Mikel Arteta ponders Arsenal team combination with Mesut Ozil continuing cheerleading duties

Europa League clash against Dundalk an opportunity to test the bench

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta throws the ball back into play during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Sunday October 25, 2020. See PA story SOCCER Arsenal. Photo credit should read: Will Oliver/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
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Mesut Ozil is paying the wages of Jerry Quy, the man usually found inside the Gunnersaurus costume, and he has taken on some of the mascot’s duties. Arsenal’s best-paid player is now the cheerleader in chief on matchdays.

Not at the ground, however, but on Twitter, where his prominence highlights the reality that Arsenal are giving him £350,000 ($455,000) a week not to play. Ozil will not face Dundalk on Thursday or Manchester United on Sunday because Arsenal did not name him in their 25-man Europa and Premier League squads.

If there can feel a pointed edge to some of his largely encouraging comments on Twitter – he tipped James Maddison, a creator, a No10 and a kindred spirit, to score against Arsenal last weekend – publicly Mikel Arteta has to endorse his actions.

“I don't follow the social media but I always expect everybody that's involved in our organisation to support the team every time we play,” said the manager who has ostracised Ozil.

Arteta has avoided giving Ozil another PR win. The Spaniard is rather more concerned, however, with the players at his disposal; or, to be precise, those he hopes are.

David Luiz came off in the defeat to Leicester with a thigh injury, will miss the Dundalk game and is a “big doubt” for the trip to Old Trafford.

Arsenal both have a surfeit of centre-backs and a shortage. Arteta has eight but Sokratis Papastathopoulos, like Ozil, is not even eligible.

Pablo Mari, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers are all sidelined. There is the intriguing chance of a belated debut for William Saliba; signed for £25 million in 2019, loaned back to St-Etienne, the French teenager has been at the back of the queue.

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Arsenal v Leicester player ratings

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Shkodran Mustafi may generate less excitement but he was a regular last season and returned as a substitute against Leicester after three months out with a hamstring injury.

Much like Luiz, the German is a much-mocked player with a history of errors who Arteta has encouraged and enabled to excel, albeit amid the odd error.

“I've been really happy with Musti since I joined and the progress that he's made, the performances that he's made,” he said. “We tried to help the players as much as possible and to try and give them the right solutions.”

Arsenal have tried to sell Mustafi in the past; now he may be the answer for them. The £35 million man is in the last year of his deal but an extension is possible. “If I could stay at Arsenal, it would of course mean a lot to me,” said Mustafi. “I respect this club and it is a huge club.”

A meeting with Dundalk, the 2019 League of Ireland champions, offers Arteta a chance to experiment further forward.

Reiss Nelson, who volunteered to take Arsenal’s first penalty in the Community Shield shootout against Liverpool but who has only played 73 minutes of football since then, could start.

Arteta had planned to loan the 20-year-old out but explained: “Reiss was really convinced that he wanted to fight to stay here. And when you see that willingness and that passion and that security in a player, you feel tempted to keep him even though you know that opportunities are going to be restricted. But things can change quickly.”

Arsenal’s lack of goals – only five teams have fewer in the Premier League – offers an incentive to anyone who can add that incision. “It's the role of everybody,” Arteta added.

“It is mind to give the right solutions to attack better.” That, of course, used to be part of Ozil’s job but he will be tweeting as others are playing.