When it comes to Mesut Özil there can be no sitting on the fence: you’re either with him or you’re against him.
For many he’s one of the world’s great trequartistas. A playmaker whose languid, verging on apathetic, style is unappreciated by those fans who use FIFA ratings as the barometer to judge a player.
Yet for others the German is an unnecessary luxury. A player that doesn’t pull his weight defensively; hides when his team are under pressure; and shirks a leadership role despite being Arsenal’s best-paid star.
It would be wrong to place new Gunners boss Unai Emery into either camp as it would be pure speculation. However, there is no doubt the Spaniard wants more from the German schemer.
He said earlier this month: “He (Özil) is working for the team to help us with his quality but he is feeling like I am feeling: he can improve, he can do more. We will work, we will help him, give him the possibility on the pitch to find his qualities for us.”
Emery added: “Mesut works very well here. I look at him with the focus totally here. I have a very good relationship with Mesut and professionally I push him for improvements to give us the best in his qualities and performances.”
Now despite what those with a Paris Saint-Germain persuasion may think, Emery is no fool. He is a smart coach, one that knows when to toe the party line. And publicly backing Özil is just that.
Yet the new Arsenal boss will be clued up on the stats and will know that since he signed his new contract in January, the Gunners No.10’s performances have dipped alarmingly.
It was on February 2 that Arsenal confirmed Özil had agreed a new long-term deal. The announcement ended months of speculation that the 29-year-old would depart on a free transfer in the summer, when his previous contract ended.
In re-signing the former Real Madrid star became the best-paid player in Arsenal history, taking home a reported 350,000 a week. Nice work if you can get it.
The Gunners were strong-armed into handing Özil the contract he wanted. He and his representatives held all the cards and played them skilfully.
Yet for a spell last season, in the build-up to signing his new deal, the Arsenal star was performing at a level that befitted a pay rise.
Stats from the Football Whispers Lab show that from October 14, 2017 to January 31, 2018, the ex-Germany international’s Average xContribution per 90 – which takes into account xG (expected goals) and xA (expected goals assisted) – in the Premier League stood at an impressive 0.62, the eleventh highest tally among midfielders.
“It’s been one of the most important decisions of my footballing career and that’s why I had to think hard and talk with everyone who’s important to me… Good things take time,” Özil wrote on Twitter after his new contract announcement.
“In the end I let my heart decide. As I always said, I feel at home here and I’m highly motivated to achieve big things in the next few years. Once a Gunner, always a Gunner!”
Without the burden of contract negotiations it was hoped Özil would elevate his game once more. Instead the opposite has occurred and that is what Emery will be concerned with.
Since signing his new deal with the Gunners Özil’s Average xContribution per 90 in the Premier League has dropped drastically to just 0.16, a figure bettered by 127 midfielders in the top flight.
And if expected numbers aren’t you thing, the fact the former Schalke youngster has claimed just two assists and one goal in the Premier League since signing his new contract should alarm Gunners fans.
It would be unfair to suggest Özil has deliberately dropped his level of performance since signing his long-term deal – although his ardent critics could try. But there is certainly a problem that Emery needs to solve.
Perhaps, in the final months of last season, Özil was affected by the sale of Alexis Sánchez to Manchester United. Maybe the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January unsettled the German. Or perhaps it’s simple coincidence.
Whatever the issue is, Emery can’t continue to have Özil drift through matches, even if he is stationed out on the right flank, as has predominantly been the case under the Spaniard.
No matter what people think the German is a match-winner and one Arsenal need in top form if they’re to break back into the top four this season.