A lot has been said of Mesut Ozil’s apparent inability to perform during Arsenal’s bigger games.
For example, this season, the German international has scored five Premier League goals and assisted four in the same competition. He also scored four in the Champions League group stage and assisted three. Not bad. However, you can understand where the doubters’ claims that he doesn’t show up during big games come from when you look at where the goals occurred.
Ludogorets, home and away, Watford, Swansea, West Ham and Stoke. However, he DID score against Chelsea, when Arsenal won 3-0 and somehow managed to kick-start their season.
Ozil also got an assist against Spurs when we drew 1-1 at the Emirates.
Chelsea and Spurs are pretty big games, if you ask me, but let’s look back further to last season.
The then 27-year-old scored eight goals in all competitions last term and, as we all probably know, assisted 20.
Goals against Bayern Munich at home, Manchester United, home and away, plus assists against Leicester, who went on to win the title, Manchester City and Spurs…
So those are… small games?
Now, I understand that stats don’t always tell the whole story but they can help to paint a picture and it appears that during the games in which Arsenal struggled, for example, most recently against Everton and City, Ozil tends to end up being the scapegoat.
Ozil was poor against Everton and City, but so were most of the squad. So was Arsene Wenger. We all stank the place out; not just Ozil. However, because he usually is so involved in the creative build-up play and such a metronome for our midfield, when he’s not at the races it’s noticeable.
And this is where I will criticise our playmaker. He’s my favourite current Arsenal player, so know that I don’t mean this with any hint of malice. However, where he does fall short is his inability to really affect a game. Now, I don’t mean with a flick or moment of genius; Ozil’s proven time and time again that he’s more than capable of producing pure magic out of seemingly nowhere.
BUT, he’s not dynamic enough to turn a game on its head.
When you look at Alexis Sanchez, more often than not, he can affect the way the team’s playing just by being on the pitch. His workrate, never-say-die attitude, as well as world class quality, seems to shove a rocket up our players’ proverbials and push them to grind out a result.
Of course, he’s human, so this doesn’t happen all the time. Again, against Everton and City, even the Chilean couldn’t paper over the cracks in those performances but he had more of a chance of doing so than Mesut, whose body language and languid style of play often let him down, giving the impression that he’s not doing anything when really he’s doing the most.
Against West Brom, Ozil completed 107/122 passes, second only to Granit Xhaka (135/141), and successfully completed 74/88 in the final third. He also created seven chances; one of which led to Olivier Giroud’s 86th minute winning goal. Compare this to his stats from the City game and it’s obvious how, when faced with a higher quality of team and manager, the midfielder is cut out of the game. At the Etihad, Ozil only completed 10/13 passes. Wow.
Therefore, his pass success rate was still high, he just wasn’t able to make them in the first place. He couldn’t make his runs or find his usual spaces.
In theory then, surely this is something Wenger could or at least should attempt to counteract considering the more capable teams are just going to continue snuffing our playmaker out of the game, which is something teams like West Brom and coaches like Tony Pulis haven’t quite worked out yet. They’re still using the tried and tested ‘park the bus’ method.
To sum up, does Ozil disappear in big games? Yes, occasionally. However, this isn’t necessarily to do with his ability or maybe even confidence, this is to do with the more capable teams being wise to him and blocking him out, forcing us to attempt to play up the flanks against their wide-men.
As much as Ozil can work on his confidence, Wenger also needs to come up with a plan in which we can still use our main creator effectively against higher quality teams.