This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
The ultimate conundrum. Just how do you get the best out of Mesut Ozil? A man who has won the World Cup with Germany and been at the pinnacle of the game at both club and international level, and yet he still feels like an outsider under Unai Emery.
His resume should speak for itself, but the fact it doesn’t is a damning indictment of the frustrations surrounding the midfield maverick.
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Last season, Emery’s arrival at the Emirates certainly seemed like a crossroads moment for the German. Gone were the days of him being mollycoddled by Arsene Wenger and being allowed to express himself. Now he was going to have to run and work for the team and do his defensive work. Whilst there were flashes of his old self, last year was a major step back in terms of his production on the pitch.
Comparing his numbers to the one truly stellar season he had at the Emirates makes for startling reading. Numbers in all the key categories and metrics for a number ten were significantly down. In fact, not even registering the fact that his assists total dropped by a ridiculous 17, his declines in key passes and average passes per game are just as baffling.
Indeed, with Emery eventually settling on the 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2 formation, Ozil was the man who lost out the most. The Arsenal manager removed the defensive shackles on Sead Kolasinac, while somehow fitting in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette as two orthodox centre-forwards. The reasoning was logical, but it was Ozil who suffered.
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But reports this summer have suggested that Emery is seemingly keen on reverting back to his favoured four-at-the-back setup, and the players being linked with the club certainly suggest that is the case. To get Ozil back to his best, Emery must build his new-look team around the German playmaker.
In the line-up above, Ozil would be surrounded by pace out wide, a striker who is as clinical and efficient as they come, and a midfield duo whose combination of characteristics could allow the German to thrive. The former Real Madrid star loves speed and movement off the ball, and it was no surprise to see that his best performance last season came in that thrilling victory against Leicester at the Emirates.
The 30-year-old had one goal, one assist and one pre-assist to his name following the 3-1 win. That display was the benchmark not only for Ozil, but for Emery too. Getting this summer’s business done right and setting the team up for him next season will no doubt be the key to unlocking the German’s elite qualities once more.
Our suggested lineup features potentially prime target Wilfried Zaha, who would provide the natural speed and goal threat to take advantage of Ozil’s through balls, as well as linked Celtic defender Kieran Tierney – as an attacking full-back, he can be something of an outlet for the German playmaker as well.
Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira, meanwhile, provide the defensive protection Ozil needs to get on with the more creative duties in midfield, whereas Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are two potent forwards who should benefit from the 30-year-old’s delivery, notching up 35 Premier League goals combined last term.