Özil is Arsenal’s luxury item struggling with everyday use



…Everyone had a view on Özil’s Champions League performance in the 2-0 last-16 first-leg defeat on Wednesday, and how it had slumped from the high point of the sublime trick that won the penalty in the eighth minute from the Bayern defender Jérôme Boateng. After the miss, Özil stumbled in a daze for a period that Arsène Wenger put at between five and 10 minutes and it was shocking to see how the Germany playmaker failed to revive himself.

Mathieu Flamini, Arsenal’s defensive midfield dog of war, had already made his feelings plain, having berated Özil late in the tie over a failure to track back. Flamini flicked his hands angrily, as he yelled at Özil and he did it again, and again, and again, to the point where it felt as though he was grandstanding.

Özil betrayed no emotion but in the TV studio, Michael Ballack, the former Bayern and Germany captain, made an interesting point. Ballack remembered how Per Mertesacker, the Arsenal centre-half, had rollicked Özil after the 6-3 defeat at Manchester City in December for his unwillingness to acknowledge the club’s travelling supporters and he reached a conclusion that was bold but not unreasonable.

“I was watching one situation where Flamini was moaning to him,” Ballack said. “It seems like Özil does not have the acceptance of his team. Also, Mertesacker two months ago, when he was shouting at him on the pitch. A player like him should be untouchable with his quality, but it looks like he has not [got] the acceptance.”

Mertesacker did not attach too much importance to the Flamini rant, largely because Flamini does not discriminate over his targets. “He tries to keep everyone alive and that is massive for the team so I won’t assess that as an argument,” Mertesacker said. “It is good to be alive and to show each other that we are ready to fight. We need everyone on the pitch with this full mental strength and maturity.”

Özil is one reason why people love football. Never mind that his arrival at Arsenal altered the destructive perception about Wenger’s reluctance to spend big money and, also, offered the club a tremendous lift, he can do things with the ball that few others can; he illuminates matches with single flashes. He is a luxury item, but who does not like luxuries?

Yet the marks in the debit column against him that underpinned Real’s decision to sell have not only followed him to England, they have deepened. The Real manager, Carlo Ancelotti, knew he would get lovely stuff from Özil but he worried about his capacity to play with sustained intensity. In England, the tempo and the schedule is even more remorseless.

Özil announced himself to English fans at the European Under-21 Championship in 2009, when he orchestrated Germany’s 4-0 demolition of England in the final and Sir Trevor Brooking said that he was the sort of player this country did not produce and ought to do so. Yet English football has long regarded the mercurial No10 with suspicion and it revealed much when Wenger said last week that Özil had hit the gym hard in an attempt to bulk up. The move had been necessary but, on another level, faintly vulgar.

Özil’s performance against Bayern was his Arsenal career in microcosm. As Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain bombed up the right in the opening minutes, Özil pulled the strings.

He is a player who looks better the higher the quality of his forward-thinking team-mates and it is no coincidence that his form has dipped since the turn of the year while Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott have been injured. There was also the moment of magic when he won the penalty.

The either/or question had a broader context. Can Wenger accommodate Özil and Cazorla in the same team?

Usmanov was asked why he felt Özil had been off-colour. “Maybe he is tired,” he replied. It was Özil’s 40th appearance of the season, including six for Germany and two for Real. The 25-year-old has had to contend with what he calls “English weeks” and he has been struck, not only by the absence of a winter break, but the way that “you just have games, on and on and on”. There is no spell to nullify the culture shock.

“It is not normal to come here and perform well in the first season over 50 games,” said Mertesacker, who experienced a difficult transition after his move from Werder Bremen in 2011. “But Mesut is a massive player and, game by game, he will come back even stronger. It is obvious that when you miss a penalty in the first 10 minutes, you are disappointed. But you have to get over it quickly.”

Özil had not got over it on Thursday. “The next morning doesn’t feel better, either,” he wrote on Facebook. “Sorry guys, it wasn’t planned that way.”

Özil has to pick up the pieces.

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