Mesut Ozil - Scapegoat

by - August 23, 2017

When it comes to Mesut Ozil, narrative appears to take precedence over fact.

Arsenal were beaten 1-0 by Stoke City at the weekend, and despite having 3 decent penalty claims turned down and a goal correctly (according to former referees Graham Poll and Dermot Gallagher) ruled out for offside in a marginal decision, the same old problems were there for Arsenal.

"Square pegs, round holes" a rightful criticism, with Nacho Monreal, a left back/left wing - back, playing in the central role of a 3 at the back system, as the central centre back. Anyone who understands football or the 3 ATB formation, knows that this is a very niche role, back to the days of Ronald Koeman for Barcelona and The Nertherlands, to the modern game with the likes of David Luiz and Eric Dier playing the roles, the former especially doing a brilliant job which surprised many of his critics. This can make centre backs who are at times rash (and percieved to be better as midfield players) excel, such as Luiz, it's a very specific role which requires a brilliant reading of the game and comfort in the position. Per Mertesacker, who was written off by many, including myself, last season, proved us all wrong by playing the role brilliantly in Arsenal's 2-1 FA Cup final win over Chelsea last term, and although one game isn't a lot to go off of, surely a run in the team in this position was required? His reading of the game, comfort on the ball, height and intelligence would have proved crucial against Stoke. The central defender in a 3 ATB must essentially function as a hybrid of a centre back and a ball playing defensive midfielder, to play a left back there was a laughable decision, which Wenger deserves a lot of criticism for. However, the simplistic English media, who throw out cliches like "passion", "desire" and "wanting it more" did not pick up on this to any great extent, or analyse how this affected Arsenal's organisation, ability to defend long balls into the box or how they defended the goal, a situation which anyone could see coming the minute Jese started his run.

Another accurate criticism would be the lack of a defensive midfielder, many have criticised Aaron Ramsey for being "too far forward" before Granit Xhaka lost the ball, even though Ramsey is a midfield runner, and it his job to get into those positions, not to sit deep and defend. Had Arsenal signed Idrissa Gana Gueye, N'Golo Kante or Victor Wanyama, this would allow their midfield players to make those runs, without being so easily and horribly exposed on the break, especially after losing the ball in an area of the field which is not so dangerous. We have seen with the addition of Nemanja Matic to Manchester United, how a creative player can be freed up in Pogba, in fact, this was part of Jose Mourinho's reason to bring him to Old Trafford. Arsenal have once again, too many players of the same nature, who are attack minded and like to go forward, if not diminutive anymore like they were in the past. They need a balance, they need a defensive midfielder. Zinedine Zidane once said, when Claude Makelele was sold and David Beckham was signed by Florentino Perez for Real Madrid in 2003, "Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley, when you are losing the engine?" And this is what Arsenal lack, someone to free up the likes of Ozil and Ramsey, while preventing counter attacks, as well as actually playing players in their right positions and understanding the role a central CB plays in a 3 ATB system.

Ozil did not have his best ever game for Arsenal, but he was arguably AFC's best player, completing 91/98 passes (92.8%) and making 4 key passes against a very well organised Stoke back 4 and without Alexis Sanchez. Despite the narrative suggesting that Ozil is a player who "can't do it at Stoke and grounds like that", his only other appearance at the Bet 365 Stadium was in a 1-4 win last season, where he ripped Stoke to shreds and combined brilliantly with Sanchez to score a wonderful goal. He did his job on Saturday, others did not and he is being scapegoat. Arsenal have issues regarding management, organisation, player selection, tactics, the midfield, the set up of the defence and where certain players are playing, but a number 10 making 4 key passes against a well drilled Stoke side, with no Alexis Sanchez would suggest a decent performance. Ozil's critics still live in 13/14, where despite an impressive debut season, he was occasionally shrugged off the ball far too easily (see Liverpool 5 - Arsenal 1, the third goal, Henderson vs Ozil), however, this is normal in the first season in the Premier League, he has further adapted, "bulked up" and has more than held his own against strong opposition. He has similar statistics to Alexis Sanchez in games against the top 7 and even covered 10 kilometres in a game more often than the Chilean did in 16/17, yet this baffling narrative of a "lazy", "weak" and even "cowardly" player persists. Arsenal's failings in big games, especially away games, is due to set up and the issues defensively and in midfield already outlined, not due to Mesut Ozil, this is merely a simplistic conclusion that generates clicks, similar to the scapegoating of Paul Pogba last season, who despite some woeful performances (see Chelsea 4 - Man United 0, Kante's goal in particular) had a fantastic season in terms of general play, average rating and chance creation. To criticise the likes of Pogba and Ozil for not doing enough defensively is like criticising the likes of Wanyama, Matic and Kante for not being more like Cesc Fabregas or Xavi, it is utterly ridiculous and shows no knowledge of appreciation of different roles on a football pitch.

To sum up, the criticism Ozil has faced after a defeat which was not his fault, and despite it not being his best game, where he more than did his job, sums up the simplistic nature of both media and fans on this issue. Arsenal have real problems, tactically, in defence, midfield and these also create problems for the attacking players. However, analysing this would require nuance and a genuine understanding of the game, something even many ex pros seem to lack.

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