Gunner Thoughts

Coronavirus Halts Everything…Except the Ozil Debate

The Coronavirus can shut down businesses, suspend sports, and cancel schools, but it cant stop the Ozil debate.

Everything in life seems to have come to a halt in so many ways. People are at home, schools are closing, sports are suspended, news and coverage is in a lull waiting to find out more, and yet it hasn’t stopped the seemingly never-ending debate that surrounds the career of Mesut Ozil.

He is, without a doubt, one of the most divisive players in the world and it’s easy to see why. Depending on what a person gets hung up on, what they are willing to overlook, what they value in a player, and what they are amazed by – he offers a lot to love and a lot to desire.

Usually the debate is simply “Ozil – good or bad, keep or sell?”, but in this lull it switched to comparing Ozil to Kevin De Bruyne and then to Toni Kroos. In many ways, it is easy to see why the comparison is made. All three are playmaking midfielders playing similar roles, asked to create a bulk of their team’s chances in the attack.

At the same time, we are talking about Kevin de Bruyne, in his prime at 28, playing some of the best football he has played in his career, on a team built by Pep to allow him to get on the ball and create and Toni Kroos who just turned 30, has 3 goals and 5 assists in La Liga this year, but may be a my apt comparison.

If you are taking Ozil over de Bruyne you are a loyalist, I respect you, but your team is worse for it. It has been an unbelievable year for KDB at Manchester City with 8 goals and 16 assists in the Premier League rivaling Ozil’s 6 goals 19 assists season in 2015/16.

I’m not here to dive into that debate. If you want to look at this year alone, the answer is obvious. If you want to look at careers, it gets a little more muddled. If you want to compare international careers, you may not get a full picture and, in the end, we will go in circles arguing toward different goals and get nowhere. However, we can look at Ozil this year, his contract having a year left, what alternatives Arsenal have as we look at Ozil’s future with the Gunners.

Let’s takes a look at Ozil’s stats on the year. Currently age 31 being paid £350,000/week (Arsenal’s highest paid), Ozil struggled this season under Emery, but has found a minor resurgence under Mikel Arteta.

Games Played18
Minutes (per Game)80
Shots (per game).3
Touches (per game)59.1
Big Chances Created1
Key Passes (per game)2.2
Pass Accuracy88%
Interceptions (per game).3
Tackles (per game).9
Duels Won (per game)2.9 (44%)
Discipline1 Yellow, 0 Red

His season’s heatmap:

Gunner Thoughts

There is little doubt in my mind that these stats and performances are not enough to justify what he is paid, but shed light on a worrying question – who is there to replace him? Joe Willock has had some positive moments, but his youth has shown in his inconsistencies and inability to produce much of an end product. Ceballos has had a late surge, but not in the isolated role Ozil is playing in, and the few other options like Smith-Rowe have been loaned out.

Mesut Ozil’s heatmap makes sense, considering what Mikel Arteta seems to be asking him to do. He sits inbetween the backline and midfield, roving side to side, with an emphasis on helping the right wing – often Pepe – overload the defense. It helps to set up Arteta’s five lanes of attack but has struggled to yield much production from the German.

In recent games, we have seen Ozil look to overlap Pepe providing some space for Pepe to carry the ball toward the middle with a little more danger, however, with both Pepe and Ozil being extremely left-footed players, they produce little threat of driving toward the endline to deliver a ball. This certainly has created a more one-dimensional feel to the attack from the right side.

All of this said, one could easily point to other issues as part of the problem. If you look at Ozil’s heatmap, in front of the two center backs is an area that is generally unoccupied by Mesut. This allows him to drift side to side as we talked about, but it also provides space for the center strikers to step into, receive the ball and little deeper and help create chances. This would create a situation in which opposing defensive midfielders and center backs would have to choose which player should occupy their attention.

The problem with that is Arsenal have lacked a real holdup threat, including games that have felt like any ball played in will bounce off shins and away from our possession. Because of this lack of threat from Lacazette or Nketiah, teams have had an easier time shutting down Ozil and Arsenal’s central striker without having to make tough decisions.

So, what to do with him? With just over a year left on his contract, Arsenal are at the point where they need to be looking to move on from Ozil and find a long-term replacement. However, recent comments from Ozil’s agent suggest that Ozil isn’t going anywhere.

“At the moment, we don’t even talk about it, because he still has one-and-a-half-years left. He still has 15 months to go. Until then, he will stay at Arsenal, for sure. He will stay until the end of his contract. There’s no chance he’ll leave.”

It’s a worrisome quote for fans looking for Arsenal to move on from him, made worse by Arteta’s clear affection for Ozil’s play. A lot may come down to how much Arsenal are given to spend this summer during a vital Summer Transfer Window and how they finish the season. Currently, Ozil’s Transfermarkt value is 24.2 million which could go toward rebuilding this team, but there should be a fear over who can replace him in that role for 38 games a season.

There is no doubt, the midfield needs rebuild and revamp, but that may not be the position most in need. With a need for support at Center Back and a real playmaker that could go box-to-box, Arsenal may opt to keep what they already have – even with Ozil on such a high weekly salary.

If you can find a buyer – sell, reinvest, and replace. Ozil has created a lot of memorable moments, he still creates a lot off the ball with his movement, his ability to pick out a ball is still impressive, but he is lacking the edge in his game that may be needed to produce a much-needed end product.

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