Bayern Munich 1 Arsenal 1 - comment: Mesut Özil a £42m passenger who cuts forlorn figure before injury ends night in the Champions League
Özil was curiously deployed out of position on the right flank
Wednesday 12 March 2014
This wasn’t quite the impact a £42.4million club record signing on a revenge mission was supposed to have, in Arsenal’s biggest game of the season.
In summary, Mesut Özil was curiously deployed out of position on the right flank, drifted around in virtual anonymity for 45 minutes and was substituted due to a hamstring injury at half-time. It remains to be seen exactly how long he is out for but his manager Arsène Wenger said afterwards it would be “at least a few weeks”. He was due to have a scan today and could miss Arsenal’s next four matches which are against Spurs away, Chelsea away, Swansea at home and Manchester City at home.
It was not the redemption he had hoped for. If Özil was indeed desperate to atone for the first leg penalty miss that haunted him so visibly, then he didn’t show it.
Wenger claimed the 25-year-old had recovered from his failure to shape the tie in Arsenal’s favour during its formative stages at the Emirates Stadium but here, he cut the same disconsolate figure that wandered around in a daze three weeks ago.
Özil’s application was undoubtedly a disappointment but his starting position was unexpected, given his preferred central spot just behind the main striker. Heat maps of Özil’s play often show an inclination to drift out to the right in a bid to stoke his creative fire but starting there from the outset seemed a waste of his talents.
For the vast majority of his outing here, he played as an auxiliary right-back. And he wasn’t particularly good at it either. David Alaba raided frequently down Bayern Munich’s left flank, linking up on several occasions with Franck Ribéry, who returned to their line-up after missing the first leg while convalescing from buttock surgery.
In mitigation, Bayern were pressing the ball remorselessly and pushing the Gunners so deep, they were defending just in front of their own box throughout the opening period. Wenger had seemingly opted for Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in central midfield to try and nullify Thiago Alcantara and Bastian Schweinsteiger’s own attempts to dictate proceedings but Bayern were dominant.
And Özil was not acquired at great expense from Real Madrid for his ability to track back. Bacary Sagna, left exposed and overloaded, threw his arms up in frustration midway through a first half in which Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were required to defend with the diligence they have displayed for much of this campaign. As an attacking force, Özil offered nothing. Oxlade-Chamberlain raided to the best effect, producing one particularly searing run that required a cynical foul to prevent further progress.
Lukas Podolski, playing against his former club, seemed frustrated on the opposite flank but still offered more than Özil with one notable incursion; it proved an early indication of his threat on the break as after half-time, his persistence and single-mindedness earned Arsenal an equaliser just two minutes after Schweinsteiger had put Bayern ahead.
For the second time in a week, Özil was jeered on German soil. This time, a smattering of Bayern supporters greeted his half-time exit with delirious derision; last Wednesday he had been booed in Stuttgart, despite assisting the only goal in Germany’s 1-0 win over Chile.
Wenger said Özil had felt a tight hamstring and was consequently not risked after the interval. He is a wonderfully gifted player and could yet make the telling contribution in Arsenal’s domestic season when he returns from his injury but the absence of any intensity in his play is a contrast to the resilience and hunger of his team-mates on nights such as this.
Bayern are a class act and have the ability to strangle the finest sides but Özil was bought to pilot the plane, not be a passenger in a window seat and his second season in English football must be punctuated with greater influence in the big matches.
For the second year in a row, Arsenal were knocked out but can again be proud of a performance brimming with defiance in Bavaria. In fact, that is another example of how Özil made no difference whatsoever.
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