Mikel Arteta says he is unsure whether Mesut Ozil will return to the Arsenal squad in January but has suggested the club will not look to cut short the contracts of players that are not in his plans.
Ozil and Sokratis Papastathopoulos were not registered by the Gunners’ for the first half of the Premier League season and are yet to be included in a matchday squad in any competition.
William Saliba, who joined Arsenal from Saint-Etienne for around £27m in July 2019, has also failed to make a first-team appearance, and Arteta says he expects fringe players to leave in this month’s transfer window.
But when it was suggested Arsenal could terminate the contracts of players such as Ozil and Sokratis – which expire at the end of the season – Arteta said: “You have to respect the players’ contracts.
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“What you can do is just try to be open with them, tell them your intentions, the role that they have in the team and why that is. They are entitled to make the decision in their lives because they have a contract here.
“Some would like to move because they are not playing and some would like to stay. That’s something we cannot decide by ourselves.”
Asked whether Ozil, who earns around £350,000 per week and has made it clear he wants to see out his contract at Arsenal, could make a surprise return to his squad in January, Arteta responded: “We will see what happens in the transfer window and we will assess at the end of that.”
Despite stating his belief that the choices he has made are for the benefit of the team, Arteta accepts being denied the chance to take the field takes a mental toll on players.
“When a player doesn’t play, it is really difficult to be happy,” he said. “The profession is to play football. When they are sitting on the bench, they are being supportive of the team but they are not doing what they love in this life.
“At the end of the day, you have to find minutes for everybody, but you need some consistency as well in your line-ups. When we have four competitions it’s much easier, it’s healthier.
“There is another factor, that we have a large squad this season. There are players that don’t play at all. There are players, even in the squad, they know they are not going to have any chance.
“That is tough mentally for them, to maintain that motivation and positivity around the place for a lot of months. That’s a big task.”
Arteta delighted with Smith Rowe impact
Arteta has talked up Emile Smith Rowe’s quality and admitted the re-emergence of the midfielder has been timely for Arsenal.
A shoulder injury saw the 20-year-old have to wait patiently for his chance this season and he even appeared for the Gunners’ U21 side in the EFL Trophy in November before he got the call to play for the senior team.
With results poor during December, Arteta turned to the academy graduate for the Boxing Day visit of Chelsea and was rewarded with a strong showing in a 3-1 win, which was backed up three days later at Brighton with a second fine display in another victory.
The consecutive starts were only Smith Rowe’s second and third in the Premier League and, ahead of a potential fourth on Saturday at West Brom, he has been praised by his manager.
Arteta said: “He is a player that I really liked since the first day I watched him. Just the way he moves, how intelligent he is with the positions he takes and his work rate – don’t underestimate that.
“He works really hard for the team and he had a really bad injury this year and hasn’t really trained with us at all.
“For the last two weeks he has been much more involved and you can see what he can bring to the team. I am delighted to have a young player with his talent and in that position. It was something that we needed.”
January transfer window: Arsenal assessed
Arsenal’s priority is a creative attacking midfielder – though they face a challenge to lure one in this window.
The Gunners have been linked with a move for Real Madrid’s Isco on loan for the remainder of the season.
But there is also a focus on departures, with Sokratis and Sead Kolasinac two players likely to be allowed to leave. Sky Sports News has also previously reported that William Saliba, who has yet to appear for the first team, may also depart on loan.And what next for Mesut Ozil? He remains out of favour but has continued to be adamant he will see out the remainder of his contract.
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