Sunday 25 August 2019

One good game won't make Ozil's season

Gunners playmaker fired up again after match-winning show against old enemy

Mesut Ozil takes control of the action during Saturday’s derby against Tottenham. Photo: REUTERS
Mesut Ozil takes control of the action during Saturday’s derby against Tottenham. Photo: REUTERS

Chris Bascombe

Sympathies to commuters in north London affected by the impromptu "Mesut Ozil had a great game" open-top bus tour celebration this weekend.

Ozil's star performance against Tottenham Hotspur encouraged his chief apologists to mark the occasion with all the humility of a Donald Trump glance in the mirror.

Anyone questioning the whereabouts of Ozil's sweat glands for most of the past 18 months is now considered worthy of a super-powered finger poke, even Arsenal's social-media team inciting the more rabid among their 12.2 million followers to go fetch.

All good fun in the aftermath of a derby win, some are arguing, but more reflective of shameless brown-nosing of a high-class footballer after a demonstration of his excellence in club colours which has been seen too rarely recently.

Many Arsenal fans were not just thrilled by Ozil's performance. They were infuriated by it. What kind of message does fawning after an overdue display of brilliance deliver?

Is it any wonder Arsenal are accused of inconsistency, or their manager slated for leading his squad into a comfort zone, if you can show up every couple of months and mobilise forces against all previous criticism?


We live in an age where distinguishing between fair, articulate analysis and the social-media cesspit has never been more important, but skin has never been so thin on all sides.

Players and manager feel journalists are skilled at receiving the acclaim of peers for disparaging articles and quick to weep when the abuse comes their way. Fair comment.

Equally, after suffering any sort of paper cut, it seems many players are encouraged to avoid differentiating between the reasonable and the putrid.

No one likes to be criticised. Everyone is more adept at noting the flaws in others than warts on their own face.

But beyond cretinous tweets or postings from zombie armies, plenty written and broadcast about Ozil's inauspicious displays this season is justified.

Players out of form always have the chance to respond, most appropriately in their next match.

There was once a time they would do so more swiftly, happily calling critical reporters or approaching them at training grounds in an era when daily access bred more responsibility and trust.

Nowadays, players bide their time and deliver the riposte in stage-managed interviews, usually neatly constructed to make the subject appear like a psychologically wounded victim of a savage media campaign.

Give us a one-on-one interview and in our excitement we will readily adopt the persona of Claire Rayner to demonstrate the humanity of these objectified sportsmen and women.

Alternatively, they will dispatch a contemplative quote on Instagram, which may take many forms but is usually the same inane stuff about being strong in adversity.

Some - not all - representatives, club media and player liaison officers do little to bridge divisions between the modern players and reporters, but recognise the opportunity to strengthen their own position.

A "them and us" culture has not only been created, in many cases it has been deliberately enhanced.

In such an environment, it is little wonder so few footballers feel the need to engage with strange folk with dictaphones unless instructed to do so by a club employee they trust. Instead, the likes of Ozil are made to feel targeted more than may be the case.

It is a hunch based on experience, but it would not surprise me if Ozil is regularly directed to the most critical assessments of his form by those most eager to befriend him, while those who have stood by him throughout this dip - and there are a great many in the media as well as inside the Emirates - barely register.

Few Premier League players divide opinion like Ozil. It is not a separation between those with a love for artistry and those preferring brawn.

It is a division between those with a love for end product above reputation. The mocking of those with continued reservations about his domestic form does nothing to ease the pressure on him for the remainder of his Arsenal career.

It has ensured the reference point of Saturday's derby will be used to ridicule him with more cruelty if he fails to replicate it at Burnley next weekend. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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