Mesut Ozil hasn’t yet convinced English football pundits of his outstanding quality, but the German has been crucial in Arsenal’s late-season resurgence. His intelligent runs and passes are getting the best from his teammates, proving Ozil a tremendously gifted playmaker.
That subtlety is perhaps the biggest barrier to Ozil earning widespread acclaim from across the country. Traditionally English football reveres fierce, all action, blood-and- thunder players who perform in an exaggerated manner. Ozil is the polar opposite: he ghosts around the pitch unnoticed, does everything with a minimum of fuss, and is more likely to make a crucial off-the-ball run to open up space for a counter-attack, than attempt an ambitious 30-yard shot. But Ozil has, increasingly, become key to Arsenal’s attacking play.
A recent example came in one of Arsenal’s most dominant performances of the season, a 3-0 home win over West Ham United. Aside from a brief wobble just after half-time, Arsenal were entirely comfortable, and scored three absolutely wonderful goals. The key combination usually involved a triangle of Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, and Ozil, who made inroads throughout the first half and combined for Giroud’s spectacular opener on the stroke of half-time.
Typically, it was Ozil playing the understated role. Giroud was providing clever, one-touch hold-up play, while Ramsey was bursting forward into the box with dangerous late runs. But Ozil was also crucial, playing a useful supporting role. His lateral movement from the number ten position into wider zones created space for Ramsey to charge into, and his clever touches provided the Welshman with a wall pass too.
It’s no coincidence that Ramsey’s explosion into a top-class goalscoring midfielder came immediately after Ozil arrived at the club. In the following home game, an equally convincing 4-1 thrashing of Liverpool, Ozil was also excellent. This time his contributions were more prominent, more overtly crucial. He created three chances for teammates, but more importantly also smashed in a brilliant free-kick, a whipped shot which was so powerful, and so well-directed, that Simon Mignolet was beaten despite starting on that side of the goal.
Ozil’s left foot is capable of these tremendous strikes, and while his neater, more arty touches shouldn’t be underestimated, it would be great to see more direct goalscoring contributions too. Interestingly, his shot figures are up compared to last season, suggesting this is an area he wants to improve upon. Strikes at home to Aston Villa and away at Tottenham were both extremely crisply struck, and Ozil seems most dangerous when he has the opportunity to finish with a first-time shot. Once he’s controlled the ball, he often looks to offload to a teammate.
That’s entirely reasonable, though, considering that Ozil remains a master creator. He’s currently the Premier League’s fourth most-prolific chance creator on a ‘per game’ basis, in a top five also featuring David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez. Few players are capable of sliding intricate through-balls between defenders so casually, and Ozil’s set-piece ability also helps, too.
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“What he does is always classy, intelligent and the timing of his passes is absolutely fantastic,” Wenger said in his post-match press conference following the Liverpool victory. “He’s agile, flexible and always available in between the lines. You would love to play with him.”
That remains the key. Ozil is such a valuable playmaker because he maximises the ability of others – his selflessness is his major quality. The central playmaking role is traditionally home to a team’s most talented player, but that player’s raison d’etre becomes compromised if he believes his job is to totally dominate the side. His real job, of course, is to help his side triumph.
Ozil remains very good at this simple concept. For club and country, he’s been on the losing side just four times in the past year, and he’s yet to be defeated in a league match at the Emirates. Ozil’s only crime, in truth, is not wanting to be the star. That’s probably a problem with English football’s perception of him, rather than with Ozil himself.
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