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In Defence of Mesut Ozil

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13:  Mesut Oezil of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal at Villa Park on January 13, 2014 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

Mesut Ozil would have had high hopes for Arsenal's tie with Bayern Munich. It was an opportunity for him to make an impact in front of his fellow countrymen and international team-mates. This, he will have imagined, was a chance to reinforce his reputation in Germany and beyond.

However, he will look back on the two-legged affair with a good deal of regret. He missed a penalty in the first leg, before being substituted at half-time in the Allianz Arena. The subsequent reaction from the British press has been savage. Neil Ashton of The Daily Mail has been particularly critical. He wrote:

At £42.5m Mesut Ozil is the most expensive export in the history of German football. After his performance in Munich you wouldn’t pay two-bob for him.

There should be something special about returning to the country where it all started for the Arsenal midfielder.

Behind those eyes something is going on with Ozil because he is simply not right.

The timing of the article is particularly strange. Ozil's form in the early part of the year has been below-par, and he was given the best part of two weeks off from first-team duties. However, on his return to the starting XI against Everton, he was excellent. Against the Toffees, Ozil scored a vital opener and created the final goal for Olivier Giroud. He looked every bit as good as he did during his blistering start to the season.

Bogdan Maran/Associated Press

Yes, he struggled in Munich. However, for much of the first half he was carrying a hamstring problem. After the game, Arsene Wenger told The Mail:

He’s out for a few weeks. It is a hamstring injury and it looks quite serious. I don’t know how long and we hope it’s not so bad.

His injury appears to have been completely overlooked in the assessment of his performance. The fact that he was withdrawn at half-time may make for a good headline, but it was down to purely physiological reasons. Ozil was hurt, not hooked.

In his short time on the pitch, Ozil failed to make an enormous impact. Ashton writes that he "had just 21 touches of the ball", which compares poorly with many members of the Bayern midfield.

However, he fails to mention that Arsenal were largely under pressure for most of that first half. The Gunners simply didn't have the possession required for Ozil to impose himself on the game.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

What's more, he was also playing out of position. Arsene Wenger opted to deploy Ozil on the right flank, where his influence was less prominent. With Arsenal struggling to retain the ball, they could not get their German playmaker involved. Instead, he was limited to tracking the forward runs of David Alaba.

Ozil's form this season has admittedly been mixed. However, singling him out for criticism in the Bayern game seems both unfair and unfounded.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.

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