A dismal 3-1 home loss to Monaco last night was a new low in Arsenal’s Topsy turvy season. The forwards missed chance after chance, the midfield tempo was slow, and defense was simply suicidal as Arsene Wenger put it post match. However, Arsenal had a relatively decent run of results before the games (8 wins in last 10 games), the end of which was a nervy 2-1 win at Crystal Palace. That being said, they were on the road to gaining some consistency at a vital time of the year. Pivotal in this run was the return to form and fitness of Mesut Ozil. Scoring 4 in 3 games since coming back the ex Real Madrid star seems to have added a yard of pace, and an ounce of muscle to his intelligent creative game. Most notably this season, his early goal at Spurs. He had got his mojo back or so it seemed.
But all this good work was torn apart by Monaco on Wednesday night. And how! Ozil once again failed to impress in a big game. He couldn’t impose himself on the game with the impressive Kondogbia constantly on his heels. He lost the ball too often, misplacing even simple, short passes. The German has been playing well this season, but now and then, seems to go missing in important games. Which brings me to the crux of the following question.
The stats make for grim reading indeed. In 25 games (last season and this) against big Teams, he contributed 5 assists and 3 goals. It’s not the stats alone, he looks short of confidence and guile when the occasion demands the same two qualities from him. Viewers would prominently remember the fatal giveaway of the ball to a rampant Liverpool side in the 5-1 Anfield drubbing and the missed penalty at a crucial time in the loss to Bayern at Emirates last season.
“Settling in time” has been used to defend him against the above data by many fans including me. But now an entire season has passed and we are still at square one. At least in big game scenarios. Nor can physicality of oppositions set up to hound you on and off the ball be used as an excuse. Which brings me to what I think might be the reason behind Mesut Ozil going AWOL in big games. Could it be because a classic No.10 like Ozil has been played on the wing too often? This season Ozil has been played slightly wider (LCAM) in a 3 man midfield. But he has managed to come up with the goods in that position with decent performances at White Hart Lane and at home to Villa (not a big game but Arsenal were beaten in the same fixture last season). Also Arsenal are very fluid with Ozil, Cazorla and Alexis exchanging positions when on song. So position can’t be used as a complaint either.
Intense pressure can do strange thing to people. Some embrace it, take it by its horns and rise to the occasion (Look no further than Alexis Sanchez or Thierry Henry for this). On the other hand, pressure gets into the heads of some people and they start to crumble under the massive weight of expectations which big match situations bring. Sometimes it’s more about the mentality, your approach to a game than your talent.
What goes on in your mind inevitably affects how you play on the pitch according to many player psychologists. They might just be right in this case as well. However, you don’t need to be a psychologist to see that Ozil, like the Proteas in cricket, tends to” choke” in big games. His body language when things are not going his way tells the same story.
If he loses a ball, he won’t break his gut to retrieve it back. Just look at Ox before his goal on Wednesday night and you will come to know what I am saying. Yes Ozil is not really the hammer and tongs kind of player who runs after every ball, but he needs to at least show he is up for it even when things aren’t going his and Arsenal’s way .
Don’t get me wrong, I personally like Ozil as a player. He has everything in him to be the classy maestro Arsenal yearned for after Cesc Fabregas’s inevitable departure to Barcelona. He and Santi Cazorla, on their best of days, can unlock any defence with their skill and vision.
Fortunately for Ozil there is another huge game coming up at Old Trafford, where Arsenal have a pretty dubious record. Arsenal meets familiar rivals Man United in an FA Cup tie. The season is not over yet with FA cup and top 4 finish still to play for, although a Champions League run seems to have come to an abrupt end. That, then will provide him plenty of opportunities to overcome the “block” and showcase just why Arsene Wenger payed what he payed for him. A time for him to become the man of the occasion.
Guest blog from the editor of Aliveforfootball.com