More than ever before, Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career is at a crossroads.
The German World Cup winner has failed to convince Unai Emery his quality is of a high enough level to make up for his inconsistency. What’s more, there is ongoing uncertainty surrounding his fitness.
Ozil has missed countless games over the last two seasons due to back problems and illness, but he has been left out by Emery for unknown reasons just as often, inviting speculation on attitude concerns.
Arsenal’s mixed fortunes this season can partly be put down to Ozil’s uneven form and availability. Emery’s treatment of the 30-year-old has been called into question, but clear answers are nowhere to be found.
In search of an explanation, we’ve looked into Arsenal’s form with and without Ozil, surveyed the opinion among the club’s former players, asked whether Ozil remains Arsenal’s best player and considered whether the Gunners can continue to cope without him.
What do the numbers say?
Ozil’s importance to Arsenal has fluctuated over the years. His value to the team was most significant during his first season at the club. In 2013/14, Arsenal won 62.5% of the games in which Ozil played and only 45.5% of those he didn’t, the biggest gap in percentages in any of his six seasons at the Emirates.
Arsenal fared far better without the German in 2014/15, winning 62.5% of their matches without him. They have only bettered that percentage without Ozil this season (65%). In fact, this is the first campaign since 2015/16 in which the Gunners have won a higher percentage of games without Ozil than with him.
During Wenger’s last two seasons in charge, it was sometimes difficult to figure out whether Arsenal were being negatively affected by Ozil’s inconsistency or vice versa. Was it the failure of Ozil’s teammates to play at a similar level that was responsible for his dips in form? Or did Ozil fail to inspire his teammates to step it up a notch?
Regardless of the answer, both Arsenal and Ozil floundered last term; the with and without percentages were both low, making conclusions problematic. This season he has played so few games, just 18, that Arsenal’s win percentage without him has received a boost. It is currently 65%, the highest they have managed without Ozil since he arrived.
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What do the ex-Arsenal players say?
Before we take a deeper look into Ozil’s statistics for this season, it’s worth contemplating the opinions of former Arsenal players, many of whom have been vocal about his situation.
Ray Parlour believes Ozil “holds all the power” at Arsenal with two years remaining on his contract. “He’s on big, big wages, and what other club is going to pay that?” he told the Express. “I don’t think another one will unless he goes to China.”
After Ozil was omitted from Arsenal’s Europa League squad to face BATE this week, Martin Keown said while appearing no BT Sport: “It’s actually becoming embarrassing now the Ozil situation. […] Is he injured, is he ill? One of the things as a player you have got to be available for selection and you want to give consistency.”
William Gallas has defended Emery’s treatment of Ozil. The Frenchman said: “Emery has tried everything he can to try and get a reaction out of Ozil but the player isn’t responding. Everybody knows Ozil’s quality but he isn’t consistent. He only plays when he wants to play.”
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Petit thinks Ozil must understand his responsibility to Arsenal, telling the Mirror: “He must get over his frustration and try to fight until the end. To somehow save his pride.”
Is Ozil still Arsenal’s best player?
In 14 Premier League appearances this season, Ozil has scored three goals and provided just one assist. Renowned for his ability to lay on goals for teammates, he will surely be disappointed with his assist return – but that number doesn’t tell the whole story.
Ozil has created more chances per 90 league minutes this term (2.13) than any other Arsenal player with over 180 minutes to their name. He has also completed more passes per 90 (46.96) than any other attacking player in the squad. Those statistics suggest Arsenal’s problems are elsewhere in the team, so why does Ozil receive the majority of the blame?
Inconsistency has a lot to do with it. Viewers who tuned in to the Gunners’ 3-1 league victory over Leicester City at the Emirates back in October were treated to a majestic Ozil performance. The midfielder scored the opener and played a major role in the other two goals, producing a slick display of the highest quality, proving that when on song he is the most talented player in the Arsenal squad.
Such performances only encourage more questions as to why Ozil can’t dazzle on a more regular basis. Often he is the only player on the pitch who can pick out certain passes; his vision, technique and execution are arguably unmatched by any Premier League playmaker.
But since December, Ozil has been left out of league matches against Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool, two home wins and two away defeats. Emery doesn’t seem to trust Ozil in big games in which attitude matters. One must ask: which other clubs would leave out their best player in such fixtures?
Can Arsenal continue to cope without Ozil?
Arsenal are aiming to finish in the top four of the Premier League and win the Europa League, although just one of those achievements will suffice given both will result in Champions League qualification. Are either of those potential successes possible without Ozil playing often?
One major problem for Emery is the situation of Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman has agreed to join Juventus in the summer, and Emery doesn’t appear to be willing to regularly call upon a player whose future doesn’t belong at Arsenal. With both Ozil and Ramsey out of the team, the Gunners lack an inventive threat in central attacking midfield.
Emery has attempted to remedy this by using Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a partnership, joined in attack by Alex Iwobi and supported by three central midfielders. It has worked sporadically, but Emery would be better served by a consistently available Ozil.
The next few weeks could be telling. Will Ozil continue to be used intermittently or will some sort of resolution be reached? Arsenal fans will be hoping it’s the latter.