Thursday, February 20, 2014

Get off Ozil's Back

The Bayern game was frustrating but Ozil will bounce back with aplomb.
The last past few weeks have once again illuminated the fickle nature of football pundits. In December Ozil was described as the talisman Arsenal had long coveted. He had been showered with plaudits and hailed as the chief instigator of the team's remarkable run in the EPL. However, in the aftermath of Arsenal's dismal performance against Bayern Munich, Ozil has been made a scapegoat with fans and experts alike calling for his head.

Ozil's recent performances have been criticised for his seemingly lackadaisical off the ball movement and inability to engineer goal-scoring opportunities with the same frequency as he did for Real Madrid.  Struggling to explain the down-turn in Arsenal's form, sportswriters have unfairly targeted Ozil whilst ignoring the larger problems plaguing his team. Ozil is no Robben or Ribery. He will not tear up defences with a burst of pace or unleash miraculous shots from outside the box. Ozil's genius lies in his selflessness. He is a thorough team-man, who prides himself on achieving results for the team instead of pursuing individual accolades. To accuse him of being lazy, like the Daily Telegraph did yesterday, simply demonstrates a lack of intellect on part of the commentator. Ozil's inconspicuousness is his greatest asset. Experts have said he doesn't who enough when he isn't in possession of the ball, but then how do they explain his ability to always be in the right place within the attacking third whenever the likes of Wilshere or Cazorla make foolish decisions and run into a swarm of defenders. Whenever there is a need to relieve the pressure from the man in possession, Ozil is ready. He might not sprint up and down the field like an Aaron Ramsey, but that cannot be construed as a lack of effort. 

Discerning viewers will note that Ozil covers as much ground as his midfield partners, however in lieu of his playing style he does not rush into tackles. Instead he supports the plays and provides a vital outlet. See how many times he has started an attack from inside his own half and you will see my point. Moreover, his surreptitious runs often fool defenders, enabling him to enter unguarded spaces and initiate fluent attacking moves. The English football media is well-known for its lack of appreciation for more refined skills. The back pages of Britain are dominated by men who still long for the bygone 20th century, the wet Tuesday nights at Stoke and reckless crunching challenges. Ozil does not conform to their image of a footballer and hence is attracting their mire now that his form has slipped just the slightest. All of yesterday I read pieces maligning him but not one commentator pointed out the fact that despite the missed penalty he played gallantly for the subsequent 70 minutes, with his defensive efforts overshadowing those of Wilshere and being comparable to Flamini.

Ozil is not culpable for decline in Arsenal's form. The assists for him may have dried up, but that's largely due to Wenger's strange decision to place Cazorla behind the strikers whilst relegating Ozil to the touchline. An artisan like Ozil thrives in central positions and his current placement does not allow him to express his talents. Also, Arsenal's unwillingness to use Podolski more regularly, since his return from injury, has hampered Ozil greatly. Podolski has pace and is one of the best shooters in the world. When Ozil first arrived, I thought he could have formed a formidable partnership with Podolski akin to the one he shared with Ronaldo. A roving Podolski on the left would permit Ozil to flourish, creating greater opportunities for him to utilise his incisive passing.

Overall, Ozil has been excellent for Arsenal and his arrival has been the catalyst for Arsenal's resurgence. From a distance he at times appears uninterested, removed from the contest, but look closely and you will realise his remarkable work rate. He creates lulls in the game, only to stun the opponent with his marvelous vision. The criticism leveled at him as grossly unfair and I hope in the next few weeks he makes the pundits eat their words.

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