Mesut Ozil divides opinion as of the world’s most enigmatic players. A World Cup winner with Germany in 2014 and a La Liga winner with Real Madrid in 2011/2012 he is renowned for his technical skills and creativity. He is also known in recent times for not reaching the high standards expected of him and contributing to Arsenal’s quest to return to Champion’s League football. Statistically, he has scored 32 goals and assisted on 53 goals during his 179 games in the English Premiership.
This is Ozil’s 7th year in the English Premiership and his performances have received increased scrutiny since Arsene Wenger left Arsenal at the end of the 2017/2018 season. His most productive season was 2015/2016 when he scored 6 goals and recorded 19 assists during 35 games. Since then, his production has dwindled to a total of 5 goals and 3 assists in his last 37 games during the 2018/2019 and current 2019/2020 seasons. Ozil’s reduced number of passes per game reflects his reduced influence on the attacking play of his team. In his first 5 seasons at Arsenal he averaged 64.8 passes per game and during the last two seasons he has averaged 46.5 passes per game.
However, only Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Christian Erikson have recorded more assists in the Premier League since Ozil arrived at Arsenal. He signed a new three-and-a-half year contract worth 350,000 pounds a week in January 2018 and many have been critical of his declining production, lack of work-rate when the team is out of possession, his unavailability due to illness and his performances in big games. There is no doubt that Ozil struggled during Unai Emery’s reign at the Emirates and was unable to produce consistent performances. He was unable to meet Emery’s demands for high tempo attacking play and pressuring opponents when possession was lost. In Ozil’s defence, several other players also failed to play to their potential under Emery and the team has been in transition since Arsene Wenger left the club at the end of the 2017/2018 season.
It can be difficult to evaluate the individual performances of players within team sports such as football. It is often argued that football is a team sport where the team’s weakest link has more impact upon the overall success of the team than the team’s best performer. It has undoubtably been easier for Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and even Christian Erikson to operate as attacking midfielders at Manchester City and Spurs in recent seasons as both teams have consistently finished within the top four and challenged for the games top honours.
There has been a general consensus that Ozil’s form has improved under Arteta. Many have pointed to his improved performances in big games against top clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United. However, his individual stats do not reflect this when we compare Ozil’s eight English Premiership games playing under Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg versus his five games under Arteta. Part of this reason is that maybe he was not performing as bad as many thought under Emery. Although he has not recorded over 100 actions/game like De Bruyne (Manchester City) and Erickson (Spurs) have in some games this season, he has been involved in a respectable average of 66 actions/game (under Emery). De Bruyne and Erickson have played in games this season where they have recorded game action lows of 51 and 23 respectively. Ozil’s game action low this season has been 46 versus Crystal Palace.
Individual Player Analysis of Mesut Ozil : Arsenal v Sheffield United (January 18, 2020)
Ozil played 96 minutes of the game against Sheffield United. He lined up centrally in a 4-2-3-1 formation as a number 10 behind Lacazette with Pepe on his right and Martinelli on his left. However, his heat map confirms that Ozil spent a large portion of the game drifting into the channels to combine with Saka on the left side and Pepe on the right. When he did operate in central positions, he mainly came inside from wide positions.
Arsenal’s main attacking threats came down the left side with Saka very effective at getting forward (from left full-back) and delivering crosses from wide positions. It was Ozil’s combined play with Saka that contributed to Martinelli’s goal.
Like the previous games against Chelsea, Manchester United, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth under Arteta, Arsenal dominated the game in spells but were unable to sustain a high level of performance for the entire game. It was 22 minutes before they were able to establish a rhythm in their attacking play. Arsenal had their best attacking spells before and after half-time and Ozil was frequently involved in linking up with Saka and Martinelli on the left-side, Pepe on the right and Lacazette through the middle. Overall, Arsenal had 62 % of possession but were unable to get a 2nd goal that would have given them all three points. Ozil completed 42/47 passes with many of these passes being short to medium in distance. Essentially, his main contribution during the Sheffield United game was to find space in the channels behind Lacazette and bring other players into the play. His goals and assists production has dropped off significantly in the last three seasons but there is no doubting that Arsenal still benefits from his link-up play in the final third.
There is little doubt that Ozil’s body language is much more positive under Arteta – a former team-mate. There is also a much more positive atmosphere around the club since Arteta’s appointment and Arteta has left the players in no doubt that hard-work and suffering for the good of the team are “non-negotiables”. He is now much more active in winning the ball back if possession is lost. Everyone in the Arsenal team is now expected to contribute in this aspect of play and Ozil is no exception.
When Ozil was signed by Arsenal from Real Madrid in 2013 he was recognized as one of the world’s most creative players. No player managed more league assists (in top league’s in Europe) in the 5 seasons between 2008-2013 than Ozil. His technical strengths are his ability to successfully execute defence-splitting passes and retain possession with excellent 1st touch control. He successfully operates in tight-spaces in and around the 18 yard box. Ozil can be effective at switching the play and crossing but is most effective in quick one/two combinations around the 18 yard box or cutting the ball back on the ground (rather than crossing) when he is able to get in behind defences. He demonstrated against Sheffield United, a very difficult opponent, that he is still Arsenal’s most creative player. Saka was rightly praised for his performance against Sheffield United and much of his attacking work involved combination play with Ozil on the left-side.
Ozil’s footballing brain is his greatest asset. He was unable to rely upon strong physical attributes to establish himself at the professional level which probably contributed to his reliance on thinking quicker than anyone else and recognizing patterns of play. He rarely makes incorrect decisions with the ball and his patience and calmness allows others the time to make supporting forward runs. He is very good at picking out passes for teammates that opponents least expect.
Ozil is also very good at checking away from his markers to create space. He did this effectively in the build up to the goal. As he made his supporting run towards Saka he checked his shoulder to identify what space he could exploit.
On this occasion he was able to dribble towards the 18 yard box and successfully combine with Lacazette. When Lacazette returned the pass Ozil had the vision and awareness to let it run past him to Saka who then crossed for Martinelli to score.
During his time at Arsenal he has been used centrally as a natural number 10 or used wide in 4-2-3-1 formation. On Saturday, against Sheffield United he lined up centrally but primarily operated wide as Arsenal built attacks in wide areas through Saka (left) and Pepe (right). He tended to come inside from wide areas (like he did for the goal) to link up with Lacazette. Arteta seems to have given him more of a free role than Emery who received criticism for being too rigid and conservative in attacking play. After a difficult start to the season under Emery Ozil delivered improved performances in a key away win against West Ham (under Ljungberg) and played pivotal roles in Arsenal’s performances against other top four challengers Chelsea and Manchester United.
Despite his less structured attacking role Ozil is expected to help recover possession quickly as far up the pitch as possible which is a key component of the modern game. He is not at the same level as Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in this aspect of his play but there is a noticeable improvement in his body language and willingness to engage in this type of off the ball work since Emery’s departure. Against Manchester United he regained possession 10 times, more than any other player on the pitch and in the same game led the Arsenal side in distance covered – 11.53 kilometres.
Ozil is 5 ‘ 11 inches and weighs 168 pounds. He is agile and has good co-ordination that positively contributes to his excellent technical abilities. However, he not blessed with great strength or speed. Ozil has an excellent touch to dribble past defenders but lacks the explosive power in his legs to accelerate past defenders in 1v1 attacking situations. Similarly, he does not cannot generate sufficient power in his shooting to be a threat from long-range.
When he emerged at Schalke, aged 17, he was underdeveloped physically and has struggled in subsequent years to develop greater strength. He can be easily nudged off the ball. Against Sheffield United, he lost the ball on 8 occasions. However, only on two of these occasions did he lose possession due to a lack of physical strength.
Many have even questioned if Ozil has the required physical attributes to succeed in the modern game and point to the number of games that he has missed due to illness. In three full seasons in Spain, he completed the full 90 minutes on only 25 occasions. At Arsenal he has only averaged 27 Premiership league games per season.
However, his recent distance covered statistics against Manchester United (11.53 kilometres) and his performance against a very strong and robust Sheffield United team on the weekend suggests that Ozil can still excel within the modern game.
Ozil, in recent years, has been described as moody and a negative influence in the dressing room. This was illustrated in the 0-3 defeat to Manchester City when 13 minutes into the 2nd half he was replaced by youngster Emile Smith Rowe. Ozil kicked his gloves in frustration when coming off, which is not the actions that any team wants to see from one of its most experienced players. He had another altercation with Freddie Ljunberg’s assistant Per Mertesacker when being substituted during an earlier game. Mertesacker recently went on record and admitted that he would get “p***ed” with Ozil for days and weeks at Arsenal due to his laid-back attitude. He did go on to say, however, that he is a “genius” who can produce “magic moments” from nothing. There has been a noticeable improvement in Ozil’s body language and demeanour in recent weeks and pundit Rio Ferdinand highly praised him in the recent victory against Manchester United. Ferdinand remarked that it is the happiest that he had ever seen him. Arteta immediately praised the qualities of Ozil upon his appointment and as he tries to implement his own playing philosophy upon the squad there is no doubt that he believes in the capabilities of Ozil and views him as an important player.
Ozil continued his recent good form against Sheffield United last weekend and was an important player in Arsenal’s most effective attacks. He contributed to the goal, rarely gave the ball away and combined effectively with Arsenal’s most attacking presence, Saka, on the left hand-side. His body language demonstrates that he feels more comfortable playing for Arteta than Emery. He has clearly bought into Arteta’s demand to play at higher tempo in attack and demonstrate greater energy in winning the ball back. These were the same demands that Emery placed upon the squad but Arteta appears to have provided the attacking players, like Ozil, with greater freedom to be creative and has gained the players increased trust and support through his status as a former captain and greater man-management skills. His demands are high (as were Emery’s) but the early signs are that the players are responding more positively to Arteta and are more cohesive as a unit. There is more resilience when the team is out of possession and they are much more difficult to score against. This provides creative players such as Ozil with greater stability in their play and a greater chance for success.
There is no doubt that Mesut Ozil continues to divide opinion. However, most will agree that when on the top of his game he is still one of the Premiership’s most creative players. There is no getting away from the fact that his productivity has dropped from a high of 19 assists in the 2015/2016 to only 2 last year. However, he achieved his most productive assist totals (19) during Arsenal’s most successful league season, since he joined – they finished 2nd in 2015/2016. A team’s top earner will always receive increased scrutiny but a strong argument can be made that a creative player like Ozil, who is reliant upon his creative passing ability, can only be successful when his team dominates possession, he has more touches on the ball and that his teammates are making the right runs that leads to goals. Continuing his good form against a physical team such as Sheffield United was a good test and it will be interesting if he can maintain this in the upcoming fixtures against Chelsea, Bournemouth and Burnley.
Personally, I think he is a better fit within Arteta’s attacking team structure and that the team is now more supportive and resilient in its defensive structure so that he can take more risks in possession. It remains to be seen if he can return to the heights of 2015/2016 by assisting on 19 goals. However, I do feel that he will be a valuable asset to Arteta in effectively linking the play between Saka, Aubameyang (on the left-side), Pepe on the right side and Lacazette and Martinelli when they play through the middle. Maybe, like last Saturday we will see him more as a catalyst during attacking build up play rather than the player providing the final assist in Arsenal’s goals.