During his last season at Real Madrid, Özil was, in my opinion, the second best attacking midfielder in the world, second only to Andrés Iniesta. Thus as an Arsenal fan you can imagine the joy I felt when Özil signed for us out the blue on transfer deadline day in 2013. He got off to a good start with an assist against Sunderland during his first game, however he seemed to fade away as the season went on and didn’t have the impact that many hoped he would. His penalty miss against Bayern Munich seemed to be a turning point, and from then on he has been under vast criticism from fans and journalists worldwide. So the question beckons, is he doing a Torres?
In my opinion, not at all. I think that everyone is overreacting, and let me explain why. Despite his performances being underwhelming I don’t think that it was his fault, and instead it was the type of players he was playing with. When playing for Germany in 2010 he was playing in an attack with Müller, Podolski and Klose. All three of these players were always on the go, constantly making runs and creating space which allowed Özil to thread them in on goal. During Euro 2012 he was playing in a team with Reus, Müller and Klose, whilst Gotze also featured frequently. Once again these players were always running in behind the back four, allowing Özil to play his signature through balls into them to create numerous chances. At Real he had Ronaldo, Di Maria, Higuain and Benzema around him. All of whom similarly made runs, stretched defences etc…
However at Arsenal last season he didn’t have these types of players. Walcott was injured for most of the 2013/14 season and so Özil didn’t have anyone making attacking runs whilst he was on the ball. For the majority of games last season he played centrally, with Cazorla to his right, Wilshere to his left and Giroud up front. Cazorla and Wilshere are both great players, but neither are wingers, both preferring to play centrally. It is not in their game to be making the off the ball runs which players like Walcott, Benzema and Müller make instinctively. Whilst they also don’t have the pace to stretch defences and create space like Di Maria, Reus and others do. Also Giroud is not a striker that looks to run in behind defenders and so it was hard for Özil to put him in on goal.
And even when Özil would manage to pick him out, Giroud would probably miss anyway. The point I’m making is that when Özil receives the ball and looks up he has no runners. There’s no space on the pitch, and instead his wingers and striker are static, asking for the ball to feet rather than trying to lose their markers. He can’t play his game and perform at the highest level without runs behind the defence being made. The only real runner he had last season was Ramsey, who would often make runs from deep. However one runner is not enough, and without the right players around him it is no wonder he was not as prolific as many had hoped.
His start for Arsenal this season was not too great either, however he was playing out of position and on the wing in a 4-1-4-1 formation and so this isn’t too surprising. But during the game against Villa he showed a glimpse of his class. He was playing centrally and through Chamberlain and Welbeck he actually had runners who he could find, with him and Welbeck linking up for two of Arsenal’s three goals. Despite a poor season last year, I expect big things from him this year if he plays centrally. With the signings of Sanchez and Welbeck he will have players who are constantly looking to run in behind, like he had at Real, and like he has for Germany. Once Walcott returns in October and Özil’s playing in an attack with Sanchez, Walcott and Welbeck, we will see just how great Özil is once again, and all his recent critics will have to eat their words. Arsenal fans, there is no need to panic, Özil is definitely not the new Torres and he will bounce back to his best this season.