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Jul 15, 2014

Head to Head: Is Mesut Ozil a flop?

Mesut Ozil's performances for Arsenal and Germany have been scrutinised intensely ever since he made the move to north London.

Mesut Ozil seems to polarise opinion like no other. The Arsenal playmaker was criticised last season and during the World Cup for supposedly failing to deliver. ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers John Cross and James McNicholas go head-to-head to decide if he's hard done by.

What did you make of Ozil's World Cup overall?

John Cross: Outstanding. Any player who contributes -- in whatever manner -- to a World Cup-winning campaign must go down as one of the world's best players. He certainly is that. To be part of a 23-man squad that wins the best prize in football is the highest achievement in the game, even if you don't play but helped the group in training.

But the fact is that Ozil had some good games, an excellent one in the final and some poor ones. But even when he struggled against Algeria, for example, he scored. And in the final, his work rate was outstanding, some of his passing was excellent, and his footwork was superb. He played a big part in the World Cup success for Germany.

James McNicholas: For most of the World Cup, Ozil played a peripheral role in a literal sense. Before the tournament, Jogi Low elected to build his team around the creative talents of Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos. That meant Ozil being displaced from his preferred central position and deployed on the wing. He struggled to get on the ball and was forced to track back more than he is accustomed to.

To his credit, he did whatever job was asked at him. That's typical of Ozil; he is a true team player. You could argue he grew into the tournament. After scoring the winning goal in the round of 16 against Algeria, he went on to produce his best display in the final. Against Argentina, it was striking that when he moved to the middle after Christoph Kramer's injury he looked markedly more dangerous. Had Kroos' finishing been better, Ozil might have ended the game with two assists.

How would you assess his career at Arsenal so far?

JC: Six out of 10, with a teacher's "can do better" remark by the score. He has had some wonderful highs -- sensational against Napoli at the Emirates, for example -- and some disappointing lows, such as the FA Cup final or against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. He missed a penalty, it affected him badly, and he was disappointing on the big stage upon which he was supposed to shine. I genuinely think he will come back next season and do a lot better.

JM: It depends how you're assessing it. If you're looking at it in terms of the team's success, which is the most important thing, you'd have to say nine out of 10. Prior to Ozil's arrival, Arsenal were nowhere near the title and without a trophy for almost a decade. In his first season, the club led the table for a prolonged period and finished with the FA Cup. Collectively, it's very much a case of "so far, so good" for the Arsenal/Ozil marriage.

In terms of his own performances, however, the mark would be lower -- perhaps a seven out of 10. There is room for improvement because I believe him to be capable of so much more. After a bright start, he faded dramatically and was outshone by the likes of Aaron Ramsey. That's to be expected; this was his first season in a new country and a new league. Nevertheless, he has already improved the team around him, and I have no doubt he will take more individual plaudits next year. Arsenal fans shouldn't criticise him for what he failed to contribute last year. They should be glad there is still so much more to come from a player who has already brought success to the club.

He has been criticised a lot, particularly in the media. He has been called a flop on the back pages. Is this fair?

JC: I think the flop tag is a bit unfair. To the best of my knowledge, I don't think I've called him a flop even if the headlines (which I don't write) have. I don't think he has been a flop. The problem is when you're Mesut Ozil you are judged on the huge 42 million pound fee. A world-class player is judged on those standards and on previous performances for Germany and Real Madrid.

When a record signing falls short, harsh words are written and spoken. Ozil was criticised by the media, myself included, after the Bayern Munich games. I thought he was poor at the Emirates, and if he was injured so early in Munich, he should have come off. But funnily enough, when he missed the next few weeks, you saw that Arsenal missed him. That was reinforced when he came back to the team. His passing is sublime, he stretches teams, and he makes things happen. Sometimes it's subtle as he doesn't dominate games, but generally he creates a chance in every game. That's not a bad return.

I think some of the criticism has been harsh -- including from me -- but some deserved. He's a big player. Arsene Wenger will know in his heart that Ozil can deliver more. And I think he will next season.

JM: When you pay a big fee, people expect a big return. In pure numbers terms, he fared OK, collecting a respectable number of goals and assists. I'd say to call him a flop is more misguided than unfair. Some of the disappointment from pundits has come about because they were anticipating the wrong sort of impact. Ozil is not a Ramsey or Steven Gerrard. He's not the kind of player who is constantly at the heart of the action.

Ozil can look as though he's drifting through games, but what makes him special is his ability to produce a match-winning moment out of nothing. On several occasions last season, he would be barracked by a television commentator for a perceived lack of involvement only to come up with the game's most telling pass. If he can offer that kind of contribution a little more regularly, the criticism will cease.

Ozil, along with Germany teammates Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker, will be given time off before resuming Premier League duties.

Where does he need to improve?

JC: His fitness is the biggest area for me. He often fades at 70 minutes, and at Real Madrid he was renowned for being substituted around that time -- often when the game has been won. I even think at 70 minutes he looks to come off. There is no letup in the Premier League; I hear he's told people that he's been taken by surprise by the intensity of it and the way it keeps going for 90 minutes. Also, his goal-scoring return can be improved. He needs more when playing in such an advanced role.

JM: While I agree that his fitness was a concern when he first arrived, I think he steadily improved in that regard over the course of the season. In fact, I think Germany reaped the benefit of Ozil's Premier League education, as he was still running hard in the 120th minute of the final.

It seems absurd to say about a player with such wonderful gifts, but I would like to see him play with a little more confidence. After his triumph in Brazil, he ought to return to the Premier League with the swagger befitting a world champion. Last season, he struggled to make an impact in the biggest games. It's difficult to think of a telling contribution against the likes of United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea. If Ozil is to make himself a true hero at Emirates Stadium, he must start to deliver against the elite teams.

What does the Alexis Sanchez signing mean for Ozil, and how can the pair -- as well as all the other attackers -- fit together in a starting XI?

JC: I think Ozil will be brilliant for Sanchez. The new signing provides the pace and angles for Ozil to aim his passes, and now there will be a player getting beyond the opposing defence again. I think Ozil will play as a 10, and Sanchez can play wide, through the middle or even alongside Olivier Giroud. The point is that Arsenal now have options to go 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Sanchez will be great for Ozil and Ozil great for Sanchez. These are exciting times for Arsenal.

JM: Sanchez's signing is the latest indication that Wenger is preparing to build his 2014-15 team around Ozil. Last season, Ozil suffered without quick attackers to meet his probing through-balls. Sanchez immediately assuages that problem. With Theo Walcott set to miss the start of the season, I would expect Sanchez to begin his Arsenal career on the right flank. However, once the Chilean has settled in to the Premier League, Wenger might look to shift him inside to play as a central striker.

Arsenal's attack could be reinvented. Rather than a target man like Giroud, the Gunners could play with a mobile forward with the versatility to drop deep and run in behind. That would arguably suit Ozil far better and help bring out the best of the German playmaker.

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