It says more about the Premier League’s audiences than the players. Depending on who you ask, Mesut Ozil is either missing in action or has failed to show up entirely following his blockbuster arrival at Arsenal last summer.
In light of the recent Ballon d’Or award ceremony, we can momentarily expand it to all of football. How do we measure the quality and even greatness of a player? Why did Cristiano Ronaldo claim the individual accolade this year ahead of Franck Ribery, despite having won nothing in comparison to the Frenchman’s scoop of the treble last season? It’s disappointing, but goals alone have shot Ronaldo into first place, ahead of those who arguably had an equal or greater claim.
Why was Philipp Lahm not considered, for example? Has there been a more consistent player in Europe, one who exudes such professionalism both on and off the pitch? And think back to when he really burst onto the scene, that goal for Germany in the opening game of the 2006 World Cup against Costa Rica.
But we dismiss him because he’s a defender (or recently converted holding midfielder). There’s no glamour to what he does, even though he does it in sensational fashion. Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets are two of the most accomplished and decorated midfielders in the world. Iniesta has been said to be on par with Lionel Messi and Ronaldo for talent. But we don’t pick that up because neither midfielder is a regular source of goals.
It’s surface-based analysis. Mesut Ozil is the latest victim of such. We in England need numbers to show how good a player is or has been. And only those in the goals and assists column count.
But Ozil hasn’t exactly put a foot wrong since arriving at Arsenal. People have said they’d like to see more from him, but what exactly constitutes as more? The German isn’t a goal scorer, so he isn’t going to “fire” Arsenal to the Premier League title. Any Comparisons with, say, Luis Suarez and his effectiveness at Liverpool aren’t totally fair.
We want to see Ozil “bossing” games. OK, slightly more in line with his reputation as one of the very best midfielders in the world. But in all the criticism of the German, has there been an acknowledgement of what’s around him in the Arsenal team?
Arsene Wenger’s side deserve to be where they are in the Premier League table; they’ve been the most consistent team while playing scintillating football at times. At this stage of the season, no one can discredit them for forcing themselves ahead of those whose wealth should place them firmly above.
But Ozil has seen a decline in quality and crucially style of those around him over the past year. Where once he was feeding Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, he’s now surrounded by a group of players – notably centre-forward Olivier Giroud – who are completely different from those at Real Madrid.
Giroud is a striker who plays with his back to goal. Largely that’s been to the benefit of Arsenal this season, with Aaron Ramsey taking some of the responsibility in front of goal. But the other midfielders in the team, those who are regular names on the team sheet, are either playmakers themselves or individuals who are not going to make the type of runs that showcases Ozil’s talent.
Have Arsenal therefore bought the wrong player in the German? Far from it. The team have suffered in the absence of Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski, two players who are direct and able to make good use of Ozil in the midfield. Evidence of this can be seen in Ozil’s first game at Arsenal against Sunderland, where he released Walcott through on goal on multiple occasions. The misfortune is that due to injury there’s been little opportunity to see that partnership develop.
If Ozil is perceived to be either wasteful or lazy, it’s simply because he has no option to release the ball. Why were Barcelona so difficult to retrieve the ball from? Because Xavi had Iniesta, and vice versa. When neither were available, Busquets was on hand to relieve the pressure. It was a case of cycling the ball, retaining possession until Pedro, Dani Alves or Messi made themselves available further up the pitch.
What can be seen from the Ozil’s style of play, though, is that whenever he receives the ball he immediately looks toward goal. It’s unfortunate, then, that Arsenal simply don’t have forwards regularly available who will make those runs. Take Walcott against Tottenham in the FA Cup as an excellent example of a player who constantly looked to get behind the Spurs defence.
Has Ozil failed to make an impact similar to that of his counterparts across the league? David Silva was called a genius – or words to that effect – for his pass to Aleksandar Kolarov in Manchester City’s win against Newcastle on the weekend. How many beyond Arsenal supporters caught Ozil making the exact same pass for Nacho Monreal against Aston Villa, which also led to a goal?
In the same game on Monday night, Ozil picked out Serge Gnabry’s run towards goal with a fantastic lofted pass into the path of the 18-year-old. Based on the accusations aimed at Ozil for not turning up, do we blame him directly for that pass, inch perfect, not resulting in another goal?
I’m not totally buying the idea that Ozil needs time to adjust to the Premier League. What would be more fitting is the claim that those around him in the Arsenal team need to adjust to him. He’s unquestionably head and shoulders better than anyone in that team.