What is wrong with Mesut Özil?
Mesut Özil has come under yet more widespread criticism due to his recent performance for Germany against Algeria. Despite netting the decisive goal, Özil was below par throughout. Any stats regarding him completing the most passes in the final third, or creating the most chances are simply hiding away from a hard truth. Stats like these, and indeed his goal, can easily be cherry picked and manipulated to find some merit in every players performance, but for all watching the match - it should have been apparent that something was clearly wrong.
Back in February I wrote an article in defence of Özil after the Arsenal - Bayern Munich game at the Emirates, as I felt (and still do) that he was unfairly singled out, not for the first time, when the team had been outplayed. Certainly, playing with 10 men up against Bayern Munich - with Yaya Sanogo in front of him - there was little for Özil to do - and he won the penalty he saw saved, so that puts that argument to bed. Yet, on Monday night, I feel the criticism was in part deserved.
Yes, it was difficult for him: having to play out of position in a very poor Germany team on the night warrants some sympathy. But, the Özil of a year ago (or indeed the last World Cup) would have thrived off such a game. The old Özil would have probably still drifted in and out of the game, but would have found that defence splitting pass in the 120 minutes, if not the 90. Against a tiring and well organised but ultimately limited defence, he had the capability to be the difference but (as far too often) he just wasn’t. The fact he is yet to register a single assist this tournament is telling.
I often hear as a defence of Özil: "if you thought we were buying someone who would work 110%, be omnipresent etc... You clearly don't know Özil." But this is nonsense, the Özil of Real Madrid did not run into blind alleys, or misplace 10 yard passes, or fail time and time again with the same through ball idea. The fact is, he is not playing to his full ability and he only really has in a handful of games this season. Indeed, even that has been wasted a lot of the time as when he has produced a Madrid-esque performance, such as against United at the Emirates, Arsenal simply didn't have the players fit and able to finish the chances. So, what is wrong?
Well. There are several things that may be contributing, but I think the biggest factor is probably fatigue. In three seasons at Madrid, he only played the full 90 minutes 25 times. This year, he has completed 80 minutes or more 32 times. Add to that he hasn't had a winter break (as his body is accustomed to) and he has had to adapt physically to the Premier League, you can see why this would have been a hugely physically challenging season for him. The World Cup is probably the last thing he needed, let alone 120 minutes playing out of position in a team that was certainly doing him no favours on the night. He does need to adapt to the Premier League and a more physical style but as the experience of many Premier League success stories shows, the second season is often far more productive than the first, Dennis Berkgamp certainly springs to mind. This is why it would probably be more objective to judge him in the second season rather than the first. Thus, fitness and a new physical challenge for him is likely the first factor diminishing his perceived level of performance.
The second factor is his teams. Both Germany and Arsenal have a common problem, their strikers. Germany have so many talented midfielders that Özil was actually forced out wide yet in neither side can you find a world class finisher with a bit of pace who will thrive off Özil's service. Klose is fantastic but he cannot play 90 minutes in those conditions and Müller tends to create his own chances rather than working off a provider.