Mikel Arteta insists Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal exile is solely due to football reasons and he takes “full responsibility” for omitting the 31-year-old from the club’s Premier League and Europa League squads.

The Gunners confirmed on Tuesday that their highest-paid player, earning £350,000-a-week, was not included in their 25-man squad for the current Premier League campaign and effectively may have played his last game for the club.

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The move prompted Ozil to hit back at the club on Wednesday, saying “loyalty is hard to come by” and expressing disappointment to the club’s supporters.

Ozil’s contract expires at the end of the season, but despite starting Arteta’s first 10 league games in charge prior to the suspension of English football due to the coronavirus pandemic, the midfielder has not played a minute of competitive action since March 7.

Since then, Ozil was one of three players to refuse to take a 12.5% pay cut — later reduced to 7.5% after Arsenal qualified for Europe by winning the FA Cup — amid rumours of a deterioration in relations between the player and club.

Last December, the Gunners distanced themselves from comments Ozil made on Instagram in which he spoke out against China’s persecution of the Uighur population — a mostly Muslim Turkic population — by claiming the club “has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”

However, speaking ahead of Arsenal’s opening Europa League game at Rapid Vienna on Thursday night, Arteta said of Ozil’s omission: “Honestly I take full responsibility. I have to be the one getting the best out of the players. It is my responsibility. It is nothing related to any behaviour or, like I read, the pay cuts.

“It’s not true. It’s my decision, if someone has to blame me. And it will happen when we lose football matches — my responsibility. I have to make the decision to get the best possible squad out there to win football matches and competitions as often as we can. In order to do that I try to be fair with him or with any of the players in the squad and defend as much as possible the interests of the club.

“Everybody is free to express his feeling. What I can say from my side is that it is just a football decision. My conscience is very calm because I have been really fair with him. My level of communication with him has been really high and we know what to expect with each other.

“When I believed that he could contribute to the team to be better – which is why I was hired to this football club, to win football matches and competitions, and create and build a project in the short, medium and long term – he has had the opportunities like everybody else.

“I am sad that I had to leave three players out of this list, which is never pleasant, but I just have to say that I tried to look everybody in the eye and be comfortable with it. With Mesut I have this feeling because I have been very straightforward since I arrived at this club.”

Ozil joined Arsenal in 2013 for a then club-record £42.4 million fee from Real Madrid and initially enjoyed a fine spell under manager Arsene Wenger.

However, Ozil was criticised for his inconsistent performance and fell out of favour under Wenger’s successor Unai Emery, a situation Arteta inherited when he took charge last December.

“You remember the atmosphere around him when I joined, it was pretty difficult,” Arteta said. “I asked myself, our fans to support him and create a much better atmosphere. You remember and recall, you could see the difference at Emirates Stadium in two or three weeks and that was a way in my opinion to support that player, but look for the interests for the football club as much as possible.

“But then I have to see daily, basically, the input, the performance and what every player brings to the team. From there I make the decision because I am the manager and I have to pick the right players to win football matches.

“He has been training with us. He is involved in our squad routines. We expect him to train and do the best as he can. We have to treat him and I have to try to keep him as motivated as possible in these difficult circumstances and move forward from here.

“I am not angry [about speculation the board influence who to select] because probably they need to clarify this situation and I understand I am here to respond to your question, but I don’t want to hide behind anyone at the club, the ownership.”



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