MESUT Ozil must lie awake at night dreaming of Cristiano Ronaldo. In truth, many people do, but the Arsenal midfielder could be forgiven for wallowing in an unhealthy pit of nostalgia, yearning for his old Real Madrid workmate.
Like a simpering dog pining over his lost master at a funeral, pawing at the gravestone, Ozil is confused and disoriented. In an Arsenal jersey, he waits expectedly for someone, anyone, to throw him a stick and release him once more to scamper away, his tongue flapping in unbridled joy.
At the moment, the German is Lennon without McCartney. With Ronaldo, he sang while they were winning. At Arsenal, he’s left to warble alone in the dark.
With the master left behind in Madrid, that’s what Ozil has become; a forlorn dog with a stick and no one to play with. And the fault appears to lie with his manager.
Arsene Wenger’s insistence that there is no value in the January transfer window is only marginally less boring than the endless equine puns following Jose Mourinho’s little horse routine. Thanks to Wenger, the Gunners represent a thoroughbred heading into the home straight with three legs (that’s the only one I promise.)
Wenger couldn’t sign Ronaldo, obviously, but he should’ve signed a name or any able-bodied striking talent who wasn’t injured. The Frenchman has been quick to point that Arsenal won’t pay on-loan midfielder Kim Kallstrom’s wages until he leaps from the treatment table, presumably shouting: “Here I come to save the day.” But he also hinted that Kallstrom might not recover in time to play at all.
The Gunners are not paying me to not play for them either. How does that help their title chances? More pertinently, how does that help Ozil?
At the moment, the German is Lennon without McCartney. He has the basic backbeat down, but needs an accomplished artist to come in and supply the winning chorus. With Ronaldo, he sang while they were winning. At Arsenal, he’s left to warble alone in the dark. Wenger has left his side men to go solo.
Against Manchester United, Ozil almost reinvented himself to silence the insufferable noise from the sceptics. He tracked back, pulled off a crunching tackle on fellow lost soul Juan Mata and covered more grass than a groundsman’s lawnmower. All of which was most commendable. None of which he was actually signed for. Wenger paid for Ozil’s magic wand, not his work rate.
But the magician needs an assistant and Olivier Giroud threatens to drop the doves, chop the body in half and lose the rabbit from the hat at any moment. He, too, is struggling with the repercussions of his manager’s miserliness in the transfer market. Like Ozil, he kicked off with a flurry but is now similarly floundering.
The missing link between the two men is pace. Theo Walcott has it, but is currently injured and reliably erratic when fit. Pace remains conspicuous by its absence at the Emirates, both out on the pitch and on the bench. Against United, Ozil tore up the pitch like an overeager hybrid of the Tasmanian Devil and Wile E. Coyote, frantically hunting a roadrunner that wasn’t there.
In recent weeks, as the pressure mounted, Arsenal’s record signing has been accused of over-elaborating and over-thinking each move like a chess grandmaster, rather than relying on his instinctive artistry. But where he once saw a galloping Ronaldo expecting - practically ordering - immediate delivery, he now sees static, empty space. Nerves alone are not necessarily slowing him down. He’s desperately seeking a pass that isn’t there.
Instead he’s usually looking into the eyes of Giroud. There are worse ways to spend an evening, no doubt, but the Frenchman’s preference of showing his back to goal leaves him almost nose to nose with the German. If he’s looking for the lay-off and Ozil is eyeing an overlapping team-mate, neither are available to carry out the mundane task of actually scoring (with Wenger’s pretty patterns, midfield diamonds and lone strikers, he occasionally gives the impression that bludgeoning the odd goal is somehow vulgar and uncouth.)
- vs Sunderland (Sep 14, 2013) A A
- vs Stoke (Sep 22, 2013) A A
- vs Napoli (Oct 10, 2013) A G
- vs Norwich (Oct 19, 2013) G G
- vs Liverpool (Nov 02, 2013) A
- vs Marseille (Nov 26, 2013) A
- vs Cardiff (Nov 30, 2013) A A
- vs Hull (Dec 04, 2013) G
- vs Everton (Dec 08, 2013) G
- vs Man City (Dec 14, 2013) A
- vs Southampton (Jan 28, 2014) A
The Arsenal manager hasn’t cracked the Da Vinci Code by declaring the absence of value in the January transfer window. He undoubtedly saved the shekels. After all, empty space costs nothing and that’s exactly what greeted Ozil when he found himself in possession against United.
Arsenal are heavy in the pocket but light on darting runs and incisive dashes between the lines that would benefit both Ozil and Giroud. Pace comes at a price and Wenger opted not to meet the inflated demands of unscrupulous agents in January. He exercised restraint. It’s one of his most laudable qualities in a league renowned for panic buys and knee-jerk sackings.
But it’s also probably cost his side a legitimate title shot.
A single signing, someone to share Giroud’s burden and react to Ozil’s pinged passes, would’ve been enough. The dramatic injection of dressing room confidence alone might have been enough.
But Arsenal opted to soldier on with what they’ve got. Liverpool and United proved it was insufficient, leaving the Gunners to rue their decision to put long-term prosperity ahead of short-term silverware.
With Manchester City and certainly Chelsea and Manchester United bolstering the ranks at the end of the season, this campaign represents the Gunners’ only realistic window of opportunity.
They will not get this close again.