There is no debate to be had about Mesut Ozil as a footballer.
Intense criticism surrounded the German World Cup winner last week prior to Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa, with many fans questioning his ability and his place in the Gunners side.
But it should never have been about Ozil as a player, but where he was playing.
Restored into a free-er role in the middle of the pitch, the 25-year-old returned to his devastating best.
Throughout the victory at Villa Park, Ozil linked the play all across the pitch, and showed his match-winning calibre when it mattered, in a three minute spell in which he coolly slotted the opener and crossed for Danny Welbeck to make it 2-0.
Ozil’s passing stats were impressive, completing 54 forward half passes, the most of any Arsenal player, with a 91.5 per cent success rate.
He was sharp, and rewarded the manager for giving him a central role. But the performance just emphasises just how baffling it was for Arsene Wenger to shunt him out wide in the first-place.
I’ll use an analogy from my profession, it is like sending a sports journalist to cover a political event, the same basic principles apply with a similar skillset but it is a different envioronment to learn and to execute.
Ozil is used to playing in the centre, and was even hailed by Jose Mourinho as the best number ten in world football a couple of years ago. Ozil’s playing style is not akin to the stereotype of a Premier League winger.
It is a myth that Ozil is slow – he doesn’t have the raw pace of a Theo Walcott, but he certainly is no slouch.
But in the modern game, wingers are expected to support the full-backs and they need defensive cover, particularly in this Arsenal side as Arsene Wenger pushes his full-backs high up the pitch.
This is not Ozil’s strength, particularly with his speed – why would you play somebody out there with that duty who has built his reputation on brave offensive passing and intricate movements behind the striker. The Gunners paid their record transfer fee as Ozil made his reputation in the number ten, they didn’t pay that for a makeshift wide-man.
Interestingly, he did play on the left throughout the summer for Germany who have a plethora of midfield talent. It is the same at Arsenal, with Ozil shifted as the likes of Jack Wilshere, Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta all push to retain their places in the starting XI. It speaks volumes that with all that talent for both Germany and Arsenal, both Joachim Lowe and Wenger feel they cannot drop him.
Languid footballers like Ozil will always be criticised, particularly by English fans, many of whom seem to believe that running around like a headless chicken giving it their all is a substitute for quality. Ozil’s style is one of elegance, not laziness.
Hopefully this will be the start of a great patch of form for Ozil, who is one of the most talented players in world football.
But it will only be consistent if he is played in his correct position consistently, and Wenger has to be brave enough to give Ozil the platform to fire Arsenal to glory.