Ah, Mesut Özil. Marvelous magician or complete fraud? Depending on who you ask you’re bound to get a wide net of opinions — Neil Ashton doesn’t count, he works for the Sun — all of whom fervently believe they’re correct. In my personal opinion, Mesut is a wonderful footballer, the type of player you pay to watch. However, I’ve been a part of the criticism, finding myself screaming at the television demanding that he sprint back into defensive shape or make a tackle. Saying that, the image of Mesut two-footing a defender is one that might make me stop watching football entirely, given that I will never ever receive that amount of joy from anything else football has to offer.
The issue of his defensive prowess is going to be heavily scrutinized under Unai Emery, as there is zero chance that he will be given the same amount of freedom that Wenger bestowed upon him. Under Arsene, he was given a completely free role to do whatever the big-eyed German felt like doing. Which meant very minimal defending. Basically just when Mesut felt in a charitable mood.
Going forward, however, there’s no doubt that Emery will demand much more from Mesut for him to play regular football. There’s also the bigger question of what sort of formation Emery plays to accommodate all of Arsenal’s attacking superstars whilst trying to add something the Arsenal team has been missing for many years: the ability to defend. In this scenario, it is possible to see Emery leave Özil out altogether, were it not for the enormous contract the Arsenal board handed him back in January. Assuming that Özil is guaranteed a starting spot, it becomes difficult to squeeze all of Arsenal’s attacking talents into a coherent and balanced shape. And it would be suicide to play him in a midfield three, with only Xhaka and Ramsey behind him, as any number of Arsenal performances over the past couple seasons can attest to.
The Arsenal future of Ramsey plays a huge role in what happens to Özil too. If Ramsey does sign a fat new contract, the expectation will be set that he is seen as a crucial player who will play every possible game. If he doesn’t then Özil’s position dilemma becomes simpler, as he can play in his favored number 10 role, assuming Arsenal is competent enough to buy a more defensive partner for Xhaka. Competent being the key word here though.
However, looking on the positive side — something foreign to me as a Gooner — assuming Ramsey signs and becomes the greatest ever midfielder for the club, Özil’s position becomes a bit less secure. Do you shift Özil out to the wing? It would allay some of his defensive deficiencies but he’s not the quite the same when he’s shunted out wide. A bit like sitting down to watch Indiana Jones only to realize it’s the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Not quite right.
Assuming you must play Özil in his preferred position, then you have to sacrifice some other attacking players to provide the defensive stability that playing Özil gives up. There’s really only one option for Mesut, which is to provide enough defensive nous to warrant him starting in his favorite number 10 role every week. He doesn’t need to run like a madman and dive into tackles, but at least to get into position and cut off passing lanes. If Unai can get Özil to do that, then he really is a football genius.