Mesut Ozil: One of Arsenal’s biggest problems and how to solve it

Mesut Ozil Arsenal Tactical Analysis Unai Emery

Mesut Ozil is a divisive persona in the Arsenal camp. That’s not news to anyone. But ever since the arrival of Emery (and particularly, in the second half of the season), the future has never been more uncertain for the German playmaker. Under Wenger, he sometimes enjoyed preferential treatment but only a few would think that things were going to stay the same after he (Wenger) had left.

Mesut Ozil was a relatively regular appearance in the starting 11 during the beginning of the season – featured in 12 of the total 16 Arsenal games in all competitions.

However, since November 11th, he’s played 340 minutes, starting only four games and playing only one full 90.

In total, he’s only played 1224 minutes out of the entire 3150 minutes (excluding the EFL ties against lower division teams-matches not known to feature senior players) or only 38.8 % of the total minutes.

Something clearly changed in the second half of the season and in part three of this series, we’ll try to look at Ozil’s performance this season using statistics and see if there can be a footballing reason behind it.

Note: All stats are in the Premier League unless mentioned otherwise.

Attacking Output

Mesut Özil’s performance this season

As evident in this spider chart, Mesut Ozil has struggled to perform up to his own astronomical standards from last season alone. He’s produced 2.11 key passes P90, and 0.22 xA P90 this season. These are diminished returns, compared to last season’s 3.49 key passes P90, and 0.38 xA P90. His direct attacking contribution in terms of goals P90 and xG P90 has also fallen from 0.17 and 0.18 to 0.09 and 0.25 respectively. His shot volume has also fallen from 1.62 to 0.08 – a margin of more than 50%!

In addition to these stats, Ozil is attempting 1.4 dribbles P90 with a success rate of 64.2%. Last season, he was attempting more dribbles(2.1 P90) as well as completing more of them – enjoying a 71% completion rate.

All of these statistics point towards a massive drop-off in form for the German. Some of the blame also lies with Emery as, during his initial period of experimenting with the squad, he had played Özil in wider roles such as the left wing and the right wing – positions not suited to his current playing style.

Özil’s touch heatmap v/s Watford. Note his wider position

In terms of creative output and Arsenal’s reliance on him, Ozil has slacked again. Last season, he’d been contributing 29% of Arsenal’s entire xAP90+KPP90 (key passes per 90). However, this season he’s only responsible for 21% of the same – with Kolasinac stepping up to the task as well – contributing 19.2% of the total output.

Passing Contribution

Last season, Ozil was attempting 75.2 passes P90 while this season while this season the number has dropped off to 53.7 P90. This is massive attrition of 28.2% and more to do with changes in how the game is played than a player’s particular quality. They are partly due to the fact that the game itself has evolved around a classic #10. In this article by Thomas Cox, it is clearly explained how the zone 14 has fallen out of vogue precisely because it is the most dangerous area on the pitch and more and more teams these days are focused on defending it well. Hence, even elite teams like Manchester City use cutbacks from the wide areas more often to get around this trend and Arsenal are no different from their wing-oriented offensive mechanism. Due to this, the very area Özil operates in is so well-defended that he has to either move off to deeper roles or the half-spaces or risk being left isolated up top.

The other half of the reason is Emery’s direct style of play. Under Emery, Arsenal looks for more direct vertical passes rather than holding on to the ball and waiting for something to happen. Wenger’s final season saw the Gunners play around 619 passes P90 while under Emery, the number has dropped off to 547 passes P90a testament to Emery’s new style of play.

Most of the long passes by Ozil are wide for switching play. This is due to Emery’s style of penetrating via the wide areas

This was arguably Mesut Ozil’s best performance this season. Ozil scored one, assisted another, and was involved in the third, and produced a very fine display for as long as he was
out on the pitch. However, these performances are few and far in-between. 

Defensive Contribution

Mesut Ozil’s main criticism is that he appears uninterested in helping the team out defensively. Emery sets up Arsenal to press from the front and counter-press as soon as the ball is lost. None of these are particularly suited to Ozil. Emery did try a 4-4-2 medium block out-of-possession in the earlier matches which saw Ozil and Lacazette upfront: which might have solved some problems. However, for reasons unknown, this didn’t pan out and in high-tempo matches, Emery prefers the industry and work rate of Ramsey to Ozil particularly when the #10 has an important role to man-mark the opposition #6.

Comparing his time spent in Madrid to London throws up some interesting facts. Mesut Ozil made fewer defensive contribution during his time at Real Madrid as well. He’d go on to make around 1.6 tackles P90 with a success rate of 56% during his entire career in Spain. This season, he has attempted 1.4 tackles P90 – almost the same as previous seasons. However, he used to intercept at an average of 0.86 P90 for Los Blancos but at Arsenal, it has consistently decreased with age and season – standing at only 0.1 P90 this season.


There is no dearth of speculations as to why Emery isn’t playing Mesut Ozil. Some rumours suggest it’s a financial issue – the club wants to part ways with the German, while other reasonings suggest that Arsenal’s defensive issues have forced Emery’s hand to play one extra defensive-minded player. Less credible rumours point towards how this is Emery’s way of provoking a reaction from Ozil or that he has a man-management problem with ‘big names’ in the squad.

There are times, however, when Arsenal have missed him – particularly when facing ‘parked buses’ (or teams that sit deep and defend their own box). Matches like these are exactly where Ozil is needed to unlock the defence with his intelligent passing.

One thing is for certain. For the betterment of the club and for it to realize its goals, it’s absolutely imperative that the situation comes to a head as quickly as possible. It simply doesn’t make any sense for a club like Arsenal to pay 350k per week to a player and not even have him on the bench.