Comment: Mesut Ozil disappearing act a sign that Arsene Wenger's title talk doesn't add up for Arsenal

February is traditionally the month when Wenger's Arsenal side  bid farewell to a trophy or two

“Yes of course – because mathematically no matter what happens it will still be mathematically possible,” said Arsène Wenger to the question of whether the title could still be Arsenal’s. His tortuous argument did not convey the impression of a man who believes his side can be the best in the land and Saturday’s 5-1 drubbing at Liverpool told us why hope of their first title in a decade is soaking away.

It is the month when Arsenal traditionally bid farewell  to a trophy or two – the Champions League in the last two years, with last February’s moment of truth against Bayern Munich at the Emirates falling virtually on the anniversary of the 4-0 beating at Milan which provoked Wenger wrath of a type not seen before or since by his players at London Colney. They have not had the depth in their squad to prevent this from being the season’s cruellest month for them and with Aaron Ramsey – the totem of their excellent autumn – understood to be another month away from a return to action, they may very well end up with nothing.

Wenger was reminded that his team won 20 out of 24 points after their 6-3 defeat to Manchester City in December, yet the flaw in the decision not to make a bold January splash to boost a title push revealed itself by late on Saturday. It compounds matters that Nemanja Matic, a player of the type Arsenal require, has delivered so rapidly for Chelsea.

Proclamations of doom are risky in this wildly unpredictable season, but the rosy glow that Mesut Özil brought has fast faded too. His last standout displays – against Napoli in November and Southampton a month later – seem a very long way off. An anaemic performance against Liverpool reflected the same anonymity at Manchester City – two games in which he provided two assists and no goals. Saturday evening’s BBC 5Live radio debate on the German centred on what defines a world-class player and whether Özil fits that bracket. No. He can murder weak opponents but cannot claim to have been one of the Premier League’s top 20 players as the season enters its final third.

Santi Cazorla observed when Özil arrived that “he can seem intermittent but when he has the ball he’s different” – and that has been a very big “when” on days like Saturday. The Spaniards who watched him closely in Madrid thought he would flourish here because less tactically astute English football would furnish him with far more space than La Liga. “The first line of pressure is incredible [in the Premier League]: everyone comes at you but, if you can play two or three quick passes, it opens up. You get space in that three-quarters position you don’t get in Spain. Mesut will [enjoy it],” Cazorla said.

But Liverpool, like City and to some extent Manchester United, denied him that space. Liverpool pressed and passed like demons and Özil found himself not only with Philippe Coutinho on his shoulder but Jordan Henderson too, another master practitioner of Brendan Rodgers’ ways. The quality of his passing collapsed and his departure from the field – acknowledging neither his manager nor his club’s supporters – was a paradigm for his football. He does not respond well to adversity.

 

For Jack Wilshere, who was little better, there was a gulf between the advance positions his brain told him he could bulldoze into and the place where his football could actually take him. Coutinho the hustler did a job on him, and riled him, too. The aura which surrounds Wilshere lead to the assumption, put to Wenger in his post-match press conference, that he must be short of fitness. “He didn’t look any shorter than anyone else,” Wenger replied. Wilshere isn’t always all he’s cracked up to be.

Cazorla, fine against the top sides, disappeared again too, just as he did at Old Trafford. There was no Mathieu Flamini to salvage some pride  for Wenger, as he did at the Etihad.

None of which must detract from what Liverpool delivered. They were incredibly hungry, to use Rodgers’ epithet of the day. And though there was an element of luck about the opening goal, which alters the dynamics of these games, Liverpool battered Arsenal so roundly and rapidly in the first 15 minutes that you felt there was a complacency in Wenger’s side. Beforehand, Wenger promised attacking football. He had been lulled into false security by the years of success his teams have enjoyed on the Anfield turf.

Liverpool's Aly Cissokho and Arsenal's Jack Wilshere square up Liverpool's Aly Cissokho and Arsenal's Jack Wilshere square up Rodgers understandably wanted to talk about 21-year-old Coutinho. “He’s always had that appetite for the ball and is a wonderful technician,” he said. “He’s added to his game the ability to press the ball, intercept back and his hunger to do that side of the game is now key for us.”

The Liverpool manager blew out his cheeks when speaking of Sterling, who has been helped through the plateau with some home truths about commitment and who, Rodgers implied, is playing on a different level to a key competitor for Roy Hodgson’s attention. “Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is an outstanding player – a brilliant player he is – but you look at Raheem today...”

If Liverpool did not mix incredibly destructive bursts of football with that occasional mediocrity of theirs, they would be more than mathematical title challengers. Instead they are a very strong bet to be back in next season’s Champions League. Which is not much more than Arsenal can realistically hope for.

Read more
Gunners embarrassed as Liverpool run riot
Wenger seeking answers after defeat
David O'Leary: Arsenal's only chance of silverware is the FA Cup
Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone