Mesut Özil is fully focused on the upcoming Premier League season with Arsenal, despite being caught in the centre of a raging debate following his retirement from international football on Sunday night.
That was the view of former Gunners midfielder Ray Parlour, who is currently in Singapore in his role as a club ambassador for the International Champions Cup (ICC).
Özil cited “racism and disrespect” shown towards him by the German Football Association (DFB) as the main reason behind his retirement in a lengthy, no-holds-barred statement released on his various social media pages.
This led to widespread concerns that the 29-year-old German, who arrived in Singapore early yesterday morning with the rest of his Arsenal team-mates for the ICC, could feel distracted ahead of the upcoming Premier League season.
However, Parlour has allayed those fears.
“I am sure he will not let this affect his career as an Arsenal player,” commented the 45-year-old during a sharing session with the media at the Shangri-La Hotel yesterday afternoon.
“He is working very hard in pre-season and is certainly looking forward to the season ahead.”
Parlour revealed that he was not entirely familiar with the situation between Özil and the German FA.
“All I can say is that it is always an honour to play for your country,” he said.
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 23, 2018
Özil was all smiles during Arsenal’s first training session in Singapore earlier this afternoon.
Parlour, who made 339 appearances for Arsenal between 1992 and 2004, also revealed that the Arsenal squad are generally “excited” for the season ahead.
“I was in the plane with the players earlier, and the atmosphere was very lively and jolly.”
“The new head coach has got his plans, and pre-season has been very good so far.”
“We are all looking forward to the games in Singapore, which are good warm-up matches for a massive opening match against Manchester City.”
Arsenal will take on Spanish side Atletico Madrid on 26 July, before they face French outfit Paris Saint-Germain two days later. Both matches will be played at the National Stadium.
Parlour believes that the main target for the North London side for the upcoming season should be to secure a return to the Champions League, but added that “winning trophies is important too.”
“The aim should be to finish in the top four, but then again as a player, you want to win trophies too,” said the three-time Premier League winner. “At the end of your career, people will ask you what you have won as a player.”
“So ideally winning the Europa League would be great, but most importantly it’s about trying to secure a return to the Champions League.”
Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has acted swiftly in the transfer market, bringing in German goalkeeper Bernd Leno, Greek centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Swiss fullback Stephan Lichtsteiner, Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira and young French midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi.
Parlour believes that these signings will go leaps and bounds in improving the defensive spine of the team, as well as adding experience to the ranks of the Arsenal squad.
“I am excited about Leno and looking forward to seeing what sort of competition he can give to (Petr) Cech,” explained Parlour. “When I was playing, I always had players breathing down my neck, and it is certainly healthy to have competition within the squad.”
“The additions of Sokratis and Lichtsteiner at the back will add some much-needed solidity.”
“It is good for the dressing room as Sokratis knows the (former) Borussia Dortmund players (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan), while Lichtsteiner has many years of playing experience.”
“Torreira is exactly the sort of player we need in midfield because he has great energy and is mobile.”
When asked whom he felt should be Arsenal’s captain for the upcoming season – following the retirement of former club captain Per Mertesacker in May – Parlour stopped short of mentioning any names, but stated that this pre-season period will be key in helping Emery make the all-important decision.
“Now that Emery has come in, I am sure he will be assessing the players before making his decision.”
“With the increasing competition (in the squad), it would be great to have more leaders in the dressing room.”
😂 @Aubameyang7@HectorBellerin 🙌
📸 [aubameyang97 on IG] pic.twitter.com/IocPttBPxm
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 23, 2018
Arsenal players Hector Bellerin and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang headed out for some sightseeing.
Parlour added, “I am quite excited to see how Aubameyang fares in the upcoming season. He has the potential to be a deadly striker for us and can compete with the likes of (Mohamed) Salah and (Harry) Kane for the golden boot.”
“This ICC tournament will be important because it can help the team create a winning formula, and add confidence and believe, going into the new season.”
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Photos courtesy of International Champions Cup.