Mesut Ozil: Big Wages, Proven Worth? Or Needs To Up His Game?

by Stel Stylianou
27th Aug 2018

“No, he’s not top drawer. He’d have moved on if he was. Someone would’ve taken him.” Glenn Hoddle’s opinion on Roma legend Francesco Totti back in 2010 is still deemed as one of the most asinine comments made by a pundit.

“Glenn’s right. He has been a luxury”. Added another former England manager, Terry Venables.

The same can be said about many players, past and present.

Take Le Tissier; a one club player who is continuously asked why he remained at Southampton, rather than entertaining advances from bigger clubs. Ironically, Le Tissier – a club legend and famous number 10 – revealed that he turned down both Spurs (managed by Venables) and Chelsea (managed by Hoddle). Perhaps the feeling of being “wronged” by yet another number 10 (see England vs Argentina, World Cup Quarter Final, Mexico 1986) led to Hoddle’s distain for any players who’ve excelled in that role?

When Arsene Wenger abdicated/fell on his sword/was shown the door (delete where appropriate), Arsenal’s Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis moved quicker than you can say “bring back Bruce Rioch” to snap up serial Europa League winning Head Coach Unai Emery.

I’m certain the former PSG boss knew exactly what he was getting himself into the moment he took the Arsenal hot seat. Implementing his strategy would only be difficult if he wasn’t given the resources and time to do so. Arsenal Twitter has provided numerous examples in the form of hours of footage and images of training sessions, some with many super fit players – who had a World Cup free summer – on their hands and knees, heaving as they recover from being put through their paces. A sign Emery has done well to “explain” what he expects from his team. Work hard and run more than they’ve done in a while.

One of the (innumerable amount of) reasons Arsenal fans wanted Wenger out was because they felt the old man had gone soft on his players, turning a blind eye to poor performances; especially from big money signings. Wenger’s reluctance to substitute and/or drop mediocre performers earned him a hammering from the majority of supporters who believed he shielded players who were more focused on improving their social media than their game.

Enter Mesut Ozil. Half man, quarter enigma, quarter conundrum. An individual who – according to Pitchside’s “Social Player Index” – is ranked above Pogba in terms of followers. A player whose decision to retire from international football led to a political debate in Germany after he accused the DFB of racism.

When Ozil isn’t the middle of German-Turkish political relations or gaining easy re-tweets for simply tweeting “Ya Gunners Ya”, he’s easily one of the most creative footballers in the Premier League. Fifty assists in five seasons puts Ozil ahead of Zola, Pires and Ronaldo in the all time Premier League Assists Table. Six more will see him leapfrog Paul Scholes and 10 additional “Ozsists” moves Arsenal’s number 10 ahead of Le Tissier. How poetic.

Ozil fans say the World Cup winner would have more assists to his name had he been creating chances for a Benzema or Ronaldo, instead of Bendtner, Giroud and Welbeck. Others remain unconvinced, arguing his assist total masks his failures; a short list, but one containing key ingredients showing how much a player loves the club.

“He doesn’t put in a shift’, some say.

‘He can’t defend and doesn’t do enough for his teammates. How much is he on? £350k? The bloke is a luxury player.’

And there it is. Back to El Tel’s description of Totti.’’

I’m not entirely sure what “putting in a shift” really means here. If we’re talking running like Ji Sung Park, then Ozil – statistically – ranked second in distance covered at Arsenal last season (329.3km). What about sprinting? He was ranked 4th last season with a total of 1759 high-intensity sprints. Break them down per 90 minutes, however, and they aren’t as favourable as Ozil’s fanboys would like. He sits 9th for distance covered and 10th in sprints per 90 minutes.

Arsene Wenger said Ozil’s main quality is the “creation of goal chances” but this isn’t enough for Unai Emery whose primary focus this summer has been to improve what the team does without the ball – movement and positioning – and on pressing. The Spaniard has used many systems during his time at Seville and PSG; 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-2-2-2, 4-1-2-2-1, but where does Ozil fit in if he does not adapt to Emery’s style?

Arsenal have started the season playing very narrow in the final third and relied heavily on their full backs to bomb forward. And while I questioned Mkhitaryan’s commitment to Mourinho and Manchester United, it’s very difficult to accuse the Armenian of not doing what Arsenal fans expect from him because he’s “putting in more of a shift” than Ozil at the moment.

When Ozil was re-negotiating January’s contract, approaches by Manchester United and Barcelona were rife on social media. It was almost as if the association forced Arsenal to agree to whatever Ozil wanted.

But were any of these links true? Alexis Sanchez – who was also out of contract that summer – moved to Manchester United in January, so why were no offers made for Ozil? No bid from Barcelona to replace a Japan-bound Iniesta with the assist king (Ozil is the only player to have topped the assist charts in the Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League)? And silence from Mourinho - the manager Ozil gushed over in his autobiography.

Accused of using his stats and strong social media following to distract from tepid performances, it’s arguable that potential suitors saw, and were put off by, this. Is he good enough to continue playing for clubs like Real Madrid where demands for success are – with respect – much higher than Arsenal’s?

If ever there was a time Ozil needed to prove he’s worth £350k a week, it’s now. Emery heaped praise on Aaron Ramsey’s performance at Stamford Bridge, firing a cryptic shot at Ozil, saying “He worked for 90 minutes. He worked each moment the team needed. His spirit and experience is very important. He is a player the other players can give the ball to in difficult positions because he plays with a very, very high personality.”

Ozil may have ended his international career for ethical and moral reasons, but the ink on his new deal at Arsenal has barely dried and some fans are already questioning his commitment to the club. There have been suggestions Ozil’s focus on the game is in decline, given his latest foray into the eGaming world and “Brand Ozil”.

I’m sure Ozil would love to become a legend at Arsenal like Totti was at Roma, Le Tissier at Southampton, or even – dare I say it – Dennis Bergkamp, the greatest number 10 in Arsenal’s history. But does he want it? I mean, really want it? I’m not convinced he does.


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