Alexis Sanchez & Mesut Özil: The Shifting Sands of Popularity

Crime and Punishment; the title of Dostoyevski’s classic fits to current era Arsenal rather well. Nodding sagely, some will think instantly of the manager; others such as myself, the players. ‘How the Mighty Have Fallen’ is another title to consider.

The phenomenon of fans turning on players is nothing new. At every level of the game since it was first invented, the scapegoat has always existed. From the kid who was always left as last pick in the playground to Emmanuel Eboue, the crowd always finds one – sometimes more – to barrack.

At the moment, the ‘victim’ is Alexis. Not in the ground but on social media. In the name of treachery, his star is diminished and his importance to the team is downgraded. Yesterday’s hero is today’s fallen angel, cast into the pits of Hell for daring to leave.

Scoring a goal every other game (on average) can’t save him from his critics, who decree that statistics prove his negative impact on the team. ‘He’s not as good as everyone says,’ so the line goes before finishing off with, ‘because he gives the ball away too often’. An annoying habit but nobody has come up with a statistic yet on how many goals that has cost us. Even so, it still doesn’t make him a bad player because we always look first to goals scored with strikers.

The most damning criticism is saved for his attitude. Frustration is deemed petulance, smiling at a miss is worse: treachery. Fortunately, we’re a nation of lip readers and can tell that the latter was genuinely wishing ill on the team; revenge for keeping him as an unwilling prisoner for the final year of his contract. As for showing emotion at performances, well, damn you Alexis and your wanting to win.

Numbed By The Effect

That’s not to say other players don’t want to win, they simply manage their emotions better. He wears his heart on his sleeve, others have theirs sitting in a Chesterfield High Wing Back chair, wearing a smoking jacket, in front of a roaring fire, all nice and cosy with a pipe and glass of port to hand, watching live coverage of the AFL Grand Final. That’s the way some people are and they reap the reward of being seen as a nice person.

Contrast this with Mesut Özil’s fate. Inexplicably, he too is cast as a bad player. Lazy, still “nicking a living”. I think the German is a great player just a bit of a luxury at Arsenal. If you’ve got a midfield like Bayern’s or play for Real Madrid where you more or less win every game by turning up, he’s fantastic. He needs other midfielders to do the leg work while he pitches in with the creativity. Give him a strong defence to play in front of and he’ll give you three points with assists.

And that’s why he is a luxury at Arsenal. We don’t have a strong defence; it’s inconsistent at best.  We don’t have a strong midfield which recycles possession dynamically. If we hit 70%+ possession, a lot of it has gone sideways as we struggle to break down the banks of four and five.

But he’s leaving as well yet the criticism is muted, his PR people manage his image well, aside from the recent poor misjudgment on social media.

Compare and contrast the two but there’s no doubt that players who signed for Arsène are leaving because of him as well.

A Shot in the Dark

Arsène, it’s claimed, is punishing the former by dropping him from the Premier League side and playing him in the lesser tournaments of the Carabao Cup.  Just to spite himself, you see.

Even for a manager who can be as wilfully perverse in his thinking, Arsène would be taking banter to a whole new level by dropping one and not the other. That it’s even being given discussion time in the media is just baffling.

We saw at Stamford Bridge that there are genuine tactical reasons why both should be left out of the starting line-up. When you want real discipline in a performance, neither player is going to give you the work-rate. That was a welcome moment of flexibility in the manager’s thinking and the ‘fall out’ since is just window dressing.

The lessons of another punishing defeat at Anfield are learned and expect to see a line-up at City, United and Tottenham which mirrors the one which took the field at Stamford Bridge.

It’s a step in the right direction. Reconstructing the squad is the next task, one which suits a back three without needing square pegs rammed into round holes. Replacing Alexis and Özil won’t be cheap next summer but do we need like-for-like? I think not. We need the money to be spent wisely on positions where gaps exist or will appear.

The centre of defence and at right back, where cover is almost non-existent. Spending €100m on Thomas Lemar makes for great headlines but with other expenditure needed, can Arsenal afford it? I haven’t looked hard to see if Arsène’s prophecy of players entering the final year of their contracts is showing any signs of beginning to come true anywhere other than with us.

Light a Bitter Fuse

It’s a situation complicated by the manager’s own future. If we’re looking for signs that lessons are being learned, then deciding his future next summer is the first step; one way or another. I know what I’d choose and I’ve got a feeling it’s not what Stan is thinking.

However, Ivan’s already rusted credibility is facing a make-or-break moment with this renewal. We know the manager’s version of being a “catalyst for change” is being a ‘catalyst for more of the same’ so a persuasive case must be made to Kroenke Sr for that change to happen.

Two years is a ‘nothing’ deal; it’s a timspan which only puts the problem off to another day because you haven’t got a plan in place to replace a key member of staff. Ivan’s admitted that with the bizarre statement that there aren’t any better manager’s than the Frenchman.

We’re on the verge of a seismic change at Arsenal with next summer being a potentially tumultuous one. Will we manage that pro-actively or stumble through? Will Alexis even make it to next summer as an Arsenal player or is the talk of a January sale going to come true?

I can see the financial sense in that; £20m contribution to the coffers is better than nothing but from a footballing perspective? It’s a decision which would haunt us, I think. Then again, we seem to be heading toward another banter era at Arsenal so nothing would surprise me.

Finally, we’ve reached 2007 in the Times of our Lives series on Dad’s Jukebox.

’til Tomorrow.

23 thoughts on “Alexis Sanchez & Mesut Özil: The Shifting Sands of Popularity

  1. Good morning and thanks for the post Yogi, the Sun also shines here in Norfolk C Bob.

    If, after all Wenger’s posturing and repetition of his “Sanchez will not be sold” mantra, he let’s him go for £20 million in January when he could have got four times as much in August it will confirm him as the perfect choice to play the Jerry Lewis part in the re-make of the old movie The Nutty Professor.

  2. Afternoon all
    Me and my missus(and Merlyn our Springer) are in Northumberland after a 5 hour drive from Norfolk.Here for 12 days….looking forward to many things it has to offer.
    Still got the iPad for Sky and BT to watch the games though 👍

  3. Nicely done article. I found it odd that the focus was on Arsenal’s players who enter their last season in 2017/18, whereas the premier league is replete with many other similar situations; admittedly, Alexis and Ozil are big (foreigner) players, but you get the drift.
    United have 10 players in their last season, including Blind, Fellaini, Herrera, Shaw, Mata, Young and Peirera, but you don’t get to see the club being scrutinized. Wenger may have happened on something there (seeing more and more of such contract sagas, unless regulators fix the issue of exorbitant fees) because it is revealed that there are 107 (?) players in that situation within the EPL.
    Wenger cannot win with fans and the media, whatever decision taken with Ozil and Alexis. If he keeps them, he’s cost us money. Sell in January and it is “typical Arsene, never keeps his word and still money hungry”.

  4. Eris,

    The issue is not about letting players run down their contracts, it’s about letting the players you want to keep run down their contracts. If they are not willing to sign up you should surely be selling them on before you are disadvantaged. There may be 107 players in the PL who have entered the final year of their contract, but there must be a number of those who are just not wanted by their clubs after this season and are therefore expected to leave. United may have 10 in that position, but it’s unlikely they want them all to stay. The issue we have as a club is that a number of core members of the first XI have been allowed to do this and we are now on the back foot, as we have to sign up players like Ramsey and Welbeck to new deals when perhaps we should be looking for upgrades. Because the money has to be spent next summer on replacements for Ozil and Sanchez, we have precious little to spare on buying in someone better than Welbz or Ramsey. So we have to try to sign them up to new deals, or allow the squad to get even weaker.

  5. I think it must have passed me by that Macey is also in the last year of his deal. Does that mean we are just going to be stuck with Cech and Ospina?

  6. Great post Yogi

    We have talked about this a lot but Sanchez been our best goal scorer by a wide margin and even though he loses the ball a lot when he tries to do things that don’t come off he has been our best assist creator. Numbers don’t tell the whole story but we need that production if we really want to be competitive with other big teams and where else will those numbers come from?

  7. Even though he has not been productive, I don’t see Arsene dropping Ozil out of the starting 11. However, it would be a huge financial and footballistic mistake to give Ozil a big money long term contract at this point in his career. On the other hand I would be very happy if Sanchez signed another contract. Lemar might be a great addition but his skill set makes him more of an Ozil replacement and he is not going to give us anything like Alexis’ production. We would still need to replace the goals and assists that Sanchez brings and that is going to cost a lot in both transfer fee and wages.

  8. Eris,

    Of those (Blind, Fellaini, Herrera, Shaw, Mata, Young and Peirera) I would expect that Maureen might like to keep Fellaini and Mata as squad players but I doubt he’d be too upset if they all left. By contrast we are talking about what are supposed to be our two best players.

    My position was clear, if they didn’t sign by the end of last season sell them and invest in replacements. What we saw was muddled indecisive thinking as we claimed we wouldn’t sell Sanchez, then we would, then we didn’t and tried to claim it as some sort of success. As for Ozil we would have probably sold him but there were no serious bids.

    Instead we’re in a position where they will walk for nothing or be sold for a pittance in January, hardly the most sound result in either a business or footballing sense whichever way you look at it.

    On the pitch our recent performance at Chelsea is a useful reminder that the best team is not necessarily putting your eleven best individuals on the pitch and hoping that it works. We should be looking at working with that concept and rather than shoehorning players into the side we simply need an effective game plan and players playing in their best positions.

  9. Andy

    We certainly have not gotten much production out of Sanchez or Ozil so far this season so your idea of selling them during the summer looks pretty smart at least so far.

    Its to early to have true must win games, however, the one solid source of the points we have been able to collect in the last couple of years have been home games against mid and lower table teams. If we don’t win games like the one coming up this Monday at home against West Brom then we have are going to have a big struggle to compete for 4th place.

  10. Gems from Wenger:

    Ramsey can be Arsenal captain if he can stay fit.

    It’s a big year for Walcott.

    Champions League is losing its appeal.

  11. I expect more and more players to enter the last year of their contracts.

    Aliens are sapping our vital juices.

  12. The United and City attacks seem to be super charged so far this season and Chelsea seems to be coming into their own having lost in week one. I cannot see us getting anywhere near them this season and have to completely discount Wenger’s suggestion that we are aiming for the title. With only one regular goal scorer in the squad, and him starting slowly, we need Lacazette scoring regularly and the supporting players to also be chipping in. Given that we have had a very small number of goal scorers in recent seasons, it’s going to be a tall order.

    Coutinho is back for Liverpool, providing both goals and assists. How is he back up to speed so quickly when Sanchez still looks either unfit, or worse, disinterested?

  13. Your tribute to Ozil is both timely and reasoned. I f only Arsenal had the type of player to take advantage of his vision on the field of play, achievement would be limitless. 😉

  14. Wavey,

    Wavey, it is typical for fans of this club to think the worst of their players. Did it occur to you that those “attacks are supercharged” because they have not really come up against proper opposition? United will not play against any top 6 side until week 8 while City did meet Liverpool and scored so many goals after the occurrence of ‘special circumstances’, if you will only recall with some perspective. City drew against Everton; United drew against Stoke and have won by a goal at Southampton. They have had a rush of late goals in all of those games they won 4-0; I don’t see why we start counting the chicks when the league hasn’t even hit halfway stage.

    As for Alexis, no doubt his head was turned; he was also given an extended break as he was at the Confed cup for South America. Upon returning, he then got injured, which set back his fitness program. We either read and ignore these facts or just don’t read enough about our situation.

  15. andy1886,

    You may be right, Andy, re JM only wishing to keep Mata and Fellaini (you may be wrong too as you have no idea, whatsoever, what he’s thinking. We know he loves Herrera and Shaw was England’s next big full back), but the point is those are two important players who start in more than 30 games for United, each season. Why don’t we hear the same attention being paid to those situations? I put it to you that many clubs have had key players enter their last seasons to either leave on a free or sign for a few more years. We had many instances this summer; nothing new there seeing as we have stolen some free transfers too, as a club (Sol Campbell, comes to mind being his club captain at the time) Kolasinac is a recent one too. Ibra had a one year contract and didn’t renew, until it ran out. Tevez was desired by Fergie but rubbed his nose in it……

    We need to view things with same standards, methinks.

  16. Wavey,

    So, why not cut the club some slack (as you did for the other clubs) and assume maybe, just maybe, the club doesn’t wish to keep a number of those and expected them to leave in the summer? Which, in truth, happened to be the case with most of the players you speak about. Ozil and Sanchez may be special but they are soon going to turn 29 and it isn’t as if the deals on offer from Arsenal are not attractive enough. Bayern Munich backed off Sanchez, for crying out loud.

  17. Eris

    > assume maybe, just maybe, the club doesn’t wish to keep a number of those and expected them to leave

    Seriously? The club wants players of the calibre of Ozil and Sanchez to leave? That we’re not fussed if Ramsey, Welbeck, Walcott and Wilshere bugger off?

    How much money do you think our transfer funds will be next summer to replace them? Bar Giroud, that’s our whole forward line! It’s mad to think this is some sort of plan or Arsene saying, “You fuck off. And you. You offenzi fuckenzi. You – yes, you; do one!”

    This isn’t a plan and we’re in this mess precisely because we didn’t have a plan!

  18. YW,

    YW, this is exactly the point I have been making about how we only see the worst in our club. Firstly, “a number of” doesn’t mean Ozil and Alexis (however, even you must admit neither of us can know for sure what’s on the mind of the club management; if you want value, you don’t show your true intention, in negotiation, as was the case with Ox, who I am convinced we were going to sell, of the 3).
    Secondly, Ramsey, Welbeck, Walcott and Wiltshire are still in the “protected period” of their contracts and need not feature in the discuss, being only about players whose contracts run out at the end of the season and how we handle those who will soon be at risk. As it stands, we are doing the right thing starting talks with them now.
    Lastly, given the way we were on Ramsey’s and Welbeck’s backs; plus with Jack being called a crock and overrated, will it be out of place to have a chat with them along the general lines of “you’ve got to show me you deserve the contract extension, or….”? Or, you think it is every conversation club’s have with their players that get into the media?

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