Mesut Ozil: Arsenal’s new catalyst?

Arsenal FC do not need to worry about finding a like-for-like replacement for recently departed Alexis Sanchez. Mesut Ozil is ready to take the reins.

Ever since he joined Arsenal on deadline day in the summer of 2013, Mesut Ozil has received a ton of stick from supporters, media, and neutral or opposing fans. The reason that he did not live up to his then club-record price tag was mostly due to the players and tactics employed by Arsene Wenger early in the German’s career at Emirates Stadium.

Now, things look much different compared to 2013. Ozil finally has the pacy striker he needed for so long in the form of Alexandre Lacazette, and the club may add more pace to the strikeforce with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Additionally, he is much more comfortable with the physicality of English football than he was for the first couple of years after he joined the club. As the 29-year-old midfield maestro prepares to exit his prime years, the London giants have finally surrounded him with the personnel he needs to succeed.

Ozil’s style of play looks lazy on the surface: he tends to drift in and out of open spaces when he’s off the ball, going wherever he feels comfortable based on where the ball is. Last season, he ran 9.86 kilometers per game, which mostly silenced the critics of his work rate.

Football fans do not know the 2014 World Cup winner as a midfielder who will run directly into space to create a goalscoring opportunity for himself, but he certainly has the capability to be that player for the Gunners. In Arsenal’s 3-3 draw with Liverpool in December, he scored the third goal for his club when he received the ball about 10 yards outside the box, passed into the area to Alexandre Lacazette, made a run past him and controlled the French forward’s pass, and finished past Simon Mignolet to rescue a point for his side.

In order for Arsenal to become better without Alexis Sanchez, Ozil needs to adjust his style of play towards a more dynamic approach. When he was on Real Madrid alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Kaka, Angel Di Maria, and other world class players, he did not have to be dynamic because his teammates scared defenses more than he did. Arsenal FC cannot afford to surround Ozil with the same level of talent, so defenses tend to pay more attention to him than any other player. Now that Sanchez has left, the attention will turn to the playmaker even more.

If Ozil learns to move forcefully, opportunities will open up more frequently for his teammates since most eyes will be on Arsenal’s No. 11. Even if defenses don’t shift with his attacking movements, he should be fine as that will create more goalscoring chances for him.

Statistical Analysis

Mesut Ozil’s numbers indicate that he can easily become Arsenal’s next major threat on the attack. He has six assists in the Premier League so far this season, which is good enough to be tied for the sixth-most this year. He has a 7.27 rating on WhoScored, the second-highest rating in the Arsenal squad.

Additionally, with four goals, Ozil is the second-highest scorer at the club and he boasts a pass completion rate of 86.6%, which is impressive for a player who makes so many risky passes. He currently acts as the hub of the Arsenal attack in each match, keeping possession going and picking out chances for his teammates, usually from the wing or a few yards above the box.

Now that Arsenal have lost Sanchez, the ball-dominant, assertive winger, the Germany international needs to step up and attack back lines with his feet more often. He averages 1.3 dribbles per game, which ranks highly compared to the rest of the Arsenal team at third-most in the current squad, but he needs to increase that tally for the good of his team in the Chilean’s absence.

The numbers don’t lie for the 29-year-old midfielder when it comes to helping out his teammates: over the course of his professional career, he has five seasons where he notched more than 10 assists. He almost broke the single-season record for Premier League assists in 2015/16 season, when he assisted 19 goals for Arsenal, one away from tying Thierry Henry’s record.

The Gunners will rely on Mesut Ozil much more for the rest of the season. Arsene Wenger brought the £42 million man over to London in 2013 to lead the team to glory, and as time runs out on the playmaker’s prime, the pressure is getting heavier and heavier on his shoulders. Gooners have not seen their club lift the Premier League trophy since 2004, and the World Cup winner needs to take the initiative to lead the north Londoners to the top of the league before his time as a Gunner ends. In the past, he has shown that he is capable of being the main attacking catalyst for his team. The main question that he must answer is whether or not he can play that way consistently.

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