Mesut Ozil has looked a shadow of himself in recent weeks and if Arsenal and Arsene Wenger want to get the very best from the 25-year-old German international, they should consider dropping him for the rest of the season.
Ozil was dropped from the starting lineup against Sunderland following his less-than-stellar performance against FC Bayern Munich. It was the correct decision given the midfielder's insipid displays of late. The criticism that Ozil drew after the Bayern game urged his fellow countryman and Arsenal teammate, Lukas Podolski, to defend him on his Facebook page, as per Squawka.
Others pointed to the fact that Ozil ran 11.7 km, the third highest of both teams, against Bayern. That statistic, however, is misleading because, while he undoubtedly ran, he ran in the wrong areas of the pitch and essentially hid in plain sight. In other words, his "work rate" was not efficient.
The ex-Real Madrid man's performance wasn't all that surprising, though. Since the beginning of December, Ozil has not contributed as much as expected.
The Premier League was set alight when he joined Arsenal from Real Madrid at the end of the summer transfer window. His debut against Sunderland on September 14 will live long in the memory of most Gunners fans.
Those heady days seem long gone now and as the days begin to get longer and summer draws closer, Ozil's stamina is beginning to wane.
According to Who Scored, the German international contributed eight assists and four goals in his first 14 games for the Gunners. He played the full 90 minutes 10 times and was substituted just four times.
Since the beginning of December, Ozil's contributions have lessened.
He has been substituted four times in 15 matches and has been dropped from two complete games. He also has not scored and has contributed just two assists in the last 14 games.
This was obvious to all football observers, Wenger included. The Frenchman admitted that his £42.5 million signing needed a rest to mirror a winter break. In the build-up to Arsenal's crunch game against Chelsea, Wenger told the awaiting press conference, as per the Daily Mail:
In Germany and most of Europe, they have Christmas off and at some stage I will have to give him a break. But Monday night? [December 23 against Chelsea] No.
The simple truth of the matter was that Ozil had become too important to Arsenal's Premier League title ambitions to leave out.
The drop-off in output is there for all to see and as Arsenal's season turns towards the home straight, the 25-year-old is beginning to look like a spent force. Starting with the 4-1 win over Sunderland, Arsenal will play every week for the next 11 weeks in a row. If we add in the upcoming Champions League games at Bayern and the FA Cup match against Everton, the Gunners will play at least 13 games between now and May 11.
The Premier League is notoriously hard for imports during their first season. Olivier Giroud struggled terribly in his first term at the Emirates last season. This season, however, he has been one of Arsenal's best players and has been ever-present bar his recent sojourn on the bench following his alleged indiscretions off the pitch.
Giroud spoke to Arsenal's official website to explain the difficulties faced for new players in the Premier League. At the end of last season, he said:
I know what I did well, but also where I need to improve and what I will have to do better next season, but it has been a positive first year.
The press has been tough on me at times, but it’s normal. It’s part of the game. It’s been a tiring season as it was totally different to what I experienced before.
It was my first taste of Champions League football, the first time I was playing with no winter break and obviously the pace and rhythm of the game is different here.
I had to adapt mostly to the challenges in the game.
Here, it is a key part of the game. You need to use your body, to be clever on how to jump for a header for example. I have improved massively on that.
It is interesting because after a few weeks, the fitness coaches knew me better and told me that I had to work on my strengths, try to be more dynamic and work on how I hold the ball. So I’ve been doing a lot of exercises to develop my shoulders and my arms to protect the ball well.
I understood that I had to play more with my body here than in France. It has paid off.
I also had to adapt to Arsenal. I had to discover my teammates, understand how they like to play. It was a new type of football where I had to do everything better compared to before.
Physically, I was ready, but it is a big change compared to France which is more tactical.
With a year's worth of Premier League experience under his belt, Giroud has been a different animal this season. He has arguably become Arsenal's most important player.
He has scored 12 Premier League goals in 25 matches and 16 in 41 in all competitions. However, his overall development has been immense, and it was all down to his work over the summer of 2013.
Ozil is now in the same place the centre-forward was last year. He has left a technical league, La Liga, for the rough and tumble and 90 mph action of the Premier League. The change in footballing culture takes time to get used to and has a huge effect on any player coming to British football for the first time. We can see this in Giroud's quotes.
The fact that most European leagues also employ a winter break should not be forgotten. Remember, this is also the first time in eight seasons that Ozil has not had a three-week break from football over Christmas.
It is worth pointing out to the uninitiated that, because of the winter break, teams in Europe set up their training to effectively have two preseasons. All top sides train their players to peak in December and then to peak again in April.
The Premier League's teams, with no winter break, find it far more difficult for players to reach their peak at the end of the season. Think of English teams being outplayed in the latter stages of the Champions League in recent years, and, most importantly, think of England's lack of progress on the international stage in major summer tournaments.
At South Africa 2010 and at Euro 2012, England were comprehensively outplayed by their opponents. While the Three Lions' technical deficiencies are often blamed, it would be churlish not to consider the stamina-sapping Premier League season as a major contributor.
Ozil will need to toughen up and build up his stamina during the summer.
That, however, will be easier said than done, considering it is a World Cup year. Unless Arsenal act now, and start resting their record signing, they won't reap any benefit next season until it's too late.
The 25-year-old is an important part of Joachim Low's plan for Germany at Brazil 2014. He will play in most games and will start almost every one. Germany are expected to progress quite far in the month-long tournament. Ozil will play between five and seven games.
That basically means that the already dog-tired Ozil will not stop playing football until early July at the latest.
The official Premier League website states that the 2014-15 season will kick off on August 16. Players not going to the World Cup will have completely recharged their batteries as they won't have kicked a ball from the start of May. That means that non-World Cup players will have over three months off.
Ozil in his current state of mind and body needs that rest to recharge. But he won't get it as he is too important to Germany's need.
That leaves the burden with having to rest his most creative player to Wenger.
Arsenal are absolute outsiders to win the title this season, and they have no chance of beating Bayern Munich in the return leg in the Champions League. That leaves the FA Cup as the real target now.
Le Prof should be clever with how he uses Ozil over Arsenal's last 11 games of the season. In essence, he should use him sparingly. He should treat the German as a player returning from injury.
If he manages this situation carefully over the Premier League's final straight, he will give the player enough rest so that when he returns from Brazil, he will not be absolutely knackered. If he drops Ozil for the majority of Arsenal's remaining games, the Gunners will reap the benefits next season.
If he doesn't, then Arsenal will have a player who will continue to perform at a substandard rate. Over a long period of time this will have a hugely negative effect upon both the players confidence, and the fans' confidence in him.
Wenger should have rested Ozil far more during the first part of the season. At one stage he was only substituted once in a run of 11 straight games. Now he is paying the price as his batteries look like they have run down. At Real Madrid, under Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, he was protected and rarely played the full 90 minutes.
Unfortunately for Wenger, Ozil is now such an important player and Arsenal's run of fixtures over the coming weeks is so tough, he must think long and hard before dropping his star signing.
Bar possibly the Chelsea game, the Gunners possess the players to beat all in their remaining Premier League fixtures. Wenger needs to start thinking longer term and looking at what is better for the club, rather than for himself.
If he sacrifices Ozil to the bench now, he is more or less giving up on the league this season. He will also, however, be making a bold statement about their intentions next year.
Using Ozil sparingly for the rest of the season is the right thing to do, for the club and the player; it remains to be seen if Wenger will, however.
Statistics courtesy of the Premier League, UEFA, Who Scored and Soccerbase.