Arsenal’s 5-1 loss to Liverpool over the weekend may not be the best reference point for summing up a player’s season, certainly not a player whose team has justifiably led the Premier League for much of the year, but it is as good as any marker for assessing the contribution of their high-profile summer signing, Mesut Ozil.
Ozil’s move from Real Madrid was one of the summer’s most talked-about transfers. As Arsenal added to one of their best-ever Premier League starts, he became a symbol not only of their good form but their title credentials as well. But in light of the team’s performances in big matches and his dipping form, just how good has Ozil been so far in his first season in England?
Of course, it did not help Ozil in the long run that he adjusted seamlessly as soon as he came in. He started his Premier League career with two goals and four assists in his first five games, and his transition from Spain to England appeared seamless. However, his quick start may have also laid the foundation for unusually high expectations later in the season.
Ozil came to England having been Europe’s most creative player statistically. Since the 2009-10 season he created more goalscoring chances than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues. That includes players like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. In that same time period he was also credited with 60 league assists, also a high amongst the top five European leagues.
At Real Madrid, Ozil was the team’s key playmaker and Ronaldo’s most important scoring outlet. He assisted 20 of Ronaldo’s goals in his three seasons with the cub, the most prolific partnership in La Liga this century. In fact, no player has assisted as many goals for Ronaldo than Ozil (27 overall at Madrid).
Similarly, Ozil has been the German national team’s most important and influential player since his debut in 2009. To say that Ozil was expected to come in and immediately continue adding to those numbers is an understatement. Add to that the fact that he was Arsenal’s most expensive ever transfer and the pressure was on from the start.
How Good Has He Been?
As mentioned earlier, Ozil’s start with the Gunners was very good. He played a big part in Arsenal’s early run of form that saw them lead the league standings for 12 consecutive matchdays. He was also crucial in the team’s win against Liverpool in November in the league and their big victories over Napoli and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. His creativity and ability to bring players in galvanized the team and fuelled their fine form.
It also stands to reason that Ozil had a big part to play in Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud’s revitalized form. Both players have been freed up by Ozil’s exceptional playmaking skills and benefited from his services.
Ozil’s greatest attribute has always been his ability to link up with those around him and improve their output. He did it at Werder Bremen, at Real Madrid and with the German national team. In each team he enables other attackers to shine, and that has very much been the case at Arsenal as well.
Statistically, Ozil’s season has been quite successful. Only Wayne Rooney has more assists in the Premier League this season than Ozil, and only four other players have created as many scoring opportunities as he has. The drop-off is really more apparent in the Champions League where Ozil has only collected two assists. Even there, though, Ozil has created the third most scoring chances in the entire competition.
Despite his impressive statistics, Ozil has come under increasing criticism this season. After starting really well for Arsenal his form has dipped over the last eight to 10 games, and his performance against Liverpool at the weekend was symbolic of his tendency to drift in and out of games. More specifically, that tendency in big matches.
The perception that Ozil has underperformed in big matches has a degree of truth in it. But the context of that truth is what his critics need to keep in mind. He has never been the kind of player to take over a game or drive his team forward. Instead, he was always at his best when supplemented by a supporting cast.
It is no surprise then that when Arsenal struggle, so too does Ozil. That is not to say he is incapable of performing in big matches. He was arguably Germany’s most important player in World Cup qualifying, at the European Championships in 2012 and in South Africa four years ago. The same applied to several of Madrid’s encounters with Barcelona over the years.
The big matches Arsenal have struggled in this season have all been games in which they lacked their usual control. Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea all prevented them from dictating the tempo that they are so accustomed to having.
If Arsenal can adjust and cope to the pressure and qualities of the top teams in the league, Ozil may better be able to influence games. As such, it may just be the case of the team having to adjust to Ozil this time around.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored unless otherwise noted.