Mesut Ozil’s international career appears to be over but the furore in Germany could work in Arsenal’s favour. The early evidence suggests Unai Emery is placing him at the centre of his Emirates Stadium revolution.
It is over a week since Mesut Ozil released the 2,320-word statement confirming his retirement from international football and lashing out at the “racism and disrespect” he suffered over his controversial photograph with Turkish president Recep Erdogan, but the fallout continues.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is the latest in a long line of former Germany internationals to have his say. This week, the Bayern Munich chief executive insisted the criticism of Ozil has nothing to do with his Turkish heritage, instead siding with Ozil’s most fierce critic, Bayern president Uli Hoeness, and accusing his agent, Dr Erkut Sogut, of “spreading fables”.
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Ozil remains at loggerheads with the German Football Association and a return to the international fold looks unlikely, but Arsenal have certainly made him feel welcome. His presence on their tour of Singapore prompted an outpouring of support on their social media channels. “Our diversity is a big part of why we are such a special club,” read one tweet.
Unai Emery, who vocalised his support for Ozil at his Arsenal unveiling in the middle of July, even handed him the armband for Saturday’s 5-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain. The new head coach says he regards Ozil as a contender to take the captaincy full-time following Per Mertesacker’s retirement, but the decision also represented a timely show of support.
Perhaps he had heard Arsene Wenger’s assessment of Ozil’s World Cup campaign with Germany.
“Ozil is a guy who needs support, he doesn’t need controversy,” said Wenger. “When I watched him play, I could feel that there were situations in the game where he could have moved forward, progressed more vertically. But he played safely. I always was thinking come on, that’s not the real Ozil I know, the guy who can kill.”
Arsenal are working hard to ensure he gets the right backing, but who exactly is the ‘real Ozil’? It’s a debate which has split opinion throughout his career and last season was an example of why. Ozil shone for much of the campaign, signing a new deal in February, but his form dipped after that. It was not the first time he has veered between the sublime and subdued.
Ozil’s inconsistency can be maddening and the tendency to drift out of games remains, but there is no disputing what he brings to a team. Ozil is a creator of the very highest calibre and the statistics prove it. Since his arrival in the Premier League back in 2013, he has created more chances and provided more assists than any other player.
Even at the World Cup, where Ozil was made a scapegoat for Germany’s early exit, he provided 11 scoring opportunities in two appearances. Only seven players created more over the course of the entire tournament. In two games, Ozil fashioned more chances than Lionel Messi managed in four. More, even, than Antoine Griezmann managed in seven.
Instead, the criticism focused on the familiar issue of Ozil’s body language. The 29-year-old was accused of showing “the body language of a dead frog” by one former international. “I often have the feeling that he doesn’t feel at ease in the Germany shirt,” added another.
Ozil’s languid running style makes him an easy target. He can track back as much as he likes, but the moments he throws his arms up in despair are far more likely to stick in the memory. To the fans and critics who crave a blood-and-thunder approach, Ozil’s soft touch can be frustrating.
Premier League tracking data supports the theory that he does not rank too highly for industry, with 10 of his Arsenal team-mates covering more ground per 90 minutes than him last season, but that is not to say he is incapable of producing off-the-ball intensity. The same numbers show that only six team-mates sprinted more times per 90 minutes.
Emery will hope to coax more of that from him in the season ahead. The Spaniard is known for his high-pressing tactics and he has used Arsenal’s pre-season to put those plans into practice. “We are working on things that we didn’t work on with the [previous] boss,” said Hector Bellerin. “Tactically we have been working very hard,” added Aaron Ramsey.
Ozil may not seem like a natural fit for Emery’s approach but it is already clear that the new man in charge intends to build his team around him. After making him captain against PSG, Emery confirmed he also intends to use him at No 10. “We want to give him and our players the position they feel most comfortable in on the pitch,” he said.
By giving him support on and off the pitch, Emery and Arsenal hope to provide an environment for Ozil to flourish. Emery’s pressing demands present a new challenge for him, but his step back from international football has narrowed his focus and it will also afford him more recovery time over the course of the campaign. Ozil, who so often fades in the spring, should be able to preserve his stamina.
The fallout from his conflict with the German FA continues and the criticism keeps coming, but back at Arsenal, with an arm around the shoulder and an eye on the future, Ozil is preparing for a key role in the Emery revolution.
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