Where is Mesut Ozil? That's the question a lot of Arsenal fans have found themselves asking in the stands, on Twitter and in their own heads when Unai Emery's starting XI has been revealed in recent weeks.
And it's a legitimate question.
The dictionary definition of 'false dawn' provides a decent summary of Ozil's situation. "Something that seems to show that a successful period is beginning or that a situation is improving when it is not."
On the subject of false dawns, Arsenal are pretty familiar with them. Particularly when it comes to Leicester City.
Their 2-1 home win against the Foxes in 2016 was supposed to be the springboard for Arsene Wenger's fourth league title, but the Foxes recovered and ultimately went on to claim that scarcely believable title win.
Less dramatically, there's the Gunners' 3-1 victory against Leicester in October this season and what seemed to be Ozil's breakthrough moment under Emery. The German playmaker captained the side, scored Arsenal’s equaliser, pre-assisted the second goal and assisted the third, the latter destined to be the best team goal of the season.
And yet here we are, three months on and Ozil seems further away from featuring in the starting XI than ever before.
Indeed, Ozil, the fastest player in Premier League history to 50 assists, has barely featured since Emery replaced Wenger. Since that impressive showing against Leicester, he has created just one more goal, in the twilight zone that is a home match against Qarabag.
But, his record and reputation aside, why should Ozil be playing? Well, just look at Paul Pogba's rebirth at Manchester United.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's appointment, no player has been involved in more Premier League goals than Pogba. There was a time last year when the World Cup winner couldn't string two passes together. He was ineffective and lacking in confidence. Nowhere near an £80 million ($105m) footballer. But now look at him. His revival is as good a demonstration as any that a player's 'form' is hugely dependent on the system and the demands of the manager within that.
Ever since Mourinho left and Solskjaer came in, Pogba's been given the freedom to get forward and play his own game. His touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes have risen significantly from 3.1 under Mourinho, to 4.4 now. Conversely, Ozil’s figures under Emery (2.8) have declined by about the same amount, when compared to the role he had under Wenger in 2017-18 (4.0). No one is suggesting the Spaniard is curtailing an entire team, but his chosen approach is almost certainly hampering the highest paid player in the club's history.
The signing of that hefty new contract, back in February 2018, was an extremely unusual move for a club who used to recoil at the thought of even offering players approaching 30 a new deal. Their German playmaker turns 31 in October this year. The departure of Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United a week earlier was probably one of the factors behind Ozil's bumper deal and is certainly one of the reasons why Aaron Ramsey will be leaving the club in 2019.
Incidentally, all three feature in the top six of the most creative Premier League players this season who have played less than 1000 minutes, with Ramsey, Ozil and Alexis in first, second and sixth respectively for chances created in open play.
|Player||Open play chances created||Mins played (2018-19)|
Arsenal fans can argue about which of the three would have been the best to retain at the club but the reality is that only Ozil is signed up, and his relationship with Emery seems challenging to say the least. Ozil's stuck with Emery and Emery's stuck with Ozil, at least until the summer. They may as well make it worth their while.
The truth is, Ozil’s ability to play well and not get credit is almost unparalleled. Unfairly attacked by Bayern president Uli Hoeness after the World Cup for not winning tackles - Ozil's rate of 5.5 chances created per 90 minutes in Russia was better than any other player in the entire tournament.
The sad fate of the creative midfielder who plays with team-mates who squander the opportunities he creates is that he'll be criticised for 'not doing enough'. The assists aren't there so he's not either. No one epitomises this more than Arsenal's No.10.
As well as Ramsey played in the win over Chelsea, he's not going to be in north London come the summer. Carry on like this and Ozil probably won't either.
It's time Emery gave his most creative talent more of a chance, and in the role where he thrives most - behind the central striker. It worked for Pogba, it might just work here too.