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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions