Mesut Ozil's impact at Arsenal has polarised support… those with red and white blood appreciate the former Real Madrid playmaker's technique, his close control and his ability to create shooting chances for his team-mates - something he has done 56 times this season, fifth in the division, behind Luis Suarez (58), Moussa Sissoko (59), Eden Hazard (62) and David Silva (63).
However, the Germany international has his detractors… those who believe that, despite still finding his feet in his debut season in the Premier League, he should be far more consistent, that he disappears in the bigger matches in the division and, if he is to be mentioned in the same breath as Hazard and Silva, then he must do to Liverpool and Manchester United what he has done to Norwich City, Cardiff City and Stoke City.
Against the Reds most recently, on Saturday, February 8, Ozil was singled out as one of many Gunners who struggled to assert themselves at Anfield. For Mesut, it was because Jordan Henderson performed so well in stifling any positive play Ozil hoped to produce. His rival playmaker, Philippe Coutinho, instead, was central to what was outstanding in the match - largely, ripping Arsenal apart.
A little over one year ago, Liverpool acquired Coutinho for a modest £8.5m fee, a valuation that has, according to transfermarkt.co.uk, since risen to £14m (and one would presume, in the incredibly unlikely scenario he were to be sold, that he would go for double that).
Ozil, in contrast, was five times more expensive, at £42.4m - a Gunners record high transfer - and, even though Coutinho performs at a standard far higher than his valuation suggests while Ozil underwhelms, statistically-speaking as opposed to financially, it is still the Arsenal man who is the more valuable asset on the field.
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Both players have made the same amount of appearances, however, it is Ozil who has been on the pitch for longer (albeit by a negligible amount). In every category, touches per game, accurate passes, forward passes and picking passes that directly lead to shooting chances, Coutinho comes in second. When it comes to assisting and goal-scoring, Ozil doubles the haul of his 21-year-old rival.
There is an argument that Coutinho has gotten increasingly more threatening and more effective as the season has gone on, while Ozil has become less useful and could perhaps have benefitted from a substantial rest during the Christmas/New Year fixture pile-up.
This is a fallacy when studying the available data from each player's past five appearances as Ozil is still capable of being the most significant and influential player on the field, with his performance against Crystal Palace on February 2 outshining anything Coutinho has accomplished in the same one-month period.
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Statistics, though, do not tell the complete story. While the level of scrutiny Ozil is subject to is perhaps unfair considering he is still acclimatising to the Premier League culture, to Arsenal as a club and to London in general, his best performance was still against Palace, a team just three points clear of the relegation zone and a club an elite player really should be thriving against.
Two of Coutinho's strongest performances in his past five outings were against the league leaders at the time - Arsenal - and their own bitter, local rivals, Everton; a club with their own top four aspirations.
Wilshere and The Ox played well today but Ozil, despite his quality, plays well far too infrequently and rarely against the big teams.— michael owen (@themichaelowen) February 8, 2014
But until Ozil can do to a big club in a big match what he does to Palace, to Norwich, only then will he justify his price-tag. There may be no better time to do so than tomorrow evening, when the Gunners play host to Manchester United.
image: © Dean Jones