Does Ozil fail to live up to his potential when playing against top teams? We take a look.

By Tony Attwood

The question was raised a day or two ago about Ozil: does he disappear in crunch matches?  What does the statistics say?

Here are the basic figures…

Lge pos

So here is a very simple question: does Arsenal’s position in the league (in the final column) define how many assists Ozil gets, or do Ozil’s assists define where Arsenal comes in the league?

The fact is he got fewer assists in 2014/15 when we came 3rd than he did in the last two seasons when we came 5th and 6th.   So in one sense there is no relation between assists and how well we do.  It seems to make that whole debate irrelevant before we begin!

And it gets worse, for the problem with answering this sort of question is one of defining the question.   We can measure how far he runs but if it is not effective running, then so what?  We can measure the number of assists, but if the opposition put two players on him to nullify him out of the game, and the referee is lenient on what they do to Ozil, then the figures are not worth much.

But if they opposition put two players on him, and they nullify him, but that then allows our forward line to score more goals because two players are watching Ozil, then his figures will show few passes, perhaps no assists, and not much of anything – but he has just made a major contribution to the team!!!

Besides what is he employed for?  Is it high intensity sprints or defence splitting passes?  Or running about a lot?  Or assists and goals?  Or is it different game by game?

Certainly following this line of consideration it could be that clubs from the top part of the league might well have a player who is capable of marking Ozil out of the game, whereas lower clubs might feel that they simply don’t have anyone who can do the job without getting sent off.   And as for putting two players to mark him, that could leave them wide open for advances from other players.

And before we get even deeper into this, it could be that Arsenal’s manager has required him to play a different game when playing against certain opposition.

What we can say is that appearances can be deceptive.  Or perhaps it is body language that can be deceptive.   Alexis used to run all sorts of places where he didn’t need to, while Ozil conserves his energy.   And in fact when we measured the running with the ball in play, rather than general running Ozil was measured as running 1.5km per game more than Alexis, in Alexis last full season at the club.

A Mr G Neville of Sky Sports was the man who started having a bash at Ozil,  and he used the regular journalistic approach of saying something over and over, while ignoring other options.  The chances are that if we read or hear a stat one week all we remember a week later is the generality.  If the pundit says “As I pointed out last week” we tend to believe it, even if what was pointed out was completely untrue.

But here’s another point: radio, TV and newspapers like simplicity.  They present football as a game which the ordinary person in the street can understand, and that complex analyses are unnecessary.   “I know what I see,” is a phrase that is often used.   One might remember for example when BT Sport got the rights to the Emirates Cup and spent the build up to each of their two days of commentary with their commentators laughing about the ludicrous complexity of the points system where goals were given one point each, and saying that their maths wasn’t up to it, and how stupid Arsenal were in engaging with this sort of system.  Only Arsenal would be this daft, they said, before retreating after a mass set of complaints by Arsenal supporters.

Now if adding one point for a goal is too complex for broadcasters, you can imagine how the detail of what Ozil does can be misrepresented.   What they do instead is interpret body language – that most notoriously difficult of “languages” to understand.  Indeed the insistance by football commentators that body language is something to be considered always makes me think that these guys have never been to the theatre and watched an actor.

And then it can be said that Ozil doesn’t always make an impact against the big teams, but that forgets two things.  It passes by the situations when he does make a difference (I recall victories over Chelsea and Manchester United), and ignores the way clubs might focus on him in order to remove him from the game, because they know that Ozil is vital to what Arsenal did.

Simply pointing out that Ozil had a low win rate against other clubs that came in the top six last season doesn’t really prove that he was at fault.  Arsenal’s record against the other top six clubs was poor.

One other problem is the level of expectation placed upon Ozil.   A report by Sky Sport into how he had been doing, a couple of years ago, pointed out that he only had a win percentage of 16% in matches against other clubs in the top six and that this “does not reflect well on a player who was supposed to take the club to the next level.”

But neither does it reflect well on any member of the team.  You cannot place all the blame for the failure of eleven players to win, on one player.

So we might be able to say that in games against other members of the top six, and against top Champions League clubs like Bayern Munich, Ozil on his own cannot raise the team, and that (perhaps) one or two others of the highest class also in the team were needed.

We might also go back in history and consider Liam Brady; another player of sublime genius.   But also a player who played in the Arsenal teams that didn’t sweep the board each year.   Indeed, anyone arriving early enough to a game at Arsenal Stadium will see the film of Liam Brady scoring against Tottenham on 23 December 1978 at White Hart Lane (it’s the “Look at that, oh look at that” commentary), and perhaps forget that we finished the league in 7th, 20 points behind winners (with two points for a win).

But when Martin Keown says Arsenal can no longer afford to “carry” Ozil it is hard to see how he is deciding that he is contributing nothing to the team.  Centre halves like Martin have a skill that can be measured – they stop the ball going past them.   No 10s have a much more complex skill which for its completion is reliant on at least one other player in the team.

Yet even keeping this in mind Mesut Ozil comes out well.   I don’t have the very latest figures but up to last year, using figures that Sky have gathered, Ozil “created more chances (407), more big chances (51) and provided more assists (42) than any other Premier League player.”  (Sky actually got it wrong and said in their article 401 chances, it was 407, but either way he was top.)

Now let’s do a bit of comparing with our greatest assistor (or is that assistant, I am not really sure).   Assists require two players – the man doing the assisting and the man doing the scoring.  Thierry Henry played alongside Robert Pires and so always had someone else he could assist to and get assists from.  I am not sure Ozil has always had that person – at least until now – but he has got within one assist of Thierry Henry’s record for assistant in a season (Henry got 19, in 2015/16 Ozil knocked up 18).

On 16 May 2017 Ozil created 12 chances in the one game – more than at any time since Opta started doing its thing.  That we only won 2-0 was not Ozil’s fault.   And in that season he made more passes ending in the final third than anyone else.

Does he go missing in games against top clubs?  Maybe yes.   Is that because those clubs can afford to put two players on him and take him out of the game?  Quite possibly so.   In which case, if Arsenal had more high class players the opposition would not be able to take Ozil out so readily.

There are, with this one, many explanations.


9 Replies to “Does Ozil fail to live up to his potential when playing against top teams? We take a look.”

  1. No pressure for answers but how well did Mesut Ozil do at Real Madrid ?How long did it take for him to know how to play with Ronaldo along with the very attacking tactics of there manager Mourinho
    Was he criticise at RM and taken apart or is it a follow on as there’s no Arsene anymore

  2. Mesut will always be described as a failure by any muppet that played for some other team, and will always be described as a failure by most muppets that have played for Arsenal, because their bosses in the medja demand they do so.

    It has nothing to do with how good or bad he is, it is required that all muppets do this.


    OT: In other news

    The women set a new record attendance at Meadow Park.

    And Wales Online has a nice story, about Aaron and Colleen, and the new twins!

  3. @Gord

    Are there enough useful numbers regarding Ozil’s performance to do a regression analysis here?

  4. Four tuples? That’s pretty meager. I don’t know if it would really tell you anything. Maybe if a person had similar data for someone who had a long career at a single club, that might help.

  5. I don’t know whether to take untold seriously these days. Because without doubt in several months time, depending on prevailing situation, Tony will write another article rubbishing the thoughts expressed today. I don’t have time to dissect the entire article (which could have been summarized by just saying “people say Ozil gets lost in the big matches, I don’t agree with them, but I don’t have stats/evidence to back NY thoughts”). But one thing I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to comment on is this thought that Ozil, up until now didn’t have a target man to finish the chances he created. That’s a thought the “AAA” have used to bash Wenger at least since the exit of rvp, a point untold has argued and attributed to anti-wengerian sentiments(I even remember Walter arguing that Girouds goal stats are similar to Rooney’s in the premiership). Now its time to back ozil, suddenly that argument becomes a valid one. That’s before even considering that it’s disrespectful to our attackers of seasons past.

  6. Well,it seemed straightforward to me. I was asked by a reader to look at the issue of Ozil, and did my best to show why it is so very hard to draw conclusions. You have summarised it as being something quite different. So it goes.

  7. @Tony, and I believe my point is straight forward too. Do you or do you not believe that prior to the signings of lacazette and PEA, that arsenal didn’t have good enough strikers?

  8. The point with Ozil is that he was bought as a world class playerr for a record fee.
    This category of player is meant to make the difference in the biggest and most important games.
    Generally speaking he has failed to do that up to now.

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