The Mesut Ozil conundrum. It’s all a bit weird isn’t it?
Few players over the past few months have been as publicly chastised by fans and the media as Ozil has. Some Arsenal fans love to hate him, particularly given his well-documented £350,000-a-week wage packet. Opposition fans see Ozil as a stick with which to beat Arsenal fans. Whilst as far as the media goes, he can be an all-too-easy target.
After lockdown it felt as if Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was of a similar, if less vitriolic, view. Ozil didn’t feature at all when football resumed and all reports emanating out of the club suggested that they were desperate to find a way to get rid of the playmaker in the summer.
Yet Arteta’s comments ahead of the season-opener against Liverpool might suggest a change in approach.
“I have been really clear that everybody starts from zero all the time in football,” said Arteta. “What you did two weeks ago or two years ago doesn't really matter. It's what you are able to contribute to the team now.
“Everybody is going to have the same opportunities. They'll have to show with their performances and their attitude that they are better than their team-mates or somehow contributing to what we want to achieve this season.”
And if you’re basing it on what Ozil can do for Arsenal on the pitch, why would you not try him at least? Last season, according to the Premier League, Arsenal created 48 big chances. That was twelfth best in the Premier League behind all their rivals for European places, as well as West Ham United, Southampton and even Burnley. Arsenal have a formidable forward line, and they did score more than Wolverhampton Wanderers, but they were out-gunned by the top six. That’s a sign that something wasn’t right.
Ozil, according to WhoScored, averaged 2.1 key passes per game. The next highest at Arsenal? Nicolas Pepe with 1.3 and Dani Ceballos with 1.2 They were the only three Arsenal players to average over one. Liverpool (5), Manchester City (8), Manchester United (6) and Chelsea (9) all had more players to do so. That shows that Arsenal have a general creativity problem and need more of it from other players. But given their lack of invention surely it has to be worth including Ozil?
Mesut Ozil celebrates scoring Arsenal's 2nd goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Watford FC at Emirates Stadium on September 29, 2018 in London, United Kingdom
Image credit: Getty Images
These aren’t just any players he will be supplying passes to. It’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, Willian and Bukayo Saka. If teams start treating Arteta’s team with more respect based on how they performed after lockdown there is going to be less space available to some of these players. Ozil has the ability to create that space. Of course there’s a question of how you fit all these players in. There’s plenty of proof to suggest that Ozil operates better in the middle or with a more free role and when he has to play out wide he suffers a bit, but that’s why managers get paid the amount they do, to figure out the solutions to these problems. Ignoring the problem entirely doesn’t seem like the best use of Arsenal’s resources.
Ozil is always going to divide opinion. The data suggests that Ozil does work hard. Comments from his team-mates, opponents and managers also back up the fact that he is an exceptional player, yet still people tar him with the lazy brush. We’re never going to know what happened between Ozil and Arteta but it seems to have quickly been forgotten that this is a player who started the 10 games prior to lockdown. He was initially brought into the team after being ostracised by Unai Emery.
'They know by using my name it will bring them attention'
Ozil hasn’t forgotten what he can do and has done, and he couldn’t care less what other people think. But his uncompromising attitude may have contributed to his recent issues.
“People will always love or hate you, and the main thing is the people who know you and what they think,” Ozil told David Ornstein of The Athletic recently in a fascinating interview.
What the people outside say about my play or my character is irrelevant — they just speak bulls*** to make publicity and they know by using my name it will bring them attention.
“Do it as much as you like. I don’t care, or listen to people who don’t know me. I didn’t get here because of them but because of the family and friends who I trust and are always behind me.”
His comments to Ornstein clarifying the matter didn’t get nearly as much traction as they should have done. Or as much coverage as the initial reports received.
Image credit: Imago
“As players, we all wanted to contribute,” Ozil stressed. “But we needed more information and many questions were unanswered. Everyone was fine with a deferral while there was so much uncertainty — I would have been OK to take a bigger share — and then a cut if required, once the football and financial outlook was clearer. But we were rushed into it without proper consultation.
“For anyone in this situation, you have a right to know everything, to understand why it is happening and where the money is going. But we didn’t get enough details, we just had to give a decision. It was far too quick for something so important and there was a lot of pressure.
This was not fair, especially for the young guys, and I refused. I had a baby at home and have commitments to my family here, in Turkey and in Germany — to my charities, too, and also a new project we started to support people in London that was from the heart and not for publicity.
“People who know me know exactly how generous I am and, as far as I’m aware, I was not the only player who rejected the cut in the end, but only my name came out. I guess that’s because it is me and people have been trying for two years to destroy me, to make me unhappy, to push an agenda they hope will turn the supporters against me and paint a picture that is not true.
“Possibly the decision affected my chances on the pitch, I don’t know. But I’m not afraid to stand up for what I feel is right — and when you see what has happened now with the jobs, maybe I was.”
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Given how Arsenal handled themselves you can certainly argue Ozil was indeed justified. Pay-cuts were taken across the board yet the redundancies still came. Arsenal are owned by a multi-billionaire and are set to announce a lucrative new contract for Aubayemang but whose wages were widely cited? You know who. But is this any reason to exclude him from first-team affairs?
Ozil remains a fabulously talented player. There are perhaps only a handful of players in the world who can see and execute passes the way he can. If Arteta can find a way to use him, there’s nothing to suggest Ozil couldn’t propel Arsenal to more success given the attacking weapons at their disposal.
If Ozil takes to the pitch against Liverpool on Saturday, in a game that feels more like a glorified and pointless friendly than ever, you would like to think there might be a bit more nuance in the way he is discussed. But you know the first time he is shown jogging it will likely lead to emotionally immature outbursts from fans and pundits alike.
Things are rarely black and white yet Ozil is not a player who is painted in shades of grey. We need to think more critically. And he should be given another chance to show what he can contribute to this team.