The curious case of Mesut Ozil has taken yet another twist, as the Arsenal midfielder has been ruled out for up to six weeks with an injury suffered in the recent Champions League round of 16 game against Bayern Munich.
As Ozil's form has taken a dip in the past few months, the media spotlight has been on him nonstop, relishing every poor touch or unflattering heat map as an opportunity to criticize the German international.
Some of this criticism, admittedly, has been fair: After hitting the ground running in his first few months at Arsenal, Ozil has gone off the boil and struggled to make the impact that fans expected.
The majority of the criticism, however, has been rather uncalled for. During Arsenal’s 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena—a fantastic result, by the way—Ozil was taken off after 45 minutes due to the aforementioned injury. Despite Ozil confirming that he felt the injury after just two minutes, Neil Ashton of the Daily Mail launched a scathing attack on the 25-year-old, accusing him of “nicking a living.”
Now, this criticism may have been understandable if Ozil's performance had come in a Premier League match against bottom-half opposition, but against the best team in the world, at their stadium, while carrying an injury? Accusing him of not being worth “two-bob” might be just a little harsh.
Let’s not forget that Ozil produced a masterclass performance just days earlier in Arsenal’s FA Cup quarterfinal win against Everton. He opened the scoring with a smart finish, assisted Olivier Giroud's second goal with a neat one-touch pass and generally controlled the play as Arsenal beat a very good Everton side 4-1.
So despite the inconsistency of his performances recently, there’s no doubt that Arsenal will miss their record signing during the run-in for silverware; we can only hope that he’s fit in time for the FA Cup semifinal against Wigan. He's not the type of player who grabs a game by the scruff of the neck; rather, he changes the game with one flash of brilliance, and that quality will be missed.
Injuries have had an enormous impact on Arsenal's season, with key players like Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all sidelined for long spells. Speculating on the hypothetical is useless, but it's worth noting how close Arsenal are to the top of the table despite their long injury list. It seems to be that when one player makes his return, another replaces him on the treatment table.
That being said, if Arsenal can afford injuries at any position, it's attacking midfield. When everyone is fit, Arsene Wenger has Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Wilshere to man the No. 10 position.
So considering Arsenal's wealth of attacking midfielders, the Gunners should be able to cope with the loss of Ozil.
Let's start with Cazorla, who regularly played as Arsenal’s center attacking midfielder in the 2012-13 campaign and flourished in the position. The Spaniard finished the season with 12 goals and 11 assists, and he was unlucky not to get a spot in the PFA Team of the Season.
He took some time to find his stride again this season due to injury, but he seems to be hitting his best form once again, as he's back to his usual creative self. On his day there are few better playmakers than the 29-year-old, and he’s arguably the most two-footed player in the Premier League, if not in all of world football.
Although he has been pushed out to the wings this season in order to accommodate Ozil, the two playmakers constantly interchange positions during matches. One minute Ozil will be in the middle with Cazorla on the left, and the next minute Ozil will pop up on the right with Cazorla shifting into the middle.
One thing is certain, though: Cazorla is simply not an out-and-out, chalk-on-his-boots winger. He’s not the type of player who makes runs in behind the defense or beats a full-back to cross it in the box; rather, he’s the type of player who you want playing defense-splitting through balls or popping shots from the edge of the box.
One of Arsenal's biggest flaws this season has been their lack of width. Without Walcott, Wenger often lines up with three playmaking midfielders in his 4-2-3-1 rather than one No. 10 and two wingers. The full-backs have often been the ones who provide the team with width and pace on the wings, and it has to be said that Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna have done admirable jobs.
With Ozil injured, however, Cazorla can move into the No. 10 position, and the Gunners can play with more traditional wingers in the shapes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, or “the Ox” as he is more commonly called, has arguably been Arsenal’s brightest player since his return from injury. He's flourished no matter what position he's played in, having featured on both wings as well as in central midfield.
He brings width and pace to Arsenal’s play—two things that they've lacked in the absence of Walcott and Ramsey. The Ox is a much more direct attacking outlet, as he’s willing to shoot or take on a defender rather than try to walk it into the net, as Arsenal usually try to do.
With Podolski, on the other hand, you never really know what you’re going to get. On a bad day, the German can be completely anonymous, and you’ll forget he's even on the pitch. On a good day, though, Podolski's lethal left foot and clinical finishing make him Arsenal’s most dangerous player.
Let's not forget about Rosicky, either. The 33-year-old plays like he’s 27 years old, constantly zipping around with energy and verve. Rosicky's play is always positive. He's always looking to play it forward or run with the ball.
With the attacking options at Wenger's disposal, Arsenal can surely cope without Ozil. Not only can they cope, but with Cazorla likely to move back to a central position, the Gunners’ attack could take on a fresh, new look with more traditional wingers.
Let’s hope Ozil makes a swift recovery, and that Arsenal prove they can stay in the title race even without their record signing.