Wednesday 13 December 2017

Aidan O'Hara: Time for Mesut Ozil to repay Arsene Wenger in latest copy and paste season

Ozil’s contract runs out at the end of next season and he has spoken of how he needs to know Wenger’s future plans before deciding on his own. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez
Ozil’s contract runs out at the end of next season and he has spoken of how he needs to know Wenger’s future plans before deciding on his own. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

It's a good opportunity to show that we are a different team to last year, as I believe we are," wrote Arsene Wenger. "That (last year's result) was not the real Arsenal though, and now we have the chance to show we have improved.

"We face big opposition, and a big occasion too, but I'm sure we can deal with that as a team. We are different now, mentally we are a different team, and I'm sure we can do it."

To be fair to Wenger, those words, which were written six years ago in the programme before Arsenal played Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League, were backed up by action in a 2-1 victory against Pep Guardiola's team in their pomp.

Like so many Arsenal victories of recent years, however, it came with an asterisk. They lost the tie and started a run that has seen them knocked out at the last 16 stage every year since.

Arsenal are probably somewhere between the eighth and 16th best team in Europe, much the same way as they are between the second and fourth best team in the Premier League. However, it's indicative of a team accused of having the same season over and over again, that their manager could copy and paste his programme notes from 2011 every year since, with the aspirations changing, but not the results.

It's the same with the players in the run-up to an important game. There's the rallying cry: "The whole team is focussed and knows what needs to be done! #LondonDerby," as delivered by Per Mertesacker before the game against Chelsea.

Then there's the semi-apology and vow to work harder, as tweeted by Petr Cech: "Tough week to swallow ... the 3rd goal today just underlined it for me ... now back to work to put things back on track."

Next comes a picture of how hard they're working and recognition of the next game's importance, tweeted by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: "We have to get back to winning ways tomorrow. #COYG #AFCvHCFC #Arsenal #training"

And, finally, the happiness at winning a game they should win anyway, a nod to the previous few poor performances and a vow to get it right in the next big game.

Shkodran Mustafi, ending with a hashtag for his name and number: "Home win Clean Sheet Exactly what we needed today Now full focus on the @ChampionsLeague! #ARSHUL #sm20".

Aside from all of those, there's Mesut Ozil, who ticked every one of the same boxes by himself, including a video of him training in the gym with the Elton John song 'Are You Ready For Love' in the background. Given the amount of criticism he has been receiving, 'I'm Still Standing' might have been a more appropriate choice.

Ozil's contract runs out at the end of next season and he has spoken of how he needs to know Wenger's future plans before deciding on his own. But, of all players, Ozil is the one whose performances can give Wenger reason to stay.

In commentary on Today FM for the game against Chelsea, Brian Kerr listed out Arsenal's goalscorers this season before landing on Mesut Ozil's name.

"Mesut Ozil has five," said the former Ireland manager as his voice changed in tone from informative to withering.

"But he has the most assists, kind of ever, in the history of Arsenal, it seems at times when people are giving out statistics.

"But you want him to do it in the matches that count and this is a match that counts and he hasn't done anything yet."

About 30 seconds later, the anger grew in Kerr's voice as the manager within him riled up at Ozil's efforts to gain possession.

"He didn't even have to make a tackle, the Chelsea player runs away with it and Ozil's standing with his hands on his hips. That's awful, not good enough at this level. That'd do your head in as a manager with players not being prepared to throw their body in the way and take a bit of a dunt to win a free-kick. Just not good enough."

Ozil's assists stats were given an extraordinary level of significance last season, just as his relative lack of them have this time around, but, very often, it's not the pass before the goal that's the reason for it being scored.

The stats won't show it, but he was heavily involved in both Arsenal goals against Hull on Saturday and the weight of his pass to Alexis Sanchez for the second goal tempted the Hull goalkeeper, who Sanchez beat, crossed and it resulted in the penalty for the clinching goal.

It wasn't anything extraordinary from Ozil, but then neither is crossing in a corner from which a goal is scored, which would rank for him as an assist.


On Wednesday against Bayern Munich, and for the rest of the season, Wenger needs Ozil to be the player firing the bullets rather than providing them for others to shoot, much like Eden Hazard at Chelsea.

"What you want of him is to score goals," said Wenger, not for the first time, last month.

"We all feel certainly that there is still a gap there between what he can do. From such a talent, you are maybe a little bit unjust because you always want more. You feel there is no limitation in his game."

Even Wenger's proviso of perhaps being "unjust" spoke of a manager trying to protect his player, just as he did again last week when Ozil's recent performances came into question. Away from the moans and groans of the Emirates, Munich would be a perfect stage to repay that faith.

Since losing to Arsenal in September, Antonio Conte has often let nine players focus on not losing the game, while trusting the likes of Hazard or Diego Costa win it.

Against a team of Bayern Munich's quality, Wenger will face a similar scenario with Ozil and Sanchez, but a 'copy and paste' of Ozil's recent performances won't be enough to get it done. Without an improvement that rewards the faith and trust the manager has put in him, it will soon be time to press the reset button.


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