Wednesday, 21 January 2015

(How) can Mesut Özil regain his Arsenal spot + Coquelin thoughts


Santi Cazorla was outrageous on Sunday. There's a reason he's my favourite player, and that's not entirely down to his general teddy bear-ness and his India connection. Sprint speed and aerial ability aside, this guy has everything. He can pass, he can shoot, he's ambidextrous, versatile, tricky and robust. It's worth mentioning that he started all of Arsenal's Premier League games two seasons ago yet never got injured. He may give out an Arshavin-esque feel, but he's far ahead than the Russian in terms of workrate. Give him pace and he turns into a more effective Alexis Sanchez.

His form has come at a very inconvenient time for a certain wide-eyed German. Mesut Ozil was, in my opinion, wrongly criticized for his performances leading up to his injury. He was poor against Manchester City and Dortmund, yes, but followed that up with three very good performances against Aston Villa, Galatasaray and Tottenham. Against Chelsea he was poor, but people seem to overlook that he was injured during most of that match. Wenger overplayed his hand with Ozil's knee injury and lost.

Ozil may be on the verge of producing big things for Arsenal, but are we sure that we are willing to sacrifice Santi Cazorla for that? I know I've just come to Ozil's defence and all that, but I'm very much of the opinion that when on top form, Cazorla offers more than Ozil in that attacking midfield position. Ozil is, merely, a marginally better passer and has superior ball retention to Cazorla.

Santi, however, offers goals, tracking back, unpredictability (with both of his feet) and proper versatility. He won't stink the place out as much as Ozil does when they're deployed on the left. And I know that Ozil is a bona fide world-class player and has excellent movement and is rated highly by just about any footballing personality in the know, but that doesn't hide the fact that Cazorla has done nothing to merit a dropping from the squad.

It's mooted that Ozil will get the nod in the weekend's FA Cup clash against Brighton away, but that's not a match which would speak volumes of Ozil's ability lest he performs. With all possible respect to Brighton, Ozil would have to perform on much higher stages to prove his mettle to make it in the Premier League. A convincing performance against Brighton would only half-convince me.

Even so, it would be nice to see if Mesut has learned anything new since his time out. Footballers tend to analyze their game during a lengthy injury layoff and assess their flaws. Olivier Giroud did something of the sort and came out a lot stronger, using his physicality and scoring important goals against important teams.

What I especially liked about Ozil bulking up was that it showcased a certain degree of commitment to making it at Arsenal. When he came into the club, for the first season or so I got the impression that he didn't care much about the successes and failures of Arsenal Football Club. Hell, that may still be the case, for Shad Forsythe and Arsene Wenger may have forced him to build his muscularity. However, I'd be surprised if that was the truth.

Clearly Mesut Ozil is the long-term option in the No. 10 role. Even a player as energetic and buzzing like Tomas Rosicky must be thinking about his retirement plans sometime soon, and Cazorla has reached that dreaded age-30 phase. However, if we want to attain maximized outputs from Ozil, we need to "stick him in there more often", so to say. How could we do that and not displace the mercurial Santi Cazorla?

The only possible solution, to my mind, is shifting Cazorla's position. Footballers tend to experiment in deeper positions in order to prolong the twilight of their careers. Steven Gerrard went from attacking midfielder to defensive midfielder. Wayne Rooney, once a lone striker, is now seen pumping lobs from the centre of the park. Two of hundreds of examples.

I don't reckon shifting Cazorla to a central midfield position, alongside a defensive midfielder is a bad idea by any stretch. It's a point to note that when Arsenal's central midfield crisis was ongoing, Rosicky and Cazorla were asked to play in that role periodically. It turned out to be an enforced masterpiece, so to say, because Santi in particular truly impressed me in that role.

I am of the opinion that we can get something out of Cazorla in that deep-lying playmaker role. Ramsey is having his ups and downs and Wilshere is perennially injured, so what's the harm in trying? Cazorla has already proven his willingness and adeptness at dropping deep to win the ball back. In addition, this also allows Mesut Ozil room in his preferred No. 10 role to spray passes to Sanchez and Walcott and give us all orgasms.

When Ozil first came to Arsenal, plenty couldn't wait to see how Cazorla and Mesut would link up. As it stood, having Ozil in the centre and Cazorla on the left yielded inconsistent results. Perhaps moving Santi Cazorla closer to the DM rather than away from it may bring more creativity and solidity to our defence.

Final note for today - Francis Coquelin. Look, I'm over the moon for the lad and really happy for the club as well as the player, but Coquelin isn't a specialist in his role by any stretch. In fact, the exaggerated praise that he's receiving is the result of Arsenal being used to not seeing a proper DM since the days of Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira. Coquelin is walking and talking proof that all Arsenal needed was a proper defensive midfielder, not the half-moulds of Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.

Obviously I would not be averse to handing Coquelin a new deal and would want him at the club, but if Arsenal really want to be like the Bayerns and the Barcelonas, they need to get in a defensive midfielder specialist in his position, like Morgan Schneiderlin. Francis has done a job and has probably proven that he can fill the gap until the summer comes. He's done a huge favour for Arsene. I hope he realizes that that favour has a rapidly approaching expiry date.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]