Footbalternative‘s Jonny Singer warns of how a certain German sophisticate could go the way of his Russian predecessor if Arsenal fans don’t learn to love his languid style of play…
If you’ve only followed Arsenal in the press this season you may be under the impression that Mesut Özil’s arrival is the sole reason for their current success.
Of course you’d be wildly wrong. There are at least five Gunners who have performed better than the German playmaker this season: Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertersacker, Kieran Gibbs, Olivier Giroud, and Mathieu Flamini have all been excellent. Bacary Sagna, Wojciech Szczesny and Laurent Koscielny also hold decent claims to have been better than the former Real Madrid star throughout the Autumn and early Winter..
In fact, Özil has been ok. He’s drifted in and out of games, given the ball away far too often, and, as in last night’s 2-0 defeat of Marseille, missed chances, but that’s fine.
What we’re seeing is a player adapting to a league, playing at only around 70-80% of his potential. In six months or a year’s time he may well be the best player in the Arsenal team, or even the league, but that can’t be expected straight away.
Of course, some people don’t seem to see it that way. Perhaps it’s the price tag (and £42m is a lot), or the media excitement, but parts of the Emirates are already getting annoyed with Arsene Wenger’s latest creative arrival.
“You’re so fucking lazy!” someone near me shouted last night after Özil lost the ball. “Fucking run you lazy c**t” called another. Even the milder fans near me reflected that, “he shouldn’t be losing the ball like that, it’s not good enough”.
Well, to an extent I understand their frustration. A player with the technical ability of Özil perhaps shouldn’t lose the ball as often as he does but it’s early days for him, and rampant criticism isn’t going to help.
Furthermore, in order to reward his team with assists and defence splitting passes, he must take risks, and sometimes they will fail to come off.
True, he doesn’t track back that much – but that isn’t his job. He is the quintessential luxury player who will only cope properly if he’s afforded the luxury of finding a pocket of space away from opponents happy to close him down and cut his passes out.
In many ways too, Özil is a very old fashioned kind of playmaker; the kind who likes to take a moment to put his foot on the ball, pause the game and survey the scenery before making his move. The knee jerking tail chasing and defender hounding of a Luis Suarez or Carlos Tevez is the anathema to his cool, calm and collected mastery of the art of the No. 10.
He can also be anonymous all day and then pop up with an assist, like he did last night or against Liverpool. He can lose the ball 20 times because he’s trying the perfect pass – it only needs to come off once to produce a goal; Arsenal fans (and the media, but I have less hope for them) need to learn this.
Four years ago I watched the same thing happen to another diminutive midfielder at the Emirates. Andrei Arshavin arrived at Arsenal as a global star, to media acclaim. He started brilliantly with goals (rather than Özil’s assists) and stellar performances. Sure, he didn’t run much, but who cared.
Then, gradually, the tide began to turn against him. His genius and impudence came to be seen as arrogance and laziness. His position in the free-role disappeared as his confidence fell and he began to be played out of position, where his performances further declined.
In four short years one of the world’s best had been reduced to a shadow of his former self. He became a player who barely functioned in front of his home fans (he scored 6 of his 10 goals in the 2010/11 season on the road, which is remarkably high if you consider that Arsenal performed much better at home than away that season).
If the class of 2014 are to succeed where the 2009-12 cohorts fell short (and you can map how far short they fell fairly closely to Arshavin’s reputation with the fans) Özil needs to be cherished for what he is, supported when his fancy tricks don’t come off, and given the freedom to wander, unchecked by defensive duty.
The way Ramsey, Giroud, Rosicky, Arteta and the rest have played thus far has meant that the criticism of Özil has barely risen above a murmur. For the good of their team Arsenal fans need to quieten that murmur and back the Wizard of Özil as they never did the Pint-sized Prince from St. Petersburg.