Pitchside

Focus on Mesut Ozil masks deeper problems at Arsenal

Pitchside

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‘Missing in action’, ‘Ozil and out’: there’s little mistaking who the tabloids are picking out for special blame following Arsenal’s Champions League exit after Mesut Ozil had another disappointing night in Europe.

Even the rather significant mitigating circumstance of sustaining a hamstring strain that could rule him out for three weeks has not spared Ozil the barbs of the press, with the Daily Mail going as far as to accuse the club’s record signing of “nicking a living”, suggesting “you wouldn’t pay two bob for him”.

Who knows what was expected from a luxury player being played out of position against one of history’s most dominant teams, but clearly Ozil did not provide it, and a low-key performance was ended by said hamstring injury at half-time as he was substituted by Arsene Wenger.

Ozil did not play well – no one could seriously argue otherwise – but to focus on one player’s form, hysterically so in some quarters, surely obscures deeper problems at the club.

The playmaker's underwhelming displays are easy to latch onto – especially given his astronomical fee – yet it was not the sight of the £42m midfielder sitting forlornly on the bench in the second half which spoke most eloquently as to Arsenal’s problems; rather the sight of an empty space on that very same bench.

As you will already know, Arsenal faced the rather embarrassing situation last night of being without a full complement of substitutes after it was discovered that Ryo Miyaichi, who had travelled with the team to Munich, was not eligible for the game.

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The Daily Mirror's back page on Wednesday

A freak mistake? Maybe. But the administrative oversight also begged the question: why is a player like Miyaichi anywhere near the bench for a game of this magnitude in the first place?

Miyaichi, plucked from Japanese high school football, has not started a single game for Arsenal outside of the League Cup, and this on a night when Bayern Munich could bring on Toni Kroos and Thomas Mueller – either of whom would comfortably be Arsenal’s best player were they in the away team.

Also on Arsenal’s bench was Isaac Hayden, who has made one appearance for the club. Meanwhile, in the first leg, Arsenal saw fit to give a first start to Yaya Sanogo. Champions League matches against Bayern Munich are not the right opportunity to introduce work experience schemes.

This alarming lack of squad depth, highlighted by the Miyaichi farce, is exacerbated by two persistent Arsenal gripes: a lack of investment in the squad, and a ruinous number of injuries.

For four transfer windows now, Arsenal have failed to sign adequate competition for Olivier Giroud, a player who last night looked noticeably tired after a long season ploughing a lone furrow in attack. It was hardly a feat worthy of Nostradamus to predict that a wasted winter window would compromise Arsenal yet again.

With Sanogo injured on Wednesday, Arsenal’s only other senior striker has spent the week posting pictures of himself on Instagram attending UFC and enjoying the Hertfordshire sun in some rather natty round-framed glasses. Nicklas Bendtner may be a fashion icon in his own head, but he is barely a footballer any more - at least not at Arsenal.

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Rather remarkably, Arsenal’s much-vaunted scouting department has seemingly failed to identify an affordable player in world football who is superior to Bendtner; either that or Wenger has proved reluctant to acquire them. Either way it does not say much about Arsenal’s transfer policy.

Where once they had the competitive advantage over the rest of the Premier League due to their market links to France, now they lag behind their rivals. Wherever the blame lies – on a stubborn manager, struggling scouts – Arsenal’s transfer policy appears to be in a state of decay. How else to explain the fact they have so few proper options from the bench?

Well, injuries for one. But here again, the club does not emerge well from analysis. Arsenal’s long injury lists are the stuff of legend and continue to compromise their chances on a seasonal basis. Can it be coincidence when they succumb to muscular problem after muscular problem when other rivals do not? Signing Kim Kallstrom when injured was merely a hilarious extension of this problem.

More in-depth analysis of this matter has been undertaken, and no doubt it’s an issue the club are working hard to correct, but it continues to hinder their efforts on the pitch.

The fact that recruitment processes and fitness strategies are constructed and conducted in secret means they do not lend themselves well to outside analysis, and certainly not as easily as performances on the pitch do.

But to focus on one player’s admittedly disappointing performance misses the elephant in the room. Or, more pointedly, the empty space on the bench.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport

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