Arsenal: Mikel Arteta one thing short of getting best Mesut Ozil

Arsenal, Reiss Nelson, Mesut Ozil (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Arsenal, Reiss Nelson, Mesut Ozil (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /

Mesut Ozil was excellent in the first half of Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Chelsea. Mikel Arteta is now just one thing short of getting the very best Ozil: fitness.

When Mikel Arteta arrived at Arsenal, one of the key questions that supporters, those in the media, and any vaguely interested in his coaching tenure in north London wanted answering was how he would deal with many of talent, underperforming senior players.

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The Gunners squad is stocked full of talented players who could have produced more than they have in recent years. Chief among them is Mesut Ozil, equally the most gifted and underwhelming. As was the case with Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery and even Freddie Ljungberg, how Arteta handles Ozil will define the early stages of his reign.

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Arteta was asked as soon as he would arrive how he would handle the Ozil situation, especially after Freddie Ljungberg went out of his way to disparage the German’s efforts in his final match as interim head coach. Arteta was quite clear: Ozil would be handed a ‘clean slate’, just like every player, and he would be selected based on his performances, his attitude, commitment, and his work in training, just like every player. So how would Ozil respond?

Well, in the two matches that Arteta has been at the helm for, Ozil has been excellent in both. He was instrumental against Bournemouth, creating four chances from open play, the most of any Arsenal player in an individual match this season. He found pockets of space between the Bournemouth ranks, received the ball on the half-turn, before then supplying the forward lines.

He was then superb in the first half of Sunday afternoon’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea. Playing in the same role as against Bournemouth, he was equally as influential, his little passes, flicks, dummies, sliding through balls and body shimmies causing Chelsea fits as they straggled to simply get near him. For 45 minutes, Ozil was at his very best. And it was Arteta that had released it.

There was an issue, however, one that prevented Ozil from truly performing at his highest level: fitness. While Ozil was stupendously smooth in the first half, his influence increasingly waned as the game progressed after the break. He looked tired, lacked intensity in his pressing, and started to drift through the match. Arteta eventually substituted him for the effervescent, energetic Joe Willock, clearly in search of some legs as Arsenal tired.

As Arteta himself ceded afterwards, he is asking his players to do things that they have not done before. He is working them extremely hard, recognising that they need to learn but also accepting that their effectiveness will wane late on in matches. Ozil is one of these individuals who simply needs to get fitter to better execute as Arteta requires.

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Ozil’s two starts under Arteta are extremely encouraging. There are signs that the best Ozil might be just around the corner. But for that version to truly arrive, he needs to get fit, properly fit. Until then, he will be a one-half player.