I have an awful feeling Mesut Ozil’s final assist in an Arsenal jersey will be to himself–an assist that helps him pioneer a move away from Arsenal Football club. His deployment within our system this season has simply not catered to his strengths and he knows it. It will be an unpopular opinion, but I feel the on-pitch dynamic between Ozil and Alexis is what has, or will precipitate, a move by one or each. Analysis of each superstar’s playing style, statistics together and National Team involvement provide a foundation for my argument.
There is little doubt Alexis Sanchez has been our talisman this season. As both our creative and goalscoring catalyst, he has been the shining light in a dismal season. Alexis’ statistics and imprint on games are massive but this has come at a cost. The cost of forcing Ozil to the periphery.
Ozil has been used as more of a center forward rather than attacking midfielder. Arsenal’s shape has seemed more like a 4-4-1-1 rather than the 4-2-3-1 we’ve been accustomed to. He’s been asked to play a more Bergkampian role and contribute creativity and clinical finishing. The two stars have occupied similar general positioning when Alexis is deployed at CF. Always with an innate ability to find space, Alexis’ central involvement has forced Ozil to run channels and find this space in-behind for the betterment of the team rather than occupying more creative number 10 type pockets.
As chief creator, Alexis seems to need to be involved in most of the build-up for attacking, but this is where our offense regularly breaks down. Alexis’ strength is in his direct play and ability to take on opponents. While that little shimmy and cut inside on his right foot is fun to watch, it slows our team play and gives the opponent’s defense an ability to organize. Ozil’s runs off the ball, as well as Theo’s, are now negated as Alexis often attempts a high risk/high reward ball to mostly static teammates in the opponent’s third.
Ozil thrives as the “connective tissue” in a system with defined roles and team interplay. Alexis excels when a strong midfield platform can provide him creative license and freedom.
Ozil is the embodiment of the “team ethos”. His brilliance is covert because his contributions don’t always pertain to “glory stats” and are not always seen by the naked eye on television. That drop of the shoulder to send his man the wrong way, his ability to keep the ball in tricky situations, his runs into space to create space and pull defenders out of position. These are valuable traits for Arsenal but our lack of defined roles and free-styling system mean we are not reaping the greatest potential rewards. Not to mention a lack of team interplay and fluent passing football since Alexis has joined us.
Alexis stands in stark contrast to his German teammate. While Ozil relies on passing combinations and partnerships, Alexis thrives with the ball at his feet and playing direct. How many times have we seen him bypass the overlapping fullback or an open square pass in favor of a high-risk ball to Theo? His efficiency and pass completion percentages are nowhere near Ozil, or even most of his teammates, yet he has been a most central creative figure this season.
National Team Involvement
Ozil’s involvement with the German National Team is further proof of his class. You aren’t awarded your national team’s player of the year in 5 of the last 6 seasons without providing invaluable contribution. He is willing to take a defined wing role or a freer number 10 type role depending on opposition and strategy. Germany preaches healthy player spacing and individual accountability. The Germans value precision and Ozil provides it in abundance.
Chile’s playing style and setup accentuates Alexis’ strengths. Chile generally stays compact defensively and provides a midfield platform for their attackers. They usually set up in a 4-3-3 but I have seen it as a 4-2-2-2 and 4-4-1-1 as well. Sanchez often receives the ball in channels where he can dribble at opponents and play off attacking teammates. He receives the ball in space higher up the pitch where he can use his dribbling and pass to late midfield runners instead of static bodies.
The Statistical Analysis
The stats clearly show Ozil and Alexis have a difficult time playing together. One of them needs to be the creative force that drives Arsenal. This season it is clearly Alexis outperforming Ozil in almost all of the following areas: goals, assists, chances created, and key passes. Last season it was Ozil that carried the creative torch while Alexis shouldered the goalscoring burden.
Most interesting is the analysis of their first full season together in 2014-2015. Given their particular strengths, the statistics show a healthy balance. Sanchez scoring more goals while Ozil boasting the advanced creative statistics. The chart below shows the statistics for the aforementioned areas. The data has been condensed to a per game basis rather than totals. It documents Ozil’s and Alexis’ contributions in the Premier League and Champions League for the 3 seasons they have played together. The bolded red statistics below show the balance struck in the ’14-’15 season and the contrasting creative numbers of the past 2 seasons.
I do not blame Sanchez for his more intensive involvement this season and what he’s done is nothing short of remarkable. He has felt the need to shoulder both the creative and goalscoring burden in our system that encourages creative individual expression. With each passing day it seems increasingly likely this season will be known as the final failed attempt to get the best from both Ozil and Alexis in an Arsenal jersey.
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This post first appeared on CuseGooners. It is reproduced here with permission.
31 year old based in the U.S. I am an elementary school teacher by day whose passion for teaching is only rivaled by a love for the Arsenal. I release a weekly piece each Tuesday that is oftentimes analytical but sometimes eccentric. Founder of the U.S. supporters group Syracuse Gooners (www.cusegooners.com). I enjoy interacting with any and all Arsenal-based opinions on Twitter. Have a younger brother who chose to support Spurs. Fielding suggestions for ways to disown him.