Of all the footballers in the world, no single player divides opinion as vividly as Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil. The German is labelled a wizard, for all his wizardesque vision to pick the perfect pass, and his general wizardry in attacking play. To say Ozil is a vital cog for both the German national team and Arsenal would be to understate; Ozil is the creative hub for both his club and country upon which their successes depend.
For all the plaudits he receives, Ozil usually is one bad result away from being summarily criticised. Criticised mostly for his work rate, and the walking pace with which he operates. The midfielder is celebrating his 27th birthday today, which provides us the most apt time to dispel a myth he is frequently associated with: Ozil doesn’t work hard enough.
From the distance it surely looks like it. Ozil is no terrier off the ball, he surely doesn’t press opponents to submission, and he barely does anything in defensive phases. Which is quite understandable given his proficiency in other phases of the game, and his obvious quality to see three-four passes ahead of his team-mates, and opponents alike.
But judging by the different phases of open play, and how Ozil’s impact in possession phases is important, the tendency is to quickly jump into conclusions about his impact in the fast-paced and physical English game. How a player can not afford to apply himself while his team-mates run their socks off throughout the game is baffling, but to put Ozil in that category of players is one of many blunt opinions about him.
Data courtesy of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index, the Official Player Rating Index of the Barclays Premier League
This season, Ozil has covered more distance per 90 minutes than quite a few of the top players at Arsenal as well as other Premier League clubs. He averages more distance per 90 minutes than the likes of team-mate Francis Coquelin, Chelsea’s Willian and Ramires, Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, Liverpool’s Emre Can as well as Ross Barkley of Everton. The following figure clearly illustrates the point.
Ozil also features among the top Arsenal players who have, on average, covered the most distance per 90 minutes this season. That he find himself ahead of the likes of the two full-backs, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, and the midfield destroyer Coquelin might come as a surprise to many, but these stats are proof enough how the German is almost always on his game throughout the duration of 90 minutes.
For those who tend to judge him based on his inferior work rate in the Arsenal side should go through the following data, which shows the highest individual distances covered by a Gunner in a single game this season, and it is no surprise Ozil features in this list even. Ozil’s 11.77 kms covered in Arsenal’s 5-2 win over Leicester City last month is the fifth highest by any Arsenal player this season, the four higher places all occupied by Aaron Ramsey.
Ozil is one of the top players in the world currently plying his trade in England. That he is subjected to so much negative press based on his work rate is perplexing; the above stats are proof of the fact Ozil does work his socks off and runs himself into the ground, despite what the general consensus on him says. While his actions on the ball are celebrated across the game, his off-the-ball contributions are strangely underrated.
It’s a common myth in English football that Ozil tends to switch off when Arsenal are defending, or that he is all guile but no running, which has been proved to be totally unfounded. Like every other player in the professional game, Ozil, too, gets himself involved a lot more during the game than he is actually given credit for.