Make no mistake about it, Bayern Munich’s 5-1 mauling has put Arsenal in their annual meltdown mode, when Gunners fans question everything from the club’s youth policy to the ambitions of the board room as a spate of disappointing late-winter results highlights how far away the north London club are from winning domestic and European titles.
Once again, the prevailing debate has centred around Arsene Wenger’s future at the club, which now feels more significant than ever, with Arsenal still being undone by the same fatal flaws and Le Prof’s contract due to expire at the end of the season.
But Mesut Ozil’s questionable contributions has emerged as one of the side discussions, after a particularly underwhelming performance against Bayern. Recurring accusations of laziness and a weak mentality have resurfaced once again, but according to his agent, Dr Erkut Sogut, the German international thinks he’s being made into a scapegoat. He told BBC Sport…
“Criticism is normal if a player plays badly. But Mesut feels people are not focusing on his performance; they are using him as a scapegoat for the team after bad results. Bayern had 74% possession. How can someone in the No.10 position create chances if you don’t have the ball?
“In these games people usually target a player who cost a lot of money and earns a lot of money – that is Mesut. But he can’t be always be the scapegoat. That’s not fair. Football is a team sport and Arsenal are not performing well as a team. Eleven players were on the pitch but Mesut was singled out for criticism. Was he the reason that Arsenal conceded five goals?
“It started before the match, throughout the week leading up to the game. People started discussing: ‘Should he play? Should he be dropped?’. It was as if everyone knew Arsenal would not make it through and we needed a scapegoat. This is not right. You win as a team and you lose as a team.”
So – is Ozil being made into a scapegoat for Arsenal’s collective failings? Arguing ‘No’ is Football FanCast’s Alex Hams….
Ozil is not being made the scapegoat, he’s just not performed for Arsenal when they’ve needed him. To be honest, a fair few Arsenal players have not stepped up in the biggest games for the past few seasons, but being the club’s most expensive signing EVER comes with a certain level of responsibility.
The Bayern Munich match on Wednesday was one in which the Gunners needed to get a result, or at least not get tanked, but he finished the match with the same number of attempted passes at Manuel Neuer (Neuer, if you weren’t already aware is a GOALKEEPER) and failed to complete any dribbles while not being dispossessed of the ball – showing that he wasn’t getting involved in the play to a great enough extent.
This is not uncommon for Ozil – he was anonymous vs. Manchester City earlier this season at the Etihad Stadium, too. He’s a wonderful player on his day and he comes to the fore when Arsenal routinely beat the smaller teams in Premier League action, but it can be no coincidence that the club’s worst performances tend to come against the ‘better’ teams and that they have not won major silverware (FA Cup aside) for some time.
Ozil has only scored nine game-winning (either the winner or the goal to put his side ahead in an eventual victory) goals for Arsenal in all competitions since his arrival at the club, which averages out at under three-per-campaign and is 30% of his 29 in total. On top of this, the only elite teams in this count are Napoli (2013/14) and Liverpool (2014/15), with one being a Champions League group game and the other a league tie against a Reds side that finished sixth that season, showing that he rarely does it in the biggest matches.
It’s time to dispel a few myths about Mesut Ozil. Yes, he struggled to get into the game against Bayern Munich but it wasn’t for the want of trying, making the most tackles (5) of any Arsenal player on the night. With ball-winning not being a part of the attacking midfielder’s usual game, it shows how he tried to make a difference in a crucial match for the Gunners, even if his efforts were futile.
Likewise, in terms of his limited contribution on the ball, what do Arsenal fans expect with just 26% possession? To create chances, Ozil needs a persistent supply of the ball (Ray Parlous shared similar views (below) when I met him in December) and Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka behind him just didn’t provide that – in fact, he had more luck when wining the ball himself. He still finished up with the second-most touches of any Arsenal player and created the second-most chances after Alexis Sanchez.
“He thrives on possession – he needs to be passed the ball on a regular basis. He’s not the player who’s going to run back into midfield to try and get back on the ball. So I think he relies on people controlling the midfield, which is why Cazorla’s important in there as well – he dictates possession, he’s very good on the ball, he’s clever, he can link up with Ozil probably a little better than some of the others. I like Xhaka, I think he’s going to be a top player, but he’s a bit more defensive-minded, so the link isn’t quite as good.”
Obviously, however, we are talking about more than just one game and after nearly four years at Arsenal, it’s clear Ozil hasn’t brought that talismanic influence many anticipated when he arrived from Real Madrid. At the same time, the manner in which he drifts in and out of games can be infuriating, but it also makes him an easy target.
It’s a matter of perception. In the Premier League, we’re obsessed with dynamic up-and-down players, but Ozil’s never been athletic enough to do that. He has to choose his moments more wisely, which sometimes means not making runs to ensure he’s still got energy when he needs it. At the same time, there’s more than one way to skin a cat; rather than running around like a headless chicken, he waits for the gaps he knows he can exploit to naturally develop.
It’s stealth and cleverness over playing the percentages of relentless running, but it doesn’t mean Ozil cares any less than his team-mates. In fact, if there’s one criticism to be had of Ozil, it’s that he’s not selfish enough – he knows he has the ability to do a lot on his own, but often looks to pass instead.
Ozil was a La Liga winner at Real Madrid (they haven’t won it since by the way) a World Cup winner in 2014 and has been named Germany’s Player of the Year five times in the last six years. But what do the most successful club in the history of European football and the second-most successful country in the history of the World Cup know, compared to the almighty #OzilOut brigade? Case closed.
So readers, whose argument were you more convinced by? Which side of the debate do you stand on?