Arsenal: No Striker System Harming Ozil As Well As Sanchez

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 16: Alexis Sanchez (L) and Mesut Ozil (R) of Arsenal show their dejection after Barcelona's first goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, second Leg match between FC Barcelona and Arsenal FC at Camp Nou on March 16, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 16: Alexis Sanchez (L) and Mesut Ozil (R) of Arsenal show their dejection after Barcelona's first goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16, second Leg match between FC Barcelona and Arsenal FC at Camp Nou on March 16, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) /

Arsenal’s system of playing Alexis Sánchez as a pseudo-striker damages his performance. However, it affects Mesut Ozil also. How should this be addressed?

Most of the footballing world is in agreement that the notion of playing Alexis Sánchez as a striker for Arsenal is an unmitigated disaster. This is the case in more than just one area; it has a debilitating effect on individual player, side set-up, and individual teammates. One aspect of this train-wreck idea that has slipped under the radar in recent weeks is the cost is has upon Mesut Ozil, Arsenal’s other superstar.

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In order to see the effect upon Ozil, we must first analyse what is happening to Alexis. In a nutshell, his impact upon the game is diminished. Being a pacy player, the idea of him at striker would focus on having him on the shoulder of the last defender and latching onto balls in-behind.  However, lacking the experience of the intricacies of such a role,he ends up becoming crowded out, isolated from the play.

This is primarily because the opposing defence simply drops exceedingly deep to negate the possibility of space between them and the goal. Confused, Alexis drops deep and wide in an attempt to involve himself in Arsenal’s possession game. As a result the offence lacks a direction and a focal point for the attacks, as evidenced by the series of crosses into an empty penalty-area against Southampton.

Arsenal, Mesut Ozil
Ozil’s greatest strength lies in eluding opponents(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) /

This lack of a focal point is particularly problematic for Ozil because he thrives on having players around him with whom he can link up with his vision, intelligence and incisive passing. Olivier Giroud in particular excels at being the foil to Ozil, as he occupies central defenders and allows the German to come closer to goal and exert his influence. Alternately, when playing with a true pacy, get-in-behind striker, similar to Ronaldo at Madrid, or Walcott and Welbeck all too-infrequently, he uses his eye for a pass to play clinical through-balls.

However, such combinations require a great understanding, not only between play-maker and striker, but also between the striker and his position, as he has to make exactly the right movements at the right time. Walcott seems to have the first one down, but his repeated offsides indicate that he isn’t capable of the second. Sánchez does not possess the movement either. It is  for this reason that Wenger tried to go for Jamie Vardy in the summer, as he is one of the best in the business at getting in behind.

He didn’t get Vardy, but he did sign Lucas Perez, who is of a similar stylistic ilk. Yet, while he beds in with the squad, Sánchez has been playing as a No. 9. As described earlier, he has struggled significantly, and this costs Ozil as well.

Lucas Perez, Arsenal
Lucas Perez has been signed to help Arsenal’s striker issues, nut will take some time to adjust (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images) /

The thing that makes Ozil one of the best in his position is his ability to find space in between the midfield and defensive lines of the opposition. When too much space is created in such areas, Ozil gets time on the ball and is able to pick out a devastating pass. However, when defences push up and leave Sánchez abandoned, they plug the gaps between the two banks of players. Thus, Ozil gets swamped just like Sánchez.

When this is not the case, Ozil almost always finds space. When teams set up defensively against Arsenal, they defend in two banks of four, and Ozil gets in between the two. He is only stopped when one midfielder marks him right through, though breaking the midfield structure. Krychowiak did this for PSG, and the likes of Reece Oxford and Victor Wanyama have also done it in the past.

Another technique that some teams use to negate Ozil entails leaving the defense deep, and then dropping the midfield line lower as well. It forms almost a single block of defense. However, this is largely unwise against a side like Arsenal.

This is because of the presence of Santi Cazorla even deeper in midfield, as the auxiliary playmaker. When the opposing midfield sits off and drops deep to swarm Ozil, they risk offering the almost-as-talented Cazorla time on the ball too close to goal – a dangerous business as well. Thus, it is the presence of Giroud and Cazorla that facilitates Ozil thriving in Arsenal’s system.

Arsenal, Santi Cazorla
Cazorla is an essential part of the team;s setup(Photo by Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images) /

As Giroud has not really got a look in this season, and no true  striker has yet taken his place (Perez might still), Ozil’s performances have dipped. However, there was one performance in which he truly did shine, against Watford. A simple analysis reveals why.

Curiously, £35m man Granit Xhaka has featured only sporadically thus far this season, and its hard to see why. Meanwhile, the preferred central midfield has been the magical Cazorla and the defensively sound but technically limited Francis Coquelin. Xhaka was brought in to be a mixture of the two: combining ball playing skills with defensive presence.

Against Watford, Xhaka was deployed in central midfield alongside Cazorla. The combined technical ability of the two was such that Watford’s midfield could not afford to sit off against their creativity. Thus, they pressed up and afforded Ozil the space behind them.

And what a mistake that proved out to be.

Ozil, finding pockets of space in dangerous areas, picked all measure of clinical balls, and linked up with the rest of the team brilliantly. He even managed to put a header past the goalkeeper. He doesn’t score very many of those.

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Most of the press emphasised upon the connection shown between Ozil and Sánchez, although that might have been slightly misguided. Sánchez admittedly did have a superb game scoring, assisting and winning a penalty, but that may have had more to do with the incompetence of Watford’s defensive setup. Against three centre-backs, an anomaly in the Premier League, he managed as a striker, but that is unsustainable.

Arsenal, Granit Xhaka
Granit Xhaka is excpected to combine the qualities of Cazorla and Coquelin(Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images) /

Again, in the PSG match, Sánchez as a striker was crowded out by the defense, and Krychowiak didn’t give Ozil a moments rest. Neither had a significant impact. That is, until Giroud was brought on, Sánchez returned to the wing, and Xhaka was introduced in midfield. Then Arsenal gained a foothold in the game. As it happened, Sánchez and Ozil were both heavily involved in the equalizer.

Lessons learned?

This Sánchez business has to stop. It is costing Arsenal the best of not just Alexis, but also Ozil and their other star players. Put an end to this and let the team regain normalcy. The results will come.

What are your thoughts, Arsenal fans? Can the Sánchez experiment be continued, or should it be stopped? Who might play striker instead? How will this affect Ozil, and the other Arsenal players? Have your say in the comments below.