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Why Arsenal need a ‘Running 10’ and Isco is that man?

Six weeks ago in my Football London column I wrote an article that suggested that moving between the 433 and 4231 was problematic for Mesut Ozil. I mused that a ‘Running 10’ as Santi Cazorla was in his first season before the German’s arrival could not be an alternative direction for Arsenal. A player as a younger Santi equally comfortable in either formation. The article below is reproduced with the kind permission of the excellent football.london and it concluded by proposing that ‘Isco’ might just be that man for the job. Having watched him in the first half last night in the ECL Semi Final I am even more convinced. 

Whoever is in charge of these decisions at the club come June they really need to pick up the phone as Isco will be out of the Real Madrid team as soon as Bale is fit I suspect

In my last column, I did the unthinkable and questioned whether Mesut Ozil was truly making a telling contribution to Arsenal. It is never, I hasten to add, about doubting the German’s incredible talent but more about whether that talent and his attributes are a perfect fit for the Gunners and the Premier League. If I look around Europe at the top sides there are not too many wedded to the idea of a passing Number 10 or even a 4231 anymore.

Most of the top teams and coaches do not play one system week in and week out and consequently those teams require flexible squads and multi-faceted players. In particular, when it comes to Arsenal I am wondering at Ozil’s ability to flourish centrally in a 4141/433 as well as the usual 4231. I am certainly not claiming to be an expert tactician, but it seems that it would be easier if a playmaker had the attributes that allowed him to play in either system with equal aplomb. I feel that means a playmaker equally adept at opening the opposition up with his vision and passing as by dribbling and beating players with skill.

In an Arsenal context, one way to assess what I mean would be to compare Ozil with his predecessor in the central attacking midfield role. I am not on this occasion talking about Cesc Fabregas but another Spaniard, Santo Cazorla. We are so used to seeing him now in a deeper role now but in his first season as a Gunner, he largely played the central attacking midfield role. For the whole of 2012/13 Cazorla was Arsenal’s creative hub but the difference to now is that he could open teams up with his passing or with his skill in beating a man to create the space and break the lines. From August to February of that first season, he played at 10 and only when Wenger, lost faith in Podolski was his creativity moved the left. Interesting when he was moved to the left Wenger brought in a similar player at 10 in Rosicky, to good effect.

Santi a passing and running 10 in 2012/13

For those who don’t recall that first season with Cazorla as an all action attacking midfielder, as comfortable with a dribble as a defensive splitting pass and as happy to shoot as find a teammate when appropriate, it was very convincing. For ease of comparison of the two styles at 10, I turned to ESPN and Squawka initially for my research to compare Cazorla and Ozil’s best seasons in the role.

Just looking at the Premier League for ease

No.10 Games Goals Assists Chances Created Shots On target
Cazorla 12/13 38 12 11 95 115 40
Ozil 15/16 35 6 19 144 47 20

 

Now stats are not everything but the above does show quite clearly two very different types of central attacking midfielder. I recall writing that Ozil should play on the left and Cazorla should revert to his old role when the German arrived. Suffice to say it was not a popular view at the time. However, is it too greedy to want a player in the role that combined the best of Ozil and a younger Cazorla?  Is it wrong to want that player to score and create in equal measure? Looking at the above, it is not as if the Spaniard was neglectful of his creative duties, with close to 100 chances laid on for his team. One further thought is that, as I recall, this was the first season since the Double season of 2001/2 where Arsenal had four players in double figures for league goals.

Was Cazorla more effective than Ozil at 10?

If I add together all of Ozil’s shots on goal his first three campaigns it totals 106 which is nine less than Cazorla attempted in his first and only season in the same role behind the striker. Surely, it would be beneficial for the team as a whole of the player just behind the main striker was as comfortable attempting to score as attempting to create.  If you are totally honest with yourselves, how many times have you scratched your head wondering why Ozil passed when the opening was there to shoot?

We should want our best player to positively influence the game in more ways than one and be able to do so. As much as I admire Ozil’s attributes, I cannot help but wonder is there are not players better suited to the role available. Squawka.com until recently, gave a player, based on any given period an overall performance score explained hereIn short a player’s ability to positively influence a game.  In 2015/16 Mesut Ozil scored 1304, making him one of the most effective players in the Premier League. However, in 2012/13, in that role Santi Cazorla scored an incredible 1832. To give you an indication of how impressive the Spaniard’s score is for his stellar campaign, it was 20 more than Hazard attained for Chelsea’s Premier League winning season of 14/15, where the Belgian individually won Player of the Year.

Therefore, whilst we all wonder if Mesut Ozil is truly worth the wages, he reportedly wants, perhaps also ponder on whether a younger alternative style of 10 might not give Arsenal more in attack. If I have got you thinking at all that player for me, with one year on his contact and almost certainly available is Isco.

He is 26 next birthday about the same age Santi was when he arrived in North London – A man at the peak of his powers and not fully utilised in Spain.

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