You can't blame Ozil for Arsenal's lack of movement against Liverpool

Ozil Downcast

Arsenal’s 5-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday has led to an onslaught of criticism of club record signing Mesut Ozil.

The 25-year-old German arrived last summer for a club record fee of £42.5 million from Real Madrid and after making a strong start to his Premier League season has appeared to drop off a little. But, is criticism of the playmaker fair and accurate?

Former Liverpool and England striker Michael Owen has asserted his belief Liverpool’s Coutinho is the better player, costing the Merseyside giants around £35.5 million less than his German counterpart four years the Brazilian’s senior.

He has been called ‘lazy’, ‘anonymous’ and compared to Andrei Arshavin over the weekend and this week in various national newspapers but, whilst it cannot be denied he and Arsenal had a bad day at the office on Saturday, I’m not so sure the criticism levelled at the playmaker is justified.

Ozil’s pass completion rate for the season is 88% in the Premier League, he averages 2.8 key passes per game, 1.8 long balls, 1.4 crosses, and an average of 65.8 passes per game. Defensively he tends not to get involved but I would suspect that has not been outlined as his jurisdiction in general.

Meanwhile, on Saturday the whole Arsenal team were poor – uncharacteristically the back four were poor, Mikel Arteta had bad game, Olivier Giroud was anonymous and ineffectual and Jack Wilshere was a nuisance at best. But what cannot be attributed to Ozil is the lack of movement ahead of and around him.

The Arsenal play was more static than I’ve seen it all season – especially after the first twenty minutes in which Liverpool utterly destroyed them and any chance they had of getting a hold of the game. They let their heads drop; their body language said they really didn’t feel up for the fight from the first minute.

Giroud, I believe, had an impact on Ozil’s performance – the French striker recorded a pass completion rate of 50% and not one of his 7 successful passes were forward passes, in fact five of those seven were in his own half.

He didn’t really run anywhere, he didn’t come deep to receive the ball or make it easier for his teammates to find him, he didn’t hold the ball up at all, he didn’t even make runs to create space for Ozil and Wilshere by dragging defenders out wide or in-field. He was completely ineffectual, not Ozil.

The German midfielder’s pass completion rate was 89.1% which is higher than his average for the season and all but two of his 33 passes was in Liverpool’s half. He also created a one chance and played wide as well as in central areas to receive and move the ball. He was nowhere near as static and anonymous as Giroud was on the day.

Ozil attempted three take-ons in which he was successful in one but that’s one more than Giroud who attempted 5 and didn’t succeed with any. Much the same was the case in Arsenal’s defeat at the Etihad – Giroud’s heat map showed in that game that he simply did not move enough to draw a pass from a teammate.

When players like Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey are out – two players who cover a lot of ground on the pitch, with pace, dynamism, and energy – Arsenal need the players they do have to work harder in order to create pockets of space, gaps in between the channels for their creative players to exploit and Giroud should be the main man for that job description.

As a lone striker, it is going to be difficult some days to play against two centre-backs, hold the ball and bring his teammates in but what he can always do is work without the ball.

He can be dragging a defender out wide or pushing the opposition’s line back which takes pressure off the Arsenal defence, he can be hassling and pressing the opposition high up the pitch (as Liverpool did exceptionally well) and making himself a physical presence in both boxes. Olivier Giroud didn’t do that on Saturday.

Mesut Ozil had a poor game by his own high standards but he had little to work with – his best attribute is passing and he didn’t have anyone making any runs around him to entice a pass, never mind a forward pass. Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere was busy making a nuisance of himself, meaning Ozil didn’t have any one moving forward with him.

He found himself isolated in areas in which he couldn’t affect the play at all and, whilst full marks must go to Liverpool for their incredible display and work-rate, I don’t believe it’s fair or accurate to single out Mesut Ozil as the biggest underperformer of a very poor Arsenal performance that were effectively playing with 10 men because couldn’t impact the game at all.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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