Things have been going from bad to worse for Mesut Ozil at Arsenal. The Hard Tackle takes a look at what is wrong with the German playmaker.
Majestic, lazy, mercurial, weak. There are many an adjective that one could use for Mesut Ozil. At his best, he could make a fool of even the best of defences with just one pass; at his worst, however, he could cost his team points through his lack of positional discipline.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup winning German has skills most clubs would die for. Yet, he regularly gets pilloried for all sorts of things – languid posture, facial expressions, lack of intensity, lack of form and his absence in high-stake games.
Plenty of players who have not exactly delivered for their clubs lately hardly suffer at the hands of fans as much as the Arsenal creative midfielder. No other footballer attracts the same amount of criticism as Ozil. Every time he is unable to play, it seems to be because of disagreements or fall-outs with the manager.
When his form goes AWOL, it is because he does not care enough or is not trying. Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli have all suffered dips in form and flirted with mediocrity. Alexis Sanchez, in particular, is a shadow of his former self, but he manages to avoid the damnation of the Old Trafford faithful.
However, a knack of creativity in the German sets him apart from those mentioned above. Regarded as one of the best players of our time, Philipp Lahm described him as a person who can see things that no one else can. Jose Mourinho talked Ozil up as the best ‘Number 10’ in the world. But now, he is out of favour at Arsenal. Pundits like Martin Keown even like to believe that he has mentally left the club.
Ozil’s defensive game was always in question, but usually his attacking prowess would make up for it. This year too, his attacking numbers in terms of chance creation are superior to most of his peers.
His ability to unlock defences is much revered. However, the lingering question has always been about consistency. On his day, he makes Arsenal tick, gives them the edge. On his off days, his lack of defensive presence is visible as a spectator. Over the last few years, in the games he has not played, Arsenal have looked out of ideas.
But, on the other hand, when they have come up against a quality opposition, he seems to be more of a liability due to his lack of work-rate. The matches against Bayern Munich a couple of years back are a good example of that. When he had signed for Arsenal back in 2013, Ozil seemed like the perfect fit – to have the best passer in the world managed by Arsene Wenger, an admirer of attractive football.
In the 6 years, he has shown what a great player he is and he has also been exposed at times for what he is not. He almost broke Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists in a season when he got 19 in the 2015-16 season. His numbers compared to others since his arrival at the Emirates have been nothing short of exceptional.
The biggest criticism of him though, is that he does not turn up in the big games, that the work expected out of him in big games away from home is not being produced on a regular basis. He can also be a very flaky player, as we saw when his performances dropped towards the end of that 2015-16 season when he could have easily surpassed Henry’s record, only for a poor second half of the season to intervene.
This term, has seen a lot of criticism directed at him. To a layman, 3 goals and 1 assist from a player demanding £350,000 per week is poor. But, if we look at his stats compared to other players in his position, it shows that Ozil is doing his job well, which is creating chances. After all, he can only put the chances on a platter for those in front of him.
When it comes to defence, he has stats are comparable to his peers, even though it is not something he is expected to do as an attacking midfielder. The problem Ozil has is the players behind him in Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka, but Xhaka likes venturing forward himself, which stretches the team and exposes Ozil.
As a pro-Ozil fan, I’d admit that he can be frustration on occasions. But, as is the case with all immensely gifted players, he cannot produce the type of blistering form that is expected of him every week. Why, you may ask.
For starters, the threat he poses leads to him being heavily marked, which prevents spectacular displays of his skills. He has also had to shoulder the burden of being the only genuinely creative midfielder in the Arsenal side, and now requires the support of a like-minded individual to share the load. Just as Xhaka flourished with the arrival of Torreira, Ozil could benefit from another visionary midfielder.
On the flip side – and I feel that I have to defend him on this point – there are few players with the ability to unlock a defence the way Ozil does. The deftness of his touch, his ability to gauge the runs of his teammates, the space and time he creates on the ball – these skills are simply astonishing and unparalleled.
The only other player to wear an Arsenal shirt who was capable of working such magic was Dennis Bergkamp. In my opinion, he’s not in that class, but is still an extraordinary talent in his own right.
One day, Ozil will be gone and only then, it seems, will he be given the recognition he deserves. The best thing for the Gunners to do is to step their game up and find a way to build a cocoon around him for him to find the space he needs to explore out creatively for the Gunners.