Saturday night I realized that the channel broadcasting the Everton match was not available on my TV subscription. The channel’s official website was hosting a live stream (if you can call it that with the delay in place) so I opted to listen to commentary on Talksport radio instead, so that I could watch it in full in peace later on safe in the knowledge of the result.
I had asked one of my mates watching it live to watch closely and let me know which player was performing admirably compared to the rest so that I could then analyse them further when I watched the game. The bloke happens to be one of my best friends and his opinion on most matters is as close as it gets to mine (especially in football) so I was not surprised when he told me to watch Mesut Ozil (Thank you Sudarshan Kumar!) which was exactly what I did. And vindicating the confidence both of us had in him, Ozil was the man of the match yesterday.
We do see him offer glimpses of his sublime passing every now and then but recently Mesut has upped his game to a level which we rarely got to see in his first couple of seasons at the club. He is currently leading the assists charts in Europe’s top five leagues with 7 assists. If he had a better finisher in front, I suppose he would have had a few more.
Getting into the game, there was a lot of talk around the selection of Giroud ahead of Walcott and I really thought that we were in danger of being blunt because all the through balls wouldn’t have a runner to latch onto them. However both Ollie boy and Mesut combined beautifully to prove me wrong on all fronts. From the start of the game it was apparent that we were very much back into the possession based side of things with the possession stats in our favour the entire match. Before I get into my analysis of Ozil in the game, let us just get a few stats out of the way- 90% pass completion, two shots on goal, 5 chances created, 3 key passes, 4 crosses attempted of which one was an assist, two take on’s attempted with one being successful, two tackles attempted with one failed, two interceptions and one block. Looks like Mesut was a busy boy doesn’t it?
Well that is because he was. I found one major theme to his gameplay last night- with every movement he made and every touch he took he was trying to steer clear of danger. He kept popping up in the most unlikely spaces to hit a one touch pass which would alleviate pressure in the opposition half. What this allowed us to do was sustain pressure in the area near the final third. Many times when opposition teams press high or close to the by-line the ball is recycled to the back four which breaks up the momentum and allows the opposition time to get organized again and get bodies stacked in their defence. Watching Mesut Ozil in the match was an education in how not to let that happen. He seems to be getting better and not only with the skills he already had, he seems to have taken a page out of the Santi Cazorla book of defensive play because he even held up the ball with some skills when he needed to wait for somebody to occupy a spot to pass into. Like always, he was making things easier for everybody else.
(EDITORS NOTE – AS PARLOUR SAID BERGKAMP ALWAYS KNEW THE EXACT PLACE TO BE TO RECEIVE THE PASS EVEN WHEN NOTHING SEEMED ON.)
In the very first minute of the game he was pressing high and fast, when the ball fell to him he didn’t try to do too much- just passed it on with a single touch. In the very next minute he did a Giroud and shielded the ball before moving it on with another silky pass. Around the 8th minute Ozil received the ball and nearly cut through a player out wide to launch what would have been a killer counter, but he was fouled and that ended it. I was left wondering what might have been. In the first quarter of an hour Ozil had covered himself in glory, he could do no wrong it seemed. The first misplaced pass from him was around the 10 minute mark, that too when he was trying to launch a counter with Chamberlain on the right and hit it a bit too soft. Soon after that he jogged back seemingly aimlessly to the halfway line as Bellerin had the ball but then as soon as Bellerin lost control of the situation and had to look for an out, Ozil was there. He slipped past the man marking him and then played a slick pass forward taking two of the incoming defenders out of the game. In the 14th minute came what was the first big chance of the game, and I know it was called offside but that should have been finished better by Ozil. Sanchez tracked back down the left wing to strip Coleman of the ball before launching it long to Giroud who somehow bundled it into the path of Ozil. Another classic miss that one I’d say. Immediately after that he played saviour again, relieving pressure with a well thought pass out from a close pressing situation. His reading of situations never stops astounding me.
Twenty minutes into the first half he showed us the kind of pass you’d expect to see from a player of his class. The Everton defence seemed to be sitting well just in front of their penalty area and Ozil was moving at his own pace as usual, apparently unaware of the match going on around him. However, a hand from Sanchez asking for a pass sparked him into action, producing a brilliant ball that split the defence like a knife through butter. If not for Jagielka, Arsenal would have had the lead here- another ‘what might have been’ moment.
As halftime was fast approaching, the attack from us was looking a bit short on the end product with good situations being wasted a few times before we finally had the breakthrough. Of course it was Ozil again, responding to a hand from Olivier Giroud this time in the 36th minute. He delivered an inch perfect cross which needed only the slightest of touches from comeback boy Giroud to go past the hapless Tim Howard.
One of the most delightful moments I saw in the match was after halftime, just before they kicked off. Mesut Ozil was deep in conversation with Giroud, seemingly giving him instructions with exaggerated arm movements. It almost looked like he was indicating a simulated dive or something but I am sure it was more serious than that. I don’t know why but I really thought we were going to try to improve our goal difference after I saw that conversation taking place. It is good for somebody like Ozil to be vocal about his ideas because there is a high chance that other people won’t know what he’s up to unless he lets them know. Fooling everyone is fine but we don’t want him fooling all of our own too!
Ozil continued to impress the entire game with his passes and three moments stood out for me in the match apart from the assist-
- The volley that he shot straight at Tim Howard caught the eye even though it was not exactly a ripsnorter. It showed intent and that is one thing he seems to lack sometimes when going for goals. With his famed philosophy of trying more for assists than for goals, sometimes this sort of initiative is needed. As Wenger says, we very much need Ozil to stand up and account for some goals.
- The one-two with Giroud that didn’t happen. For once it seemed, someone else on the pitch was thinking one step ahead of Mesut and I was mighty pleased that it was Giroud. It seemed to be shaping up into a perfect attack, a bit like THAT Wilshere goal which also had Giroud giving a delightful little touch to the ball at the end. I think that might have been a part of that conversation that they had at half time.
- The shot that shaved the post was the pick of the lot for me. The build-up play just before it was absolutely fantastic with Ozil himself involved in it and what was even more significant was the disappointment on his face afterwards. I don’t know if he is going to have a Bergkamp-esque season at any time in his Arsenal career, but I sure hope that this was the sign of a permanent shift in mentality on his part.
With all the important points wrapped up I would like to bring to light some other happy passing facts. Ozil was involved in the three top pass combinations on the pitch and two of them were with Santi Cazorla. With Cazorla and Ozil interchanging 36 passes between themselves, it is obvious that our two most innovative players are feeding off each other and this is good news for the team over all. Highlighting his tactical intelligence and team philosophy, the third best combination on the pitch again sees Ozil up there with Bellerin able to put 16 passes through to the German and many of them were the kind I talked about earlier- the ones that allowed us to maintain rhythm and possession around the final third. With 9 passes to Sanchez and 10 passes to Bellerin, we can see that Ozil is making himself available all over the pitch and is helping out with attacks on both flanks.
Last night Ozil was the best player on the pitch for me but he was also lacking sometimes. It was mainly defensively that he failed, like not pressing diligently enough or letting the opposition bypass him too easily. He seemed to run a bit slower than fans would have liked and jogged back when he might have troubled himself a bit more. Be that as it may, I am convinced that the fluctuations in his commitment are actually something we can pick out in every player if we watch closely enough. He was covering a per 90 average of 10.24 km a couple of games ago and I am sure there is a similar figure for this match too. Ozil is Arsenal through and through, whether it is his intelligence, class, luck or his ability to be mesmeric one moment and not so good the very next. He is truly one of our own and I cannot help but love him.
I thought Ollie Giroud was awesome the entire game. I don’t have the stats to back this up but he seemed to be bringing down just about every ball that we punted up to him. His goal off Ozil’s cross was great and he actually asked for the ball in that exact area, it is good to see Ozil can work well with his strength too and not just Walcott’s speed. Notably, the Cech to Giroud combination has 9 successful passes which should tell you just how good the big guy was. He was even pressing the goalkeeper well and nearly forced an error from Howard at the start. He seems to have picked up a knack for getting booked though and I hope that doesn’t last. Kudos to him for playing at top gear and proving to everybody that he is good enough to be Plan A, especially in the games where we need a target to throw balls at.
Lastly, I thought that Galloway kid was a painful thorn in our side the entire game and that is complete credit to him because he was up against the Ox and Bellerin there on the right flank.
Gunners Town takes great pleasure in welcoming Sohum Sen to our writing crew, and are pleased to announce that ‘Sohum’s Star Man’ is set to be a regular GT feature – Editor