Is Mesut Ozil Struggling to Adapt to the Pace of the EPL?
Mesut Ozil has raised the profile of Arsenal since his mega-money transfer from Real Madrid. But the Gunners' £42.5 million man has stumbled, rather than sauntered, his way through recent games, particularly in the English Premier League.
He is a player often defined by his languid style, who has joined a league noted for its frenetic pace. So it's reasonable to ask: Is Mesut Ozil struggling to adapt to the pace of the EPL?
The question becomes relevant given a number of, let's be polite and say sluggish, recent performances. Not all of those have been in the league, but Ozil has yet to deliver an outstanding performance in the division.
Instead, he has shown his unquestioned talent only in fleeting glimpses. There have been isolated examples of brilliance, rather than complete dominance.
Ozil's latest indifferent showing was a mere footnote after Arsenal emphatically swept Liverpool aside 2-0. I actually felt his performance against the Anfield club wasn't as bad as some of his other recent displays.
But it was certainly not the kind of performance you pay £42.5 million for. There was a telling moment against Liverpool that may be revealed as the root of Ozil's current struggles.
After about 17 minutes, the camera panned to the Germany international. His face was drenched with sweat.
Just to be clear, this was after a mere 17 minutes. Ozil at times appeared overcome with the challenge of keeping up with the rigorous pace of play.
If he is not fully fit, that might explain his struggles becoming more involved in games. But it could also speak to the kind of player Ozil naturally is.
His star has been made thanks to an effortless grace on the ball—the ability to appear static for long periods and then suddenly spring into life.
Opponents can keep Ozil quiet, but in an instant he can thread a clever pass into the path of a breaking runner or outwit overly eager defenders with a classy flick.
Ozil has never been a player who will own the ball the way that former Arsenal midfield generals Cesc Fabregas and Patrick Vieira did.
It is what he does in those quick bursts of expression, ingenuity and imagination that defines Ozil's contributions to a team. That is why he can often be a player who frustrates.
EPL audiences are used to being enamoured with players who visibly dominate games from start to finish. Waiting for a mercurial ace to switch from slumber to effervescence can be a frustrating experience.
Which raises the question is the EPL the right environment for such a languid star? Arsenal know what can happen when the erratic genius of a strolling playmaker fails to mesh with the robust style of the division.
That is exactly what happened with Andrei Arshavin. It turned the club's then record signing from instant terrace hero to frustrating villain.
Of course, the EPL is different now. The majority of the top teams feature at least one stylish midfield schemer as their creative hub.
But these players don't operate with the same torpid demeanour that Ozil exhibits. Manchester City's David Silva is a mini marvel full of energy, one who constantly scurries to receive the ball and probe for openings.
Even Oscar, the potent Brazilian who has usurped Mata, combines flair with directness to score many of his goals.
Arsenal themselves rely on Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey, two players whose energy levels are as important as their technical acumen.
So just where exactly does a stroller like Ozil fit into this landscape? This is a player freshly arrived from Spain's La Liga, a division where the pace of play is certainly slower.
Teams are given the freedom of the middle to build their attacks. Playmakers are certainly not exposed to the kind of consistent pressing all over the pitch that Ozil experienced in Arsenal's 1-1 draw away at West Bromwich Albion.
He is struggling to adapt to the speed of play in the EPL, but time is on Ozil's side. After all, he has only played in 11 games since joining the Gunners.
Not many are instant hits in the EPL. Those who burn brightest early often soon fade into obscurity. Just ask Arshavin.
Ozil does need time to adapt, although the sooner the better. If Arsenal are going to win the league title, and they are certainly capable, they need their star players to produce.
Titles are won via collective team efforts flourished with the contributions of one or two star performers. In 1997/98, it was Dennis Bergkamp and, to a lesser extent, Marc Overmars.
In 2001/02, it was Robert Pires, who inspired Arsenal until an injury ruled him out of the latter stages. In 2003/04, it was Thierry Henry playing like a force of nature who sparked Arsenal to an historic season.
Ozil can be that man for the 2013/14 version of Arsenal. More games and the return of players like Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski, whose quick and varied movement Ozil is naturally disposed to supply, will help.
But the real catalyst might be simply delivering the kind of performance his price tag demands in a big game. Say, for instance, next Sunday, when Arsenal travel to Old Trafford to battle Manchester United, still the measuring stick for accurately gauging title credentials.
Ozil is currently off the pace in the EPL. But I for one am excited to see what Arsenal's record-signing will do once he catches up.
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