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It has been rumbling on for weeks.
The contract situation concerning Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil has been hanging over Arsenal and while the club have failed with yet another title challenge this year, the futures of the pair remain unclear.
The longer Arsenal continues this uncertainty, the more concerning it will be for the fans.
One of the club’s best
Sanchez and Ozil are arguably Arsenal’s two best players.
Sanchez, it would be agreed, certainly warrants a whopping new deal.
His importance to Arsenal can not be emphasised enough – the Chilean is the Premier League’s top goalscorer (17) and has eight assists also.
Without Sanchez’s work rate, technical skill and finishing abilities this season, the Gunners would be far worse off than where they find themselves now. Keeping him at the Emirates must be an absolute priority.
Whether tying down Ozil’s future is as much of a priority, however, is up for debate.
The German put in another lacklustre performance at the weekend against Hull City and though Arsenal regained some much-needed form, Ozil did not.
So beautifully fluent when on-song, he is currently going through one of, if not his worst, periods of form for Arsenal. Instead of being his usual decisive and instinctive self – often spotting passes the few would think of – Ozil was instead extremely hesitant and made poor decisions at decisive moments.
It was not the performance of a man who craves a new contract.
Dip in form at a worrying time
Ozil’s slide in form comes at a particularly worrying time for Arsene Wenger and his side.
Arsenal play Bayern Munich in a crucial Champions League tie on Wednesday at the Allianz Arena, followed by an FA Cup tie at Sutton United.
And with the league most likely gone for another year, Arsenal’s best chance of silverware this season lies in either of those two competitions.
After a damaging recent period for the club, improved performances in both of those ties are now crucial.
Wenger agreed that his main playmaker is suffering a dip in form.
“I felt he was not completely confident technically,” said the Arsenal manager after the win against Hull. “I completely agree with you. That’s a problem because you think he can deliver something special. It’s true that technically he did things that he is not used to doing. I don’t know. It can happen. I can’t think of a specific reason.”
Indeed, Wenger knows only too well how much of an influence a firing Ozil has on his side.
The 28-year-old is central to Arsenal’s fluid, attacking football, with fellow attackers such as Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck using their pace to thrive off Ozil’s accurate passing.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Ozil’s poor displays have coincided with Arsenal’s.
The problems started in December at Manchester City, where Ozil and his side produced a virtually anonymous second-half display that left Arsenal’s title hopes in tatters after a 2-1 defeat.
Ozil’s frustration was there to see.
After showing little aggression on the pitch, he kicked a locker in anger on the way to the dressing room at full-time, with Wenger stood directly behind.
Ozil knows only too well how little an impact he is having on recent games and it seems he is at a loss over how to rediscover his formidable form.
It is an issue that is having a deleterious effect on both his side and the future of his manager.
Last season, we saw the real Mesut Ozil, the kind that lit up games and gave the true moment of quality that his team and the match desired.
He averaged an assist every two games, along with 4.2 key passes per match – both being the best in the Premier League.
And although his form dipped in the latter part of the campaign, Ozil was finally showing the real value of his £42.5 million price tag.
The stats back up Ozil’s decline this season.
He averages just 0.2 assists and is making only 2.8 key passes per game.
And while you could forgive Arsenal’s fans for remaining patient with their record signing, it remains both infuriating and bizarre how a playmaker so talented fails to influence matches, especially big ones, on a more consistent basis.
And when the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson produce more for less privileged sides – the Icelandic international has eight goals and eight assists this season – there can be little excuses for Ozil.
Perhaps the return of Santi Cazorla would help.
Arsenal’s early season fluency was largely down to the little Spaniard, whose quick feet and sharp passing helped Ozil receive the ball much earlier, and therefore giving the German much more time to inflict damage in threatening areas.
This was evident during one of Arsenal’s better performances of the season, at Hull in October, as Cazorla to Ozil was the best pass combination of the season for the Gunners at that time.
It was no surprise that Ozil had a major impact on Arsenal’s 4-1 win at the KCOM Stadium.
So what next?
There have been rumours that Ozil could be dropped for the upcoming matches as a result of his poor form.
Yet the problem that faces Arsenal is the lack of quality replacements in that position.
Alex Iwobi has occasionally been moved into the centre of attacking midfield, as has Aaron Ramsey, and there is always the possibility of moving Sanchez further back into Ozil’s role, with Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck coming in up front.
However, this could curb Sanchez’s attacking form, which has been a real positive since his move to the central striker.
Arsene Wenger feels that all Ozil possibly needs is a goal.
“Yes, maybe it’s time for him to score a goal again,” Wenger admitted. “He needs to find confidence again. He misses chances that don’t look unfeasible for him.”
Is he worthy of his hefty wage demands?
Perhaps in the short-term, Ozil just behind the striker still seems the best option.
Though in the longer-term, doubts have increased over whether Arsenal should give in to Ozil’s wage demands.
The German reportedly wants more than £200,000 a week and little progress has been made so far this year to resolve such an important issue.
Ozil must up the ante now
Arsenal may be out of the league but their season is not over, by any means.
Another FA Cup run could be on the cards and an opportunity presents itself to progress past the last-16 of the Champions League for the first time since 2009.
Now is time for Ozil to prove he is just as worthy of a big, new contract as Sanchez and the quest for improved form begins in Munich on Wednesday night.
Written by Sean Wilson
Follow Sean on Twitter @WilsonFC2012
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