Mesut Özil has come in for a lot of criticism after his performance against Liverpool and there is no denying that on an individual stats level, that was Özil’s worst match of the season, perhaps even the worst match of his career. But what we are talking about here is form, not class. And when I think of players who fit the phrase “world class” Mesut Özil immediately springs to mind. So, while it’s true that his form has dropped I have not doubt that his class remains and will shine through.
Using a method which weights goals, assists, key passes, and dribbles I looked at every League match Özil has played this season and the trend is pretty clear: for the first 10 games of the season he was brilliant but since the high water mark against Hull City he’s dropped off the pace a bit.
In the first ten League matches for Arsenal, Özil created 33 shots for his teammates, scored three goals, and earned 6 assists. He even had a stand out performance at the Emirates against Liverpool, helping the Gunners to a 2-0 victory over the Scousers, which should have quieted the people who say he doesn’t perform in big games, but it didn’t.
There were only three performances in that batch which we could call below par: Swansea, Man U, and Southampton. The rest of the games in that group were all above average. It’s no coincidence then that as Özil’s performances were above par, Arsenal were clicking and everyone went hoarse signing his praises.
After Hull City, he scored against Everton, ensuring the draw, and got an assist in the 6-3 loss to Man City which goes to show me that once again some of this criticism that Özil doesn’t show up in big games is misplaced. Those games against Man U, City, Everton, Chelsea, and this weekend against Liverpool were all team failures — with the exception of Liverpool and Man U, Özil himself has played fairly well in each. Two assists and a goal against those top six teams is not a bad return, especially when you consider the fact that the whole team’s level was well off in most of those games.
But it’s still hard to escape the criticism that since the City match, Özil’s levels have dropped considerably. Six of the last ten matches have been below average and since City he’s only managed a single assist.
In terms of his stats you can see the drop in form pretty clearly: he’s completed just twelve dribbles in that period (19 in the first 10), just 10 crosses (v. 17), 13 long passes (v. 23), and just two through balls since Hull (v. 5 in the first 10 matches).
It’s true, Mesut Özil is having a rough second half to his season and his levels have dropped. No matter how I measure it, the fact remains, Özil is struggling at the moment. But he’s struggling at being one of the best playmakers in Europe, after his team has been hit by key injuries, in a new league, which requires an adjustment period.
Many Arsenal greats have struggled to adapt to the Premier League. Thierry Henry was famously pilloried by Arsenal News Review back in the day. Dennis Bergkamp struggled to catch up to the pace of the League, Robert Pires (it has been pointed out to me on twitter numerous times) struggled to get a foothold in the League, and so on. All Arsenal legends, statues are built to honor these men, and they all struggled at first under the demands of English Football.
As Michael Cox points out in his piece today, there are other notable players like David Silva and Michu who have come over to England from Spain, got off to a great start and then found themselves struggling for form after Christmas. So, again, this idea that a period of adaptation is needed is well born out by the facts.
But the problem, if there is one, is a team problem from my perspective, and Arsene Wenger’s perspective. Many of my readers have pointed out that that Özil is missing Walcott and the through balls stats back that up. Since Hull City, he’s only completed two through passes. Arsenal need to address that deficiency by getting Podolski, Cazorla, and Ox or Gnabry to make those runs.
Similarly in midfield, I have been banging the drum about Arsenal missing Ramsey now for quite some time and I’m going to keep banging it. There is no doubt that Arsenal and Ozil are missing Aaron Ramsey — Arsenal’s second leading goal scorer, second leading play maker, top tackler, and top passer. Ozil was the big money signing but he and Ramsey are both the superstars of this team and there is no doubt in my mind that Brendan Rodgers’ tactic of triple-teaming Ozil would have failed miserably if Ramsey was on the pitch.
I have no doubt that Özil will turn this poor run of form around and I am especially encouraged by Wenger saying that he is working very hard in training. I’m also encouraged by the fact that Ramsey will return for Arsenal soon reforge his partnership with Mesut. But in the end this is a player who has been one of the top players in Europe for a long time and who started the season going gang busters. His form may have dried up a bit but the fact that he is world class remains.
Patience, my friends, patience.