Arsene Wenger has a key decision to make as Arsenal's record signing continues to struggle, writes Unibet's Michael Da Silva...
Even in the minutes after Arsenal’s Champions League campaign suffered a near fatal blow last night, Arsene Wenger couldn’t bring himself to criticise the man whose signing was supposed to herald a new era at the Emirates.
“He was affected by the penalty miss,” said Wenger, scrambling for the words to defend his £42.4million signing. “He was still shaking his head five or 10 minutes after that.”
Who knows what Wenger’s private thoughts are on Özil, but there comes a time when the Frenchman needs to be honest with himself. There was a strong case that Tomas Rosicky should have started ahead of Özil and an even stronger one that Özil - not the energetic Santi Cazorla - should have been sacrificed after Wojciech Szczesny saw red.
Last night was his chance to shine, to remind Arsenal and Germany fans alike of his abundant qualities and that he can produce on the big occasions. Instead, he put in yet another lethargic, gutless display.
Not even a lambasting by teammate Mathieu Flamini - for failing to provide left-back Nacho Monreal with any protection - could stir Özil into action. His reaction? To bow his head and dismiss the Frenchman, continuing to offer nothing in defence and little going forward. His body language was telling.
The fact that Özil's form at Arsenal has swiftly gone downhill has not been lost on the German media either. Reflecting on last night, Die Welt columnist Lutz Wöchener writes: “Özil looks tired and could use a break to think about his attitude. He’s a great player but not a leader.”
For every week that Özil is unable to drag himself out of the mire, Mario Götze's case to be Germany’s key man at the World Cup gathers pace. In the six weeks that Özil has created just one goal for Arsenal, Götze has scored twice and assisted four for Bayern. Even more impressive given that with Xherdan Shaqiri and Thomas Muller competing for his place, Götze doesn’t even start every week.
On Saturday, Arsenal host Sunderland, the side that first encountered Özil in the Premier League back in September. That day, the ball seemed magnetically attracted to his foot as he enjoyed a dazzling debut, creating a goal within 11 minutes and ending the game on the winning side.
Those moments could not seem further away right now. The fear is, Özil's heart doesn’t seem to be in it at Arsenal. Is he unhappy? Has he failed to settle in London? Has he managed to learn English?
The last noteworthy performance Özil produced was when he scored in the Gunners’ 1-1 draw with Everton in early December. That day he was the best player on the pitch. From the very next match, Arsenal's 6-3 humbling at the Etihad, which ended in a tongue-lashing from Per Mertesacker for walking off the pitch without applauding the travelling supporters, Özil has not been the same.
All of his recent sluggishness could have been forgotten with one outstanding performance against Bayern – and he’s capable of producing it. Instead he missed his third successive penalty and moped around the pitch for the next 84 minutes, neglecting his basic duties.
Players like Özil, that ooze style and bring a winning mentality, often need to be given the benefit of the doubt; talent like his is a rare thing. But Arsenal are suffering from Özil's prolonged spell of poor form, and the key concern is that it's a problem with his mindset. Success at the top level of football depends not only on technique but application.
Now, it's time for action. Wenger must leave Özil on the bench for a while, and hope he rediscovers his spark, his passion, and his sense of responsibility.
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