Explaining The Stats: Mesut Ozil

Explaining The Stats: Mesut Ozil

Arsenal reinvigorated themselves during the 2013/2014 season, for two major reasons. Firstly, they smashed their transfer record to sign Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil, and they won a major trophy for the first time in 9 years. Despite finishing 4th in the league that season, fans were predicting a new beginning, the dawn of an era of big spending and trophy wins.
The stadium debt was paid off, there was proof that the club could attract world class players, and Aaron Ramsey had his breakout season. It would appear that these predictions were coming true. Indeed, since Ramsey’s heroic winner against Hull in 2014, Arsenal have signed 4 players over £30m, and won the FA Cup twice more.
A lot of this success has been attributed to the signing of Ozil. It’s hard to argue with the fact that in 9 years prior to his arrival, Arsenal hadn’t won a trophy, and since his signing, they’ve won three. The question I would ask is, despite these cup wins, has the German actually improved Arsenal, or could they have won even more?

The Ozil Style

We’ve all watched him play. We know he spots passes no one else can, we know his first touch is to die for and we know that his ability to find space to receive a pass is exquisite. But he is a central figure in Arsenals attacking play. And the fact is, Arsenals attacking output has declined since his arrival.
In the four years prior to his arrival, Arsenal averaged 637 shots per season, but since his signing in 2013/14, this has dropped to 568 per season. Similarly, the goals per game has dropped from 1.98 to 1.85. Some will be keen to lay the blame at the feet of Olivier Giroud, and others will cite the 42 Premier League assists he has provided in four seasons. But with Mesut Ozil being the main creative player sitting in the heart of the Arsenal attack, the overall attacking output decreases.
Now, this may change with the advent of the 3-4-2-1 Arsenal appear to be exercising. In the FA Cup final, Ozil’s performance against Chelsea was somehow both subtle and exceptional. His ability to find space between the midfield and defense was impeccable, and despite not registering an assist (and so nearly scoring in the dying minutes), he dictated the game. Arsenal were also a potent attacking force, with two central creative players in Sanchez and Ozil, with the wing-backs providing the width. Now maybe with another creative player alongside him, rather than on the wings, we can begin to see the real value in Mesut Ozil.

The Rest of the League

This is Ozil’s season to prove himself at Arsenal. It’s not just him, however. The responsibility of a CAM is changing in the Premier League. Chelsea and Tottenham don’t use individual attacking midfielders, David Silva is approaching the fringes of the Man City team, and Juan Mata is under-appreciated at Man Utd. The current top 6 have seen dramatic changes in the attacking styles over the last ten years.
In the previous 5 seasons, the average number of shots by the current Top 6 was 603. The 5 years before that, it was 650. From the 2007/08 season to the 2012/2013 season, possession based football reigned supreme in England, as it did in other countries such as Spain. With the centralized Ryan Giggs in Man Utd’s three league wins on the bounce and David Silva’s influence in Man City’s famous win in 2012, these years saw the top sides keep possession and use a skilled CAM to dictate the attacking play in the final third to get off as many shots as possible.
This is what Ozil was supposed to bring to an Arsenal side that had almost perfected such a system, but just needed that extra touch of class to bring the shots, and consequently the goals. But he couldn’t. Even as other teams changed their systems, with Liverpool’s chaotic attacking play in 2013/14, Leicester’s unbelievable triumph in 2015/16 and Chelsea’s counter attacking style in 2016/17, Arsenal were still lagging behind in terms of shots on goal.
Despite continuing with a possession based, high-shot count style, Arsenal were not actually producing these chances in the final third. And this was happening despite the club record purchase of one of the best ever playmakers.

The Solution?

Ozil has produced dozens of assists during his time at Arsenal, but at what cost to the assist count of his attacking colleagues? Take Theo Walcott for example. Now while it cannot be denied that he has suffered from serious injury in recent years, in the four years prior to Ozil’s appointment, he registered 27 assists. Since 2013/14 however, he has provided just 8. This is a pretty startling figure for one of Arsenals main attacking players and demonstrates how the arrival of Ozil has led to a predictability about Arsenals football.
It all goes through one man. When Ozil gets the ball in space he immediately looks up and plays the through ball. This is not a criticism, but it leads to a one-dimensional nature about Arsenals play. When Cazorla or Wilshere play in the hole, they hold the ball up, or drive forwards with the ball at their feet, bringing others into play. Ozil is maybe too focused on that final ball, and as a result, his personal statistics improve, but the overall attacking structure suffers.
This is why I say this year is his year to prove himself. In a new system, with players alongside him rather than ahead of him, it maybe that this year we can see a new, revitalized Ozil style.

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