So this is what Thursday Night Football feels like. It’s Saturday and kicking your heels because there is no football. Well, of course there is football, there is just no Arsenal. It’s all a bit, well, empty. To fill that void, this morning’s playlist, Forward Thinking, can be found here or in the right sidebar under Dad’s Jukebox. Older playlists can be found on the page of the same name.
Arsène held court with the media ahead of the visit to Leicester tomorrow. Despite his desires to the contrary, conversation inevitably turned to the remaining days of the transfer window. Keeping his cards close to his chest where transfers are concerned has been the singular consistency throughout his reign – everything else has evolved as all things in life do. Even so, Wenger’s comments about other players and their abilities have become more frequent or perhaps he is less reluctant to talk about them. Very few become members of Arsenal’s squad so perhaps that is the indicator that no activity in that particular direction.
Late activity in the market has become so expected that the manager almost considers it virtuous. This summer seems different – perhaps the World Cup is the cause – with the number of clubs still looking to do business seemingly higher than before. The past couple of months have been manic with an unending supply of unfulfilled stories voraciously consumed. It continues with current favourites, Rabiot and Remy moving to domestic and european rivals. Arsenal remain locked in talks with Dortmund over Sokratis whilst Carvalho is still trapped at Heathrow in the rotating doors desperately trying to get out for a medical.
Arsène summed it all up,
“The last few days are poker games. There’s a lot of lies there in the few days, everybody is interested in the same player even if you’re the only one who wants the player. [When you are experienced] you can call it a bluff when it is a bluff.”
As I write this, there is something like sixty-two hours remaining. That’s a lot of website and column inches to fill; Jim White is no doubt getting himself ready for a frenzy as Monday evening turns to night. Sky remain adamant that this and the January window close remain the most popular times of the footballing calender; how would they have coped in the past when transfer business was conducted until late March? The speculation would have been unending.
Thankfully, his attention was diverted elsewhere with a robust defence of Mesut Özil. Of course Wenger did, he is the player’s manager and if he doesn’t feel protective towards his star player, no-one will. The headlines are suitably misleading, offering what can be most generously described as loose, interpretation of his words. I would agree with Arsène when he condemns some of the criticism of the German as harsh. It lends itself toward the hyperbole that puts words in block capitals in headlines. Patrick Barclay agreed on Twitter that half of what is written is sensationalist twaddle. OK, he didn’t use twaddle but I forget his exact condemnation; it’s a fast and loose age, eh?
Part of the problem for the media is that Özil does not fit snugly into their categorisations. As Barney Ronay points out in this morning’s Guardian, the German rarely troubles the obvious statistics. He won’t strip bare after scoring an ultimately meaningless penalty but he will be appreciated by the type of player who would. Whilst the observation that he is not a player to build a team around seems overtly provocative, there is sense in the point; Özil isn’t a fulcrum, he is the oil that works hard and unassumingly to provide the engine with the means to display its power. Were there a reliable statistic for pre-assists, the midfielder would surely feature highly whereas he won’t even require a pencil to be sharpened for tackles made.
Playing Özil in the wide midfield position seems counter-productive from Wenger. Whilst the player seems comfortable there for his country, the playing style of his club is not the same nor will it be so unless the majority of the German team decamp to The Emirates. Arsenal’s midfield possesses a different character to Die Nationalmannschaft and always will. Wenger has a different tactical outlook than Löw and the Premier League far more intense physical demands.
It also leaves the left side of Arsenal’s defence exposed. Özil is an attacking Will O’ The Wisp but in the modern game, the traditional wide midfielder needs some defensive nous and that is not one of his strengths. It means though that he becomes a lightning rod for criticism when things go wrong or don’t work properly as at Everton where he floated alongside Coleman until the vital seconds when the opening goal was conceded.
Perhaps the adjustment period to the English game was most visible in that moment, where Özil recognised he had to work on that side of his game but it will take time to come. It shouldn’t however be at the expense of his creative footballing genes which is why most would prefer him to play centrally. Wenger though presumes that he will be more effective out of the physical muddle that the centre of the attacking third becomes.
Criticism of him is not tolerated though, even if the player admits himself that, “in my first season at Arsenal there were times when I was not at my best“, where the questioning of his abilities seemed to crystalise around the first leg against Bayern where the penalty miss so obviously affected him. Whilst Özil’s reaction was understandable, an unforgiving media built into a frenzy which was portrayed as sections of the support turning on him, which they weren’t. Maybe I’m particular – although I prefer discerning – about what I read, hyperbole of that sort rarely attracts my attention.
Özil believes a wide position suits him although he would prefer to play on the right,
“I was able to cut inside to give assists and get shots on target. On the left, it’s more difficult. If I do get past someone I’m still away from the danger zone, still on the flank, and it’s harder for me to find the final ball with my right foot than with my left.“
With Theo Walcott to come back, the probability of playing on the right diminishes even further. Having sacrificed his personal desires for the national team, Özil finds himself doing the same for his club. That he does so uncomplainingly, highlights his very importance to a squad. He is very much a team player, very unselfish. In that sense, he is remarkably similar to Robert Pires. And if he can emulate the same career curve at Arsenal, the future is very promising indeed.