This question comes back each season since the signature of Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid in 2013. I would like to talk about it another time after reading an interview from Yohan Cabaye in the August 2017 edition of France Football. In this discussion, journalist asks Cabaye “who is the strongest player ?”. The French midfielder believes it’s Mesut Ozil, saying :
“The strongest player in England, in my opinion? Mesut Ozil. He is really, very strong. You get the impression that he does not care, that he is nonchalant, but at one point he will put a pass that nobody has seen. It will get to the millimetre and the guy is going to score or will manage to make the difference on his first touch of ball. He always knows everything before everyone else. That’s what’s fabulous “.
Even Jose Mourinho praised the German during the season when he was the best playmaker of Premier League (19 assists) :
“I think it’s hard to criticise him because Ozil, Ozil, had launched the Portuguese technician. If you were expecting Ozil to be super aggressive, run through and show enthusiasm and aggressiveness, it is not Mesut. If on the contrary you expect him to make the ball smile every time he touches it, there is Ozil. Every time he makes a pass, the ball goes in the right direction, at the right speed and with the right intensity, and that’s Ozil.”.
Even if he is much criticised, Mesut Ozil finished 6th in the ranking of the best assists (9 assists, in front of Dele Alli or David Silva) and scored 17 times last season (all competitions).
The graph below shows how Mesut Ozil is in comparison with players who play the same position or have the same profile.
Fact that Mesut Ozil is on the left wing could explain why he’s sometimes a “ghost” on the pitch; he does not manage to weigh on the game of his team other than by his ability to give good passes. This graph fortifies what we can see in Dele Alli or Manuel Lanzini games: their capabilities to both play between the lines and lead the game and also defend a bit, something that the German can’t do for now.
Looking at the Tottenham team is very interesting : they have Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli that we can compare with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in Arsenal. Why do the Spurs duo looks more sharp than the Arsenal one ? This question would deserve a special piece but we can advance that movement is the key: Tottenham have Harry Kane who doesn’t play that much in a pivot position like Olivier Giroud. Nevertheless these movements are possible with a stronger midfield, composed alternatively by Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele and Eric Dier; more focus on defence that forces the Tottenham game to be quick and accurate (in fact Liverpool have the same plan lacking in precision).
On the other hand you have Manchester City with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne who are two very offensive player but are used now as pure builder into the midfield.
Arsenal’s game is between the two faces, which I think that’s what does not allow Mesut Ozil to give the best of himself. The arrival of Alexandre Lacazette could change this and Mesut Ozil may be able to do what Christian Eriksen does extremely well, both in assists and goals.
Position and teammates
Since he started at Schalke 04, he mostly played as an offensive midfielder but he also played on the wing, specially in Real Madrid and in national team. He plays in the middle when Arsenal plays in 4231 and more on the right when lineup is 3421. This position on the field allow Ozil to be the leader of the game. Looking at the graph below show that whatever the team, he has an incredible passing capacity
Clearly, Mesut Ozil is worse at Arsenal. His capabilities to score goals has grown but arrival in England show that is no more the playmaker he was. For sure, when he was in Real Madrid the team around him was awesome, but in Werder Bremen he had almost the same success in terms of pass and the team was far from Arsenal one nowadays. So the problem comes certainly from the Arsenal side, but it’s actually a problem of the entire team rather than just Mesut Ozil. Like Jose Mourinho says, Mesut Ozil is Mesut Ozil and you can’t change him, however you can change the team around him.
A manager that just look at performance would undoubtedly have wanted to get rid of Mesut Ozil (Jose Mourinho in Real Madrid) but, fortunately, it’s not the case with Arsene Wenger or even in the Arsenal spirit. Moreover Mesut Ozil is probably the only player with Alexis Sanchez who makes the fans vibrate as soon as he touches the ball.
The naive solution would be to buy players, a la Real Madrid, to build a team around Mesut Ozil. But I don’t think it’s the solution: looking at the end of the game against Leicester, when Arsenal came back to a 4231 and Mesut Ozil play as an offensive midfielder like a playmaker, shows that when players are well organised in the pitch the health of the attack is fantastic, allowing Mesut Ozil to give the best of himself.
If you look at players already in the team, you can only agree with Arsene Wenger when he says there are few players available to improve the team: Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla (he was second best passer of Premier League in 2015-16 season), Alexandre Lacazette, Laurent Koscielny, Petr Cech, etc…
Some come back from injuries, one or two purchases of real talented players and small tactical adjustments should be enough to improve the game of Arsenal and see again the fabulous movements of Mesut Ozil.
Note : Principal Component Analysis (PCA) is a mathematical method to reduce dimension when dealing with lots of features.