Though it was emphatically not the reason he stepped away from the Germany setup, the boost in freshness and fitness Mesut Özil would get from missing international breaks would surely be a happy sentence to close a sad chapter.
So when Unai Emery benched Özil for the fixture against Bournemouth on November 25 that followed an international break, eyebrows were raised. Emery explained his decision by suggesting Özil wasn't suited to a "very demanding match with physicality and intensity."
It was a familiar charge from an unfamiliar source. The 30-year-old has fair claim to be the most polarizing footballer in the world. Is he the floating, unselfish and incisive menace whose best qualities are those most underappreciated? Or the talented waster prone to hiding at key moments, shirking responsibility and allowing opponents to drift past him. The answer, as almost always in these matters, lies somewhere in the middle.
The reasonable early reaction to Emery's reasoning may have been to suggest the new boss prefers to choose horses for courses, but Bournemouth are far from the physical side his comments suggest. The south coast outfit, over-achieving this season, are an attractive, free-flowing side with an emphasis on attack. Though they run, chase and keep their shape, Eddie Howe's team are not the imposing, bullying types that have historically troubled the Gunners.
Such is Özil's fame, and so forceful are the opinions on him, his demotion caused a stir in Germany and in England: "If he is not considered robust enough to play against Bournemouth, can Özil really play against Tottenham?" asked a piece in the Guardian.
The answer was no. Officially, Özil is suffering with a bad back, sometimes reported as spasms, other times as aches. But the whispers are that Emery, a renowned disciplinarian in stark contrast to his predecessor Arsene Wenger, has become frustrated by his playmakers' fragility. He even admitted he didn't know whether Özil was even in the stadium for the North London derby against Tottenham last weekend. The German also didn't feature in the 2-2 draw against Manchester United on Wednesday.
With games against Huddersfield, a dead rubber against Qarabag and a League Cup quarterfinal against Tottenham coming up, the degree to which Özil features will likely reveal the degree to which his omission is injury-related. A start against Qarabag and less than that in the other two will surely reveal Emery's true feelings more than press conference soundbites.
Media outlets both home and abroad have been quicker to show their hands.
"[Özil shows a lack of] ambition, bite, willingness to win, commitment, ability to suffer," read an article on Germany's Focus website.
Short of options
Predictably enough, England's tabloids pulled even fewer punches: "Ozil’s mood swings have not been missed," read a story in The Sun. "Arsenal’s players have moved on without him." The Daily Mail reported that Emery "wants to see a 'forceful reaction'" from his highest-paid player.
Another British national, The Independent wrote of "escalating tensions" between Emery and Özil and suggested the former Real Madrid man will be off to Inter Milan in January, one of a number of outlets reporting that rumor. While the Serie A outfit have impressive pedigree, they haven't finished in the top 3 since 2010-11, a demonstration of how far Özil's stock has fallen.
A three-year deal with Arsenal reportedly worth €392,000 (€445,000) a week, eventually signed in January, severely limits his options and make a Bundesliga return incredibly unlikely. Only Bayern Munich could seriously countenance a financial package anywhere near that level. Given that Bayern President Uli Hoeness said Özil had been "playing sh*t for years" after the World Cup, that seems the remotest of possibilities.
Given his age, and recent form, it's hard to see any other suitors higher up the financial chain being tempted to meet Özil's demands. So if it isn't to be Inter, and if he wants to draw a line under 2018, it'll have to be Emery's demands that are met.