When Mesut Özil arrived at the Emirates in a blaze of glory in September of last year, there came with him a sense of optimism around Arsenal that this world class playmaker could be the missing ingredient that would bring a return to the glory days in North London.
Initially, the man did not disappoint. He hit the ground running in his first game away to Sunderland, and was a key figure for many months. His performance against Napoli in particular was one to remember. Recently though, and worryingly, he has lost form, and worse still it has come against the big teams, where he was expected to step up.
So why has a seemingly world class playmaker had such a difficult time recently?
1. Lack of winter break
Let’s not forget where Özil came from. In other European leagues, the winter break is a welcome break for players to rest and re-focus for the second half of the season. The Premier League is the complete opposite whereby matches are actually increased during the Christmas/New Year time. When you consider that Özil is a key figure in the Arsenal lineup, playing practically every game, burnout and drops in concentration such as against Liverpool or the poor penalty against Bayern Munich are becoming common. They are still terrible errors and there is no excuse, but it is understandable why it is happening. It might just be in Wenger’s interest to rest Özil against Sunderland, even though he played so well against them on his debut.
2. Adaptation to the Premier League
People tend to have short memories. Some of Arsenal’s greatest players have had “first season syndrome”, I am talking about players such as Pires and Bergkamp. Even though it is not what Arsenal fans want to hear right now, but Özil is likely to have a great second season like Arsenal legends of the not so distant past. On a brighter note, this season has far from been a write off and there’s still time to make it a great season, so Özil could still have a good first season.
3. Injuries to key players
A playmaker is only as good as the runners in front of him. At Real Madrid, Özil had the luxury of Ronaldo to play balls through to. That is by no means disrespecting the Arsenal team, but I think it is clear from the opening few months of the season that Özil links up well with Walcott and Ramsey, who, unfortunately are injured right now. It is no coincidence their injuries have coincided with Özil’s loss of form. Arsenal’s other players can also make runs in behind, but not as well. Oxlade-Chamberlain admittedly complements Özil, and it is no coincidence that Arsenal beat Liverpool in that FA Cup tie last weekend, with Özil well involved in the second goal.
4. Lack of confidence
All the above factors cause a lack of confidence, which was evident in the way he took the penalty against Bayern and the subsequent miss. Confidence and mental self-belief is just as important, if not more important than technical ability, and right now, this piece of Ozil’s game isn’t fitting well with his physical ability. Everyone goes through periods of bad form, but as the saying goes form is temporary, class is permanent, and Özil is class.
It is very frustrating for Arsenal supporters to see Özil make mistakes, but there are plenty of reasons to be positive. Don’t be surprised if he finishes the season with a bang!