Understanding Özil: where the armchair supporters get it wrong

By Sam

I do not usually ridicule the comments of “armchair supporters” since I barely attend any live games (simply because I have a young family and cannot afford to spend the time or money to do so). However, I was at Old Trafford for the Arsenal game (incidentally sitting with the “home” support in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand thanks to the generosity of a Man Utd supporting friend who had a spare ticket!).

And for the first time I had the privilege of seeing Mesut Özil play live!

On the television, you only see the action around the ball most of the time. As your eyes are fixated to the television screen, you usually have no idea of the off- the-ball movements of players not involved in the action.

Many years ago I saw a movie called -Zidane: A 21st century Portrait1, where they filmed Zidane in a live game using 17 synchronous cameras (only focussing on him) and an on-body microphone. Watching that movie was a revelation for me. I was amazed at how few touches on the ball Zidane actually managed in the whole game.

Being obviously heavily marked, long passages of time passed without him doing anything other than continuously moving, watching, shouting and asking for the ball etc. You could hear his heavy breathing and beads of sweat as the only testimony of the effort he put in. Then you suddenly see him explode into intense duels when a ball came his way, with multiple opposition players converging on him like feral cats jumping on a prey, you witness his genius when he manages to create the right pass (more often than not) in very tight spaces.

And all this gets over in split seconds. Overall, I recall he set up a goal and then managed to get sent off towards the end of the game.

Watching Özil on Sunday reminded me of that movie. I have heard some commentators talking about Özil’s off-the-ball movement in the past, so I kept an eye on his position with the corner of my eye even when the ball was elsewhere on the field.

And I can tell you that Özil was everywhere. Sometime he was on the left flank. Sometimes on the right. Sometimes dropping deep, sometimes in line with the last opposition defender. Always moving. Always providing options to other players. He also created several chances (including the one which Giroud missed), one of which could have very easily been a goal.

Özil may never have the energy of Alexis “Duracell” Sanchez or the industry of Aaron Ramsey. He does not chase every ball like mad or fly into tackles. However, his movements are very efficient, very well thought. He sees things on the field that others don’t. It may seem he is not doing much but he keeps on moving intelligently all the time all over the field providing options, occupying spaces, vacating (and thus creating) spaces, distorting the opposition’s shape2. He works very hard though, I can vouch for that3. And unlike the impression created by the media and some fans that he looks uninterested, I saw the anger in him when a pass didn’t come off or when other players wasted an opportunity, so I know that he passionately cares for the team.

So the next time any of you “armchair supporters” criticise Özil for being lazy, ineffective, uninterested etc., do us a favour. Go attend a live game and keep your eyes peeled on him. If you really love and understand football, you will feel privileged and blessed to watch him play. Like I did!

However, if you don’t agree with what I said above, at least remember that there is a reason why managers likes Wenger, Joachim Lowe and even Mourinho admire him as one of the best number 10s in the world (I hope you wouldn’t be deluded to think you know more about football then them!).

Admittedly Özil has not reached the heights of his Real Madrid career in Arsenal colours, but remember that we have been hampered by injuries to Ozil and to other players (especially ones with pace like Walcott/Chamberlain) in developing the understanding needed to exploit his movements! Also remember that he is still young and can improve even further! Don’t destroy his confidence like we did for Arshavin and Gervinho and almost did for Ramsey!

1 www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5EharkjNBc
2 Here are a few articles which explain it better than I ever can!
http://www.7amkickoff.com/2015/naveens-tactical-preview-mesut-ozil-what-is-not-seen/ (an excellent article, however, the author has indulged himself and explained football through economics. But feel free to ignore the section on economics and jump on to the paras about Ozil)
3You don’t have to believe me. Just look at the statistics:

27 Replies to “Understanding Özil: where the armchair supporters get it wrong”

  1. The permanent unjustified criticism has already taken its toll – compared to his previous football he now seems to try to avoid riskier things, e.g. taking on opponents in tighter spaces, so his game does not look quite complete yet. I believe it is getting better though game after game, loved the dummy against WBA.

  2. Great stuff. And invariably backed up by the stats on how far he runs in each game.

  3. Bravo Sam. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am fortunate in that I am able to go to games home and away and having like you spent years in ‘the wilderness’ of armchair viewing for exactly the same reasons as you indicate I feel confident that you will return to being able to attend more often when circumstances permit.
    Anyway I agree entirely about Özil. His movement and contribution off the ball is to be seen to be believed; his vision for the pass is second to none and the ball skills he possesses are subliome to watch. He can look lazy at times, but that is his style and some of our supporters at matches home and away get on his back. If only he could add a few more goals to his repetoire and the whole of the doubters would be raving about him. Maybe he will score tomorrow and win us the game. He is certainly capable of it.

  4. his only thought behind getting everywhere is so he can touch the ball without too many players around him. which is normal for any free no 10. But where class no10 should come into picture is when the opposition team is so well drilled that there are no free spaces without pressure. Thats exactly where he fails. hence zero or negative contri in big matches. plus he cant put a tackle to save his life.
    what a good no 10 should is create space for others in tight spaces like Ox did in same match taking out 3 players to free nacho. or wilshere does so often when he runs at players.
    i am an armchair supporter but believe me you dont need to be on ground to observe such things. even players expressions after a miss tells a lot about his character like ozil anger you have mentioned is clearly on other player who missed chance rather than on chance being missed. there is a difference if only u understand.
    Your manager arguement is the one i have written many times online comments. but its like Carlo kicked him out despite all assists, Mou didnt bring him to Chelsea despite need and describing him best at real, Low played him at left and wenger will back any tom dick and harry once he is in his team, he recently called his goalkeepers worldclass. its his class and philosophy. he does so only to bring best out of whatever he has.

  5. Yes indeed.
    Nicely written Sam.
    I don’t usually care what others think of players I like and admire, but it makes me chuckle every time I hear the usual criticism dished out at Ozil.

    The usual are of cours that he doesn’t put in any tackles and he looks lackadaisical at times. Or that he doesn’t take the game by the scruff of the neck and overpowers teams.

    Those critics want him to be the best all around player, when what he really is , is just the best set up man in football.

    Show me one play in his career when Ozil failed to pick the right pass under the circumstances, cause if he has ,then I might’ve missed it.

    Ozil is a specialist ,the best at what he does and we are lucky to have him.
    I’m also fairly certain that if Arsenal put him on the transfer market right now, there would be a line of clubs engaged in a bidding war for his services, including Chelsea .

    What was the first thing Mourinho did when he found out Ozil signed for Arsenal? That’s right, he called him and asked why on earth he didn’t tell Mourinho he wasn’t happy at Real, because Mourinho would’ve got him to Chelsea.

    If there’s one valid criticism of Ozil , it might be the fact he doesn’t take enough shots on goal himself, but that’s in his make up as a player though.
    He is the ultimate assist maker and if he were ever faced with being on an empty goal with his striker, he would probably consider laying it off to him too.

    And lastly, people forget that in football a run dictates the pass, so when Ozil is not doing his job to the fullest , it usually means his teammates aren’t doing theirs either.
    When the movement of the entire team is there, that’s when Ozil is at his best.

  6. As I have said before, many times, contributions that just say that the writer is wrong, and is talking nonsense etc, without giving serious details as to why, aren’t published. I disagree completely with Abhi’s contribution, but the writer has explained himself and so of course deserves place. So, sadly, I’ve had to cut a few contributions to this debate this afternoon.

  7. Great article specially about the vision one gets at a live match compared to the TV segregated view.

    I watch live games as often as I can & particularly the way the officials ignore off the ball fouls on players such as Ozil & our defenders. Blocking of a player to gain advantage for a team mate is common, just as blocking/holding of a player to stop a team progressing in an attack. The officials know that is happening but turn their selective vision on & off to suit their bias.

    My ultimate enjoyment is victory despite all the obstacles that corruption allows to spoil the beautiful game….and Arsenal play the game beautifully. Wenger is above all the nastiness that some practice & deserves all the accolades he & his teams get.

    Please God we win tomorrow without any injuries, because as much as Sherwood is a Gooner, he is also a spud.

  8. And for my own contribution…

    I sit in row 10 upper tier near the corner flag, and so in many games get to see Ozil fairly close up, and before all this debate about him started I found myself saying over and over to those around me, “Where did that pass come from?” A pass that seemed utterly simple once completed but just looked impossible two seconds before.

    And on a different point… The notion that Ozil is poor and clearly not worth it, suggests that some people are quite wrong about him – the Arsenal management, the Germany management – they are all wrong.

    I find that, combined with the evidence of my own eyes, hard to believe.

  9. What I appreciate about Ozil is the timing of his movements. Often you see, especially forwards equal to the opponents back 4, jumping around trying to figure out when to make a run. This is rarely the case with Mesut. He stands still and then moves…very economical.

  10. From my seat in front of the TV I have to follow the ball because that is what the camera does. So I don’t have the advantage of being there and seeing the whole movement of the game.

    However it has not prevented me from noting that in in evrey match Ozil is every where. I cannot see the benefits to the team of his off the ball play but even the worst commentator I have heard say ”What a pass from Ozil!” or simliar.

    On TV he does not come across as having an out going persoanlity like Per or Theo but so what.

    He does not relate to us fans as Per and Theo and other team members do but so what. His personality does not make him a lesser player.

    I am not into answering the question : ”Who is your favourite player?” But this past league season Ozil has been the player I watch out for.

    I don’t care who scores or who assists just as long as we score more than the other team but Ozil will make my season if he scores the winnerfor us tomorrow.

    Come Ozil you Gunners!

  11. The subtle touches of the ball when tracking back are also quite amazing. He doesn’t have to make contact with the opponent carrying the ball …just a toe poke to direct the ball to a team mate. Ozil is class …. quietly & clinically.

  12. Good article Sam. The Ozil critics apparently know more about football than the World Cup winners, Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Arsene Wenger. As if he needs some PL validation for his talent. Also, I liked the Zidane analogy. Like him, Ozil does things you just about can’t believe (as Tony noted at 2:44 PM). Don’t take your eyes off him and you won’t be disappointed.

  13. Abhi

    It was Mourinho who brought Ozil to Madrid , and this is what he had to say about him.

    “Mezut is a phenomenal player. He’s one of those players that you buy to complete the puzzle of your team . You don’t need time, you need nothing. The player just arrives. You have an empty space waiting for him, you put the player there, and you know automatically that your team becomes better.”

    The problem is that Arsenal are not a finished product yet . There are still a few missing pieces to the puzzle which Wenger might solve this Summer.

    Oh yea, one other thing. Ox is hardly a number 10. He’s naturally a winger with a talent of taking people on. Comparing his skill set to Ozil’s does neither player justice.

  14. @Tom
    i didnt compare ox but i tried to give an example.if you want comparision. carzola played same position before ozil
    1. his stats are much better in terms of goals assist shots though he had giroud infront….in his first season….he didnt score away goal till half season if i remeber correctly. arsenal are much better now.
    2. he could put a tackle or run behind when he lost the ball instead of shoulder drop and cry looking at ref.
    3. we didnt find him missing in big games. if i remember he and poldi combined to give us victory at anfield at start of season. i remeber ozil loosing ball at halfway line to suarez,/sterling and moaning like baby while they raced to score 4or 5th goal of evening. thats my biggest problem.he isnt kind of player who lift everybody up when chips are down instead he sulks himself.Even CBs per nad kosch even Gibbs have given us match changing moments but ozil despite playing roughly 20 big matches in his time at arsenal hasnt given one. that may not be his stength but at his free role…..even a defender must have scored by chance or luck
    this points were on top of my mind on why some people dont like him. while others like you only sing about some random stats like chances or running or his ability to pop up in spaces. whatever football wisdom is applied here but atleast these things dont help to win us tough matches. which is required if we have to win league or ucl
    and for Mou i cannot believe he didnt know about ozil,’s availability.but didnt risk to take him at chelsea. i think you should never judge a player by statements of his own manager. how often do you hear opposition manager talk of threat of ozil in a build to match.
    cmon even king henry himself has declared his displeasure with ozil.

  15. The best player in the Arsenal squad and possibly in the Premier League. One of very few players you can justifiably call a genius. We have not had a better footballer at the club since Bergkamp and I include Henry and the like in that statement. One of the few footballers I really respect and have time for, mainly because of his work ethic, team ethic and complete unselfishness on a football field. It is quite funny that the point of media attack on Ozil is his work rate – no one works harder. It is so rare to get a footballer of his class that thinks about the team first. In world football It might only be Messi that I would swap him for (then again I dislike Messi because he cheats by diving every time he loses the ball which is more often than one would initially think)

  16. Even if its not a live game, you can see Ozil’s movements on the Terry, he is awesome.Should we start Theo tomorrow, we will see an Ozil assist, a Theo goal. Anyway, I pray we do, and then claim the trophy.

  17. Abhi…..are we talking about the same player?

    1)Negative contributions in big games? I have watched every home and away game this season, on a very big screen and have re-watched them (win,tie or loss) to determine IF Ozil’s contributions helped or hurt the team. Out of the 42 games I watched he was NEVER having a bad game….he was, as Sam says, popping up everywhere and maybe not being successful with his passes or attempts at goal BUT always contributing something special in every game, whether a blind pass cutting the opposition defense, a vital tackle or interception that won us the ball again, a dummy that completely fooled his opponents and sometimes his teammates, etc.

    2)Ozil is a German of Turkish descent so his expressiveness is not what one would expect of a Brit or Latin player. I refereed in Germany and they are far more collected and cool than your typical Brit or Italian. Sam points out that he shows a fair bit of expression when he misses a clear chance and celebrates the goals like he’d scored them himself. It is his personality and innate demeanour that you’re seeing NOT his passion for the game or for the Arsenal, which he shows game in and game out.

    3)Wenger, unlike you, actually knows managing a Football Club and why other managers didn’t keep him or didn’t buy him is a mystery, but thank God Wenger doesn’t have you as his advisor for player transfers…he’d have brought someone like Jamie Redknapp or worse Balotelli! Wenger gets the best out of his players, not out of pity or desperation but because he sees the big picture and is able to fit his transfers and youth players into his chessboard like a grand master.

    I suggest that you visit the Arsenal.com website and watch Adrian Clarke’s analysis of every AFC game. He usually comments on Ozil’s contributions as well and it is almost 99% positive. When it isn’t it is because the entire team underperformed as Tom says.

  18. Excellent read. Ozil is a gem of a player, we are lucky to have him. Have only seen him live twice but even with that, saw enough to concur with the positive articles about him. Think after recent months, even the critics are changing their tune on this fine player.
    Have a feeling he may have something a bit special in store for us tomorrow

  19. Armchair managers

    Here’s a prelude to the final, which is a long conversation with Liam Brady.


    A bit more than halfway through the article, we find:

    > For that reason, it will be very interesting to see how Tim Sherwood sets Villa out today. Will he stay true to his declaration that he likes his teams to get the ball down and play attacking football? They certainly looked the part in the semi-final against Liverpool but this is the final now so will he set up to defend the box, look to stop Arsenal from getting in behind them and then hope to get a goal either on the break or from a set-piece? If he’s done his homework he’ll see that can work against Arsenal.

    Maybe I should include more context, but far too many include too much? Read the article.

    The armchair managers with the infinite bank account have players for all occasions, and no limit to the number of substitutions during the game, with no limit to how many players can be on the bench. Football doesn’t work that way.

    Wenger has players that can play in multiple positions. Some better at some positions than others.

    You hope to play the game where the opposition is always responding to what your team does; your team is dictating the tactics. This doesn’t mean you win. If you have most of the possession, and the other team is set up to play counter attack, you can lose.

    Lots of teams have multi-skilled players, and can adapt to the opposition. Wenger will take a guess as to how to prepare and line up against AV. Ideally, if he needs to adjust after the game starts, the team will adjust without being instructed. Always a chance they don’t adjust as desired, and hence input from the manager still might be needed. AV could adjust to the adjustment. And this can go on.

    In large part, the two managers are playing chess. Both managers have at most 3 trump cards in this game of chess. And if players get injured, trump cards get replaced with different cards (the card that is played, is not a trump card).

    Luck is still a huge factor in any goals which are scored.

    And in a fair game, you don’t have to worry about the officials bending play. But in England since the EPL formed, we have this organization which doesn’t try to be fair to both sides that should not be _participating_ in the game, but usually are.

    I am still hoping for the Gunners to win. Both Saturday and Sunday. Oh, for those that hadn’t heard. Arsenal versus Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final is a double header this year. The men play on Saturday, the U17 Ladies play on Sunday.

    COYG! and COYYLG!

  20. Armchair League Managers

    I think a big part of the reason Hull was relegated was because of Hull getting to the FA Cup Final last season. Hull had a largely Championship squad, and did not have the budget (or room to make in the budget) to play in Europa League as well as the EPL this season.

    I think this kind of event is likely to happen in the future, and I think Hull should have had the right to say that playing in the Europa League was outside of its ability to satisfy as well as doing well in the league it was currently playing in. Sure, teams hoping to become top-6 might have the resources to do this. Hull didn’t have that infrastructure in place.

    Do you try to advance another English team, or do you have a raffle across the rest of UEFA? The apparent feeling of English teams is that Europa league is a bother, and so I would say allocate that position elsewhere (without it affecting seeding the following season).

    FIFA has been trying to get some Emergency Loan system removed. Which I think is relevant to Hull being relegated.

    I think if we look at the probability of getting injured as a function of position, goaltender will be an outlier. Which is reasonable, as the position is much different than all of the others.

    Football has sought to have a minimum of substitutions. I think that should be relaxed. I think that if a goaltender is injured and needs to be replaced, that is a _free_ substitution. I think a team should be allowed to place as many reserve keepers on its bench as it needs to.

    But I do not think a team needs to restrict who the incoming goaltender is, to those on the reserve goalkeepers bench. I will point to Lansbury (now at Forest, was at Arsenal). I think it reasonable that if the first keeper becomes injured, it may be that an outfield player on the bench who has experience at goalkeeper is the best choice for the remainder of the game (assuming no more goalkeeper injuries).

    If in the case of Lansbury, that he was already on the field, and the decision of the manager is to move Lansbury to goal, and so a substitute is needed to replace his position in midfield, that substitution is a normal substitution.

    I think that at any time, if a team seeks a loan of a goaltender (subject to cup ties and all the other rigmarole) they should be allowed to seek and get another goalkeeper. I would suggest that being allowed to get goalkeeper loans be allowed to other countries or sports.

    Being a goalkeeper is dangerous. No adult team should need to consider having to field youth players who are too small (height, weight or both) because of loan restrictions.

    If a big chunk of the rest of the loan program has to go away, what seems to be left is short term signings of retired players (not at goalkeeper).

  21. Ozil is pure class and is the heart and pulsation of the team . Some of his touches this season were out of this world , while the others were , well ….’just’ plain sublime .
    Many a time ,I would watch him instead of the ball just to observe what he is going to do next .
    A great buy and truly a great credit to this team .

  22. You don’t have to see Ozil live to understand him. Record any matches and watch it again by keeping an eye on him on the TV screen. The way he turns, looks at his teammates, runs, pass and fool the opposite players is amazing. He also has this magnificent telepathic understanding and trust with Cazarlo and Sanchez.

  23. @al ..yes he is a genius and a one off. I never doubted his work rate..he was tremendous in the world cup and as a consequence started this year knackered. Some of the criticism levelled by the pundits was ridiculous. He is the “glue” that holds teams together and we have him..brilliant

  24. The problem for Ozil is his own class and the way he makes the most difficult of passes and assists appear so simple. The sheer spatial awareness and the weight on his pass is unparalleled in this squad. armchair supporters always like and applaud overtly energetic displays of Alexis and fail to appreciate Ozil’s subtlety. His performances have not matched those from his Real days for the simple reason that Walcott and co are not as lethal and technically equipped as CR7 & co.

  25. Thanks guys for all your encouraging comments! I only realised yesterday that the article went live as I missed Tony’s email informing me so.

    ABHI, I didn’t intend to get into individual debates as I have made my point through the article and you have made yours, and I simply haven’t got lot of time to spend, but I had to respond to few of the points you make:

    1) “his only thought behind getting everywhere is so he can touch the ball without too many players around him. which is normal for any free no 10.”
    So that’s a credit to him that he is so good at it that people think he is lazy, no? However, haven’t you seen how he manages to free himselves from tight spaces and, more often than not, make the right pass?

    2) “But where class no10 should come into picture is when the opposition team is so well drilled that there are no free spaces without pressure. Thats exactly where he fails. hence zero or negative contri in big matches.”
    Quite right that tactically brilliant teams will mark him better. But is that his individual failure or that of the entire team. My view as expressed in the article is that it takes time to gel and create an understanding of the players which hasn’t been helped by prolonged injuries to himself and players with pace like Walcott, Chambo etc. Let’s be patient and see next year hopefully they remain injury free.

    3) “Your manager arguement is the one i have written many times online comments. but its like Carlo kicked him out despite all assists, Mou didnt bring him to Chelsea despite need and describing him best at real, Low played him at left”
    The transfer business, especially at Real Madrid, is a strange one and I don’t think you or me can really understand what went on there. But let me give you an example of a similar club. Sanchez was let go at Barcelona – so that makes him rubbish then?

    4) “wenger will back any tom dick and harry once he is in his team, he recently called his goalkeepers worldclass. its his class and philosophy. he does so only to bring best out of whatever he has”

    Btw, thanks SHIV for your comment. I completely agree over Ozil but I do hope that Walcott/Chambo will improve once they get an extended injury free run.

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