Mezut Özil's performances against Bayern Munich and Liverpool have been condemned by many but is his form a tell-tale sign that Wenger's men are on the brink of seasonal implosion, leaving the wreckage of yet another 'what might have been' season to ponder.
It might be harsh after playing arguably the most dangerous side in world football and recently being shown up by a dazzling Liverpool side but there is an all too familiar feeling descending at the Emirates. It seems like a long time ago, but after the season's opening day loss to Aston Villa, the Gunners were struggling, without any big name signings the North Londoners were all at sea with the merky shadows of terminal decline ominously lurking beneath.
Wenger's response was to do something out of character, he obliterated his almost embarrassingly (or admirable, depending on how you'd look at it) low transfer record and signed one of the premium midfielders on the continent. There was outcry at Madrid, where many felt Özil was second only to Ronaldo, while Arsenal fans and players were instantaneously buoyed by this chest beating statement. His impact was immediate and for the first 15 games of the season he provided the touch of class and quickness of thought that knitted the team together, there was a majesty and elegance to his craft that brought comparisons to Bergkamp. A new jewel for the crown had been found after the exit of Robin van Persie. As if by magic, Arsenal were bona fide contenders again.
But since December things have not been so rosy. With Aaron 'Rambo' Ramsey injured, Arsenal have missed his gallivanting drive and have struggled to break teams down who keep a cool head and squeeze the space between defence and midfield. With Giroud battling and hustling but providing little in terms of goal threat, scoring only three goals in 12 league games, there is isn't enough running ahead of the German playmaker for him to make his mark. He needs buzzing movement in front of him, allowing him to deploy the scything passes and delicate threaded balls. With him as the focal point of these kaleidoscopic variations, Arsenal are dangerous, without that movement, they are toothless.
With no goals and only one assist in his last eight games, his dependence on the fluidity of the team when attacking has revealed the vacant side of Özil's game, he doesn't defend. It might not appear to be the be all and end all in Europe, or at least that is the clichéd perception but it does not compute with the Premier League's intense, hard running (headless chicken) mantra. Although your Berbatovs will attest that efficiency over effort doesn't necessarily indicate lethargy.
It still seems odd though and should, that a player held in such regard could have such a fundamental chink in his armour, but he is a specialist, bespoke in his ability, could anyone tell Ronaldo he's not pressing enough? Mourinho might have tried but it would have been a difficult pitch, indeed he identified this issue in Mata from the off, and despite the Spaniard twice being Chelsea's player of the year, he was happy to see him shipped off to a rival.
To prove the doubter's right, Özil's penalty against Bayern even made his manager publically criticize his lackadaisical stroll up to the ball and the tepid side foot towards the centre of the goal that followed. Neuer might have been laughing had it been on the training ground.
That said it is easy to forget that he manufactured this key opportunity himself, running at Boateng, his deft Cruyff like turn invited his international compatriot to stick a leg out, duly obliging, it made the defender look amateurish, but it was a swift and clever move.
But if his talent can be evaluated for all that is right and wrong in both winning a penalty and failing to score from it then that should be of real concern for Wenger. The grey matter in between these two opposites doesn't necessarily form a compelling argument for his inclusion. Severely under the cosh with 10 men against Bayern, Wilshere and Flamini gave him an earful but that didn't muster any acknowledgement of the team's demands. Of course, all attack minded players go through bad patches, but they have to offer more than the final pass or a clever trick. Can the required defensive awareness be learnt?
Wenger has mentioned contrastingly that he would like Özil to score more goals, morphing the supplier into the finisher like he has done with Henry and RvP. Ironically, arguably the most talented and most expensive of the three may well be the least likely to make this conversion. His languid style is in stylistic contrast to their more direct nature.
The issue then is can Wenger accommodate him in a flailing team at such a key point in the season? At the moment he embodies everything that has been chronically wrong with Arsenal teams of late, pleasing on the eye but lacking the mental strength to see the season through. If silverware is the target would it be beneficial to drop him now, restore confidence and then reintroduce him back into the fold when the team is firing on all cylinders?
It's a tough call the make, if Wenger does 'rest' him then it may appear to be a pragmatic step towards steadying the ship, refusing to throw away another promising season, but that's only if the rest of the team perform. If he sticks with him, and all is lost before his star player can find his form again, then this £42.5m magician might prove yet another class player who fails pull the elusive silver rabbit out of the hat for Arsenal.Suggest a correction