The once-magical number ten play of Mesut Ozil for the Gunners has soured. For the past two seasons, he has taken more than his fair share of blame for the Gunner’s downward spiral, end-of-season-collapses. Arsene Wenger and his ossified Board of Directors and American majority owner-Texas million-acre ranch owner-would-be cowboy – billionaire Stan Kroenke have been primarily satisfied with the Gunner’s overflowing coffers and seemingly unconcerned with their 13-year silverware drought.
And now that they have spun out of the UEFA Champions League competitions with a new low—a fifth-place 2016-2017 season EPL finish—Arsenal is about to lose both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil on free transfers. Two players that have been viewed as their most valuable possessions. How is this possible?
It seems that Arsene Wenger has discovered bizarre, new laws of economy that suggest that allowing star player contracts to run down, rather than renegotiating extensions is the financially optimal way for a club to operate. That’s right, don’t even receive a transfer fee for them. Why, of course, Arsene. That’s the ticket. And that surely explains Wenger’s history of success in keeping his best players.
Although Alexis Sanchez has been a fait accomplis loss—regularly showing his displeasure during his Arsenal stay over the last two seasons, the imminent loss of Ozil is a bit of a surprise. There has been, up until the last week, talk of how negotiations were still ongoing and that things were somewhat optimistic. Well, I guess they meant, Arsenal-optimistic … which loosely translates as “the player is as good as gone.”
And, in a way, you can’t blame Mesut. He has been regularly accused of not playing to his capabilities or taking it easy. Of being a malingerer. He’s tired of it. Enough is enough. And besides, on a free transfer, as with Alexis, a handsome sign-on bonus will likely await him if he signs with a new club.
So, let’s look at Mesut Ozil’s match performance over his years with Arsenal. Did his performance nosedive over the past few seasons and is this criticism fair?
Here is a comparison of Mesut Ozil’s performance using over a dozen metrics from Squawka.com over Premiership seasons 2013-2014 through the first 9 games (October 22nd, 2017) of the 2017-2018 season.
It is important to be careful about drawing too many conclusions about the current season because we are only 9 matches deep and Ozil has only played 478 minutes due to injury and squad selection. Note that many of the metrics are presented on a “per 90 minutes” or “minutes per event” basis so that the difference in minutes played per season is normalised and can be viewed on an even basis, i.e., we are comparing apples to apples. Here is what the numbers reveal:
Ozil has never been a goalscorer. He averages a goal every 400-500 minutes, so don’t hold your breath between goals. But that’s not what he is paid to do. He creates scoring opportunities for others. During the single 2015-2016 season, he led all of Europe with 19 assists during league play. The problem arises because he has never come close to recreating that level of performance and has paid dearly for that ever since. Much of the criticism he has faced has been measured against that magical yardstick of play of that 19-assist season.
Distribution and Passing
Mesut Ozil minutes between chances are very consistent (18-29) as are his successful passes per 90 minutes (57-69). His best performance has actually occurred during the first nine games of the current season where he is creating almost 5 chances per game and completing a pass every 90 seconds! Even his passing accuracy is unwavering over the five-season comparison (85%-88%).
Mesut Ozil’s defensive portfolio lists relatively weak skills. Nothing new. His tackling involvement and either creating or suffering fouls suggests getting “stuck in” is not a frequent occurrence. Yet, over the seasons examined, there has been no obvious drop-off or change except in the current partial season where there has been a lower percentage of fouls won. Yet due to the relatively small sample of games, caution is urged about placing too much value on this finding.
Work Rate and Match Minutes Played
There is little public domain work rate data readily available with the exception of an article written by Andrew Butler, “German Juice, The surprising Mesut Ozil stat that proves he’s not at all lazy,” The Sun, 17 May 17, 2017. It includes data, among other measures, of the average distance covered per match by each Arsenal player for the 2016-2017 Premiership season summarized in kilometres. Alexis Sanchez, who is considered to be a non-stop, 9o-minute terror, actually averaged 1.45 km less distance per match (8.52 km) during the entire season than Mesut Ozil (9.97 km).
Mesut Ozil has actually increased his match time from injury-plagued seasons 2013-2014 through 2014-2015 from approximately 60% to 90% of the total season match minutes during the past two full seasons. His minutes are down this season due to an early season injury on international duty.
Much criticism has been doled out regarding Mesut Ozil’s performance over the past two seasons at Arsenal. His performance has often been described as reserved or, less kindly, lazy and unconcerned. Yet, it would be most difficult to make a case that his performance has even declined over the five seasons he has been at Arsenal based on the sample of metrics presented in this article. Possibly, the only distortion one could introduce is to view the exceptional 2015-2016 season’s performance during which he accumulated an unearthly 19 assists as a baseline. A drop-off in performance from that lofty level would simply be an expected regression to the mean—an anticipated decline toward a more normal level of performance.
Mesut Ozil’s performance has not tailed off over his years with Arsenal. He is still an extremely talented midfielder. But it is likely that Mesut Ozil is no longer satisfied and in need of a change of address. Possibly tired of the repeated, mediocre performance by his Arsenal club.
The experience of the reoccurring nosedive-ending, season-after-season, same tired array of excuses by the uninspiring Arsene Wenger who has long outlived his value but nevertheless left in place by the tired collection of unambitious, uninvolved, slothful banker board members, with the same revenue-obsessed only, Guys and Dolls, pinstriped suit wearing football-ignorant American billionaire-majority-owner Stan Kroenke has just become too much for Mesut to bare any longer.
Enjoy Manchester or Milan, Mesut, where you might be appreciated.