Wenger con­fi­dent that un­der-fire Ozil can be equal of City su­per­stars

Arse­nal man­ager de­fends Ger­man play­maker and in­sists he is not a pas­sen­ger but a man for big games

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Foot­ball - Jeremy Wil­son DEPUTY FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

The cor­re­la­tion be­tween Arse­nal’s most re­silient re­cent away per­for­mance and the ab­sence of Me­sut Ozil was lost on few at Stam­ford Bridge ear­lier this season. Fairly or not, the words ‘pas­sen­ger’ and ‘Ozil’ have fea­tured in the same sen­tence with reg­u­lar­ity dur­ing 2017 and, given both Manch­ester City’s form and Arse­nal’s goal­less draw at Chelsea, is this one af­ter­noon when lan­guid cre­ativ­ity might be con­sid­ered sec­ondary to more ba­sic needs?

Ev­i­dently not. Un­less Arsene Wenger has been in­dulging in a grand bluff, there is not even a ques­tion mark in his mind. Ozil will start and, in the view of his peren­ni­ally op­ti­mistic man­ager, is well ca­pa­ble to­day of de­liv­er­ing a per­for­mance com­pa­ra­ble with anything De Bruyne, Aguero, Silva and Co might pro­duce.

“I think so – every big player wants to play big games and this is a big game,” said Wenger. “Ozil at the mo­ment is in very good shape phys­i­cally. Peo­ple speak about Alexis Sanchez but, for us, Ozil’s per­for­mance will be im­por­tant as well. He con­trib­utes a lot to the way we play. He can be an as­set every time we at­tack be­cause he’s a guy who can cre­ate chances.”

The ev­i­dence of the Chelsea game was also put to Wenger. There is a plau­si­ble the­ory that Arse­nal would sim­ply not have been ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing such a de­fen­sively co­he­sive dis­play with Ozil in the team. The counter-ar­gu­ment, though, was ob­vi­ous enough.

Arse­nal did de­liver com­pa­ra­ble per­for­mances at the end of the last season, es­pe­cially in the FA Cup semi-fi­nal and fi­nal, when Ozil was still a central fig­ure. Wenger, who thinks that at­tack is of­ten the best form of defence, is nat­u­rally tak­ing the later frame of ref­er­ence.

“Peo­ple go quickly to con­clu­sions,” he said. “Last year we played the last 11 games and won 10. You can al­ways find the ex­am­ple. Peo­ple have opin­ions and sometimes they are right and sometimes they are not al­ways proven right on the longer pe­riod. You need play­ers who have qual­ity and Ozil is one of the best play­ers in the world.”

Wider club statistics pro­vide only limited ev­i­dence for Wenger’s the­ory, al­though they do sup­port the idea that he is now again ap­proach­ing his best. Ozil had not de­liv­ered a goal or as­sist un­til the 5-2 win against Ever­ton last month but he de­liv­ered one of each in that match and then an­other as­sist against Swansea City last week. Arse­nal’s over­all win per­cent­age since he ar­rived at the club has also risen to above 60 per cent with him in the team from around 57 per cent with­out him.

Ozil’s peren­ni­ally de­bated im­pact, then, has been pos­i­tive but hardly trans­for­ma­tive in the mould so far this season of a Harry Kane or Kevin De Bruyne.

Sim­i­lar can be said for Sanchez, who is also al­most cer­tain to start to­day de­spite rather dif­fer­ent concerns about his po­ten­tial con­tri­bu­tion.

Wenger has re­peat­edly said that Manch­ester City’s £60mil­lion sum­mer at­tempt to sign Sanchez will not im­pact upon his per­for­mance this af­ter­noon. Yet he said the same about Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain just be­fore the transfer win­dow closed in Au­gust and it was hard to watch their 4-0 de­feat at Arse­nal with­out con­clud­ing that his faith was badly mis­guided.

There is surely a difference be­tween what Wenger thinks should hap­pen and the re­al­ity of any given sit­u­a­tion, and with Manch­ester City ex­pected to re­turn for Sanchez next year, the dan­ger of some loss of fo­cus is ob­vi­ous. It has also been hard so far this season to find any sub­stan­tial vin­di­ca­tion for the de­ci­sion to turn down City’s Sanchez of­fer.

Yes, he has pro­duced glimpses of real qual­ity, but not the sort of sus­tained im­pact that would jus­tify ef­fec­tively los­ing £60 mil­lion. The Ozil and Sanchez situations also throw up a wider ques­tion that Wenger touched upon in a pas­sage of his speech to Arse­nal’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing. He said that Arse­nal were now not up against “in­di­vid­u­als” but en­tire “states” and it was widely as­sumed that Manch­ester City were among his ref­er­ence points.

Es­pe­cially intriguing, though, was Wenger’s admission that Arse­nal must “find a way to com­pete with these clubs”. He mit­i­gated that with a mes­sage about stick­ing to cer­tain tra­di­tional prin­ci­ples – “be to­gether, give a chance to young play­ers, im­prove the qual­ity of what we do with our young play­ers” – but then ac­knowl­edged that it was “not enough”. He added: “We need more and bet­ter and to find a way to com­pete with the bet­ter clubs.”

To­day will pro­vide an­other in­di­ca­tion of whether Arse­nal re­ally can con­sis­tently do that within the con­straints of their self-sus­tain­ing model.

City al­ready lead them by nine points and should that gap grow – and Arse­nal find them­selves los­ing Ozil and Sanchez next year – a much more rad­i­cal re­think might be needed.

Win­ning for­mula: Arse­nal are sta­tis­ti­cally more suc­cess­ful – just about – when Me­sut Ozil plays

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