The Arsenal midfielder is no longer the beating heart of his team, as he was at the 2010 World Cup, and made less impact against Algeria than Chelsea forward Andre Schurrle
By Richard Jolly
Technically Mesut Ozil scored Germany’s winner. It didn’t seem that way because, without his late goal, Abdelmoumene Djabou probably would not have scored Algeria’s even later consolation. Yet in years to come, it will look as though the playmaker took his side through to the World Cup quarter-finals.
Watching Monday’s 120-minute epic offered another impression. The difference was made by a man signed by a London club in 2013, but it was Andre Schurrle, not the Arsenal enigma, who changed the game.
The quintessential Ozil moment came a couple of minutes after the Chelsea winger struck. He was sent clear. He only had one man to beat, the cramping Rafik Halliche. Halliche could not continue but he could still dispossess Ozil nonetheless.
That is Ozil, the flair player who can frustrate. The star of Germany’s 2010 tournament has been overshadowed. This has been Thomas Muller’s finals; even on the day that he mislaid his scoring touch, he still created Schurrle’s goal. He had the never-say-die attitude to lead by example.
In contrast, Ozil’s goal was deceptive. He offered one or two neat passes, some threaded through-balls and a willingness to probe for an opening, while reinforcing the sense that he can be peripheral. He was the central figure, in every respect, in 2010. He spent much of the match against Algeria on the left wing.
At the same stage of the last World Cup, Ozil was outstanding; he ran England’s Gareth Barry ragged, exposed the flaws in Fabio Capello’s rigid 4-4-2 and was the creative mastermind of Germany’s 4-1 victory. He produced the performance that defined him in English eyes. Or it did until he joined Arsenal.
Now he polarises opinions, much as he can split defences with inch-perfect passes. Ozil was the revelation of the World Cup in 2010, the symbol of a new Germany: young, multinational, technically gifted. They were at odds with the stolid, solid side of stereotype.
Germany’s hero? | Ozil’s performance against Algeria
Now he risks being upstaged by the playmakers who have emerged in the intervening period. Coach Joachim Low remains an Ozil fan but Mario Gotze is three years his junior. Marco Reus is the same age and was the in-form man until injury deprived him of the chance to play in the World Cup. Toni Kroos was the closest thing to a No.10 in this team.
Exiled to the flanks, Ozil is charged with being Muller’s supply line. Instead, the scorer turned creator to set up Schurrle and, belatedly, the fantasista was finisher in the 120th minute. It is a surprise to remember that Ozil was Germany’s top scorer in qualifying, usually playing as a false nine. He and goalscoring do not go together quite as often as they should. The criticism at club level is that, however many games he decorates, he does not decide enough.
His record for Germany – 18 goals in 59 matches – is far better than his return for Arsenal, just seven goals in 40. It is a goal every 3.2 games against one every 5.7, the difference between regular and irregular contributions.
The charge levelled at Ozil is that he is not a match-winner often enough when his club-record fee dictates that he ought to be. It seemed a coup when Arsenal signed him. Even the £42.4 million fee was a statement of intent. Now it is unlikely Arsenal could recoup that. Fans could be forgiven for wishing that Arsene Wenger, a non-spender for so long, had held off for a further year until Cesc Fabregas became available.
Or, indeed, they could wish for Jose Mourinho, a fan of Ozil’s from their time together at Real Madrid, would agree to a swap for their former captain. The more prolific Fabregas has the presence and the personality that the understated Ozil sometimes seems to lack.
He also needs the right sort of team-mates. Ozil requires energetic figures around him. His most influential performances for Arsenal came when Aaron Ramsey was bursting into the penalty box to meet his passes. He ought to gel with Theo Walcott when the winger is finally fit. When surrounded by players with pace, he is more effective.
Germany did not select a side with enough speed. The substitute Schurrle brought a much-needed injection of acceleration. He and Ozil teamed up for the second goal, a case of opposites attracting. Yet in his cameo, the Chelsea man’s dynamism highlighted what his Arsenal counterpart doesn’t possess.