Televised coverage of Arsenal’s Champions League exit against Monaco identified Mesut Ozil as one of the major culprits in the Gunners’ demise, with Paul Scholes even calling for his substitution at half-time.
Six months ago, such criticism of Ozil would have been valid. He looked a shadow of his former self, and appeared unlikely to settle in England.
However, much has changed since then. Slamming the German was a curious angle to take on Wednesday night, given that Ozil had put in an effective and elegant display. He was even fighting off accusations of laziness with a 94th minute sprint and tackle deep inside his own half.
It was a performance very much in line with his recent upturn in form: those who watch Ozil regularly know that he has played consistently well since returning to the team in January.
It’s a curious thing that in a world where social media allows opinions to evolve so quickly, the British media’s view of Ozil are so firmly entrenched. It seems form changes more swiftly than consensus.
The phenomenon that sees the likes of Scholes unduly vilify Ozil is the same thing that renders Olivier Giroud a continual subject for criticism despite his vast improvement. Giroud missed a glaring chance on his Arsenal debut just under three years ago, and it occasionally seems as if some commentators still hold it against him. He may not have been good enough to lead the line for the Gunners in 2012, but it’s a different story now.
The stats bear his progress out.
According to Opta, Giroud converted just 13% of his chances from open play in 2012/13. The following year, he improved that ratio to 17%. This season, he has scored with a remarkable 28% of his attempts at goal. Typically, he scores every 3.5 shots. That’s a staggering level of efficiency, and one that rivals any forward in the Premier League.
And yet the Frenchman is still plagued by claims that he is not prolific enough to play for an elite club. After he endured a rare off night in the first leg of Arsenal’s Champions League tie with Monaco, the familiar cry went up that he will never deliver on the big stage. Goals this season against Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City suggest otherwise. Perception of Giroud has not caught up with his development.
It works both ways. Analysts are still identifying Alexis Sanchez as Arsenal’s danger man, despite the fact that his form has dipped dramatically since Christmas. The Chilean has scored just once in his last 11 games, but until his eye-catchingly poor display at Stade Louis II his slump had been largely unnoticed by broadcast media.
It’s primarily down to laziness. Fans are at an obvious advantage as they see their team week-in week-out, but highly-paid professionals ought to bother to watch recent games to gather some idea of a player’s condition rather than falling back on received ignorance.
Criticising Ozil has become an accepted trope of punditry - a simple narrative inarticulate ex-footballers can weave to navigate their way through a television broadcast.
Note the way British coverage of Arsenal’s match with Monaco attempted to turn Ozil’s half-time shirt swap in to a story. It’s difficult to imagine anyone watching really cared, but it was a moment that could be spun to fit the stereotype of the detached foreigner.
If a high-profile pundit took the time to analyse Ozil’s performances properly, they’d immediately win huge credibility among enlightened football fans.
Unfortunately, all too many seem inclined to take the easy route.
Read more from James McNicholas a.k.a. @Gunnerblog