Analysing Mesut Ozil's performance in Arsenal's 3-2 win over Swansea
The fact that column inches are no longer spent scrutinising Mesut Ozil’s performance speaks volumes about the consistency of his excellence over the last 18 months. In his first season and a half at Arsenal he was greeted with a deluge of criticism, some of it justified, but a great deal of which was egregious. Ozil actually settled into life at the Emirates very quickly in 2013, putting together a very impressive first few months at the club, but faded as the campaign wore on. He then played every minute of Germany’s victorious World Cup campaign, came back to Arsenal physically and mentally drained and got injured. Since returning from that knee injury in January 2015, Ozil has performed at a high level week in and week out. He has well and truly found his groove, and there are no longer accusations that he is ‘nicking a living’.
This season has not been as fruitful on individual level as last term. Bizarrely, he is yet to register a league assist. Despite this oddity, Arsenal have scored 19 league goals which is six more than after eight games last season (and five of those came in one game against Leicester). That Arsenal have a diverse attack capable of scoring goals and creating chances without Ozil providing the final ball is a very healthy state of affairs.
Too often last season they became over reliant on Ozil for creativity. If you only have one line of supply (even if that supply line is high class option like Ozil) it is easier for opponents to choke you off than if you possess multiple threats. With Alexis Sanchez dropping off, Alex Iwobi popping up in space between the lines, and Granit Xhaka and Santi Cazorla prompting play from deep, the Gunners have a host of avenues to explore.
Saturday’s 3-2 win over Swansea was not Ozil’s cleanest performance from a technical standpoint; his pass completion rate of 75% was below his season average of 88%. That said, almost all of his failed passes were attempted forward passes in the last third which can be accounted for. These types of pass carry greater risk, but of course can bring high rewards. He also created five chances in the match, which is proof that he was pretty much doing his job. His performance was also capped off by a sumptuous left-foot volley that turned out to be the winning goal.
Scoring goals is something that Ozil is beginning to add to his game this season, having bagged three league goals already. All three of his goals have come from Alexis Sanchez assists. One of the features of the Chilean’s deployment as a central striker has been his increased interaction with the former Real Madrid star. This was already a part of Arsenal’s play, but their closer proximity on the pitch has exemplified it. Their relationship as No 9 and No 10 has drawn comparison with Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, but given how Sanchez seems to be feeding Ozil perhaps the symbiosis Henry used to have with Robert Pires is a better comparison. Given how Sanchez likes to vacate the centre forward position, it is vital that Arsenal have players occupying that space and Ozil has shown the desire to run beyond the last line of defence.
Another feature of Ozil’s play, as well as Sanchez’s, is their propensity to drift towards the left flank. Huge swathes of the German’s passes came in this half of the pitch, and three of his five chances created come from cutbacks or crosses from that flank. Sanchez is fond of occupying this space too, from where he can cut inside and shoot on his favoured right foot or whip in a cross. Arsenal seem to be setting up camp in this quarter of the field, with Alex Iwobi involved in their build up on this side and Nacho Monreal backing up play too. The numerical overloads on the left are dragging opposition defences across and leaving acres of space for the speed of Hector Bellerin and Theo Walcott on the right to exploit. Arsenal’s opener against Swansea and second against Chelsea are good examples of this pattern of the play.
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