Are Arsene Wenger’s side more productive without Mesut Ozil in their side?

Mesut Ozil has been sidelined by injury over the past couple of weeks and didn’t feature against Chelsea in the Premier League on September 17th. The German’s output has been questioned by many Arsenal fans and the Gunners didn’t appear to miss his presence as they battled to a creditable goalless draw and almost left Stamford Bridge with all three points. Are Arsene Wenger’s side more productive without the 28-year-old in their side?

Ozil has missed both encounters with Chelsea this season sitting out of the Community Shield clash due to an ankle problem. He wasn’t fit enough to feature at Stamford Bridge and watched from the stands as his side picked up their first away point of the season. The Gunners have struggled on the road so far returning pointless from recent visits to both Anfield and the Potteries. They weren’t able to find a way past a resolute defence when narrowly losing to Stoke and were comprehensively outplayed by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool at the end of August. Words such as ‘Embarrassing’, ‘Abject’ and ‘Limp’ were used to describe their performance on Merseyside but they looked like a team transformed in West London.

Ozil was picked out for criticism by pundit Steven Gerrard after the Gunners display at Stoke with the former Liverpool captain describing the German International as a ‘liability’ and suggesting he was ‘going through the motions’. Although insisting that Ozil remains ‘world class’, he suggested that he must do more to influence games away from home and that his body language doesn’t transmit positivity to his team-mates nor the travelling fans. He perhaps harshly went on to brand him a ‘quitter’ whilst former Arsenal defender Martin Keown suggested he ‘needs to take a long hard look at himself in the mirror’.

Ozil Wenger
Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger (R) interacts with Arsenal’s German midfielder Mesut Ozil during the pre-season friendly football match between Arsenal and Sevilla at The Emirates Stadium in north London on July 30, 2017, the game is one of four matches played over two days for the Emirates Cup. (OLLY GREENWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

Arsene Wenger lambasted his side for making ‘stupid mistakes’ and not being clinical enough in the final third but the Frenchman was quick to defend his creative midfielder when quizzed about the comments made by the BT Sport pundit. The longest-serving boss in the Premier League didn’t wish to pick out individuals but insisted Ozil ‘did fight’ during the 90 minutes.

Wenger rarely removes his playmaker from the pitch with Ozil playing a full 90 minutes in each of his four matches this season whilst he was only substituted four times in the Premier League during the second half of last season with 79 minutes being his earliest departure when the Gunners were already 4-0 up at Swansea.

Former Chelsea player turned pundit Ray Wilkins echoed Steven Gerrard’s sentiment and recently suggested that Ozil shouldn’t be selected whenever Arsenal are away from home. Often deemed as a luxury player, it isn’t the first time that Ozil’s perceived lack of workrate has come under the spotlight with Wilkins suggesting the team showed far more fight without the German in the side. The 61 year old insisted that teams ‘have to fight as an 11’ away from home and that there can be little room for carrying passengers.

Arsenal were excellent value for their point at Stamford Bridge and will undoubtedly be disappointed not to have collected all three. The North London club dominated the second half and saw Shkodran Mustafi’s header disallowed with Aaron Ramsey’s effort cannoning back off the post. Chelsea created very few chances and struggled to contain the Gunners in the final 15 minutes especially once David Luiz had been dismissed for an ill-advised lunge.

mustafi chelsea header
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 17: Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal (obscure) scores a goal but it is rulled for offside during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on September 17, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The standout performer at Stamford Bridge was Ozil’s team-mate and fellow German Shkodran Mustafi who kept Alvaro Morata quiet for a full 90 minutes. Mustafi was dominant throughout and won every 50/50 leaving the Spaniard visibly frustrated and feeding off scraps. The centre-back was commanding and helped organise Arsenal’s back-line superbly and also provided a real threat at the opposite end of the pitch from set-pieces. Mustafi has only played 270 minutes this season but if he can recreate this imperious performance, plenty more clean sheets will surely follow.

Mustafi was expertly shielded by the midfield and every single player put in a shift to ensure Arsenal’s losing run on the road came to an end. The 25 year old insisted his side can build upon that performance and praised his team-mates for remaining organised whenever they didn’t have possession. His opposite number Gary Cahill conceded that his side didn’t deserve to take anything from the game.

Arsenal were much-changed during their 1-0 success against League One Doncaster in the Carabao Cup on September 20th and kept a third consecutive clean sheet. They are building up a head of steam although many seasoned fans will be wary of getting too carried away at this early stage of the campaign.

Mesut Ozil has produced plenty of memorable moments since arriving in North London with many Gunner’s fans still fondly remembering his superb solo effort against Ludogorets in the Champions League. The German kept a cool head to round the goalkeeper and a number of defenders before clinically finding the back of the net. He’s scored a number of terrific goals throughout his spell at the Emirates but consistency is not a word regularly associated with the 28 year old.

Contract talks between the player and club are believed to be close to a conclusion with rumours of a possible £225,000-a-week deal offered to the former Real Madrid man. There is less than a year left on his contract and Arsenal are keen to tie him down to a deal which would see him become the club’s highest earner. Some fans would question whether he is worth that investment.

Newspapers regularly report that he is keen to move away from North London next summer with a possible reunion with Jose Mourinho at Manchester United on the cards but this is purely speculation and should be taken with a pinch of salt. His future was cast into doubt following a lengthy Facebook outburst at the start of September in which he urged his critics to ‘stop talking and start supporting the team’ but later added that he was ‘glad to wear the Arsenal shirt’. He also took a swipe at club legends such as Ian Wright who have recently criticised his work-rate and output. The BBC pundit has always been quick to defend the player but has recently urged the German to sign a new contract at the club in order to show his commitment to the cause.

Whilst Ozil may divide supporters very few fans can dispute his record since joining the club. Since the start of the 2013-14 Premier League season, he’s created 407 chances for his side and claimed 42 assists which is more than any other player in the squad. He can bring sparks of creativity to an otherwise uninspiring side and particularly flourishes at the Emirates. Seven of his ten assists last season arrived in North London but on the road he was less productive finding the target at Stoke, West Ham, Watford and Middlesbrough all of whom finished in the bottom half of the table.

He struggles to make an impact against fellow top six sides in the Premier League particularly away from home. Ozil scored once and claimed just two assists against high-flying sides last season and regularly disappeared in crucial clashes with teams around them in the table. When losing possession he is often seen shaking his head or perhaps frustratingly throwing his arms into the air as opposed to tracking back and snapping at the heels of the opposition and this hasn’t gone down well with the fans. However, only Nacho Monreal covered more ground than Ozil last season with the German clocking up 329.3km over the course of the campaign.

It isn’t the first time that he has come under scrutiny with Jose Mourinho laying into the midfielder whilst at Real Madrid. The Portuguese coach questioned the playmaker’s all-round effort asking “You think two beautiful passed are enough. You think you’re so good that 50% is enough”.

Ozil didn’t feature in Arsenal’s opening Europa League match with FC Koln as Arsene Wenger rang the changes for the Thursday evening encounter with the Bundesliga club. The Gunners ran out 3-1 winners and got their campaign off to the perfect start. They have been priced up as joint favourites for the tournament as they search for a passage into next season’s Champions League. Finishing outside of the top four positions for the first time in 20 years was a huge disappointment for Arsene Wenger and his side and competing in Europe’s secondary club competition is significantly less glamorous but they do have a squad which is capable of reaching the latter stages. If you’re thinking of backing the Gunners for success in any of their competitions this season it’s always best to check out the range of welcome bonuses available and you can get a £20 free bet with Paddy Power to use on a pro-Arsenal punt. They have been priced up at 6/4 to return to the top four positions whilst they are around 7/1 joint favourites alongside AC Milan to clinch the Europa League title. Fans will also be hoping that Wenger’s men can finish above rivals Spurs after seeing their fellow North London outfit fire themselves into 2nd behind champions Chelsea back in May.

Ozil’s injury is only set to keep him out of the Arsenal squad for a couple of matches and he is extremely likely to make an instant return to the starting line-up once fully recovered. Arsenal may miss his creativity when he is on the treatment table but they look a far more cohesive unit without the German and Wenger has some big decisions to make.

He isn’t the only player who has been criticised this season with Granit Xhaka’s mixed performances and the now-departed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also proving frustrating throughout his stop-start career in North London. Mesut Ozil does appear to take the brunt of the abuse from the stands however and he needs to step up and prove his doubters wrong.

mesut ozil v liverpol
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – AUGUST 27: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on August 27, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Alexis Sanchez’s commitment has been questioned after the Chilean was spotted laughing at Alexandre Lacazette fluffing his lines against Chelsea. Sanchez started on the bench for the clash with the Blues and is another player whose future is uncertain. He was heavily linked with a move away in the summer but a rumoured transfer to Manchester City failed to materialise and has been nursing an injury of late. Sanchez was instrumental last season for Arsenal and Gunners fans will be hoping he can knuckle down and help fire the side up the table once again this year.

Arsenal battled as a team against Chelsea and it will be interesting to see if Wenger opts to send out the same eleven during Arsenal’s upcoming away fixtures at Watford and Everton. It’s an interesting conundrum for the French boss and he will have to draw on his vast experience in the game to arrive at a conclusion. Leaving the 28 year old out of the starting line-up opens him up to criticism over perceived negative tactics or playing for a point whilst including the German could leave Arsenal far too open and leave them exposed at the back against better opposition. The Gunners face another stern away test at the Etihad at the beginning of November and Ozil cannot afford another underwhelming performance in this fixture.

Ozil’s presence was not missed at Stamford Bridge and it was noticeable how hard the players worked for one another. There was a togetherness about the side and every player gave 100% until the final whistle. They will feel aggrieved not to have won the contest but there was very little for away fans to moan about. Perhaps Ray Wilkins is correct and Mesut Ozil should be deployed from the bench when Arsenal are on their travels. Against tiring legs, he may be more effective and change the game in the final 20 minutes.