A big week and a strange time lies ahead. A big week because we play Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday night. A strange time because after that it’s an FA Cup tie against non-league Sutton United on an artificial pitch, and following that we don’t have a game until March.
Can you say ‘mid-season break and warm weather training’?
It could be a time when we’re itching for the next match to come, or a period of deep, over-analysed introspection, and I’m sure the latter is something we’d all like to avoid. Even a home win this weekend, difficult and all as it was, didn’t do much to brighten the mood, so if we fall short in either of these upcoming games I shudder to think what it’s going to be like.
Ahead of the Bayern game, it seems the manager has got a decision to make about Mesut Ozil after admitting the German’s current lack of confidence is a ‘problem’. He struggled to really get into the game against Hull on Saturday, and missed a great chance to score in the first-half.
I don’t think it was a case that he didn’t try on Saturday, he made plenty of runs, but he definitely looks like a player who is struggling to find anything close to his best form. Speaking after the game, Arsene Wenger said:
I felt he was not completely confident technically today. That’s a problem because you think he can deliver something special. It’s true that technically he did things today that he is not used to doing.
I don’t know. It can happen. I can’t think of a specific reason. I had a chat with him yesterday and he looked all right. Maybe it’s time for him to score a goal.
He needs to find confidence again. He misses chances that don’t look infeasible for him.
It’s one of those tricky situations where he has to weigh up what Ozil at his best can give the team, versus what we get from the Ozil who is struggling – not to mention the fact that Wednesday’s game is going to require a lot of defensive discipline. Even his biggest fans would admit that’s not the strongest part of his game.
Does he back him to play his way back into form, or take him out of the firing line a bit? It’s definitely not easy, because you think that in order to get a good result in Munich we’ll need our best players, and he’s unquestionably one of them. At the same time, if he is shorn of confidence and in poor form, would the team benefit from someone else taking his place?
People point to his record in ‘big games’ against ‘big teams’ away from home as a justification for dropping him, and you can see that point of view – although I do think it’s somewhat blown out of proportion. It’s not as if he’s contributed nothing at all, and when it comes right down it, the poor results in those games are far more down to a lack of collective performance than one individual. If Ozil hasn’t played well at times, that’s generally been true of 10 other Arsenal players on the day.
However, he is also the club’s record signing, and a man given more freedom than anyone else by the manager in terms of how he plays. With that comes greater expectation and a desire to see him truly makes his mark on games. I think he’s got the quality to be able to do it, and while there is a need for the collective effort to improve also, it would help our cause enormously if Ozil could find his way again.
I do wonder if his cause might be helped to some extent by having a front three that provides him with a bit more movement and incision. I’m still hankering to see a Welbeck – Alexis – Perez front three, and whether Bayern away is the time to do that, I’m not sure, but I do feel that’s one we haven’t seen and perhaps might just mix things up a bit in the final few months of this season.
Quite what Arsene Wenger is thinking about Ozil and Wednesday, I’m not sure. No doubt there’ll be questions in tomorrow’s press conference, so we’ll get a better idea then. My gut feeling is that he’ll think our chances of getting a good result will be greater with Ozil in the team, especially as we’re hardly likely to go there and try to defend deep and dig out a 0-0. That’s just not what we do, and he might look at a game on home soil as one that might just kick-start his season. Let’s see.
I also think the Ozil situation, such as it is, highlights a wider issue which is how few players look their best when the team they’re playing in is also struggling for form. It’s been a while since we’ve played really well, and that means individuals suffer too. I think a lot of it comes from our inability to control games from midfield, so with Granit Xhaka available for Wednesday, I’m curious to see whether the boss brings him back in, and who he pairs him with.
Right, that’s your lot for this morning. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra this morning. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, please send them to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter, with the hashtag #arsecastextra and we’ll get to as many as we can.
The podcast will be available for you before lunch, so I’ll catch you then.