Arsenal can't rely on Mesut Ozil to lead them forward in Unai Emery's new era
Mesut Ozil is the leader at Arsenal; the talisman, the rallying point for the team and fans. It is a responsibility from which he cannot hide.
No player is bigger than a club -- especially one as huge as the Gunners -- yet Ozil is to Arsenal what Harry Kane is to rivals Tottenham Hotspur: the man everyone looks to at times of crisis. The big difference between the pair is that Kane delivers regularly enough to maintain that belief; Ozil disappoints too often.
The German opened the season with a sub-par performance in his side's 2-0 defeat by Manchester City at the Emirates. Arsenal, in Unai Emery's first Premier League game as manager, were swept aside by the under-strength and sometimes wasteful champions. Few of Emery's players could be proud of their performances, yet Ozil was singled out for particular vitriol.
There are a few reasons for this. The first is that the 29-year-old was arguably the most talented player on the pitch, so expectations were high. This is a bold claim in a game that featured the likes of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne but in terms of pure technique and skill, Ozil is close to the top rank of players.
His touch is astonishing -- he can kill the most difficult pass dead and take control of the ball with casual ease. He is fast and, though most the time he glides across the pitch giving the dangerous illusion that he is idling, when he stretches into an all-out sprint not many can catch him. He is even quicker of thought; few players can see a pass as well, or deliver one so perfectly, whether it is a subtle three-yard dink or a cross-pitch defence-splitter.
Ozil is a rare sort of player who can turn a game and his teammates are in awe of his skillset. He is also the highest-paid player in Arsenal's history, having signed a deal worth £350,000-per-week. But for that money, he needs to turn matches on a regular basis. Against City, one of the best sides in Europe, Ozil was a peripheral figure -- his influence on the game was negligible.
It was not supposed to be like this when Arsene Wenger brought him to north London five years ago. Ozil was acquired from Real Madrid to be the fulcrum of the Frenchman's last great side, the type of player who could bring the Premier League title back to north London. Instead, the transfer heralded half a decade of decline that was disguised by three FA Cup wins.
Wenger was frustrated by the German's tendency to drift out of games. Ozil always did enough to cause the crowd to gasp and supply his teammates with chances -- his record of assists is frequently cited in the player's defence -- but he rarely dominated matches in a way the Frenchman believed that he could.
Some question his motivation, but this is unfair. The forward frequently shows his appetite for the sport -- after a defeat by City at the Etihad two years ago, Ozil kicked out at a dressing-room locker in rage.
The row with the German football association after the World Cup is another example of Ozil's passion. His long and detailed explanation on social media about why he was giving up international football showed how much he cares about people's perceptions. The criticism hurts.
After a rancorous summer when Germany underachieved in Russia and with Arsenal starting afresh with a new manager, this should be Ozil's time to seize the moment. However, the campaign has already started badly and for Emery this presents a problem.
The new manager should be delighted that he inherited one of the planet's best players. Yet questions have arisen over whether the Spaniard can succeed where Wenger failed and turn Ozil into a consistently dominant force. Can Emery afford to alienate or drop a world-class talent and the club's highest earner?
This is a critical few months for Ozil. Every time Arsenal stumble he will be in the spotlight; his performances will be judged against his high-profile peers at City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Spurs and Chelsea.
There is plenty of time for his season to spark into life and there are, at least for the first week of the campaign, an excuse or two. The lingering effects of the row in Germany remain and many players at the Emirates are struggling to adapt to the new regime after operating under Wenger for so long.
But for all the mitigation, one thing is clear: Ozil is not the leader Arsenal need going forward. The only thing which unites fans and his teammates is that they want more from him. He does not take enough responsibility and his career at the Emirates thus far has not reflected his incredible ability. Once again that was on show against Man City and Arsenal have been left with more questions around their star player just one game into the new season.