In the build up to the game against Chelsea, much was made of Arsenal manager Arsene Wegner’s decision to not buy ex-Gunners midfielder Cesc Fabregas when he became available on the market, allowing him to join direct rivals Chelsea. Wenger defended his decision by saying he already had a vast abundance of attacking talent at his disposal and had no need for Fabregas.
After Fabregas departed, Wenger broke the club transfer record to sign Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid in a bid to replace the Spain midfielder. While the German is widely acknowledged to be the best No. 10 in the world, he is also very languid, and thus does not have the same presence on the field as Fabregas. On top of this, Wenger decision to play him on the wing makes the midfielder even less of a threat, as not only does he seem uninterested when playing out wide, but he also cannot track back, leaving the full back vulnerable.
This odd tactic is a recent innovation. Arsenal only just started playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation, and while such a setup is not automatically disastrous (as demonstrated against Galatasaray), the sheer number of midfielders on the pitch results in someone being shunted to the wing. Undoubtedly, this tactic was used to accommodate the large number of talented midfielders Arsenal possess, but they are never all fit at the same time, which kind of defeats the purpose.
But the question remains as to why Wenger still chooses to put Ozil out on the wing. Santi Cazorla seems to be a better choice out wide, he has played there for most of last season, and he is a more active player, capable of tracking back during counterattacks. But this season, Ozil has been played out wide for too many games. Anyone who has seen him play for Real will know the threat he poses when given space in the middle of the park; on the wing however he looks like a pale shadow of himself.
Maybe Wenger saw how he played on the wing during Germany’s successful World Cup campaign and decided to follow suit, however that was a completely different situation. Ozil had much more freedom in the Germany team, because he did not need to track back to defend. The German defence is much better than the one Arsenal has, and his defensive frailties were not as much exposed as they are at Arsenal. Also, Ozil was nowhere near his best at the World Cup, the German team were simply so good that they won without Ozil ever hitting his peak.
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And Ozil was far from his peak at Chelsea, his passing was shockingly and aberrantly sloppy—he constantly gave the ball away and created almost nothing. Importantly, Chelsea’s concerted effort to physically intimidate him and muscle him into isolation clearly worked. Jose Mourinho has worked with Ozil long enough to know how to counter him, and Arsene Wenger should have anticipated this coming. What was even more shocking was Wenger’s decision to keep Ozil on the pitch for the entire game, while substituting the livelier and dangerous Sanchez and Cazorla.
Wenger has a well known penchant for playing people out of position and making them adapt, but Ozil looks unable to adapt to the wing role. His work rate and natural game are simply not of the level to play out wide. But Wenger being as stubborn as he his it appears as if Ozil is the one who will have to adapt somehow.
But making a player who is the best No. 10 in the world play in a position where he is below average seems a terrible waste of talent, not to mention money. Wenger should know better, especially since new signing Danny Welbeck is a perfect example of what a player can achieve when played in his natural position. He was played on the wing at United, where he became known for his workrate, but only after coming to Arsenal did he show his true range of attacking talent, scoring his first career hat trick,
The solution to Ozil’s problems seem obvious, but apparently not to Wenger. If the Frenchman persists in playing the German out of position, I find it tough to see Arsenal challenging for anything this season.