Return of the Champions League: Arsenal’s Ozil conundrum

Return of the Champions League: Arsenal’s Ozil conundrum

Mesut Ozil returned to Germany as Arsenal face Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16 tie, but questions remain over his importance to Wenger’s

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Mesut Ozil returned to Germany as Arsenal face Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16 tie, but questions remain over his importance to Wenger’s team.

The talent of Mesut Ozil is there for all to see. At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he announced himself to the world. A part of the young generation of world class German players, Ozil, Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Thomas Muller all showed glimpses of their booming abilities.

They were all key members as Germany overcame their jinx to win the World Cup in 2014, stream rolling their way to the trophy with breathtaking attacking football.

He joined Real Madrid after the 2010 World Cup and enjoyed 3 successful years at the Santiago Bernabeu, although he was often subject of fans discontent as they believe he was too lazy to merit a place in the starting line-up. However, there was no denying his skills as he racked up the highest number of assists in those three seasons than any other midfielder Europe’s top leagues.

He was eventually shipped out to Arsenal in a shock move in 2013, representing Wenger’s first big money transfer in over a decade.

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Life in England’s top division has been quite productive for Ozil having won the FA Cup on two occasions, although the league title remains elusive to Wenger’s team. They have not finished top of the league since 2004 in the days of Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry.

Creativity and key passes are his forte. Last season, he came very close to breaking Henry’s Premier League assists record, but like Fabregas before him, he fell just short of it. After his departure from Madrid, Sergio Ramos was quoted saying how disappointed he was at the decision. Cristiano Ronaldo, who benefitted from many of Ozil’s assists was rumoured to have been very upset by the move. Such was his importance to his teammates.

Last season was a personal best for the German playmaker as he got close to breaking the Premier League assists record. But opinions are still divided about his suitability to the English game.

As Fabregas, another creative midfielder who has been benched for the physical but intelligent N’golo Kante at Chelsea, lamented, English fans prefer running to skills. Alexis Sanchez is a talented forward, no doubt. But fans love him for his work ethic and hard running style, something Ozil lacks.

Ozil’s problem has always been about his attitude on the pitch. Fans feel he doesn’t put in the required effort to help out the team and he always tries to avoid defensive responsibilities. This means he is usually subdued in the big games.

Against Manchester United and Chelsea, you would be forgiven to think he was not in the squad for the games. Such was his ineffectiveness that late substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain made more contribution than Ozil at Old Trafford.

After the game at Chelsea, where Arsenal were trounced 3-1, Arsenal legend Martin Keown could not hide his disappointment at Ozil’s performance that he labelled him as “an expensive luxury.” While some sections of the fans want him dropped.

He showed a bit of the English passion when he berated Alexis Sanchez for not applauding the fans after a 2-1 reverse against Manchester City in December. But that’s just about it. A season that started with goals – including a hat-trick against Ludogorets in the Champions League – has turned unpleasant for the German attacker.

In his pre-match press conference on Friday last week, Arsene Wenger admitted that Ozil was lacking confidence. And it showed in the game as Arsenal struggled to overcome the Hull City team, needing two controversial goals by Alexis Sanchez to win and keep pace with runaway leaders Chelsea.

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A return to his home country failed to inspire him. A game against Bayern Munich, a team he snubbed in favour of Real Madrid seven years ago, presented him with another chance to hit form.

However, the challenge was a big one. Bayern have knocked out Arsenal at every knock out stage fixture. They have a better head-to-head record against the Gunners, winning five of their last ten meetings, and they will be confident of repeating the same feat this year.

While Ancelotti continues to struggle to recalibrate the almost perfect team he inherited from Pep Guardiola, his team had enough fire power to overcome their English rivals.

Ozil and Arsenal took some encouragement from their previous travels to the Allianz Arena. They had lost only once on their last three visits, winning once and drawing the other. However, their last visit was a forgettable one as they suffered a heavy 5-1 defeat in the group stage last season.

On Wednesday night, the lights on the pitch blinded them again, as Bayern destroyed Arsenal. With the return leg now almost a dead rubber because of the goal difference, Arsenal are left with many questions.

A big one being: what role will Ozil play in the future?