After four years, I find it ridiculous that this type of post needs to be written again. Fact is through the 4 years that he has been here Mesut Özil is a player that is as maligned as he is praised. While he should bear some criticism during our poor runs, he has become the primary player scapegoat when things go wrong for Arsenal.
We all know the primary criticisms – doesn’t defend, doesn’t get stuck in, doesn’t carry the team when its going wrong, has poor body language, doesn’t yell at people. The list goes on and on.
Let’s come to a universal agreement on something – his defensive ability sucks. But it is and has never been part of his game. He also isn’t a brute on the pitch. He doesn’t and isn’t going to get stuck in. Again, never been part of his game. The vacuum-formed fuckwits who continue to harp on this have their heads stuck in an era and style that is so far away from who Mesut Özil is as a player.
One other truth you must accept, I have and will allows be an unabashed Mesut Özil apologist. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t think he should get criticized. I think everyone is fair game for criticism. But the over the top ignorance of some people is just something I can’t get with especially in light of evidence game in and game out to the contrary.
I read once that in order to catch everything Mesut Özil does on the pitch you have to pay 101% to him and only him through the entirety of a match. The writer also opined that you’d still miss 90% of what he does.
It’s a fluff statement I know but the magic of Mesut is just that, the little things he does that no one else perceives as an effort that make him so effective.
As a coach one of the hardest things I find to teach young players is spatial awareness. Being aware of where you are on the pitch in relation to the ball, the defenders, the space to move into, etc. It is a difficult concept to grasp. But Mesut sees things that others just don’t seem to and when he makes a pass that no one else could see it only accentuates this ability.
Its not even his passing, at his strongest, Mesut Özil just seems to know where to be to take that first pass from deep and offer himself as an option to open up the opposition.
Then there is his touch, how many times has controlled the ball out of the air to within a millimeter of his foot to make a crucial pass or get behind a defender? How many times has he taken an impossible to control ball and had you screaming “are you kidding me?” There are highlight reels that show just his touch and control of the ball.
Another criticism of Özil’s game is that he doesn’t score enough. That’s correct but again if you know anything about him, he’s never been a scorer. He is a selfless player. In arguably his best season at Arsenal 2015/2016 – he had 19 assists with 146 chances created. He was without a doubt the most creative player in the league that season. Imagine how Arsenal would’ve faired that season had we finished more of the chances he created.
But for the uneducated its all about goals. We can’t appreciate the player who makes the goals happens because that’s too continental or some ridiculousness like that. The fact is that compared to other creative players in Europe, Mesut Özil has consistently ranked in the top 5 to top 10. He has been named Germany’s player of the year 5 times in 6 years not on the back of a wealth of goals but on the back of his creative performances.
So far through the first 3 games Mesut Özil has managed 12 chances created averaging 4 per game. If he finishes at that level by the end of the season he will finish with 152 breaking his record of 146 mentioned previously.
People may scoff at chances created as a statistic but think what happens when those chances become goals? Again, if we converted even a third of what Mesut creates we’d not likely have the issues we have.
Now, this defense of Özil isn’t to ignore the fact that he, like the rest of this teammates have been subpar so far this season. Like blaming the manager we have to look across the entirety of the landscape to lay blame.
Özil hasn’t been peak Özil for many reasons. As I’ve watched him, my main take away is that we simply are not playing in a way that plays to his strengths. Mesut Özil is at his sublime best when he is floating between the opposition midfield and defensive lines. His vision is unparalleled and he finds space that no one else sees. When he gets that first pass from deep he’s already seen the play 2 steps ahead of everyone else and can make that critical pass that unlocks defenses.
The problem has been is that we have not had anyone since Santi Cazorla who can make or find that first pass into Mesut Özil. This has forced the “multi-kulti” star to come back deeper to get the ball and then attack the midfield. While he is gifted with sublime touch and vision, he’s not going to beat a defender by running at them. First-touch skill moves are where it’s at for him.
If we want to ever see Özil at his pure best we have to find someone that can act as replacement of sorts for Santi (no one can really replace him.) Be that Jack or Xhaka or Ramsey someone has to be able to get the ball from deep and pick their head up with the intent of finding Özil.
Additionally, with all the chances he creates we have to have players that make the runs necessary to put those away. I firmly believe we signed Lacazette to be just that guy. Right now though he is still feeling his way through the Premier League and his new teammates and it’s too early to make any judgment on this. When you look at how he plays the game its quite possible that the players in front of him don’t see the game developing the way he sees it and miss those chances to put the game away. Hopefully, someone like Lacazette rectifies that.
I could’ve listed all the stats that support the effectiveness of Mesut Özil. He gets assists, makes key passes, added goals to his game, creates for his teammates and generally is the flow by which Arsenal should operate.
He isn’t devoid of criticism but let’s be realistic about it, some of it is based on biases found in old-time footballing terms that no longer apply to this modern game. In the end the criticism and form it takes says more about the critic than it does the player.