there for the entire game — at Bournemouth because his manager felt he could not deal with the “physicality and intensity” of the Gunners’ opponents.
Few failed to notice at the time that the reason for his omission carried little weight as Bournemouth are one of the least aggressive in the Premier League.
His absence mattered little as the Gunners’ unbeaten run simply carried on without him.
Years of inertia
The Gunners can take that to 21 matches against the Terriers with Ozil’s return to the side likely to be delayed till they play Qarabag in the Europa League next week.
Wenger, in his final season, used the competition to keep fresh fringe men he had decided not to employ in the Premier League even though three of them — England duo Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere plus Olivier Giroud of France — were internationals of experience and reputation.
Ozil is not the only world class player to suddenly find themselves unable to get into the starting elevens, Paul Pogba, RomeluLukaku and ex-Gunner Alexis Sanchez falling foul of the volatile Jose Mourinho at Manchester United.
Emery wants his players to work hard off the ball and attack with intensity with it and Ozil, for all his attributes, seems to tick neither of those boxes.
Ozil’s post-World Cup fall out with Germany cannot have helped either, coming at a time when every Arsenal player knew he had to impress the new man after years of inertia under Wenger.
The player felt he was the victim of both racism and disrespect because of his Turkish roots, claiming “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose”.
Such sentiments were no doubt genuine and deserving of sympathy but Emery appears to care about one issue only: whether a player can thrive under his system.
The answer to that, at the moment at least, appears to be no for Mesut Ozil.