To Özil or Not to Özil?
I sat at my desk at work checking the various live updates for the match against Borussia Dortmund. “Arsenal getting dominated” and “Only a matter of time until a goal” were just a few of the updates from various outlets as the minutes ticked on. Mertesacker caught out and desperate defending was the norm as well as misplaced passes and lost possession. 2-0 was the final score and the internet exploded with negativity.
Just a few days from a positive match against Manchester City and Arsenal lay an egg away from home in a tough stadium against a top team. It was if we forfeited the match before kickoff. Last season we won this match and with roughly the same players (in defense and midfield at least). Koscielny and Mertesacker were two of the best defenders in the Premier League and flanked by Gibbs (Monreal also) and Sagna, they put up excellent overall defensive numbers, barring the obvious losses.
Now, in the aftermath of the closing of the transfer window, we sit with only 4 healthy defenders: Mertesacker, Koscielny, Chambers and Gibbs. Monreal didn’t travel to Germany and Debuchy will be out for at least 2 months, which in terms of an Arsenal injury means 3-4 months. Chambers wasn’t healthy enough to make the start for Dortmund which means a young Hector Bellerin was deputized to start at right-back. After seeing the highlights, which you cannot call them that from an Arsenal perspective, it is clear that not purchasing adequate back up in defense and defensive midfield could prove to be costly as our players start dropping like flies with injuries and illness.
Frankly, I have had enough of the defensive chatter. We all know that we are short on depth in the backfield. The real debate comes from our £42 million midfielder: Mesut Özil. A player that signaled a change at Arsenal, and a player that we paid big money for to kick start a new age of success. Yet after his first season, he still doesn’t appear to be completely comfortable in the squad.
I remember his first few games and the buzz of excitement that was generated from the fans on twitter and in the stands during the matches. As he took the pitch we all expected assists to come pouring forth like water from a fountain. The passes he played to Walcott in that first match (which Walcott wasted I might add), were wonderful, exactly what we were looking for. It did not last through the season to the degree we all wanted. Last season he scored 5 goals and created 9. Those are not terrible numbers for a new player in a new league, yet a player like Özil should not have too much trouble adapting to a new system.
Ramsey on the other hand was a player who in 12/13 was on the chopping block by fans. His every touch was proceeded by boos and jeers, he was applauded as he left the field when being substituted. Everything he did was wrong and was an example of Wenger’s failures to develop a player. Suddenly last season, he came to life. Scoring crucial goals and getting the assists as well to help Arsenal head to the top of the table. His explosion helped ease some of the burden off of Özil. As the season came to a close, the goals began to dry up as we lost Ramsey and Walcott to injury and Giroud just wasn’t getting the help he desperately needed. We fell out of the title hunt as a result.
This season Özil has mainly been played out wide on the left, a spot normally reserved for Cazorla and Podolski. His influence in matches since the start of the season has been relatively non-existent. As the form of Cazorla, Wilshere, Ramsey and Özil fluctuates, it appears that Wenger is desperately trying to fit all of our midfield players into one team, even if it means playing them out of position. Özil has stated he prefers playing in the middle and it shows. In the few matches we have played this season, he has not made a difference from the left.
Wenger believes that because Germany played him out wide, that it will work for Arsenal. I don’t see that being case. Germany is a squad that contains more attacking talent and a stronger defensive midfield. Özil isn’t the main man in that squad and it allows him more freedom to roam and dictate a game quietly, which I feel is his best attribute. The pressure is far greater in this Arsenal team for him to perform and that pressure is getting to him. Three matches and he hasn’t notched an assist or a goal, his passes are wayward and his defensive ability is gone. With all of this, Wenger continues to play him in the hopes that something happens.
It is a tough decision to drop a player of his obvious quality. Özil looks as if he is walking on a confidence tightrope and each match he gets closer to falling off. Despite all of the problems I don’t think we should bench him from the team. He just needs to be moved back to the center of the midfield, where he is most comfortable. When and if the form returns, then move him to the left if the conditions dictate it but for now he needs that special consideration. We are not short of attacking options, particularly in midfield. Ramsey, Cazorla, Ox, Alexis, Podolski, and Rosicky are capable of being rotated in the wide positions to some degree. Leave Özil in the center where he belongs and give him the encouragement to dictate the forward play. He will find his form again. It is just a matter of time, but he needs special attention. Most importantly, he needs the support of us, as fans.
Players are people too; they have feelings and emotions just like everyone else. I would not be happy if a total stranger walked up to me and called me a c***. This is especially true if a fan wearing the same kit that the players wear on the pitch, insults them. Sure being in the spotlight should train them to be able to separate themselves from those fools, but I am sure that it gets to them over time.
Arsenal is a special club and creates a special breed of fans. We as Arsenal fans should be above of the name calling and the typical low life actions of a club like Chelsea, Stoke or Manchester United. We are the Arsenal, with class players like Henry, Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp, Adams, Seaman etc, we should be respectful to the players as long as they wear the red and white of Arsenal. Don’t get me wrong, we should be allowed to voice our opinions on players, especially when they are not living up to the potential, but do so in a manner that shows we are above everyone else. I have my concerns with players (Sanogo, for instance) but it boils my blood to read on twitter, a supposed fan celebrating the injury of one of our players in the hopes that Wenger will buy player X or player Y now gets a chance to play. That is not what we do. Let other clubs fans be the petulant children while we act like adults.
We all love the Arsenal and we love the players that put on the kits. Our support can drive them on, just look at the FA Cup final last year. They need us just as we need them. So let’s criticize the decision to leave or squad light in defensive midfield and in the center of defense. But let’s give our support to the players that still remain, who were left in that precarious position. They did not make that decision. Results are tough for us right now and we are impatient and distraught but those players like Özil, are class players and we should be there to give them a boost. They may surprise us, just like Ramsey did.
Until next week,
Come on you Gunners!
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