When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil on deadline day in the summer of 2013 for a then-club record fee of £42.5 million, this was seen as a new beginning for the Arsenal. After several seasons of offloading their best players to their premier league rivals, the arrival of Ozil was seen as a step in the right direction. Yet, to date, he remains one of those players who elicits mixed reactions from the Arsenal fan base. While his skill and technique is not in question, his commitment is a constant subject of debate. There are fans who believe Ozil does not offer enough on the field given his lazy approach and demeanour. On the contrary, there are those fans who praise him for his ability to create and play football the Arsenal way. This is the beginning of Ozil’s fifth season at the Emirates and he only has three FA cups (considered a second tier cup in England) and two Community Shield trophies. Have Arsenal progressed since he arrived at the club? What contributions has he made to the club on the field? Are Arsenal better off without him?
Amazing attacking talent
As an attacking midfielder, Ozil has enjoyed Wenger’s loyalty of regular football despite being off-form on most occasions. Of the four full seasons he has played at Arsenal, he has been involved in 161 games contributing 32 goals and 55 assists. Over the same period, Arsenal scored 420 goals. This implies that Mesut Ozil has contributed to 20.71% of Arsenal’s total goals either scoring or direct assists. As an attacking midfielder, this return is not that bad and implies that offensively, he is a key player for Arsenal. In terms of ranking, he could be among that top five best contributors offensively in the club’s history. The last two seasons, 2015/16 and 2016/17, were among his best as he contributed 21 goals and 33 assists. While his attacking prowess is not in question, Ozil’s questionable performances come either strongest rivals or physical matches. Here, I will use several games to illustrate my point of view.
Missing in action when needed most
In the season 2016/17, there are two games in question where Ozil’s performance was below par. In fact, one wonders how he completed the whole 90 minutes. The 2-1 away losses to Everton and Manchester City in December 2016 show why Ozil is not the player for this kind of matches. Against Everton, Arsenal had 59% of possession but were second best to Everton in terms of goals scored, chances created, shots on target, crossings and tackles made. In terms of Ozil’s contributions, he had two shots, created one chance and had 81% pass accuracy. While is this is fair considering the team’s general performance, Ozil’s overall performance was poor. In a fierce Goodison Park atmosphere, Ozil was nowhere to be seen and amazed an average rating of 40% according to most football blogs.
Against Manchester City, Arsenal started the first half strongly and went ahead via a Theo Walcott goal. However, in the second half, Manchester City rose to the occasion with Kevin De Bruyne being the key man for the Citizens. He managed three shots, created seven scoring chances, made ten crosses, and had once interception. Ozil, in comparison, had no shots, created one scoring chance, made two crosses, and had no interceptions in the whole game.
Even after a poor game against Everton, Wenger insisted on starting Ozil in a top game despite his contributions in such being questionable. Defensively, he contributed nothing in the second half when Arsenal needed every player to be work hard to keep Man City at bay. Ozil shrank on sight of his opponents and most of the time wandered aimlessly and hopelessly with no vivid memory of his contribution. Only Granit Xhaka had a worse performance than Ozil in this match. I could go on. In matches against Crystal Palace and Tottenham Ozil’s contribution was below par but the above two matches drive the point home.
This season, against Stoke City, Ozil was always caught flat-footed in the middle of the park with one of those moves indirectly contributing to Jesse Rodriguez first goal in the league. In fact, Ozil was missing in action for over an hour before spring to life as the game drew to a close.
Toe to toe with Chelsea
Against Chelsea this season, Arsenal went into the game without the injured Mesut Ozil. In his position, Arsenal preferred to deploy the hardworking Aaron Ramsey to keep Chelsea at bay. Without him on the field, Arsenal were on a different level. There was commitment, desire and effort from all the players. Aaron Ramsey was the main man running the show. He tracked back when Arsenal needed to defend and started counter attacking bursts when Arsenal needed it. In Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi, Ramsey had two committed players who ensured Chelsea wingbacks did not get the opportunity to roam forward like they did last season in the 3-1 loss. In that game, Arsenal’s performance score barely reached 60% the whole game. According to Squakwa, the team had a negative scoring for most of the match and never matched Chelsea at any point except between the 35th and 55th minute where they peaked. Compared to this season, Arsenal were better than Chelsea between the 15th and 85th minute in their performance score. Was the absence of Ozil the difference? Absolutely yes! The work rate, cohesion and covering for each other was top-notch. They matched Chelsea in terms of attack and defense and gave in equal measure what they received.
Arsenal still need Ozil
Are Arsenal better without Ozil? Against fiercest rivals and physical teams, Ozil is the worst player to have in the first eleven. This has been proven in numerous games over the course of the five seasons he has been at Arsenal. In such games where Arsenal need to work hard to get at least a point, Ozil is not the ideal player. However, in the less intense games, Wenger can confidently deploy Ozil where his attacking mindset would be strongly felt. His contribution to Arsenal’s goals cannot be discounted as it is important when we assess the whole season. He is still Arsenal’s chief creator and I would be glad to see him sign a new contract at the club. He’s not perfect, but he is a good piece of the Arsenal puzzle and should be retained.
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