15 October 2014

Özil AWOL as awful Germans owned by Ireland!!

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany—Once again, the mighty German national team struggled to see off an inferior opponent as Ireland found a stunning stoppage-time equaliser to deny the World Cup champions a vital three points in the Euro 2016 qualifier, leaving Die Mannschaft adrift in Group D. More importantly, the result leaves manager Joachim Löw with pressing, urgent questions around a squad that has scored only three goals in three matches. Chief among these questions: just why has Özil disappeared? Where it was a part of his repertoire, "ghosting" so as to lull opposing defenders into forgetting where he is, the enigmatic Özil has apparently literally disappeared.

Has anyone seen Mesut?
While the Germans dominated possession to the tune of 61% and outshot Ireland 22 to 4, Özil once again turned in a diffident, altogether forgettable performance, registering not a single assist or even a key pass to his name, raising pertinent and uncomfortable questions around the £42m-man's real value. Such questions go beyond this latest restul for a German squad that as struggled to generate goals in Euro 2016; after scoring two goals against Scotland, Germany were held scoreless against Poland and were fortunate to get a solitary goal against Ireland when Toni Kroos's long-range shot glanced in off the woodwork. By this point, it goes without saying that Özil had no role in any of Germany's three goals, belying his repuation as the best #10 in the world and the "master of the assist."

Why, despite Germany being clearly superior to its three opponents to date, have they struggled to unlock defenses designed to stymie them? It feels at times as if this Özil is not even on the pitch. Kroos had to set up his own shot against Ireland instead of letting Özil bounce the ball off him and into the net as is customary. Why wasn't Özil tracking back in the match's penultimate minutes, affording Ireland's John O'Shea a clear path in on goal (scoring, perhaps ironically, from the kind of delivery Özil is supposedly so masterful at)? Similar questions arise against Scotland when it was up to Thomas Müller to score both goals without any help from Özil. There are unconfirmed reports that the assist on Müller's first goal came from a player without any umlauts in his name.

Whatever the murkier details,the larger picture is coming into crystalline focus: this run of altogether anonymous performances from Özil, three of them now in which he has not registered a single statistic, beg certain questions about his quality, work-rate, and value. Try as he might, you correspondent could not find any evidence around Özil's contributions to Germany's efforts in the last three matches. It's almost as if he's not even on the pitch. Coming on the heels of complaints around his role at Arsenal, where he's been asked to play left wing, wags have suggested that his new position is "left out", as in left out of the lineup entirely. There might be something to that, in fact. Intensive review of game-film reveals that Özil was almost never to be seen, as if he's decided to play so wide as to be off the pitch entirely. His heat maps are blank. No goals. No assists. No key passes. 

It's enough to make one wonder just what Arsenal are getting for their money. Having chipped in one, lonely assist in the Gunners' 2014-15 campaign, the cacophony of cat-calls is only sure to grow with each passing week that the trend continues. With so many players already among the walking wounded, the pressure around Özil to perform is sure to reach a fever-pitch. If he continues to turn in such invisible performances, the would-be magician may just have to disappear from the pitch entirely—at least for a few weeks when the media can conjure up the next tempest in a teapot.