“The fans are [aware of Ozil’s qualities]. I believe everybody wants us to do well and you do well with your players of quality giving that extra-special something to the team. He can provide that. When the team plays well, Ozil plays well.” Arsene Wenger
Mesut Ozil has been a hot topic of debate for the last 10 months. His excellent start to his time at the club has slowly but surely faded from memory and some fans and critics are left pondering what exactly he gives to this Arsenal team. These thoughts intensified at the beginning of this season, when Arsene Wenger made the bold decision to change formation and start his £42.5m man on the left of a midfield 4 (or on the left of a front 3, depending on your interpretation of the new system). His ‘mediocre’ performances continued and papers proceeded to batter him once again.
I have always been a staunch defender of Ozil. In an era filled with ‘flashy’ players, Ozil is brilliantly subtle and his game is simply too sophisticated for those who value a simple stepover or powerful bursts of pace. He gives the team an extraordinary balance, but he only comes into his own when the team plays to his strengths – as was evident against Villa last week. He thrives with pace in front of him and a solid base behind him. I have always been slightly frustrated at Wenger’s unwillingness to play with 2 wingers, especially with a striker as limited as Giroud up front. The acquisition of Welbeck changed the dynamic, and we can now field Cazorla on the flank without losing that threat in behind.
The dilemma Wenger will have against Spurs is whether to revert back to the 4-1-4-1 or to stick with the system that worked so well last week. It makes no real difference to Ozil’s positioning – he tends to drift everywhere – but it does make a difference to Ozil’s ability to play his game. Playing a 4-1-4-1, we have Ozil, Wilshere, Ramsey and occasionally Sanchez who all occupy the central third of the pitch. There is little movement up front and little space to maneuver in the middle. It also requires Ozil to do more defensive work than usual, often having to cover his fullback, which is far from ideal. I would be shocked if Arsene changed back to the 4-1-4-1 after Ozil’s performance last week – this is why he is my Arsenal player to watch against Spurs. He will want to continue to prove his doubters wrong and, with his partnership with Danny Welbeck seemingly flourishing, I can see him being a pivotal figure for months to come.