What do Arsenal do with Mesut Ozil.
by Ronnie Macdonald
Now that all the hype surrounding Mesut Ozil’s arrival at Arsenal has died down, Gooners have begun to ask themselves whether the German midfielder is worth any of the fuss he garnered last summer. After arriving from Real Madrid in a club-record £42.5 million, many had expected Ozil to take Arsenal to a different level. While the Germany international scored eight goals and weighed in with 16 assists in his first season in England, not to mention helping Arsenal win the FA Cup and end their nine-year wait for a trophy, Ozil’s performances during his debut year in the Premier League were somewhat underwhelming.
After a summer in which he played a key role in helping Germany to win the World Cup in Brazil, Arsenal fans could be forgiven for thinking this would be the season in which Ozil proved his worth. But, again, the midfielder has failed to produce anything like the sort of form he should be doing and gained some real criticism for a perceived lack of determination. While the German might not have been played in his favoured number-10 position as much as he would have wanted, there have been some games this season where Ozil has gone completely missing. An even bigger concern for Gooners will be the apparent lack of interest Ozil seems to have whilst wearing the Arsenal shirt. While looks can be deceiving, it’s fair to say the 25-year-old hasn’t exactly looked desperate to turn things around.
Ozil will now be sidelined until around Christmas after suffering a knee injury in the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea that will keep him out of action for six weeks. While the injury might have come at a bad time for Arsenal, it might give Arsene Wenger the chance to weigh up what he’s going to do with Ozil in January. Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has made no secret over his desire to sign the Germany international and could lodge a £30m bid in January. While it’s not known how Arsenal feel about selling their record signing after just a year, Ozil himself is reportedly very much open to the idea of returning to the Bundesliga.
With so many options available to him in the centre of midfield, Wenger has given Ozil a fair amount of chances to nail down his favoured central position. The likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla have all been preferred to Ozil in the centre of midfield, not because Wenger favours them over the German but because they have done a lot more to warrant their places.
Predominantly played on the left or the right of a five-man midfield, including Ozil in the team has often seen Wenger forced to sacrifice a pacey attacking option on one of his flanks, and the return to fitness of Theo Walcott could convince the manager to revert to having two wingers rather than trying to fit Ozil in.
So what should the club do with Ozil in January; sell a player who has done little to justify his massive transfer fee or regular starting place, or keep faith with a midfielder who has proven himself to be one of the best in the world?
With a reported £30 million offer on the table from Bayern Munich, Arsenal could be thinking about cutting their losses on Ozil in January. While the Londoners would look to get that fee nearer the £42.5 million they paid Real Madrid for him, Wenger would know that the money he got for Ozil could be used to boost a transfer budget that needs to pay for a new defensive midfielder, at least two centre backs and hopefully an out-and-out goalscorer. Selling Ozil so early in his Arsenal career would effectively be Wenger admitting that the club got the transfer wrong, but the Frenchman would look a lot sillier if he hung onto the former Real midfielder for another year or two only to find himself in the same position but with a player nearer 30. While Ozil’s form may improve, his desire to be at the Emirates may not. The evidence of his first year at the club certainly hasn’t given every Gooner confidence their record signing actually wants to be here, and it’s no surprise to see a number of fans tipping the German to leave the Emirates in January.
There is no secret that Arsenal need a defensive midfielder when the January transfer window. With Sami Khedira rumoured to be discussing a move to the Premier League with Chelsea, Arsenal will know they can’t take any chances if they are going to beat their London rivals to the signing of the Real Madrid midfielder. Jose Mourinho won’t haggle over a transfer fee to sign his former player, and Wenger will need to be decisive in January if he is going to win the race to sign his number-one transfer target. With the £30+ million he would receive for Ozil, Wenger would have more freedom to pull out all the stops to sign Khedira, who could be a deciding factor in who wins the race for this year’s Premier League title.
On paper, Ozil is probably a better option in the centre of midfield than Wilshere, Ramsey or Cazorla. But the game isn’t played on paper and Wenger is right to feel, at the moment at least, that those players are ahead of the German in the pecking order. With Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini and Oxlade-Chamberlain all more than capable of playing in the middle, Wenger isn’t exactly short of options in central midfield, and that’s before the inevitable arrival of at least one new midfielder when the January transfer window.
While having strength-in-depth is crucial for any team looking to challenge for the Premier League title, its unlikely Arsenal or Ozil will be happy for the German to play a backup role to Cazorla, Wilshere or Ramsey over the next couple of years. With talent continuing to come through the youth ranks, selling Ozil would give the younger players who actually want to be at the club a chance to prove they are capable of playing in the Premier League and not just another youngster to be loaned out.
With Alexis Sanchez on one wing and Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other, Wenger would be able to revert back to the system that he prefers and utilise one of this squad’s greatest weapons. Pacey wide men has always been key to Wenger’s ethos at the club, but the Ozil-shaped elephant-in-the-room, along with Walcott’s absence, has sometimes forced Wenger to change his tactics. The return from injury of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott right as Ozil has been ruled out for a significant spell of time will now give Wenger the opportunity to get back to what he knows and use the full attacking weapons at his disposal.
As Oliver Giroud continues to work his way back from injury, there will be a familiar look about how Arsenal will play over the next few weeks, and how the Gunners do over the next couple of months could have a big say on what Wenger decides to do with Ozil. If the two wide men playing alongside Danny Welbeck produce 3 goals-a-game as Arsenal go on an eight-game winning run, the decision to sell Ozil in January could well be a relatively easy one.
Much of Arsenal’s frustration with Ozil is down to the fact that we all know that the midfielder is capable of so much more than he has shown during his time at the club. Before his move to the Emirates, there wouldn’t have been a team in the Premier League who wouldn’t have wanted to sign Ozil. His performances for Germany and Real Madrid had some labelling Ozil as the world’s best playmaker, someone who was capable of almost single-handily tearing defences apart with his passing and dynamic running. While we’ve seen little of that from Ozil in an Arsenal shirt, we all know that he has all the tools to be the player Arsenal fans thought they were signing last year.
This injury may well have come at a good time for Ozil, giving him the chance to get himself fully fit and ready to return to action in time for the busy Christmas period. A busy summer in Brazil with Germany has meant that 25-year-old hasn’t really had an extended break from football since his arrival at Arsenal. If a rejuvenated Ozil returns to action after his injury, this time on the sidelines may well prove to be a defining moment in the German’s Arsenal career. Ozil wouldn’t be the first player to suffer from fatigue following a major international tournament, and a lack of any real rest time could answer a lot of questions as to just why the former Werder Bremen hasn’t yet produced his best football yet.
It does look as though the only chance of Ozil really settling into life at Arsenal would be if he was played in his favoured central position. While Wilshere, Ramsey and Cazorla have all played well this season, it’s unlikely any of those players would claim to be naturally better than Ozil. All three are more than capable of playing anywhere across the midfield, and it might be that making room for the German playmaker when he returns gives all parties the best chance of succeeding. And it’s not just a run of a game or two in the number-10 role, Wenger needs to really show Ozil he has faith in his ability by giving him an extended run in the side in a position where he clearly produces his best football.
Fans saw In the 4-1 drubbing of Galatasaray just what Ozil can do when he plays in the hole just behind the strikers. While Danny Welbeck’s hat-trick was the focus for the next day’s headlines, it was Ozil who was the catalyst for much of Arsenal’s good work, with the German star linking up sensationally with Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck in attack. It wasn’t just offensively where Ozil shone against Galatasaray, with his inclusion in his favoured position appearing to give the midfielder a new lease of life as he tracked back and covered more yards than he had all season. Surprisingly, however, Wenger put Ozil back on the wing for Arsenal’s next game against Chelsea, where the German looked way off the pace and uninterested in the lacklustre performance going on around him before suffering his knee injury.
Employing Ozil behind the main striker gives him the opportunity to drift into pockets of space, from where he can produce pin-point passes for Welbeck and the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla charging forward. Leaving him on the wing restricts his focus and makes him a far more predictable opponent for defenders to work out. A rare start in that number-10 role against Aston Villa saw Ozil score a goal and set up another in a performance which strengthened the argument put forward by those Arsenal fans who still believe their big-money buy can succeed at the club. Wenger, though, has stuck to his guns in regards to Ozil, and it remains to be seen whether or not the Frenchman will ever really give his record signing the proper opportunity to reach his potential in an Arsenal shirt.
While Ozil may have lost some fans among the Arsenal supporters, he’s clearly a highly-valued member of the squad. Following the news that Ozil will miss at least six weeks with his knee injury, Jack Wilshere came out to reveal the disappointment in the squad about the prospect of being without their team-mate for such a lengthy spell. One of the most consistent aspects of this Arsenal team in recent years has been a clear team spirit throughout the squad. While Ozil might not yet have truly settled into the team on the pitch, there’s no denying he has established himself as a popular member of this group of players. So while some Gooners will claim the midfielder has looked unhappy for much of this season, the truth could be that Ozil’s disillusionment could be solely on his current positional issues.
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