Sokratis Papastathopoulos has called Mesut Ozil one of the “most important” members of Arsenal’s squad and believes they need him fit and available.
Ozil started just his second game since Boxing Day as the Gunners beat BATE Borisov 3-0 on Thursday night to progress to the last 16 of the Europa League.
Having lost 1-0 in Belarus, Unai Emery’s side had to turn the tie around and managed to do so with ease as an early Zakhar Volkov own goal and headers from Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis secured safe passage into the next round.
Their European campaign will continue against Rennes, with Friday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland sending the Ligue 1 club to north London for the first leg of the tie on March 7.
Ozil, who ended the night as captain after Laurent Koscielny limped off with a minor muscular injury, has been on the fringes of the first team as Emery looks to implement his philosophy at the Emirates Stadium.
The 30-year-old has also been told by the Arsenal boss that he needs to shake off minor injuries and illness if he is to command a regular place in his side – but Sokratis believes Ozil improves the team when included.
“He played very good,” Sokratis said of Ozil’s display.
“Mesut is a fantastic player and when he is fit he is one of the most important players in the team. Of course when something is not going good, everybody is there to criticise but we have to see also what Mesut did in the last years for this team.
“All the team, all the players are behind him and we need a good Mesut to go (forward) because we know that he is very important for us.”
Greece international Sokratis is only just back from his own ankle injury, scoring on his comeback against the Belarusian champions having not played since the FA Cup defeat to Manchester United on January 25.
He defended Ozil’s injury record and insists the former Real Madrid man is still training with a smile on his face – even if he still polarises the opinions of those who watch Arsenal on a regular basis.
“He was sick, he had some problems but after he came back for training,” he said.
“Now, he is good. He did well yesterday and I hope in the next games he will go forward like this. He enjoys (himself) and we enjoy that he is with us.
“But when you are injured, it is difficult. Mesut is very important, he is a very good guy and we need him.”
Arsenal will next come up against Rennes as Emery looks to guide them to a trophy at the end of his first season in charge.
The Spaniard lifted the Europa League in three successive seasons as manager of Sevilla and Sokratis believes that track record can only help Arsenal claim the prize for themselves.
“It (the Europa League) is very important, of course,” he added.
“We have to go until the end and try to win it. Our coach won this trophy a lot of times and that is good for us.
“When you win something three times, it is something special. Not everybody has won this trophy three times and it will be very important for us to go until the final.”