The Blog

Ozil Feeling the Heat as Arsenal Look to Spice Things Up?

For all the talk of Ozil needing pace to be able to make the most of his creative abilities, given his current form and inability to do the small things properly, the return of Walcott could - perhaps should - see Ozil lose his starting place.

A 2-2 draw, that felt simultaneously like a point saved and points dropped for both Arsenal and City, proved also to be a pulsating spectacle for fans. It was probably even more enjoyable for Chelsea fans on another weekend of continued Diego Costa brilliance and rivals dropping points, adding to the sense that both competing sides, even this early on in the season, needed the win as much as they needed not to lose.

For City, it has been an assured start to their title defence, but for the unforgivable home loss to Stoke, while for Arsenal, draws away to Everton and home to City only look underwhelming in light of their equally disappointing draw away to Leicester. With Chelsea already looking imperious, despite their relatively easier start to the season (though they have travelled to Everton also), any further slip-ups in the lower echelons of the league by the likes of Arsenal, City and Liverpool could prove to be exceptionally disastrous come May.

City should be able to mount a challenge, with their preexisting title winning ingredients still in tact, but for their opponents Arsenal, doubts do not arise so much because of their ingredients, but because of the recipe that chef Wenger will have to create using them. There are ingredient problems - notably a lack of starch in the quantity of defenders and the lack of title-winning calibre fibre in defensive midfield - but there are enough spicy attacking midfielders for Arsenal to launch the sort of triple pepper title challenge that Liverpool spiced up at the end of last season.

Elements of this were shown against City, with the Chilean Sanchez showing tricks, industry and brilliant finishing in the latest of his impressive early performances for the Gunners. Wilshere dazzled with the same tippy-tappy give and goes that defined his game when he initially broke into the Arsenal side four years ago, with probably his best individual display in a game of import since that famous 2-1 win against Barcelona in 2011. With Welbeck showing glimmers of what he can provide as a quicker and tricksier target man than the underrated but not quite good enough Giroud, Theo Walcott's raw pace and overlooked finishing prowess soon to return, and the hustling and bustling talent of Oxlade-Chamberlain continually refining, Arsenal should be able to emulate the same sort of gung-ho, pleasing on the eye brand of attacking football that Liverpool so (almost) gloriously displayed last season.

Yet, Arsenal's star and star signing from last season - Ozil and Ramsey - both struggled against City, and neither have particularly impressed so far this season, despite the latter scoring a couple of important goals. With Ramsey there is less frustration, given how well he performed last season and the fact that he isn't underperforming so far due to lack of visible effort or confidence - it's more a matter of lacking some precision in his passing, thereby losing the capability to control the overall game as he did so well, so often last season.

Ozil is a different story however.

As player who thrives off the understated, under-appreciated arts of the game - deft movement, precision passing, control in the final third, and so on - he is always a player that fans will be divided upon. But given the importance of precision and small details to his effect on a side, the fact that he has visibly been seen to be misplacing and undercooking passes in his three appearances so far for Arsenal this season, suggests that his overall game is in a bit of a rut. His performances last season, while hardly show-stopping, were never as bad as this - at least last season he did small things well, and created chances. Arsenal will look to support him, but with Wilshere performing well yesterday, Ramsey's goals and Sanchez already undroppable, when Walcott returns, Ozil will surely be the most droppable - on current form at least.

The German may also be struggling in part because of Arsenal's formation. He has been shifted to the wing so far this season as Arsenal look to play three - Wilshere, Ramsey, Flamini/Arteta - in a deeper central midfield. Previously in a 4-2-3-1, where Ozil would take the central berth in the attacking three, Wilshere would have been most likely to make way, as Ramsey would play alongside Flamini/Arteta with Cazorla and a pacey winger/inside striker on the other side - in that set-up Wilshere effectively became Ramsey's understudy. But with Wilshere upstaging Ramsey against City, but at the same time, performing effectively alongside him, in the 4-1-2-2-1, formation, it looks likely that this could be Arsenal's most often-used formation this season. As such, Ozil on the left of the 2 behind the striker is not given the same responsibility and creative license to control the game as he would from 10, lessening his effect on the game while also placing unwanted defensive responsibilities on him as a winger - responsibilities he barely seems to notice.

Before the start of the season, the presumed thought had been that Arsenal, when/if fully fit, would be able to get the best out of Ozil by playing him in the 10 role behind the pace of Walcott, Sanchez and now Welbeck around him, with Ramsey and probably Arteta playing from deep. Yet, with Ozil struggling to do the small things that make him effective, and Wilshere gaining in form, Wenger is presented with a quandary. To make the most of Arsenal's new found pace, given the need for a defensive midfielder, which Wilshere isn't - at least for Arsenal - the question is who gets dropped when Walcott returns. It surely won't be Ramsey, and after yesterday's performance, it would be harsh to drop Wilshere.

For all the talk of Ozil needing pace to be able to make the most of his creative abilities, given his current form and inability to do the small things properly, the return of Walcott could - perhaps should - see Ozil lose his starting place.