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Have key duo's absences been the cause for Özil's dip in form?

Injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott and subsequent prolonged spells on the sidelines have coincided with the German losing his way.

The pre-match narrative for tonight's clash between Arsenal and Manchester United has centred on a man the visitors supposedly rejected and who the hosts gleefully snapped up.

While Mesut Özil has hardly elevated Arsenal into title reckoning single-handedly, the impact his arrival has had on an ever-improving squad is undisputed, while United continue to grow stale under the tutelage of David Moyes.

But as Özil and his team-mates prepare for a make-or-break clash in their hopes of usurping Chelsea and Manchester City in the title race, the German has found himself in the news for the wrong reasons as opposed to inspirational ones.

Özil's below-par performance at Anfield and recent troubles have left him exposed to fiercer criticism than he has perhaps ever experienced and, albeit the majority is external, there are Gunners fans who are beginning to become disgruntled with the club's record signing.

There are a few factors behind his steady decline, not least the absence of a winter break, which had become second nature to the 25-year-old during his years in Germany and Spain.

The idea he may be suffering from operating alongside similar players seems flawed, as does the notion of Olivier Giroud not being the player to bring the best out of Özil's ability given the early-season form shown between the two.

A telepathy appeared to have been struck in Özil's most standout display in dismantling Napoli in a 2-0 Champions League win in the German's infant stages at the club.

So why has Özil gone off the boil to the point where supporters begin to weigh up whether the £42.4m was justifiable and, indeed, well spent?

The injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott were always likely to damage Arsenal.

Their injury table is beginning to look healthier, with only Thomas Vermaelen, Kim Källström and the plagued long-term absentee Abou Diaby on top of Ramsey and Walcott's absences.

But, unlike the formerly three, two of Arsenal's 'British core' are established first-teamers. In fact, Ramsey was looking a shoe-in for the club's player of the year, if not THE player of the year, until falling foul to a thigh injury at West Ham United on Boxing Day.

The pace, desire to get in behind opposition defences and energy the duo provide has struggled to be replicated by their replacements, let alone the golden touch in front of goal the Welshman possessed early on this term.

The tables below begin to illustrate Özil's need for the star duo on the pitch to enable himself to shine too. Effectively Arsenal are being shorn of three of their best players when Ramsey and Walcott are absent. 

The attempted assists on Özil's part for on target shots have suffered a dip from an average of 2.07 in the opening 20 games - when Wenger could call upon them - to 2.0 in the last five without them. Their accuracy in shooting is reflected in the fact that, aside from Giroud, they are the club's two top scorers domestically.

Likewise, Özil's ability to carve out opportunities from open play has taken a hit because of their leave, dropping from 1.93 to 1.60 per game across that time.

Interestingly, though, there is a surprising shift per match in Özil's passing to the right and left-hand sides of the pitch in his last five matches, showing a gradual increase and perhaps the most intriguing is his 40.4 final third passes compared to the 34.33 per match he mustered in the opening half if the season.

He may have created more from open play with Ramsey and Walcott on the scene but he also created more (0.6) each outing from set pieces than he manages at present without them on the field (0.4). His cameo against Stoke City, when he assisted all three goals from set pieces, sticks in the mind.

Ramsey was the first beneficiary of his exemplary delivery. Arsenal must hope Özil can re-discover his magical touch and pray the Welshman - with Walcott sidelined for the rest of the season - can give his side a new lease of life when he returns.

NameTeamPosOntarget Att Assist / appsAtt Assist Openplay / appsPasses Right / appsRightside Pass / appsTotal Final Third Passes / appsPasses Left / appsLeftside Pass / appsAtt Assist Setplay / appsAppsMins
Mesut Özil Arsenal MF 2.07 1.93 11.07 14.87 34.33 9.00 18.67 0.60 15 1,309


NameTeamPosOntarget Att Assist / appsAtt Assist Openplay / appsPasses Right / appsRightside Pass / appsTotal Final Third Passes / appsPasses Left / appsLeftside Pass / appsAtt Assist Setplay / appsAppsMins
Mesut Özil Arsenal MF 2.00 1.60 16.20 15.80 40.40 11.00 23.20 0.40 5 411

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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