Stop scapegoating Özil and accept that the best team won

Mesut OzilI have found today, notably amongst the media, a bizarre reaction to the Özil penalty miss. He has become the ‘reason’ Arsenal lost. With the Mirror’s “specialists in failure” headline being the worst example of it – but plenty more including Phil McNulty’s BBC column blaming a large part of the defeat on Özil, perhaps a bit of perspective is needed.

Firstly, and most importantly, Özil won the penalty himself. So, had he not been on the pitch (many have speculated about dropping him and playing Santi Cazorla in his preferred role) there would have never been a penalty to miss.

Secondly, he was in some ways a victim of circumstance – both our first and second choice penalty takers were off the pitch. He missed a dreadfully tame one against Marseille earlier in the season and had missed his last club penalty before that one as well, although it was back in 2009 playing for Werder Bremen.

Whether or not he should even be third choice (probably not, based on the last two he’s taken) is disputable but the fact remains on another night Giroud or Arteta would’ve picked up the ball and scored and Özil would’ve got his famous assist for winning the penalty. He should not have been taking it anyway – regardless of whether you think he should be the third choice taker or not.

Then, following the penalty miss, undoubtedly Özil’s head dropped. Certainly between the miss and the end of the first half he was poor. Even Wenger said himself: “five to ten minutes later he was still shaking his head. It had a huge impact on his performance.” Perhaps five to ten minutes was being generous to Mesut, but even that statement would’ve taken a lot for Wenger to say. He does not like to criticise his players under any circumstances.

However, I do think some myths need quelling. Firstly, behind Wilshere and Flamini he was the most run player on the pitch yesterday – racking up 11.69 kilometres – well above the Arsenal team average of 10.08 kilometres. Secondly, the game was not turned by our penalty miss. Only eight minutes later, Chamberlain (again, hugely impressive in the first half) showed blistering pace to beat Alaba to a loose ball and almost, almost steered Arsenal into a 1-0 lead. Furthermore, Wilshere made a couple of driving runs, Flamini even had a shot and Sanogo looked promising well after the penalty had come and gone. The turning point was undoubtedly in the 37th minute when a very harsh red card was given to Wojciech Szczesny – a bitterly cruel blow for a goalkeeper who has come so far this season. After this it was completely backs to the wall.

Between the 37th minute and the end of the match Arsenal only completed 40 passes, having completed almost treble that up until then. They also only registered one further shot, having had seven previously. Clearly, the red card – and understandably when playing against the European champions and probably the best team in the world – was the moment when the game changed. So, two myths have been created by the media. Firstly, the penalty turned the game – not true. Secondly, Özil is lazy – not true, well certainly not based on last night anyway.

Last night, Arsenal had 21% possession with 10 men against the European champions and – call me pessimistic – but I think even at 1-0 the tie would’ve been all but over. Winning 2-0 at the Allianz last year was an unbelievable achievement and certainly rattled Bayern’s cage but I can’t see that they would’ve let it happen again. The fact is that Arsenal missed their chance in the first 20 minutes where they uncharacteristically came out of the blocks. Failing to score (for which Özil shoulders some blame but not all) gave Bayern the chance to come back and as soon as Sczcesny was dismissed – keeping them out became an impossible task.

Rather than looking for someone to blame, especially someone who created two chances, ran 11.7 kilometres and won a penalty, Arsenal should be proud to say that they stood toe to toe with the European champions for 37 minutes and were only really outplayed after they were reduced by a man. After this, Bayern were irresistible. Even with 10 minutes to go it was clear to me that Bayern were going to get a second goal and with Gibbs off the pitch, that left side always looked susceptible to a breakthrough.

There were plenty of positives from the game from an Arsenal perspective, I thought Sanogo looked lively and probably offered more than Giroud would’ve on the night – although this is idle speculation. Whilst positives could also be drawn from the promising performances of the ever improving English trio of Gibbs, Wilshere and Chamberlain who were all (especially in the first half an hour) impressive. Gibbs especially showed how important he has become for Arsenal, as soon as he came off there seemed to be a gap down the left that Monreal was just not capable of filling.

Mesut Özil cost Arsenal £42 million pounds in the summer and thus, Arsenal fans have a right to demand more from their record signing since boxing day, since when he has really gone off the boil. However, blaming him for a 5-1 defeat at Anfield where the defense looked like they were still hungover from the night before and a 2-0 defeat with 10 men against the best team in Europe I find nothing more than ridiculous.

So – rather than looking for someone to blame in a game which from the moment Szczesny was sent off Arsenal were always destined to lose – why not look at the positives to take from it whilst in turn offering constructive criticism rather than the stereotypical: ‘he’s lazy’, ‘he doesn’t care’ or even the ludicrous ‘he should’ve been subbed off the second he missed it’ – a suggestion a few people were making on Twitter. If I were Wenger, I’d rest him for the Sunderland game and give him time to recover mentally and physically as he has been pretty much an ever-present this season since arriving three games in.

Whether or not he will remains to be seen, why he was forced to endure 90 minutes on Wednesday night mystifies even me – although if its true that Chamberlain might have picked up a knock then it would appear all three substitutions made were forced.

Now is the time to focus on getting three points against Sunderland as we approach three must-win games in the league and not to be unfairly berating players for results and performances completely out of their hands. Regardless of how much they cost.

The Author

Nathaniel Shaughnessy

Football enthusiast and Arsenal fan, also regularly visit The Valley.

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