Spurs' Eriksen And Arsenal's Özil: Media Vs Reality
If your understanding of the fortunes of Christian Eriksen and Mesut Ozil since moving to England was based on the media coverage they’ve received you’d imagine they were two entirely different players. The diminutive Dane is seen as having settled and performed superbly and well on his way to establishing himself as the next player to swap North London for Madrid. Ozil on the other hand is seen as largely having had a torrid time, who disappears in games and barley deserves to play for Arsenal. The facts are closer to the opposite than the media led view, Ozil has for large portions of his Arsenal career functioned as an elite attacking midfielder whilst Eriksen still has significant work to do.
Part of what has affected this debate is values paid by the two clubs for each player and status attributed to both transfers. Ozil arrived for £42m as the second biggest transfer ever paid by a British team. This was also Arsenal’s biggest marquee signing since Marc Overmas in 1997. As such expectations were huge. For that fee the expectation is huge, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, match-winning performances – roughly the type of performances seen from Alexis Sanchez for much of this season.
On the other side of North London Eriksen arrived from Ajax at £11.5m as part of Spurs post-Bale splurge, a modest fee in today’s market. He was Spurs 4th most expensive signing that summer and viewed therefore as a smart signing rather than a mindblowing one. He has since exceeded expectations and has by a long way been the best signing of that summer. Eriksen has probably been the better value transfer but this shouldn’t obscure the relative quality of the two players. Eriksen has been able to secure points for Spurs with some key goals but he is not at the stage where he has shaped and influenced Spurs attack. Ozil has been able to have a larger effect on Arsenal’s attacking displays, when he is on form transforming their displays towards a team genuinely capable to challenging for the title.
Ozil has spent most of the past two seasons being lambasted by Robbie Savage, Adrian Durham and the majority of popular sports media for being work shy and for disappearing in big fixtures. This in turn triggered the siege mentality of Arsenal fans who went into hyperdrive defence on social media to the point where you’d think every Ozil performance was equal to Zinedine Zidane at his peak.
The temptation is to simply laugh it off, deride both camps as idiotic and accept that somewhere between the two points as true. However, in the particular case of Ozil it is slightly more complex. The baying media mob has spurred Arsenal fans into being so focussed on Ozil that he has an army of mental player cams tracking his every move for every fixture. For most players this would reveal little more but for Ozil once you afford him the extra focus it genuinely reveals what he is about as a player. Beyond his obvious excellent technical ability Ozil’s strength is centred on his movement. His subtle ability to move into and to vacate space facilitates so much of Arsenal’s good play. As one example Aaron Ramsey’s improvement as an attacking force owes much to the space and selection of passing from Ozil.
The movement and ability to influence games through manipulation of position is arguably the second most important attribute needed for an elite level creative midfielder behind technical ability. With over half of the opposition in the Premier League prepared to sit back against Arsenal and Spurs it is essential that the attacking players create instability to disrupt the other teams set-up. Ozil (and Arsenal in general) is accused of being flat-track bully who only put on performances against the likes of Sunderland or Burnley. However, with the decline of the midtable in the Premier League over the past couple of seasons being a flat-track bully is really, really important. Being able to pull those teams apart consistently gains you enough points for everything bar actually winning the title. The consistency in doing this to the lower two thirds of the league is part of what makes Ozil an excellent player and Eriksen a player with significant growth still to do.
Eriksen’s output is also often exaggerated, for a supposed creative fulcrum who has been in the form of his life he’s produced a whopping one assist from open play this season. Whilst this is disappointing and can be used as a stick to beat Eriksen with it also points towards a handicap Eriksen faces compared with Ozil: his teammates. From pure quality perspective, with the exception of Harry Kane, none of Spurs attacking players would even make Arsenal’s bench. The issue runs deeper than this as Ozil benefits from Walcott, Welbeck and Ramsey all of who are exceptional at timing their runs. Eriksen rarely has runners to pick out as Spurs attacking players lack either pace to get in behind or a brain to pick the right run. This also partly explains why Eriksen scores more than Ozil, he shoulders the goalscoring burden within his team more and therefore needs to take more shots whereas Ozil can be more patient to create opportunities for others.
All of this is not to say that Eriksen is a poor player, it’s just that he’s a Spurs level player. He does have good touch, occasional good vision and his movement is not actually poor. He’s also only 23 and has plenty of time to develop into a better player. The issue is that when he does go on runs of scoring form, as he has done for periods in both seasons so far, he is talked up to the level of Ozil or other elite creative players such as David Silva or Cesc Fabregas. The fact is that he is nowhere near these players consistency in terms of his overall contribution to his team’s performances. He’s still limited whereby his Match Of The Day highlights significantly exaggerate his ability. This can't be said of Ozil whose real contribution can be seen by paying attention not just to his obvious output but his subtlety both in passing and in movement across the whole match.