Analysing Mesut Ozil's second-half collapse in Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Manchester City
Sunday’s Premier League clash with Manchester City at the Etihad all started so well for Arsenal. Theo Walcott stabbed the Gunners ahead in the fifth minute from Alexis Sanchez’s pass, but despite a half-time lead, the second half yielded an all-too-familiar collapse.
In a repeat of what transpired at Goodison Park against Everton on Tuesday, they were outfought by a resurgent City and their grip on the game was lost from the moment Leroy Sane equalised from David Silva’s pass, despite heavily protesting for offside.
Arsene Wenger’s worst fears would be confirmed 19 minutes from time, when Raheem Sterling collected Kevin de Bruyne’s brilliant pass before beating Cech at his near post to complete the turnaround.
Arsenal have now squandered a lead to lose for the second match in succession, and their title ambitions have thus been dealt another blow, as they now lie nine points behind pacesetters Chelsea.
Epitomising Arsenal’s collapse was the performance of one of their main midfield men, Mesut Ozil. Influential as ever in the first-half, after the break one would think he’d been replaced by an impostor. Unlike the first 45 minutes, his efficiency and influence on the game disappeared, and he could barely get hold of the ball, pacing around the pitch aimlessly as City dictated play.
In the first-half, buoyed by the Gunners’ dream start, the Germany international was at the heart of everything Arsenal did well. He finished the match with a pass accuracy of 85%, and although three of his six failed passes throughout the game all came in the first-half, the telling thing about the pattern of his passing was that, as is the case when he is at his best, the majority of passes were going forward towards teammates rather than sideways or backwards.
Ozil was also involved in one aerial duel in the first-half, and he got the better of former Gunner Gael Clichy, flicking the ball on to create an opportunity for his team. He was less active in wide areas throughout the contest though, only attempting one cross in the first-half that was blocked away, but almost made a telling contribution when his incisive pass from the right found Theo Walcott on 32 minutes, but the chance went begging when the England winger’s effort went high and wide.
In the second-half, City knew they’d have to up their tempo, and after 15 minutes to dissect their first-half showing with manager Pep Guardiola, as a team they responded emphatically. Kevin de Bruyne was the catalyst for their comeback, with a scintillating second-half performance, the Belgian applying the gloss with a wonderful pass that led to Sterling’s winner. This change of tempo and intensity with De Bruyne at the heart was simply too much for Arsenal to withstand.
Arsenal’s elite players simply didn’t step-up to the standards City set after the break, Ozil in particular drifting away to cut a peripheral figure as his influence on the game waned.
City’s lightning start to the second-half began with Sane’s finish, and from then on the stuffing was knocked out of Arsenal as a collective. Ozil tried his luck in the air to try to create a chance for his team, but lost to Otamendi, and that would be the story of his half. He gradually saw less and less of the ball, and he found himself passing sideways or backwards as opposed to going forward. Even though he found himself operating further back inside his own half, he didn’t contribute defensively, with no clearances or interceptions throughout the entirety of the game. In fact, he very nearly gave away a goal when found wanting in possession, David Silva picking his pocket inside the Arsenal half, before threading the ball into De Bruyne. The Belgian then played a wonderful through ball to Sane, who was only thwarted by a wonderful save from Cech.
When Sterling notched Manchester City ahead from Kevin de Bruyne’s pass, a bad 45 minutes for Ozil was confounded when, finally attempting to drive the play forward two minutes after Sterling’s strike (73 minutes), he attempted to take on compatriot Leroy Sane, who’d already gotten onto the scoresheet himself, only for the younger German to pick his pocket. Later, just as he did in the first-half, he attempted a cross when he made a little space for himself, only to see it blocked away.
Match-winner Sterling then became the target of Ozil’s obvious frustration, the German’s one foul in the game coming against the England international with just 14 minutes left.
As much of a blow as this will be to Arsenal’s title ambitions, and with all the talk from media and pundits regarding the Gunners is centred around the question of whether this is once again the start of what has become an annual capitulation at the club, Ozil himself is reportedly in the midst on lucrative new contract negotiations at the Emirates Stadium. If performances of this standard persist when the going gets tough for the Gunners, he may soon find his bargaining position threatened, and as one of the club’s elite players, he must step-up and lead by example, a quality that in these last two fixtures at least, has been absent.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by AJ.B Photography.