Mesut Ozil is used to being criticised. His languid playing style has often made him a scapegoat during disappointing times at the Emirates and only individual flashes of brilliance have stopped him from completely falling foul of Arsenal fans.
However, the criticism of the midfielder has seemed to reach a new level after Germany’s group stage exit at the 2018 World Cup. The holders lost to Mexico, scraped past Sweden and then conceded two goals to South Korea in the dying minutes of the game to crash out of the competition altogether.
Ozil has received the brunt of the blame, being described as lazy and slated for his defensive shortcomings. Former German international Mario Basler even described him as ‘pathetic’ with the ‘body language of a dead frog.’
Blame the system?
While Ozil was definitely not performing at his best during the tournament in Russia, the whole team were poor and the players who surrounded him in midfield hardly complemented his style of play.
Germany were playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ozil playing in front of a double pivot of Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos. In this system, the Arsenal play inhabits the number ten role, a role which he normally thrives in.
However, the injury-ravaged Khedira had neither the speed nor the stamina to provide the necessary defensive cover in midfield and was substituted during the two games he played in for a more attacking player.
This left Kroos the impossible task of trying to keep possession, shield the defence and feed the ball to the attackers. As a result, Ozil was neither receiving passes in order to carve out attacks or being covered defensively, leaving him open to criticism.
Joachim Low’s failure to create a midfield which worked for Ozil will serve as a warning to Arsenal’s new manager Unai Emery. Under Wenger, Ozil's talent was often wasted. What, then, should Emery do to get the best out of his midfield maestro?
The German likes to play as a number ten behind an attacking trio and in front of a double pivot.
To negate the fact that he is not comfortable playing deep and has not got the best defensive abilities, the pivot playing behind Ozil should feature a defensive midfielder who can provide cover and a deep-lying playmaker who is a link between defence and attack, feeding the ball to Ozil.
Evidence of Ozil thriving in this system can be seen during the 2015/16 season when he racked up an incredible 19 assists.
The double pivot playing behind him was the defensive-minded Francis Coquelin and superb playmaker Santi Carzola, a combination which unlocked Ozil’s potential.
What can Emery do?
Luckily for Ozil, Emery is a proponent of a 4-2-3-1 formation, having used it with Almera, Valencia and Sevilla.
If Emery decides to go forward with this system, it would allow Ozil to play in his favoured number ten role with Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey forming the double pivot behind him. Where Xhaka would provide defensive cover, Ramsey could carry the ball from defence to attack.
New signing Torreira could take the place of Xhaka but the Swiss midfielder and Ramsey have already built up a fruitful partnership during the 2017/18 season.
Ozil would also have the superb attacking trio of Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette playing ahead of him.
Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan would play out wide, stretching the opposition’s defence and allowing Ozil space to create attacks. Both wingers would then have the ability to cut inside to receive a pass off Ozil or he could feed the ball to Lacazette, who has proved to be decisive in front of goal.
Will Emery go with Ozil?
If Emery wants to get the most out of his German playmaker, the most effective way of doing so would be to use a 4-2-3-1 formation with Ozil playing in the number ten role. This could well be the case come the beginning of the season.
However, Emery has also been known to play a 4-3-3 formation, particularly during his time at PSG. The Spanish manager may not see Xhaka and Ramsey as capable enough to act as a double pivot, especially because Xhaka is not a natural defensive midfielder. The failure of a 4-2-3-1 system could see performances akin to Germany’s at the World Cup.
If Emery goes with the more defensively stable 4-3-3 formation, Ozil would probably be forced back out wide, where he is less effective, or dropped altogether. This would risk yet another influx of demoralising criticism from football fans.
Whether Emery rates Ozil enough to build a team around him is yet to be seen. One thing is for certain though: unless his performances improve, his days at the Emirates will be numbered.
What do you think the Arsenal midfield will look like next season? Let us know by commenting below.