Mesut Ozil: Arsenal star gets into the right position to defy his critics

Inside Wembley Arena on Saturday night, Mesut Ozil watched middleweight boxer George Groves’s unanimous points win over Frenchman Christopher Rebrasse in his comeback fight following the devastating knockout he suffered at the hands of Carl Froch back in May. Desperate to prove people wrong, eager to show he does have the talents that have been doubted by many, Ozil could probably empathise with Groves as he started his road to boxing redemption inside the ring.

Hours before, Ozil was plotting a route to some redemption of his own. With his manager Arsene Wenger forced to defend the German after he received criticism for his role in the 2-0 midweek defeat to Borussia Dortmund, he answered the latest round of questions perfectly with a goal and an assist in the 0-3 win at Aston Villa. It marked the fifteenth time he has provided a goal for a team-mate and took his own tally to eight since joining from Real Madrid last September.

The £42.5 million price tag has inevitably rocketed the expectation level and Arsenal fans may well be entitled to demand more from the 25 year old who won the World Cup with Germany over the summer. However it can be argued that Ozil’s first year in England, disrupted by a variety of injuries and the task of settling into a new culture and a new league, reached a satisfactory conclusion with the German playing a role in breaking Arsenal’s 9-year trophy doubt with the FA Cup.

The barbs he received for mute performances in crushing defeats at Manchester City and Liverpool, as well as a passive display in the 0-2 reverse to Bayern Munich in the home leg of their Champions League second round tie, in which Ozil saw a tame penalty saved, were to linger, forging a perception that the playmaker was too much of a luxury to be relied upon for the bigger matches. A similarly quiet performance was also apparent in Dortmund last week.

Stationed on the wing, where defensive discipline and industry have become vital traits in a game bewitched by an increasingly low margin of error, Ozil wasn’t the man. Out in Brazil with Joachim Low’s Germany in the summer he was largely peripheral despite appearing in every match, again moved out to the flank as Low centred his team around the precious talents of Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gotze in the middle.

At Villa Park on Saturday, in a move possibly triggered by events in Dortmund, Ozil was back in a central role, playing the supporting role to Danny Welbeck, a striker who starts the campaign at Arsenal with a similar point to prove. Free from the shackles of defensive duty, his intelligent movement was too much for Carlos Sanchez, breaking down the left channel to deliver an irresistible ball for Welbeck to turn past Guzan, moments after latching onto a pass from Welbeck to finish a move himself.

Ozil was to respond defiantly, telling German news agency DPA “I don’t play to prove anything to anybody, I play for Arsenal”. “I have the feeling that I am criticised more, that happened to me in the Bundesliga and also at Real Madrid”, he said. “We have only just started the season [at Arsenal], we have new players in key positions. The collective game, which is something I have a lot to do with, cannot then just work well from one day to the next.”

And herein lies a key point. In Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez, Ozil is accustoming himself to 2 teammates who are still adjusting to new surroundings and a new league in the case of the latter. It is a process that Ozil has of course already passed through and found difficult, the frenetic pace of the Premier League proving to be a challenging hurdle for the midfielder who had been honed in the more ponderous cultures of the Bundesliga and in La Liga with Real Madrid. 55 assists during 2 and a half seasons with Werder Bremen added to by 68 assists in 3 years at Madrid is an incredible return, though he was never going to be afforded the same amount of time or space in the frenzied world of the English top-flight.

In contrast to the central-position he consistently filled in Bremen and Madrid, Wenger has often tried to produce the best from Ozil on the right of an attack-minded 3, giving him the license to cut inside in order to supply the attacker from central positions. It is a position that theoretically should not suffocate his creative ability, though his alarming lack of defensive diligence has repeatedly led to the full-back behind him becoming exposed.

It will remain mystery why Wenger fielded Ozil ahead of the hugely inexperienced Hector Bellerin against Dortmund’s array of gifted attackers, though it could well have been a blessing in disguise as Ozil gears up for a return to the centre, a role in which he can finally start producing his best form on a regular basis for the club who smashed their transfer record for his services. Then, maybe, the extraordinary talents that have seen him pick up numerous individual accolades might become appreciated.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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