Some admired, and still admire, Arsène Wenger’s transfer philosophy. Buy players cheap, relatively young and develop them. Others felt, although it was an admirable stance, that such a model wouldn’t continue to function in an era where one player can cost upward of £80million.
Then, Arsène bought Mesut Özil. Yes, he is relatively young. He was 24 years of age when he signed, but he was not cheap. He was £42million of ‘not cheap’ in fact.
Many applauded Arsène. Özil is a player of world-class stature and although £42million is rather a lot of money, in today’s market, it wasn’t too expensive for a player of his talents.
The problem with making a record signing is that they are immediately thrust into the spotlight and scrutinised week in week out. It seems that Özil has become the focal point of Arsenal’s shortcomings this season. Granted, there haven’t been too many to date. We are in contention for the league title and we are into the semi final of the FA Cup, but there have been some.
There have been a few defeats in the league that can be looked back on as failures this season; Most notably, the 5-1 loss to Liverpool at Anfield, and of course, the 1-0 loss to Stoke at the Britannia.
These two games were lost not because of individual performances, but because the team, as a whole, played appallingly.
However, it seems Mesut Özil’s performances have been pinpointed as the reason behind these failures. If a player has performed badly, I am all for constructive criticism. However, the criticism Özil is getting isn’t justified, and it certainly isn’t constructive.
It’s all very well, sitting behind a keyboard, typing words such as “lazy,” “lost” and “uninterested,” the main problem with those words of course being that largely, they don’t reflect the reality of the situation.
Nor does this notion of, “he doesn’t defend.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but Mesut is an attacking midfielder, right? Not a centre half.
There are some occasions when he should track back better, but ultimately, his job is to create opportunities going forward. That’s why he was bought.
During last night’s game against Bayern Munich, a match in which Bayern had colossal amounts of possession, Özil was criticised for being lazy and not having enough touches of the ball. ‘Having touches of the ball’ becomes a difficult task when your team have little more than 30% possession during a game.
Add to that, that he had to come off at half time due to a hamstring injury (which will now keep him out for four to six weeks) and he can be forgiven for ‘being lazy.’
Özil thrives on the ball when he has players making runs past him into space, where he can then squeeze an inch perfect pass through to them. There have been times this season when these runs haven’t been made, with last night’s game being a perfect example.
Too many people choose to ignore what he does well and focus almost entirely on his shortcomings. Furthermore, these ‘shortcomings’ are to be expected over the course of a debut season in the Premier League.
“He looks tired.” Of course he looks tired, this is the most intense league in Europe. Many players are given the benefit of the doubt in their first season in the premier league, so why isn’t Özil?
I might also just add here that, so far this season, Mesut has contributed six goals and eleven assists in all competitions, with plenty of games left to play.
On top of the hardships that befall some players when they move to the premier league, let’s look at the difference in the team.
At Real Madrid, Mesut was playing passes through to players such as Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo. I like Giroud, but he’s our only output up front and he is far from a truly dangerous striker. He doesn’t have the pace to trouble defenders and give Özil a target to hit.
If Özil was to play a ball through for Giroud to chase, more often than not, Giroud wouldn’t make it, and Özil would be the man taking the blame for a poor pass.
He needs another option to pass to upfront. A Thierry Henry, an Ian Wright, a Robin Van Persie. At the moment, he doesn’t have that. It’s no secret that we need another striker, so let us hope that Arsène spends some money in the summer again.
I have absolutely no doubts that over the next few seasons, Mesut Özil will prove that he is worth every penny of his £42million price tag, and that when his time at Arsenal is over, he will be considered one of the best playmakers we’ve ever had.
Header Photo via Kieran Clarke- https://www.flickr.com/photos/goonerpower/