Arsenal’s Mesut Özil is a World Cup winner, a five-time Germany Player of the Year, and statistically one of the most productive midfielders in the world. Yet despite all of these accolades, the 28-year-old is still regularly slated by both fans and pundits around the world. Some say he’s too lazy, and others claim that the midfielder disappears in big matches for the Gunners. Neither of these arguments appear very strong when taking a deeper look.
In a piece published last month, the Daily Express outlined how much distance Özil covered in games this season. Out of the 16 matches in which he played a full 90 minutes, the midfielder covered more than 10km 14 times. These numbers were compared to the rambunctious Alexis Sanchez, who failed to cover 10km a single time out of 20 matches in which he completed a full 90 minutes.
Along with the impressive amount of distance covered this season, Özil has also racked up more Premier League passes during the current campaign than Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Philippe Coutinho, and Christian Eriksen.
When it comes to performing in big games, no one receives more criticism than Özil. Nevertheless, the German playmaker has actually either scored or assisted against Chelsea, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur since the start of the 2015/16 season. In fact, the Arsenal man has put up better numbers in big games than rival players during this stretch of time.
Goals and assists versus the top six Premier League clubs since the start of 2015/16:
Özil – 9
Coutinho – 8
Eriksen – 8
Hazard – 8
De Bruyne – 7
Alli – 7
Silva – 5
Mata – 3
There is also a consensus that Özil is in the midst of a down season compared to his brilliant 2015/16 campaign. This was a season in which the midfielder compiled an impressive 19 league assists (only Thierry Henry recorded more Premier League assists in one season). However, when comparing total minutes played per goal/assist (138 to 139), Özil has virtually made the same exact impact with the Gunners during the 2016/17 campaign.
So then why the overwhelming criticism? Özil’s style of play can turn people off. He is sometimes nonchalant without the ball, and does not track back defensively very often (yet the German does have nearly twice the tackles as the aforementioned Hazard). Regardless of how he looks on the pitch, Özil puts up impressive offensive numbers and can deliver when it counts (as shown above).
To be awarded as the Player of the Year in a country like Germany is a fairly massive accomplishment. To do it five times in six years is simply extraordinary. Between his dribbling, passing, and vision, Özil is undeniably a world-class attacking midfielder. Even though he is made a scapegoat frequently when the Gunners stumble, Arsenal fans are overwhelmingly hoping the superstar signs a contract extension with the north London outfit before his current deal expires in 2018.