Even for Mesut Ozil’s staunchest defenders, his performance against Brighton on Sunday was short on positives. In their third successive defeat in the Premier League Arsenal looked laboured in every area of the pitch, but the German assist maker drew the ire of many for his despondent body language – at one point throwing his gloves down on the pitch in a strop which did little to dispel the feeble public image of the current Arsenal side.
Speaking on Match of the Day 2, Alan Shearer gave his sombre judgement on the midfielder who committed his long-term future to Arsenal back in January. “There was a lack of reaction, nothing from Ozil,” he said. “Just look at him jogging, he’s just signed a new contract, have some responsibility. I mean look, he’s walking, lost the ball and still, there’s no effort at all to get back. When you’ve got attitudes like that, then you’ve got serious problems.”
Of course, any Arsenal fan could tell you that tracking back and turnovers are not Mesut Ozil’s strong points, even on his best day. His body language has long been a bugbear for proper football men of the old school, though it certainly can’t be helping a team in which collective morale seems to have reached a new low.
Considering how much criticism Ozil has received for the way he carries himself when things are going badly – how many times he has been accused of not caring or sacrificing enough for the cause – it might be worth him working on his body language if only to avoid becoming a lightning rod for censure. Ultimately, though, Ozil throwing his gloves on the floor is not what is wrong with this Arsenal team.
Ozil not the cause
Far from not caring, Ozil’s body language on Sunday suggests he is deeply frustrated with how things are going for Arsenal. He may not have the solutions to their numerous problems, but then who can account for Shkodran Mustafi’s defending, Granit Xhaka’s positional awareness or Petr Cech conceding two preventable efforts to an extremely beatable Brighton side? Cech said as much after the game, tweeting: “If you want to win a game away of home in the best league in the world your GK can’t concede two goals like I did today… it’s simply not possible… the team fought back but the damage was done.”
At this point in time, Ozil’s negative body language is a superficial aspect of the Arsenal disaster. Their issues are so fundamental, so all-encompassing, that to focus on Ozil throwing his arms up in the air seems vaguely shrug-worthy. Irritating as it may be for Arsenal fans to watch a player being petulant at a time of such widespread disappointment and disunity, Ozil’s frustrations are the symptom of the malaise at the club, as opposed to the cause.
While other managers might opt to make an example of Ozil after his display against Brighton – maybe even dropping him in a Mourinho-esque power play – that has never been Arsene Wenger’s style as a manager. Even if it was, Wenger must know that singling out Ozil for rough treatment would do nothing to improve Arsenal’s showings.
Currently, Arsenal are disorganised and dysfunctional as a team in a way which feels unprecedented during the Wenger era. Individual mistakes may be putting paid to their chances of winning a game at the moment, but their problems are bigger than any one individual player. While it might be convenient to single out Ozil in the commentary box or the Match of the Day studio, the reality is that from the top down the club has been thrown into total disarray. Wenger must know this, painful as it may be to admit that he bears his fair share of responsibility.
“The club knows that I am here most of all because of Arsene Wenger.” Mesut Ozil
If there is one thing for which Ozil can be criticised more than his teammates, it is for failing to live up to his own professed admiration for Wenger. Speaking last January about the possibility of signing a new contract at a time when his manager was under similar pressure, Ozil said: “The club knows that I am here most of all because of Arsene Wenger. He is the one who signed me and he is the one whose trust I have.”
While Ozil may once have suggested that his future at Arsenal was dependent on the man who brought him to Arsenal from Real Madrid, he certainly doesn’t look like he’s playing for his manager’s professional survival at the moment. Ozil may not be the only underperforming player at the club, but his admiration for Wenger seems to have lapsed into a familiar form of exasperation.