Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Arsenal attacking midfield options are scary good

Arsenal shattered their club record transfer fee yesterday, signing German playmaker Mesut Ozil for £42.5 million from Real Madrid. Although there were positions for Arsenal that probably could have used strengthening before attacking center midfield, the addition of arguably the best #10 in the world is hardly a bad bit of business. Sure they could use a tough tackling midfielder for more difficult away fixtures and another striker but I still believe that adding a world class player in a position where they're already strong is going to do more good in the long run than adding a lesser player in a position where they may be a bit thin.

If Wenger chooses to go with Cazorla, Walcott and Ozil for the three attacking midfield spots in Wenger's 4-2-3-1 as is expected, they'll be fielding three players that had 35 goals and 34 assists combined last season. To put that into perspective, Chelsea's excellent midfield trio of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata combined for 10 fewer goals and 6 fewer assists in 2012-2013. When Lukas Podolski returns to fitness (German team doctors expect him to be out a full 3 months) they'll have the luxury of a player who chipped in 11 goals and 9 assists last season coming off the bench. Throw in the creativity of Thomas Rosicky off the bench and the option of playing Wilshere higher up the pitch when Arteta returns from injury and it's hard to imagine Arsenal failing to create a slew of goalscoring chances week in and week out.

Ozil's rate of return at Real Madrid last season was terrific despite falling out of favor with Jose Mourinho for much of the campaign. He had 13 assists, averaging one every 153 minutes of football he played. That rate was better than any of the Premier League's top assist providers and only topped in Spain by Andres Iniesta (16 total assists, one every 132 minutes).

Ozil's output of 3 key passes per game was also the highest rate in Spain. Equally impressive is Ozil's ability to create space for himself and teammates. In a piece from early 2012 tactics writer Michael Cox highlighted Ozil's impressive movement off the ball.
"When one of the opposing players realizes Ozil is free and moves toward him, Ozil recognizes he's now being tracked and replicates his opponent's movement to keep a good distance between himself and his marker. There's two effects of that. First, the other opposition players see he's being tracked by a teammate so don't bother picking him up, despite the fact that the defender is never in control of the situation. Second, the opponent becomes dragged out of position to leave a gap for someone else to exploit. It sounds simple enough on paper, but it's more difficult to combine this constant movement with the actual concept of playing football -- getting the ball, creating chances. He's not just playing tag."
Combined with Cazorla, another playmaker who's movement between the opposition defensive and midfield lines is exemplary, Arsenal should be remarkably fluid in the attacking third. Cazorla enjoys tucking inside when he plays on the left while Ozil is happy to drift into the flanks from a central position. Therefore we'll see both Ozil moving wide alongside Cazorla to create overloads in the channels and Cazorla moving infield to help Ozil unlock defenses around the top of the 18 yard box.

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