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Mesut Ãzil has been spared a potentially stormy return to Germany after Unai Emery opted to rest him for Arsenalâs opening Europa League tie at Eintracht Frankfurt, saying he is keeping the playmaker fresh for the match against Aston Villa on Sunday.
Emery was at pains to say that Ãzil, who played his first 71 minutes of the season in the 2-2 draw with Watford, has been left in London â along with the centreâback Sokratis Papastathopolous, who by contrast has completed all five of Arsenalâs league games â to manage his workload.
âWe are playing a lot of matches and I want to use different players, and also have some rotation in the first 11 and in the 19 players in the squad for [Frankfurt],â Emery said.
âWe are going to play another match on Sunday. My decision is because he played, and I decided who the players are who can be the best for tomorrow, and also the players not, and those are Sokratis and Mesut.â
When asked if his decision was designed to ensure Ãzil did not endure a hostile reception at Commerzbank-Arena, Emery flatly replied: âNo.â
Regardless of the reasoning, Ãzilâs non-selection removes a problem from an already-tricky assignment. The playmaker retired from international football in July last year after citing âracism and disrespectâ in connection with his Turkish roots and support for the countryâs regime, saying he felt âunwantedâ. When Germany faced Saudi Arabia before the 2018 World Cup, Ãzil was an unused substitute but he and Ilkay Gundogan were booed by supporters in Leverkusen. He remains a divisive figure in Germany and has not played there since.
Ãzilâs start to the season was delayed amid concerns over his safety, along with that of the left-back Sead Kolasinac. The pair were attacked in north London in July and Kolasinac said he has put the incident behind him. âI donât want to talk about it in detail. Itâs happened and itâs something that belongs to the past. The same with Mesut. We are back and we focus on our job and the team.
âOf course Iâm happy to be back. Of course mentally this was hard, also missing training for a couple of days. I made up for it.â
Emery will pick a strong side for what should be the toughest game of Arsenalâs group stage even if Eintracht, semi-finalists last season, have lost the strikers Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller and Ante Rebic. âIt will be a really good match between two sides who want to do something important in this competition,â he said.
Granit Xhaka will continue to captain Arsenal if selected but a final decision on the armbandâs longer-term wearer, which Emery had expected to make this week, has been postponed. Emery said he preferred to spend recent days speaking with his players about their collapse at Vicarage Road and preparing to face Eintracht.
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