Absolutely untouchable in the first half of the season, Mesut Özil has struggled to influence games of late. With Arsenal needing nothing shy of 7 straight wins in the home stretch to even think of the title, can their German maestro last the distance?
A swivel here and a turn there, Mesut Özil was simply a class apart during the first half of the season. With eyes at the back of his head, Ozil often saw angles even before they developed, laying the ball off to a team-mate in space with the sweet caress of his left boot.
Three goals and 16 assists in just 19 games meant that Mesut Özil has been involved in over half of Arsenal’s 33 goals between August to December. Breaking Thierry Henry’s Premier League record of 20 assists in a season only seemed like a matter of time.
Yet the second half of the season has not been nearly as productive for the German. Since 2016 has rolled around, Ozil’s performances have dipped significantly as he struggles to exert the sort of control on games he had earlier on. Indeed, the number of assists he is providing has fallen off a cliff. In the 12 games in 2016, Ozil has added just a meagre two more assists to his tally. Ozil could well be talking about himself when he recently admitted that Arsenal had lacked focus at times this season.
Wenger’s Changing Tactics
On top of understandably being a heavily marked man that opposing managers specifically prepare for, another significant factor behind Ozil’s ineffectiveness of late has been down to a change of personnel. Aaron Ramsey’s injury has robbed both Arsenal and Ozil of a box-to-box midfielder who often made intelligent runs into the box where he could finish moves having been left unmarked by the opposition. Arsene Wenger’s demotion of Walcott to the bench has also removed another regular outlet for Ozil with the Englishman’s blistering pace a key factor in setting up swift counter attacks. Wenger’s selection of Coquelin and Elmeny in recent games is far more solid defensively but this setup somewhat lacks the penetrating runs that Ozil found regularly at the start of the season.
Tired Ozil struggles
The other key reason for this decline is fatigue. Having started all but two games this season, it is no surprise that Ozil has somewhat slowed down as the season has progressed. With Santi Cazorla out since November, as well as Alexis Sanchez sitting out the hectic festive period of December and January, Ozil has had to be Arsenal’s solitary creative outlet, taking on that sizeable burden alone on his slim shoulders when games were coming thick and fast.
In fact, the pattern where a player’s free flowing assists suddenly dry up is nothing new. A former Arsenal favourite, who currently plays for the blue half of London, suffered a similar fate last season. The 14/15 season saw Cesc Fabregas began the season on fire, laying on assist after assist for Diego Costa as Chelsea flew off the blocks. 15 assists by January meant Henry’s assist record well within reach. Yet Fabregas’s form eventually nosedived and he ended the season with just two shy of the record with 18 assists.
With the Arsenal title challenge hanging by a thread with seven games to go, the onus is on Ozil to make the assist record his own. Only time will tell if that will be enough for Arsenal to finally lift the title that their long suffering fans have been craving for after over a decade though remains to be seen.