Perception. A word that has come to define Mesut Ozil. The epitome of grace, the German glides across canvas’ worldwide, blending intelligence and incisiveness into a thing of beauty, leaving opposition defences mesmerised by the hallucination of bliss. As what tends to come with class, you have critics, individuals unable to comprehend the magic being woven before their very eyes, thus opting to slaughter you for the unique gift you have, a fantasy unattainable to them. 2016/17 has seen these critics at the forefront of newspapers and social media sites globally. Have the critics once again been unable to comprehend mastery in action, or has the once genius lost his magic touch?
9 goals and 7 assists in 24 appearances. The German maestro certainly has the stats to dismiss the lunacy of implying inadequacies in his performances this season. Football is much more than the simple stats however, acknowledging the nature of the 28 year old’s game over the last 7 months paints a much more accurate picture. 2016/17 season has seen the Gunner’s number 7 Alexis Sanchez deployed as a central striker, a key aspect of the perhaps unusual stats the man labelled the “king of the assist” has produce. Alexis is not the conventional number 9, the Chilean wants the ball, always, no exceptions, ever. Arsenal’s player of the season has said himself when the ball is taken away from him it’s as though he has been “stripped of his toy”. Dropping deep to receive the ball is the 28 year old’s innate nature, and when you’re creating the most chances in Europe from open play (55), you have the license to do so. However, this presents a dilemma, the centre forward area as been left completely vacated, and with it acres of space in behind the opposition defence. Few players recognise in the heat of battle such spaces, but masters do. Ozil’s unselfish nature sees him go where the game demands him to go, as though in unison with time around him, executing decisive movements to perfection. A part of his game Arsene Wenger knew the German always had, but was afraid to unleash. A ruthless killer. A telepathic connection continued to thrive between the two, a scarily perfect one. It’s as though the two games are apparent; The game of football the other 20 players on the pitch are playing, and then the performance the two artists craft.
Whilst the allure of the connection was a blessing for the Arsenal faithful, it came at cost. By allowing Ozil and Alexis to play in their own bubble, a huge gap was created in midfield, leaving the Gunner’s midfield isolated against the inevitable counter attacks that arise in games. Granit Xhaka found himself fall victim to this, sent off against Swansea for preventing such an occurrence. By having such a cohesive attacking system, the Arsenal in actuality play a 442 with Alexis and Ozil the forwards. Yet, the balance of the midfield and discipline of the wingers simply isn’t set up to accommodate such a system. The style of Xhaka means he’s best acclimatised to a three-man midfield, and the offensive talents of Aaron Ramsey are wasted by restraining his role even further than it is in the 4231.
However, the adaptability of the German is a marvel to watch, epitomised by the role he adopted once Giroud began to lead the Gunners line. Acknowledging the Frenchman’s strengths, Ozil sees that space in behind is limited due to the occupation of the opposition defenders by the Arsenal number 12. Thus, the creative genius finds himself pulling out to either flank, where the space is now apparent, and continually threading the ball inside the fullback’s for crosses in by his teammates, or by taking charge himself and floating in deliver’s for the target man to power home. The tactic has precedence, with numerous assists of the German’s last season coming from such situations, and even this season, with the salvation mission against West Brom arising from such a delivery (albeit a world-class header from Giroud).
The facilitator, that’s what Ozil is. You’ll see different styles of the German within a 90 minute performance, genius the English media are unable to comprehend. Don’t let the cloak of relaxation con you into thinking otherwise. Mesut Ozil is integral to Arsenal, and maybe one day the world will understand why.