Arsene Wenger admitted that he did not know about Mesut Özil’s angry reaction to a drugs test request in the aftermath of Arsenal’s north London derby defeat by Tottenham last weekend, but refused to condemn the midfielder despite him damaging the White Hart Lane changing room.
28-year-old Özil endured a poor afternoon as he was kept quiet by a much better Spurs side, who were able to record a deserved 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Dele Alli and Harry Kane. With tensions already raised between Özil and Arsenal fans given his refusal so far to sign a new contract as he nears his final year with the club, his recent performances have not gone down well with supporters, who believe that the World Cup winner is not giving his all for the club.
But it was revealed this week that Özil’s frustrations got the better of him when he was asked to carry out a random drugs test immediately after the north London derby, and the Germany international initially refused to complete it, before kicking a door and leaving stud marks imprinted on it when he was told to do the test or face a fine.
Despite the incident being widely reported as early as Tuesday evening, Wenger insists he had no idea about it until Friday morning, just before he faced the media ahead of this weekend’s Premier league with Manchester United.
“I am sorry that he kicked the door,” Wenger said. “I don’t think his frustration was towards the drug test, it was towards the game.”
Wenger did confirm though that he will speak with Özil before Sunday’s match with United.
“I didn’t speak to him about it because I only heard about it today,” he added. "I will speak to him about it a little bit because I don't know what happened and it is always good to get the players side of it."
The reaction from Özil once again casts doubt on Arsenal’s ability to cope mentally with pressure in big matches, with the Gunners taking the fewest points from games between the top six in the Premier League this season.
With the news of Aaron Lennon’s stress-related illness emerging this week, extra attention is being put on the mental state of footballers and the help that is available to them in a sport where there has not always been the availability to treat mental health issues, and Wenger was asked both about his own team and the wider impact that the game can have on individuals.
“I felt away from home we failed in big games yes and didn’t take enough points,” Wenger said of their games against Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, United and Manchester City. “[It’s] Difficult to explain because last season it was the reverse.
“There was a turning point at Everton and Man City where we lost two games on the trot. It took our confidence away from us. It is always difficult to isolate one factor. Defensively away from home we have conceded too many goals.”
The pressure is very big and it is not easy to deal with that at a very young age
He added on questions about mental health in football: “We help on the mental front players who want help of course. It is different for the players when they do not meet their needs, like all of us they are frustrated and they suffer with self-esteem in certain situations because the expectation on them is high.
“The pressure is very big and it is not easy to deal with that at a very young age. We try to help them yes. Clubs have that network of help available but not all players even if they feel the need they want to be helped by people at the club.
“Sometimes you don’t want to show. It could be interpreted as a weakness within the club so some might want to do that, if they want help, do that outside the club.”