Cliches and football nowadays go hand in hand with terms such as ‘6 pointer’, ‘big game player’ and ‘the magic of the cup’ being pundits favourites. Yet a phrase becoming more prominent in modern football is one to describe a big player’s poor performance. The term ‘vanishing act’ or said player has ‘gone missing’ may not have caught have caught on with pundits fully yet, however, fans that use the social media platform of twitter will be well educated in this respect.
One player burdened by this term is the German World Cup winner Mesut Ozil. A player who’s topping the tables in assists, chances created and key passes. Yet performances have stuttered as often when the creative genius looks to be on his way to becoming a World beater, he disappears for 90 minutes. The best example is the 4-0 loss to Southampton on boxing day 2015. The first leg of the Champions League round of 16 against Barcelona also left fans wondering where Ozil had gone during the game, although in fairness, the Catalans dominated possession as Arsenal rarely strung a sequence of passes together.
To liken Ozil to an Arsenal legend, Bergkamp was much the same. In fact the play styles of both are very similar with fans viewing the pair to have an expectancy of others to do their dirty work for them. Ensuring their energy is fully focused on destroying the opposition with their potent creativity. A current Premier League similarity comes in the shape of Yaya Toure, although many debate he’s lost his ability through age as oppose to suffering sudden dips in form.
The next mention may come as controversial however understandable. Lionel Messi. The 5 times Ballon D’or winner is obviously outrageously talented yet can go missing in games. For 60 minutes against Arsenal in the round of 16 fixture fans saw little of the Argentinian with most of his use coming as a concession of passes infield to Busques, Rakitic and Iniesta. However, Messi possesses an ability that makes disappearing from games acceptable for himself. Within 15 seconds of defending to attacking for the 1st goal against the Gunners, Messi had turned a stalemate on its head. His drought against Cech removed. Lionel Messi is able to change matches in a blink of an eye meaning although he may be quiet, he never ‘goes missing’.
Yet, the vanishing act isn’t as bad as fans seem. With the common link between a world class player and the vanishing act being present. The player often criticised for playing poorly enters that game with a large ego and in Ozil’s case, stats to make any manager fear his creativity. Therefore, the tactics are altered to prevent the German from playing well and making Arsenal click. Players that would often be used to mark or hold are then asked to double up on Ozil ensuring he is suffocated of possession. Wanyama and Clasie marshaled him perfectly and Southampton were able to profit with four goals, a wonder strike from Cuco Martina being one of them.
However, when failing to stop Ozil perfectly Arsenal benefit, although it’s not the German who does the damage which leads to frustration from the fans as the world cup winner is seen as inconsistent. Doubling up on Ozil leads to an overload elsewhere on the field which is why Sanchez is able to hit form when they’ve both been in the side. Monreal and the Chilean are able to exploit the space left by, most commonly, the right-side holding midfielder of the 2 sitting in a 4-3-2-1. Sanchez then has 3 options. 1: Cut inside and shoot as he did against Manchester United. 2: Isolate the defender one on one driving at pace as he did against Newcastle early in the season. 3: Use Monreal as an overlap option, as he has done numerous times this season. Ozil’s non-existence in a game has knock on affects throughout the team. None more so than the little magician, Alexis Sanchez.
Another benefit to Ozil’s unintentional disappearance for games is the prevention of over-reliance on a single player. In stark contrast, Diego Simeone’s Athletico Madrid side have one goalscorer, Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman has 19 goals this season while their next top scorer, obviously this used to be Jackson Martinez before his move, is Saul on 6. This dependency on Griezmann has lead to Athletico’s struggle in the league as they’ve fallen away from Barcelona since returning from the international break.
Arsenal’s situation differs largely. The fear of a ‘missing’ Ozil among the ranks at Arsenal forces others to step up. Knowing they can’t fully depend on their star man leads to contribution from others. Giroud has stepped up with goals, Sanchez is finding his form after injury while Cazorla aids with chance creation making Arsenal a better side overall. Yet, criticism is fair as Henry claimed Arsenal are ‘practically dead’ without Ozil due to the severe difference between himself at 105 chances created and their next best of Cazorla with a mere, but still respectable 36 in contrast.
For managers, this offers more flexibility tactically and while it’s vital that key players step up, sometimes there absence reaps more benefits. Who knows, it could be a tactical ploy.
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