After the defeat on Saturday, we heard a lot from the ‘same old Arsenal’ brigade. Arsene Wenger, as he always does whenever there is a loss, took the brunt of the criticism. However, in terms of those who were on the pitch, the finger was pointed firmly in Mesut Ozil’s direction once again.
There is a culture and philosophy in this country that is largely holding English football back. Unless you are making heavy tackles, run yourself into the ground and show obvious heart, obvious being the crucial word, then you will get chastised when things do not go the way of your side.
No tackles, no party?
And that was the case against Stoke. Ozil isn’t a player to make the big tackles, or press aggressively and so he is the one who is blamed when it goes wrong. And it is not just from fans, who in fairness, perhaps aren’t expected to necessarily have the knowledge or expertise to truly analyse.
However, retired Premier League legends Steven Gerrard and Martin Keown should. And they too were lambasting Ozil for his apparent lack of work when Arsenal don’t have the ball.
Could Ozil do more? Perhaps. But to say he is lazy isn’t true. During the halfway mark of last season, ‘WhoScored’ recorded who had retrieved possession the most times out of any player in the league, in the final third, Ozil’s area.
Eden Hazard was first with 18, Ozil second with 16, level with teammate Alexis Sanchez who is constantly lauded for his work rate. Ozil may not work hard in an obvious sense, but he works smart. His running stats are excellent and he is clever at closing down angles and passing lanes, forcing the opposition to go where he wants them too.
But that’s almost beside the point.
It’s not fair to blame Ozil
Of course, every player in the team should be expected to pull their weight, but Ozil wasn’t bought for his ability to hurry and hassle and track back. He was bought for what he can do on the ball and against Stoke on Saturday, the German was the only one who looked like he could breakthrough that extremely low block, compact and organised backline, where Stoke often had every man behind the ball.
The former Real Madrid playmaker was the Arsenal star passing vertically, through the lines and incisively. He was finding gaps in that backline that most others would struggle to see. His teammates, however, lacked quality on the ball and preferred to move the ball side to side, not having the ability to penetrate like Ozil.
You don’t know what you have until it’s gone
Of course, Ozil needs players around him who will make incisive movements off the ball. Arsenal did not have enough players aiming to disrupt the Stoke backline, creating angles for the German magician to find him. If they did, Ozil would have seen it and certainly has the quality to pick them out.
Unfortunately, as alluded to earlier, it is perhaps the culture in this country. We are yet to truly appreciate a man of Ozil’s talents unless it is coupled with tenacity and aggression to go with. Ozil is probably seen as a player who should be able to do it on his own, like Sanchez, due to his world-class quality, even though that has never been his game.
Perhaps then, Ozil should seriously consider a new league to challenge himself in. Maybe then we will only realise what an asset to the Premier League Arsenal’s star man is.
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