The quickest thing in football isn’t the latest shiny £60m forward, it’s the obituary for a playing career. We’ve seen it the past, present and nothing makes me think that the future will be any different. Favourite players suffer them whilst they dog other players whole careers. It doesn’t matter if you cost £4 or £42m; the football obituary is penned, it’s updated as the season’s pass.
Mesut Özil is the latest Arsenal player to read his. It’s everywhere, from criticising his engagement with the rest of the squad, their friends and families, to his performances on the pitch. And the latter is the only thing that matters, if we’re honest. The club’s record signing is always the one that journalists want to fail. Not, for the most part, through vituperation but knowing what is going to make good copy. And that’s good in the revenues sense, not through what’s written. By the same token, a player with a hefty price tag doing well is good copy in that sense.
But Özil, he’s a special case. His gravestone will carry a very simple recollection of his life: “Born 1988, Nicked a living in between, Died…”
The sensationalist claims are out in force again, picking up on what we’ve known for a while: his performances for a couple of weeks have been sub-par. It’s come to a head this week, (a) because Arsène commented about the subject at the weekend, and, (b) we play Bayern tomorrow. The Prodigal Son returning is always the focus of attention on these occasions, particularly one who has been voted the national team’s Player of the Year five times in the past six seasons.
He must be doing something right.
Mesut Özil’s Club Performances Are All That Matter
And that’s quite right. Germany is the icing on the cake; Arsenal is the bread and butter. Recently, it’s been thin bread and margarine which is past its sell-by date. Graded as if they were school reports, his performances would get no more than a D in my view, with a teacher’s comments of “Can do considerably better”. The problem on these occasions is that a player of Özil’s calibre and cost quickly becomes a litmus test for the team. His sub-par games mask the overall deficiencies.
You expect a player of that quality to drag others out of their fug but it’s all too easily the case that they find themselves dragged down as well. Any player tagged as “mercurial” has that mentality; we’ve seen it in the past on plenty of occasions, we’ll see it in the future.
When the manager comments on the situation, it’s serious,
“Maybe he will find confidence back as well, because he misses chances. He has chances and he misses the chances that don’t look not feasible for him.
“I felt he did not feel confident against Hull. It’s always a problem because you think he can deliver something special but it’s true that technically he missed things that he is not used to.”
The weight of expectation can be a millstone; at that point, the manager has the decision to make about the next match. With Özil, there’s no simple solution to the problem. We know from experience that he is more likely to be ineffective in a big match away from the Emirates than rule the roost. There’s more probability of him being marginalised than owning the pitch, forcing the opposition to change their thinking about his inclusion or exclusion.
Dare Arsène Leave Özil Out Of Tomorrow’s Starting XI?
That’s the only question which matters this week. Bayern may think it a good thing if he does, but also be more concerned. Sacrificing the German international at kick-off must mean a hard-working midfield triumvirate, not shifting Alex Iwobi into the middle to replace him. Put Xhaka, Ox and Elneny as a trio with Walcott and Welbeck on either side of Alexis. Three quick forwards who carry a goal threat, with Ox filling the Cazorla role.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the unlikeliest candidate for Santi’s replacement; previously scratching around for a game in any position, he’s put in a couple of good performances in the centre which merit a longer-term experiment domestically. In Europe, it’s a risk but we’ve struggled with our staid 4-2-3-1 against the continents élite so why not try something different. Mind you, the second fastest thing in football is the promise of a glittering career…
The question Arsène must answer is whether he is brave enough to make that change, to throw Bayern a curve-ball. Success depends on a rock solid defence but that’s no different with or without a change in formation. And success is relative; a 2 – 1 defeat isn’t a bad result, it’s a good one. I’m sure the manager’s outlook on the away goals rule will be more positive if we benefit from it.