Twelve months ago, Arsenal were top of the league and riding high on the signing of Mesut Ozil. Now, after 7 league matches, questions are starting to arise over the form of Ozil and his place in the side. What has happened to the German international?
Mesut Ozil is known across the world as one of the best number 10’s in the game, but there were always murmurs that he went missing during the big games and that has now expanded to games against teams lower down the league for Arsenal so far this season.
With the strength of creative midfielders in the Arsenal squad, Arsene Wenger has shown an inability to know how to effectively fit them into the first XI. This has seen Ozil moved out to a wide position, which hampers both the player and the team.
A look at a number of influence maps when Ozil has started on the wing (below) shows the playmaker’s preference to be in the middle of the pitch not only congests that area, but it means there is no width at all unless the full-back commits forward – not something that is always possible or preferable dependant on the opposition. Given the previous tendency of Arsenal’s play, and Ozil’s time at Real Madrid, was utilising fast wingers to stretch the opposition and open up spaces for the creative players, it seems ludicrous to use Ozil on either the left or right wing.
Against Aston Villa a few weeks ago, Ozil played in the number 10 role and his quality in this position was evident. Getting both his only goal – the first away from the Emirates – and assist of the season at Villa Park, it was the early stages of his link-up play with Danny Welbeck that many pointed out as an exciting prospect.
Since then though he has returned to the wing, which is possibly due to the teams they have faced (Man City, Tottenham, and Chelsea). However, playing someone out of position instead of the likes of Campbell or Oxlade-Chamberlain – the latter was very good against Tottenham, but was only on the bench against Chelsea – is a worry for Arsenal fans that Wenger is too afraid to drop the club’s record signing.
Mesut Ozil has created 14 chances this season, only two less than his total at this point last year, and has an 88% pass accuracy, so in this aspect the German international is doing all right. The influence that he has had on games is questionable though and the brilliant performances of Cesc Fabregas have just added to the criticism Ozil has received for his quiet appearances.
Another complaint that has been raised about Ozil is the German’s work rate and is important if he needs to offer cover to the full-back. However, Ozil does his ‘hard work’ in a different, more cultured way when central. Dropping deep to collect the ball to help the team pass their way out of trouble, while the distance travelled per match last season often saw Ozil’s name at the top for Arsenal. Curiously he was often substituted halfway through the second half for Real Madrid something that doesn’t happen much at Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger has been a manager at the highest level of football for 16 years now, so the team selection should be second nature to him. However, the poor form of Ozil is clearly linked to the insistence of Wenger to continue to play him out wide and the Frenchmen’s stubbornness is causing similar contrasting performances from their previous clubs as happened with Arshavin and Gervinho – who is now ripping apart Serie A with Roma.
The decision seems a simple one – unless there is a problem behind the scenes – play the player in the right position or drop them to the bench. It could be beneficial to everyone.