Saturday 24 March 2018

John Giles: Arsene Wenger needs a hero but it's not Mesut Ozil

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Mesut Ozil
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Mesut Ozil

Herald Sport

This is the time of the year when Arsene Wenger usually loses his way but for once, I think he might just have found a route to the title he so covets.

However, I don’t think that he should be relying on his new favourite, Mesut Ozil, to bring him to the Promised Land.

Ozil has been nominated for the Player of the Month award for December and Wenger the manager’s gong for the same spell and they certainly deserve recognition for a great month.

But I watched Ozil against Liverpool in midweek and I have to say, I would hate to be relying on him to bail me out of trouble.

Arsenal did what they have done many times before and conceded a late goal which cost Wenger two very precious points.

I know you can never zone in on one game or one point as the reason why a team loses a title but my suspicion is that this brace could be very significant indeed at the end of it all.

There was a big difference, though, for me in the way the Gunners went about that game against Liverpool and in that I see a way for Wenger to deliver top spot in the Premier League.

The evidence came after Roberto Firmino had given Liverpool a 1-0 lead and Jürgen Klopp’s men were in full spate with the Kop roaring them on.

Laurent Koscielny, a player I’ve had plenty of reason to criticise in the past, martialled his men around him and dug in for a fight.

When Aaron Ramsey equalised, I sat back in my chair and thought to myself that this is a different Arsenal, one I haven’t seen too much of.

Last season, or in an any of the seasons over the last eight years, Arsenal would not have had the kind of grim determination you need when the bullets are flying and it doesn’t look good for your team.

And when Firmino scored again, I was expecting the inevitable to happen and Arsenal to cave in but once more, Koscielny held the line and built a new platform for his team mates to push forward.

It was great stuff from Arsenal, if not from Ozil. In fact, if I was looking for Arsenal’s best player in this game and indeed in December, it would be Koscielny.

The reason I say this is simple. Once Arsenal had dug their way out of a deep hole at Anfield and got themselves on the front foot, Ozil, who hadn’t contributed very much, was substituted with a  few minutes to go and mainly because he was contributing even less to the defensive effort.

With Ozil on the pitch, Arsenal dropped further and further back until they were pinned down by Liverpool. It was his duty, as the one man Wenger had who could get hold of the ball, to roll up his sleeves and do whatever was necessary to win the game.

By that I mean getting on the ball and trying to dictate the flow of the game. It might only take one touch or one pass to take the sting out of Liverpool but Ozil was in the shell he has visited many, many times since h was signed by Wenger.

Ozil has always seemed like that kind of player to me. I have very few positive memories of his efforts over the last few seasons and if he is now acting as a creative force for Wenger, it is long overdue.

Wenger has touted Ozil as a potential ‘Player of the Season’ but I can’t buy that.

The Liverpool game was exactly the type of game in which a player with his influence and ability should have grabbed control.

Those 15 minutes at the end of an away match when you have your nose in front are some of the hardest in football.

When I was playing, these were the moments when I earned my wages.

It’s very easy to demand the ball when your team is winning and in full control but it’s much, much harder to do it when pressure is at its most fierce and the opposition in your face.

Remember Roy Keane in countless games when Manchester United were under pressure? You could almost see him roll up his sleeves and express the kind of moral courage you need to take responsibility onto your own shoulders.

It takes courage to do it although it really should be an instinctive thing and there is no extra credit due for embracing the job you are paid to do in the most wholehearted way possible.

The footballer with all the talent is the one who owes the greatest debt to the game and the one team mates look to for help when they are in trouble.

I don’t see Ozil as that kind of player at all. Had he been able to rise to the challenge presented during those minutes after Olivier Giroud had added his second goal of the game to give Arsenal the lead, the Gunners would be clear of Leicester at the top and five ahead of the pack.

The great work done by Koscielny to anchor his team in troubled waters was thrown away.

To be fair to Wenger, he was missing Alexis Sanchez, a player who can do the job very well and Francis Coquelin, less talented but made of the right stuff for a gritty battle.

When they come back he will be better equipped to cope with difficult situations like the one at Anfield and dare I say it, help Arsenal push on towards the title.

Herald Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport