Arsene Wenger thinks Mesut Özil wasn’t himself with Germany at the World Cup, and blames the incident with Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the 29-year-old’s problems in Russia.
Before the tournament, Özil landed in hot water over a photo with the Turkey president. He was heavily criticised and booed by some Germany supporters in the aftermath. Then, the team crashed out of the tournament early, and Özil became the scapegoat.
Wenger spoke to the media about the incident, and admits the whole situation off the pitch had clearly affected the player on it, forcing him to play “with the handbrake on”.
“I know Özil well, he is a fantastic and exceptional footballer,” the former Arsenal boss said. “But he and Gundogan have suffered from what happened before the World Cup. I thought ‘that’s not the real Özil I know’.
“When I saw him play, I felt that there were situations where he could have come forward but instead preferred to play the safe pass.”
That’s probably the first fair criticism of the playmaker to come out of the media since the tournament began. It wasn’t that he didn’t try hard, and his ability in the final third was still plain to see, creating clear cut chances for the likes of Mats Hummels and Timo Werner to make a mess of.
As Wenger says, though, he more regularly opted to play a safe pass, probably for fear of the fan response if things ended up going wrong because of him. Unfortunately, when things did go wrong for Germany, they blamed him anyway.
The atmosphere around Arsenal right now is a lot more positive, so hopefully he comes back and shows his best form again next season.