Gunners’ £42.5million recording signing Mesut Ozil has been widely criticised for failing to make an impact in big games this season but here, Jamie Thomas, makes a case for the defence …
Mesut Ozil has gone from winning trophies with Real Madrid to taking the flak at Arsenal. The German failed to make an impact on the big stage as the Gunners were humbled by Monaco in the Champions League, but he was hardly to blame for their capitulation.
By Arsene Wenger’s own admission, their defending was “suicidal”. Yet, afterwards, the Ozil critics were out in force. While failing to track back, sulking when dispossessed, and being anonymous in important games, are legitimate concerns, we have to consider the reasons why Arsenal’s record signing is not living up to his price tag.
In Ozil’s case, the stats may surprise you. He has improved his all-round defensive performance by 9 per cent compared with his first year at the Emirates, according to Squawka. He’s making more blocks, tackles and interceptions, plus he makes 3.5 key passes a game compared with Santi Carzola’s 2.3 passes.
This is despite being regularly played out of position on the left wing, where he isn’t comfortable and can’t shine. When Ozil is played in the number 10 role behind the striker, he’s an enormous benefit to the team. You only have to look at the instant impact he made on his debut in the Gunners’ 3-1 win over Sunderland in September 2013, to know what he can do. He had little experience of English football or the physicality of it, but he still decimated Black Cats that day.
In Ozil’s first few months at Arsenal, he regularly played a central role – and regularly performed – after developing a particularly good relationship with Aaron Ramsey. It is no coincidence that his downturn in form is a result of Wenger’s tinkering with his position.
Although the 26-year-old was played at number 10 against Monaco, he wasn’t given enough space by his team-mates to dictate play. It’s hard enough navigating opponents in Europe, but Ozil was constantly crowded out by his own wingers, making it is almost impossible to find space to influence the game.
He flourished at Real because he had two wingers who hugged the touchlines on the break, giving him free reign to pull the strings in the middle of the pitch; and a forward who made and finished off great runs. He does not have that at Arsenal a lot of the time.
But, as good as Ozil can be, he wasn’t what Arsenal needed when they had Cazorla. Gunners required a better supporting cast – not direct competition to the wizard that was already there. Meanwhile, the defence is still desperate for serious investment.
The Monaco performance was a clear example of why Arsenal need to strengthen in that area. For the first goal, Cazorla – playing in a holding role next to Francis Coquelin – was dragged out of position, which gave Geoffrey Kondogbia space to take his shot and score. It was an amateur mistake from someone who shouldn’t have to play in that position. The Spaniard, Hector Bellerin, and Laurent Koscielny then all tried to stick a foot in and stop Dimitar Berbatov’s shot, but none of them succeeded. While vice-captain Per Mertesacker and Kieran Gibbs were nowhere to be seen.
If Arsenal are to get back to the days of winning trophies, Wenger needs to start addressing the real problem area he has identified himself in the past. So instead of making a scapegoat of Ozil, perhaps it’s time for fans to look much closer to the home dugout.