There’s no doubt that Mesut Özil is one of the most polarising players to have ever played for Arsenal.
There is not a single player at a major European club that solicits two more diverse opinions than he does. Depending on your viewpoint, he is either an elite playmaker who could play for just about any team in the world, or he’s a work-shy, luxury player who doesn’t fit into a system that the bigger teams use today.
There is no middle ground between the two, he’s either great or a liability. For just about every other player, concessions are made towards one part of their game if the rest of their skill set is good enough.
Per Mertesacker, for example, is slower than continental drift, but that’s put up with as long as he has two quick centre-halves beside him to do his running for him. Theo Walcott can’t cross a road, but that’s put up with as long as he’s quicker than Katie Hopkins deleting an offensive tweet. But with Özil, that concession just isn’t made.
The easy criticism made of him is that he ‘doesn’t work hard enough’ or that ‘he doesn’t track back enough’, anything that implies that he’s not putting in enough effort. Apparently the biggest ‘crime’ any footballer can make is not looking like they’re trying hard enough. We’ll forgive just about anything else, but a lack of effort is an absolute no-no.
So, when this argument about Özil being lazy is being made, the counters to it are predictable; a table showing how he’s sprinted more times than Alexis Sanchez, or how he has more interceptions than Kevin de Bruyne. There are many statistics that make any ‘Özil is lazy’ argument defunct, but reducing his performances to merely statistics will never convince a person to change their opinion.
The ‘Eye Test vs Statistics’ war consumed baseball for twenty years, and is one that is drawing battle lines in football too. It doesn’t matter how many times you show someone an article proving that a dress is black and blue, if their eyes tell them that it’s white and gold, then they’ll believe it’s white and gold.
The issue here is that the argument against Özil being a player worth building a team around is being misconstrued. It’s not that his detractors are saying he’s lazy or work-shy, as even Özil’s most ardent supporters would concede he isn’t box-to-box. What Özil doesn’t do enough of is produce a moment few can match.
To them, he doesn’t separate himself from his peers with breathtaking feats of skill, stunning goals, or anything that is easily identifiable as ‘different’. And that’s Özil’s problem. It’s not that he’s not good enough. It’s the opposite. He’s so good that he makes things look so simple, mundane and effortless.
The German playmaker makes the ridiculously difficult look easy enough for anyone to do, so much so that the regular fan dismisses it precisely because it’s something they think they could do themselves. A perfect example of this is his goal against Huddersfield.
He’s through on goal, chips the ball over the goalkeeper, and it trickles into the net. Simple. It’s a finish that we’ve all seen a thousand times, and one that we’ve probably done ourselves at some point whilst playing with mates or for the local pub team.
To get the ball over the keeper like that, you’ve got to get your toe under the ball and almost scoop it over them. It’s not easy, but with a bit of practice it becomes second nature. So, for someone like Özil, this should be nothing more than a routine finish, right?
But it’s not as simple as that. As any golfer or snooker player will tell you, when you dig down onto a ball whilst chipping it over the keeper, you exert backspin. This is great when you want the ball to either stop where it bounces or come back towards you, but for when you’re trying to score a goal, it’s the last thing you want.
Not only does it slow the ball down, but the spin will cause the ball the bounce higher and sit up, making it easier for an defender chasing back to clear it away if they get back in time. So, in order to prevent the defender from having a chance to prevent the goal, and also stop the goalkeeper saving your shot, you have to kick a rolling ball in such a way that gets enough lift over the keeper without backspin, and with enough control so it doesn’t go sailing over the crossbar.
Seems impossible, right?
I’ve watched this video a hundred times and I’m still flabbergasted by it. Kicking a rolling ball into the ground will usually lead to you falling over as you transfer your weight.
Not Özil. He can kick a rolling ball into the ground and do it softly enough to get it over the keeper. Watch the spin on the ball after he kicks it too. There’s nothing but topspin, which helps the ball skip along the ground and away from the defender.
It’s genius, and it was calculated within the blink of an eye. It’s not the first time he’s done this either, so for those about to tweet me saying he scuffed it, watch this:
Özil can make the ridiculously difficult things in football look simple, and it is for this very reason that he is the focal point of so many debates concerning Arsenal.
Ironically, the more reasons he gives us to argue about him, the better off Arsenal will be.