The Gunners are coming off the back of a 2-1 loss away at Watford and the 1-0 win away at Red Star Belgrade, but they can’t afford any more setbacks in the Premier League.
Mesut Özil especially has come under a lot of criticism and while some of it is deserved, he should have finished his one-on-one with Heurelho Gomes last weekend, putting his side 2-0 up and securing three points at Vicarage Road.
A lot of the arguments against him around him are regarding his attitude and mannerisms during a game. Mentions of laziness are always quick to crop up.
Arsène Wenger does not pick Özil for his work rate and physicality. The German is on the pitch to create chances and help the Gunners score.
However, after four starts in 396 minutes on the pitch, the 29-year-old, who could be sold in January with his contract running out next summer, has failed to register a goal or an assist this term.
Looking at the statistics behind his season, compared to the other forwards who have played in the role behind the main striker, Özil does come out on top where you would expect him to.
No one has made more key passes or crosses, and only Danny Welbeck, with an extra 70 minutes on the pitch, has made more passes.
With 17 key passes to his name according to WhoScored, it’s unthinkable that none of them have been converted into goals.
Yet, how much do we consider what these numbers mean before deciding that someone is having a great campaign because they have managed X number of key passes or completed dribbles
Looking back through each key pass that Özil has completed this term, we can try and determine if the former Real Madrid man helps the Arsenal attack or whether his inclusion hurt the team.
Not Key Against Leicester City
Against Leicester in the opening game of the season, Özil was credited with six key passes, but only one led to a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
On the 21st minute, the playmaker starts the move on the edge of the box, three one-touch passes release him down towards the goal-line. He then cuts the ball back brilliantly for Welbeck, but the striker’s shot is blocked by Harry Maguire.
Short passes in your own half before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain runs 60 yards and has a shot are not key and only help inflate his numbers.
Dor Welbeck’s goal, which made it 2-2 before half-time, Özil played a short ball into Alexandre Lacazette’s feet. The Frenchman turns and shoots but it’s blocked, bounces into the path of Sead Kolasinac and he squares to the England striker for the goal.
Özil played his part, but his contribution wasn’t crucial.
Stoke Was Özil’s Best Game
Although Arsenal lost at the Bet365 stadium, it should go down as the German’s best performance of the season.
Adjudged to have made four key passes, although one in the second half was a weak free-kick, the others could all have resulted in goals.
Twice he picked out Héctor Bellerín for shots on goal. For the first, Özil drove into the Stoke box, dragging four defenders with him. He turned to face his options and with both strikers marked he picked out the Spaniard on the edge of the box, only to see the shot fly high and wide.
Bellerín isn't the player you want to see in that position, but it was the best option for the pass and Özil did well to create the space.
With the Gunners 1-0 down, it was Özil who beat his man off the dribble and raced towards the Potters' backline. A lovely pass is slipped into the box, but again it’s Bellerín racing onto it. His shot is saved low and another chance goes begging.
There was a potential inside ball to Lacazette that would have kept the move going. But Özil picked the right option and it’s unfortunate it wasn’t someone like Alexis Sánchez coming in from the left or the result could have been different.
Welbeck should have done better with Özil’s cross on the 58th minute. The German drifts out to the left, makes space to receive the ball and plays a lovely left-footed cross. But the striker meets it with part head part shoulder and it goes wide.
Ineffective against Liverpool
Arsenal were poor all-round against the Reds at Anfield and when your only key pass is a short three-yard ball to Sánchez before he skips around his marker and fires off a speculative effort from distance, you know you’ve not had a productive afternoon.
Better in Bournemouth Win
Özil may not have had a hand in any of the goals in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth, but he did create a couple of good chances.
Early in the second half, playing off the right edge of the box, he spots the run of Aaron Ramsey and dinks a delightful ball over the top of the defence.
It’s not a clear-cut chance and the Welshman’s near post effort is saved. But only players of his calibre would be able to see the run and execute the quality of pass too.
Then with 19 minutes to go, the German makes a great run into space, holds the ball up and, as the defenders are running back to recover, picks out a midfielder free on the edge of the box.
Sadly, it’s Francis Coquelin and his effort is tame. It looks to be going on target, but Nathan Aké is able to get a foot to it.
Again, nothing wrong with what Özil did, just the wrong player on the end of it.
Chances Missed Against Watford
Then onto last weekend and the loss to Watford.
Özil should have scored, there is no getting away from that. His shot lacked confidence, conviction and that clinical edge you need at this level. But maybe it's to be expected when a player hasn't contributed to a goal all season and is lacking confidence.
Yet, he was nearly the hero again with the score 1-0 to his team.
Finding a gap of space outside the box, he picks up the ball and slides a wonderful ball inside the full-back for Alex Iwobi to run on to. It’s the best available pass and he couldn’t have played it better.
The Nigerian international gets his shot off and finds the target. But again it’s saved by Gomes. Arsenal had two chances to make it 2-0 with Özil at the heart of each.
You can blame him for one. But the other wouldn’t have happened without him.
His key pass stats may be inflated, there is no doubt about that, but this season he has created seven chances that could have led to Arsenal goals.
Understat.com have him at 2.12 in terms of expected assists this season, and that is fair. Iwobi’s chance was perhaps the clearest cut of them all, but you are relying on a player with six Premier League goals in 43 appearances – not Sánchez or Lacazette – to convert it.
That has been the problem this term. Özil has been inconsistent, but when he is getting into the right areas and making the right passes, he’s not had the right players around him.
With more minutes on the pitch, playing in a full-strength team, the chances are going to fall better and his efforts will be rewarded.