Mesut Ozil frustrations laid bare as Arsenal suffer against Barcelona again
Amid the intensity of Champions League battle on a night when Barcelona enforced their superiority over Arsenal to all but knock them out of Europe with a 2-0 win in the first leg of their round of 16 contest at the Emirates, there was a rather telling sideshow on display regarding Mesut Ozil's body language.
He was a picture of untrammelled frustration. It is not often that he and his team are shown up in a contest of talent and technique, but Arsenal were powerless to prevent Barca from finding the gaps eventually and, thanks to a helping hand from Mathieu Flamini, overwhelming the home side in a 12-minute spell to win 2-0.
Long before those two goals for Lionel Messi, you could tell that something was not right with Ozil. After Arsenal's admirably bright start had dissipated, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain missing a huge chance when he scuffed a shot from close range with Marc-Andre ter Stegen grounded, a succession of refereeing decisions went against the home team. Rather uncharacteristically, Ozil picked up the ball and smacked it away with an open palm.
Later, he threw up his arms in anger when a teammate failed to pick the correct pass, became involved in a heated confrontation with Dani Alves and, most notably, just one minute before Flamini brought Messi crashing to earth for a penalty and Barcelona's second goal after 83 minutes, a prolonged period of Barca possession triggered an unusual display from the playmaker.
Barca were in total control, popping the ball around with short, neat passes as Arsenal retreated into their own half. Everyone in red hung back, perhaps paralysed momentarily by fear, no one wanting to break ranks and actually go try to win the ball and rescue a tie that was slipping away from them in case it was the space they vacated which Barca exploited to score again. Everyone, that is, except Ozil, who did go hunting for the ball from the front.
When it became clear that none of his teammates were going to join him in this endeavour, he spun towards the Arsenal bench in an apparent show of disgust. Then, he flung out an arm and gave a demonstrative shrug as he hurled some indecipherable words at Arsene Wenger.
It was a portrait of a man who felt powerless to prevent himself being sidelined by Barca's unstoppable progress. A man who seemed full of regret that his cast of assembled teammates could not come close to Barca's level at the crucial moments and could not deliver on the night -- a night when they had plenty of chances to score.
It was an appraisal shared by his manager, who compared this deflating victory to the 3-1 loss at home to Monaco at the same stage last season. Certainly there was a similar element in the way Barca carved Arsenal open on the counter-attack for their first goal, scored by Messi and inevitably involving Neymar and Luis Suarez in the build-up.
It might have seemed an incongruous comparison to the vast majority of supporters -- the crowd responded very positively to Arsenal's efforts in the first 70 minutes and there was no vicious booing of the type seen against Monaco. But there were echoes of Ozil's torment in the way Wenger analysed the game.
"We put a lot of energy in the game and I believe technically we were very average - overall," Wenger told BT Sport.
"But the regret I have is that once we looked like we dominated the game in the last 15 minutes, 20 minutes that we give the goal away. Similar to Monaco -- naive. And that's what's frustrating because when we looked like we could win this game we just gave it away."
And it was true, there was a 20-minute spell in the second half when Arsenal really did look like they could win it. Olivier Giroud had a downward header tipped wide by ter Stegen, Aaron Ramsey lifted a shot over the bar after a goalmouth scramble and suddenly Barca were there for the taking.
The night was pregnant with possibility, and Arsenal were winning the fight. There was Alexis Sanchez racing back 20 yards to muscle Messi off the ball; there was Ramsey, throwing his body in the way of a shot from Messi and producing a superb block to deny the best player in the world. The tide was with Arsenal.
And then, bang, it all changed. Arsenal's growing exuberance was punished ruthlessly by Barcelona, who streamed up the field with the home side over-committed in attack on 70 minutes and saw Neymar slip a perfect pass square for Messi, who took one touch to control the ball and commit Petr Cech in one masterful movement, before then slotting the ball home.
Flamini's comical 47-second cameo -- which involved touching Messi's shin in the penalty area before he had even touched the ball after coming on as a substitute -- hurt Arsenal, but the fatal blow had already been inflicted.
It was this which stung Wenger so profoundly, the obliteration of emergent hope in the blink of an eye. The realisation, and Ozil seemingly felt it too, that Arsenal simply cannot compete at this level, when performances must be perfect and teams must be ruthless. Another Champions League campaign disappears before their eyes.