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Ozil/Alexis: The secret to their success

Alexis and Mesut Ozil

If there is a single strike to summarise Arsenal’s attacking approach in 2016/17, it’s the third goal in the memorable 3-0 thrashing of Chelsea at the Emirates.

A stunning counter-attacking goal that saw Arsenal race from their own box to the opposition box in the space of 10 seconds, it was also, effectively, a move which featured just two men: Alexis and Mesut Ozil.

It was classic Arsenal counter-attack. Ozil received the ball midway inside his own half from Laurent Koscielny, and instinctively turned past N’Golo Kante, easing into 30 yards of space behind him and dribbling powerfully towards goal.

Alexis, starting high up against the Chelsea centre backs, made a run into the right-hand channel, received the pass, and then instinctively looked for Ozil, before crossing perfectly to the far post, allowing Ozil to crash the ball home. It was a perfect demonstration of their fine relationship. 

 

Arsene Wenger’s redeployment of Alexis in a centre-forward position has changed the way Arsenal attack. 

 

Although a good all-round footballer who is happy dropping deep and linking play, Alexis also offers pure speed in behind the opposition defence. That has pushed opposition defences back and played into the hands of Ozil, who works well when given more space between the lines, and also likes having a target for through-balls behind the opposition.

The interesting thing about their relationship, however, is that the three times they’ve combined directly for a goal this season, it has been Alexis, the forward, assisting Ozil, the playmaker.

In addition to that counter-attacking strike against Chelsea, they linked for the third goal in the 3-1 victory over Watford. Alexis drifted left and crossed towards Ozil, who temporarily became Arsenal’s most advanced player to score a rare headed goal. In a 3-2 victory over Swansea, meanwhile, Alexis dropped deep into an inside-right position, then hung up a high ball towards the far post to find Ozil steaming in unnoticed. He majestically volleyed high into the Swansea net, a remarkably confident finish. You wouldn’t put ‘converting crosses’ on a list of Ozil’s traditional strengths, but with Alexis’ varied movement, he is encouraged to run into the box and become a goal threat. He’s already hit seven goals this season from just 13 games, a remarkable tally considering he netted eight in 45 games last season. In Arsenal’s last Premier League game, a 1-1 home draw with Tottenham, it was notable how frequently Ozil found Alexis. Fifteen times the German played in the Chilean, usually in the inside-left channel. It was Arsenal’s most common passing combination.

 

It’s particularly impressive that Arsenal’s top passing combination involved their two most dangerous attackers - in contrast, Tottenham’s top four combinations involved their defenders knocking square balls to one another. Although Spurs had plenty of possession, Arsenal were getting their goal threats to combine more frequently. Pundits rarely discuss strike duos in the age of 4-2-3-1 formations dominating, but that’s effectively what Ozil and Alexis are. Together, they form Arsenal’s best attacking partnership since Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry.