Arsenal twice came from behind to claim a 2-2 draw with Man City at the Emirates on Sunday.
“The rumours are that he is holding out on a £270,000 a week contract,” said Gary Neville on Sky Sports. “I think if I were him, I would sign it because at the moment his favours are running out. I think people are working him out. There’s no doubting the talent. But there are far more talented players who work harder and don’t have the body language of him.”
Mesut Ozil’s body language has long been a discussion point. His impassioned supporters defend Arsenal’s creative midfielder in the belief that the perception is rather different to the reality. There is some substance to that theory but Ozil’s first Premier League appearance at the Emirates since early February was not the finest example of the genre.
Amid an atmosphere of growing frustration at Arsenal, Ozil is clearly not immune. There were groans early on when he appeared to prematurely give up on chasing a ball into the corner and those complaints were rather louder by the end of the half when he casually surrendered possession just outside his own box in the build-up to City going 2-1 up.
Late on came the moment that Arsene Wenger was quick to recall in his post-match interview with Sky Sports. Seemingly through on goal against Willy Caballero, Ozil hesitated and the opportunity was spurned. “We do not expect him to lose the ball there,” said Wenger. In the studio afterwards, Neville was rather more blunt in his assessment.
“Mesut Ozil goes through on goal and bottles out of a challenge when his manager’s backside is on the line,” he argued. “Go for a 50-50 or just nick in front, get the penalty, win the ball. For me, Arsene Wenger deserved… Mesut Ozil to go for a 50-50 with the goalkeeper.” It seems those familiar concerns about a lack of desire just will not go away.
In a sense, Ozil is an all too easy target. It is certainly worth noting that it was his corner from which Shkodran Mustafi headed home the equaliser early in the second half. The statistics still support the notion that Ozil is part of the solution, not the problem. The tracking data highlights a disparity between what he does and and what he seems to do.
Against City, Ozil covered 10.71 kilometres and made no fewer than 67 high-intensity runs. In both instances, that put him among the top three Arsenal players on the pitch. As ever, he ran far more than the more conspicuously enthusiastic Alexis Sanchez. And besides, the German was not even in the squad for the defeats at Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion.
But this ongoing issue of Ozil’s body language is in danger of becoming emblematic of Arsenal’s weakness. The longer this malaise goes on – and it’s one Premier League win in six now as top-four prospects fade – the more tempting it becomes to conclude that for all of Wenger’s positive talk of the team’s strong mentality, it’s attitude holding Arsenal back.
“They forgot to celebrate the goal,” said Thierry Henry of the non-reaction to Theo Walcott’s equaliser – a somewhat ironic criticism given that Olivier Giroud was scrutinised for over-celebrating his late leveller at Bournemouth earlier in the season. But both examples hint at a lack of focus on what a winning team needs to demand of itself.
Ozil should be the team’s leader, carrying Arsenal through the big moments. But for all his pedigree, that still seems to be lacking – and not all of the criticism can be explained away with accusations of myopia. Ozil might be the one who wants more money from Arsenal but right now, it is Arsenal who are entitled to want to see a little more from Mesut Ozil.