Mesut Özil has and always will be one of the most polarizing players in world football. He certainly is the most criticized player in the Premier League, sometimes fairly, other times not. At his best, there is no better chance creator and distributor, at his worst, he becomes invisible and a defensive liability for the club.
After a majestic 2015/16 campaign, Özil’s production dropped off last year and his play has seemingly gotten worse since. From the get-go, he has never looked comfortable in the new formation and as a player who thrives in the middle, Arsenal’s triangular attacking shape at the top pushes him further toward the wing. Arsenal supporters had been clamoring for Wenger to play the Özil-Sanchez-Lacazette combination at the top and finally saw the three attackers play against Everton in a resounding win and again in the comeback win opposite Swansea last weekend. Although Özil was largely ineffective on Saturday, his form has improved significantly since coming back from injury. Indeed, his hit and miss style can be excruciating but for a man who provided eight, yes eight, goal scoring chances against Everton, he’s a difficult player to leave out of the Starting XI.
With a season changing game coming up against Manchester City on Sunday, many do in fact wonder if Özil should be included in that Starting XI. The last time Arsenal traveled to the Etihad, Özil was frankly abysmal and failed to produce in the defeat. He played moderately better when the two sides met again at The Emirates and was excellent in the FA Cup Semi-Final, but the risk still remains. Özil has a reputation to disappear in the big games. There have been numerous stats to denounce his so called “disappearances” claiming he does produce on the big stage, but most supporters aren’t looking for cheap assists in the final minutes down 3-0, rather a full 90-minute performance from our world-class attacker.
It can’t be denied with Manchester United, Inter Milan, and others circling for the German internationals signature come January, that the man hasn’t been himself. Even with injury, distractions and a poor run of form, Özil has somehow managed 30 chances created through eight games in the Premier League. Notorious for creating chances, but of late, only a fraction have been converted. It’s remarkable that 30 chances have led to a total of 2 assists. Is that on Özil? Arsenal’s strikers? A touch of both? Regardless, Özil is due to produce and if Wenger selects him in the first XI, he has an opportunity to silence his critics.
If Özil were dropped from the first team, who might replace him? Don’t expect anyone from Thursday’s Europa squad to earn the callup. With Welbeck still recovering from injury, Alex Iwobi remains the only legitimate option. Iwobi has had a strong start to the season and offers a more active presence to pair with Sanchez, but in a match where one through ball could be the difference, it’s hard to select anyone over Özil.
As frustrating and excruciating as Mesut Özil can be to watch when he’s off form, his talent is too much to leave on the bench in such a vital matchup. With all of Arsenal’s inconsistencies and drama, the club can close the gap to 6 points with a win at The Etihad and will need their finest XI if they hope to gain a result.
Will Özil play the role of the magician and make magic for Arsenal, or will he disappear when the club needs him most?