Is The Robe Of Expectation Too Much For Mesut Özil?

Is The Robe Of Expectation Too Much For Mesut Özil?
Sep 5, 2017

Arsenal Featured

As preparation for the battle against Macbeth went on, Angus said a speech and one of those lines about Macbeth was that the responsibility of his crimes weighed Macbeth down like ‘a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief’. In his pursuit for power, he had found that once he had it, he was not suited to be able to carry it.

Mesut Özil’s transfer was met with rapturous adulation from all those associated with Arsenal when he switched the white of Real Madrid for the red and white of the Emirates. He signalled the end of the austerity imposed on the club due to the money that had to be spent on servicing the stadium.

The money from the flats at Highbury were supposed to start flowing in, the strain of the costing amounts of the stadium, new sponsorship deals being negotiated etc. Özil was the first player that the fans could point to that Arsenal was finally beginning to look upwards and compete with the upper echelons of Europe for the first time in a long time.

Four years later, the situation does not look much better. Three FA Cups and three Community Shields aside, the ascent to the top has not been what they expected, especially as other teams have fallen off significantly in this period opening up the passage for Arsenal finally becoming champions of England again. Contracts are still being run down and one of them is the German international himself.

Brought in as the one to extinguish the air of failure that had been permeating around the North London club for a while, Özil now sees his time coming to a close and it could be regarded as a failure because his objectives in this move were much more than being successful in just his own performances. Was it really too much for the 28-year-old to act as the catalyst to be the Omega of the much maligned ‘Banter Era’ that the Gunners had endured?

Initially, it seemed as if Özil was truly going to be the defining player in a new more successful period for Arsenal as his introduction to the Premier League saw him galvanise his team mates. This run would see them go top, a position they largely held until the early parts of February where the typical collapse ensued.

Precursory warning signs were shown in the 2-2 draw vs Southampton a week and a half before the heavy 5-1 defeat to Liverpool, where Arsenal fell away before the usual pick up in April. It was unlike the 6-3 loss suffered in December at the hands of Manchester City where the teams engaged in a game without defence and Pellegrini’s team just finished more of their chances.

Özil showed frustration at the loss after the game, refusing to clap the fans and being remonstrated with by Per Mertesacker. Some criticised him for his lack of courtesy for the travelling fans whilst others applauded the winning mentality it showed but it was the first of many occasions to come where the German international’s attitude would be flagged as problematic. The 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the first leg of the last 16 tie in the Champions League that season saw the former Schalke man earn a penalty but then proceed to miss it by the also former Schalke player, Manuel Neuer.

The latter’s words after painted a picture of Özil being predictable, his languid patient approach being his detriment on this occasion. The miss had the attacking midfielder notably rattled for the rest of the game, particularly when he had to go wide due to the Wojciech Szczęsny’s dismissal. Gary Neville was vocal in his criticism of Özil’s lack of effort in getting back to defend whilst he had duties there.

The second leg of this tie would see Özil pick-up an injury but continue in the face of it, something that would leave him out of action for a month or so. After this, he came back fresh and propelled the Gunners to a strong finish, culminating in the 9-year trophy drought finally ending when Hull fell 3-2 at Wembley in the FA Cup final.

Off the back of a World Cup win with his country, Özil returned to fanfare but he struggled in the early embers of the season. Arsenal adjusted to having many good central midfield options by changing to a 4-3-3 as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 that had their playmaker as its focal point. He was shifted to a wide position in order to get in options such as Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla as the signing of Alexis Sánchez meant the other wide position was occupied. He had played there for Germany in their assault to World Cup glory, but he saw much more of the ball because they are a better team, with better players in a better-organised system.

Mesut Özil has a proclivity that is strange for a player of his skill set, one where he is better in a counter attacking system with runners giving him many options to choose from. Normally, a 10 of his style would be suited more to the possession based play but due to him not being so, it was something he had to get used to as Arsenal as they were more concentrated in build-up than teams he had played in previously. Even Özil’s influence in the World Cup winning team was less pronounced than it was before and since, where Germany have been playing at a faster pace.

The former Real Madrid man’s slow start to the 2014/2015 season was compounded by an injury he suffered in a clash with former Arsenal man, Cesc Fàbregas. A knee injury that would leave him sidelined for 3 months or so. By the time he came back, Wenger had ditched the 4-3-3 experiment, through necessities of doing something to stop the poor results and injuries to key members in midfield.

Francis Coquelin was recalled from his loan at Charlton Athletic to cope with the injury crisis and was paired in a double pivot with Cazorla, sitting behind Özil. Providing the basis for Özil in freely expressing himself, the Frenchman would be able to cover for the defensive side and the diminutive Spaniard would find him in dangerous areas between the lines, allowing Özil to end his second season in England very strongly, again culminating in an FA Cup trophy.

He would start his third where he left off in his second. 16 assists in 18 Premier League games. ‘The Assist King’ that the Arsenal fans they thought they were getting had finally arrived and it propelled them into a title battle with Manchester City, as no one thought that Leicester would sustain the form they had shown in the first part of the season. The Gelsenkirchen born man would have 19 games to get 5 assists to set the Premier League record for most assists in a season, taking it off Theirry Henry. Unfortunately, he would go on to get 3 assists in 17 games as Arsenal lost out on the title to Leicester City and not Manchester City, as many would have predicted, even just pipping Spurs to the post for 2nd on the last day.

The injury to Santi Cazorla vs. Norwich in November had heavily curtailed Arsenal as a whole but none more so than Özil. He would have to come deep to find the ball as the base would not have the ability to find him with line breaking passes between the dread line of midfield and defence. It was taking him away from the danger area and the drop off in assists was primarily based on this fact.

Coming to the last season of 2016/17, Özil seemingly improved his goalscoring due to the presence of Sánchez up top, whose penchant to vacate space in the central role would give the man of Turkish descent the opportunity to run beyond defenders and into the box, giving him more scoring chances. However, by Christmas, Özil’s performances and influence noticeably dropped. The game at Everton was where it began; ducking out of a header in the winning goal was symptomatic of what Özil portrayed in that game and for the rest of that season.

In reality, Özil has really only been performing to an acceptable level for 1 and a half of the 4 years he has been here: First half of 13/14, second half 14/15 and first half 15/16. Even if he was scoring in the beginning of 16/17, his overall influence in the game was waning, again the lack of good supporting midfielders contributing to this. That is not enough of an excuse for him in the way he has acquitted himself, particularly in the last season.

Arsène Wenger has been obsessed with the idea from when he burst on the scene and tried to get him when he went to Madrid and Özil’s loyalty to the man in calling him first when he was made available to transfer in 2013 shows a good relationship between the two. He has been made the fulcrum of Wenger’s team, some would say to the disservice of the team.

Really and truly, a three man midfield with a man behind the two central midfielders rather than in front would complement the Arsenal team much more but such is Özil’s ability and influence that these central players are dotted around the World Cup winner in order to get him into his best position. His fondness to flitter in and out of games, especially the big ones, only contributes to the idea, a false one, of his irrelevance in this Arsenal team when it comes to competing at the top level.

Much can be attributed to the fact Arsenal as a whole team are just a f*cking shambles in big games, to begin with, but Özil’s contribution to this fact is far more than it should be given who he is. This is just in an offensive sense and defensively, his lack of willingness to get back into positions to help his teammates out while out of possession is sometimes short of embarrassing. He is not that sort of player but it is a requisite as a football player, especially one at the top end, to do so. Even José Mourinho heavily criticised him for this during Özil’s days at Madrid, something he thanked him for.

Perhaps Wenger’s soft approach has eroded away what the Portuguese 2 times Champions League winner had drilled into Özil but that takes nothing away from the German’s individual responsibility as a player to do what he should out of possession. Supporters of Özil point to his running stats as an argument against him being lazy, as he is usually near the top concerning miles run during the game. However, this includes his work when he has the ball or when Arsenal has the ball, something that he is not criticised for. His work in the opposite game states is what brings the criticism.

Criticism that, at times, is wrongly levied at him. The type of player people want Özil to be is a player he never was and never will be. His appreciation of space, dragging opposite numbers away to open up spaces for his team mates. It was something Mourinho utilised to get Cristiano Ronaldo into free spaces by letting Özil come wide, Benzema drop into the space he had left, allowing the Portuguese phenomenon to run in behind for Madrid. His ability to find others with his exceptional vision and passing is what he trades in but that, in essence, relies on others to do the job for him.

Therein lies the problem that Özil has faced since he has come to Arsenal. He was tagged as the difference maker because he was that good as a facilitator for others that it made look like he was the difference maker but when the system around him is not right, he cannot do it. Alike Macbeth, Özil left Madrid, went to a club in Arsenal where he knew he would be the best player, and most revered. But with this status, comes expectation and perhaps these expectations have weighed on him the same way a giant’s robe would weigh on a dwarf.

Mesut Özil’s time as an Arsenal player is coming to end and if anything could be gathered from his lengthy message celebrating 4 years at Arsenal he posted a few days ago, it would be that nothing is forever.

Özil’s end as an Arsenal player was always going to come but many thought he would be the one that would bring Arsenal out of these troubled times they have faced but he is not. He was never the Omega for the ‘Banter Era’. It is something much bigger than he is. However, his troubles will come to signify the period in which Arsenal were no longer financially held back and it was just incompetence that held them back, be it through players, the manager and board. He may not be pushed out the back door but it would be a surprise if the rapturous adulation that the German came to was mirrored when he probably leaves comes the end of this season.

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