You can count the number of times that Mesut Ozil has managed to impress while wearing an Arsenal shirt on the fingers of one hand. The Gunners’ record signing has failed to justify his £42.4 million price tag so far - and the worrying thing is it’s hard to envisage him rediscovering the form that made him a household name in the first place. Is the Germany international in danger of becoming the new Fernando Torres?
Since the Premier League began in 1992, we have never seen a more dramatic fall from grace than that of Torres, who was arguably the world’s best number nine at his peak with Liverpool between 2007 and 2010.
But the man who broke the British transfer record in January 2011, when he moved from Anfield to Chelsea for £50 million in a dramatic transfer deadline day move, will be remembered as the most expensive flop in Premier League history.
Torres's decline remains a mystery
It’s still difficult to explain why it all ended up going so wrong for Torres. This was a prolific striker who had the lot: pace, power, athleticism and a steely eye for goal. He was a threat from anywhere inside the penalty box. In fact, he was a danger from anywhere inside the opponent’s half.
But for the past three-and-a-half years Torres has gone from a revered world-class striker to humiliated laughing stock. Twenty goals in 110 Premier League appearances at Stamford Bridge is a pitiful return for a forward who cost such an obscene sum of money to buy.
His confidence went and it never returned. Torres, it’s now safe to say, will never be the same player again.
Ozil in danger of emulating Torres
There appears to be a very real danger that something similar is currently happening to Ozil, who turns 26 in October and should be approaching the peak years of his career but has failed to produce his best form since leaving Real Madrid last September.
The technically-gifted left-footed midfielder arrived with his reputation as the world’s best playmaker safely intact thanks to his three productive years with Real Madrid, but very few would class him as the world’s best player in his position if asked the question today.
Watching Ozil play against Besiktas in the Champions League play-off round second leg on Wednesday night was tough viewing. The once-great playmaker looked a shadow of his former self. Nothing went right for him and it came as no surprise when Arsene Wenger hauled him off in the 76th minute for Calum Chambers.
Arsenal supporters will point to the fact that Ozil is currently being played out of position - on the left wing - and perhaps they’d be right to do so. The former Schalke and Werder Bremen star flourished earlier in his career by playing in the No. 10 role, but it’s very difficult for Wenger to accommodate him there when using his current system.
Of course, this then begs the question: was Ozil a poor signing by Wenger? But the veteran French coach recruited the player knowing he was capable of playing from wide areas. He had proved it during his time at the Bernabeu, after all.
That Ozil was struggling to execute the most basic tasks on Wednesday evening - finding a teammate with a pass and retaining possession - will have been the most concerning thing for both Wenger and the Gunners’ faithful.
Bad performances have become a habit for Ozil
This is a player who has just returned to action after a summer which saw him lift the World Cup, admittedly, but his poor display earlier this week was equally as bad as several now-infamous performances he put in last season.
Think back to his horrific display in February’s 5-1 defeat to Liverpool - when he was subbed off on the hour mark - or his embarrassing performance against Bayern Munich in the Champions League that same month.
Had Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League group stages this week then his Besiktas performance would have been remembered alongside those games, for sure.
But a goal by Alexis Sanchez ultimately spared Ozil’s blushes.
Ozil has also failed to perform for Germany
It would be easy to put Ozil’s struggles down to Wenger’s tactics, but he was hardly at his brilliant best at the World Cup. In fact, he was hugely disappointing.
That Germany lifted the iconic trophy doesn’t mean Ozil flourished in Brazil and looked back to his exquisite best, in the same manner that Fernando Torres winning the Golden Boot at Euro 2012 was not a real indication of the way his tournament went in Poland and Ukraine.
Prior to the World Cup finals, former Germany midfielder Michael Ballack stated that Ozil “looks lost” after his move to Arsenal.
“He has done well for Germany, and he played well during the qualifying campaign, but in the last few months - since his move to Arsenal - he has not been the same player, in terms of his confidence, that we used to see in the national team,” the former Chelsea star commented.
“I don’t know whether the Arsenal move has affected him because he was untouchable and in Germany we still expect him to be one of our best players. But he is not a leader on the pitch, like a captain.”
Ozil's confidence has gone - but will it return?
Ballack was not the only former Germany player to pass judgement on Ozil, and perhaps this has affected his confidence. But the best players - the truly world-class players - will always use criticism as a motivational tool to become an even better footballer.
Whether Ozil possesses this mental toughness is currently unclear. This is something he must demonstrate over the forthcoming months in order to get his career back on track and prove that he was worth that huge £42.4 million transfer fee.
Is Ozil motivated to play for Arsenal?
There is another school of thought, however. Is Ozil motivated enough to play for Arsenal?
After all, moving from Real Madrid - indisputably the world’s biggest football club, where he was surrounded by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, playing in front of 80,000 people every other week and competing for club football’s most prestigious trophies every season - to join Arsenal must have been a blow for his ego.
Ozil was effectively forced out of the Bernabeu following the world-record signing of Gareth Bale and, whichever way you look at it, leaving Real Madrid for Arsenal in unquestionably a step down.
Exit may be the for the best
If this is the case, Ozil should look to leave Arsenal as soon as possible - or, rather, Arsenal should look to offload the Germany international.
In order for the Gunners to become Premier League champions for the first time since 2004, or win the Champions League for the first time in their history, they need all of their players pulling in the same direction.
Perhaps Ozil feel that he is too good for Arsenal - and maybe there is an element of truth to this.
But he has done nothing to suggest this is the case over the past 12 months.
So, is he still the real deal? Or is he well on his way to become the new Fernando Torres?
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