Aug 28, 2015
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Criticism of Mesut Özil is unfounded and short-sighted

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It has undeniably been a difficult and unconvincing start to Arsenal’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign and indeed for some of their star names too such as Özil and Cazorla. Arsene Wenger’s side have only picked up four points from a possible nine and are off the pace already which does not bode well for the remainder of the season. It is too early to judge whether the North Londoners are credible title challengers, but the early signs are far from positive with the Gunners failing to score in both their home games. Their current goal difference stands at -1 going into their early Saturday kick off against Newcastle United at St James’ Park.

A player who has come in for significant criticism following the 0-0 home draw with Liverpool is attacking midfielder Mesut Özil. Most would argue that it has been an indifferent career at the Emirates thus far for the German World Cup winner but is any of this criticism justified? On Tuesday Steve Claridge was on Talksport talking about the Arsenal play-maker, referring to him as “the weak link” and how he does not “do his job”.  That would all depend on what you perceive Özil’s job to be. First and foremost in my mind, he is a link from the midfield to Oliver Giroud. The former Galactico was bought to create chances in the final third and this is something he has always brought to the Arsenal side.

Since arriving from the Spanish capital for £42.5 million in 2013 his performances, have been met with very mixed opinions among fans and media pundits alike. To obtain a full reflection of what Ozil’s game is about, you must watch what he does off the ball as well as on it. The German’s off the ball movement is often something that is mostly overlooked, with many instead drawing attention to his “lazy uninterested” style.

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The common perception of his performances in English football is that he is lazy and not reaching the levels he was at Real Madrid. This is something that should be looked at in more depth before jumping to this conclusion. It is true that he has not statistically surpassed his achievements in his final season in La Liga which saw him score nine goals, grab 13 assists and create 91 chances. What also must be remembered is that he was also playing in the same attack as Cristiano Ronaldo who was arguably world player of the year that season, making the role of playmaker significantly easier.

I very rarely rely on “assist” statistics when it comes to identifying creativity as this just reflects chances that were taken. Instead it is a lot more efficient to examine a player’s “chance creation”. In his opening season, he created 76 chances in 26 games which is impressive for someone who was supposedly struggling to adapt to the pace of the Premier League. In his following season he managed to create 70 chances in just the 20 league games due to injury.

Big things are expected of Özil this season, especially with many predicting Arsenal to push on and challenge Manchester City and Chelsea for the Premier League title. For all the early critique that Arsenal’s £42.5 million man has received, he has created 12 chances in the opening three top flight games. In comparison, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard has created nine, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney has created six and Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho has just the two chances created to his name. In fact the only Premier League player to equal this statistic is Özil’s Arsenal team-mate Santi Cazorla.

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Even in light of these statistics, the argument that still persists is that “he doesn’t track back” – this has become a moot point in my opinion as this is not his job. Özil is much more effective further up the pitch and this is where he should be utilised. In his time at the Emirates he has found himself sometimes played out wide as part of a front three. This has been ineffective and to get the best out of his talents he has to play centrally, in a role directly behind the striker.

An increasing number of pundits have recently come out to criticise the German. After the 0-0 draw on Monday night, Gary Neville stated that Ozil and Sanchez “lack responsibility”. This could be true to a point, however responsibility should always belong to a squad as a whole and not one or two individuals.

Arsenal’s biggest problem on Monday night was almost unquestionably more down to an untested centre-back partnership that looked unconvincing and unprepared for the pressure put upon them by the visitors. They found it difficult to bypass the front three that Brendan Rodgers deployed and I fail to see how that could have been affected by either of the two attacking midfielders. It is easy to single out the two marquee signings of the previous two seasons while ignoring at the bigger picture.

Özil has already stated that he needs to improve in the final third and be more selfish. Indeed, the one thing that can be levelled at Arsenal’s play-maker is that he does not contribute enough goals to the side. He has only scored 41 goals in 256 senior club appearances going all the way back to his first senior season in 2006 in the Bundesliga at Schalke.

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It is undeniable that the vastly creative German is an integral part of Wenger’s squad. Yes he is a “luxury” as many have labelled him but he is also a necessity if Arsenal are to end their Premier League trophy drought stretching back 11 years. The Gunners are more expansive and a much more dangerous proposition with Özil in their ranks, but the bigger question remains as to whether Wenger can get the best out of the talented German.


Featured image: All rights reserved by AJ.B Photography

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