97% pass completion: How Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil picked Norwich apart
Arsenal ended their 2013/14 Premier League season with a flourish against Norwich on Sunday afternoon, recording a 2-0 victory at Carrow Road to give them a league-high 11th away win.
Aaron Ramsey opened the scoring on the 53rd minute, volleying with pinpoint accuracy into the top left corner of John Ruddy’s goal following a delicately chipped cross from Olivier Giroud. Carl Jenkinson then doubled Arsenal’s lead nine minutes later, capitalising on Lukas Podolski’s deflected shot to score his first goal for the Gunners.
Arsenal, as expected, dominated possession at Carrow Road, completing 602 of 670 attempted passes, as compared to Norwich’s 323 of 393. Their superior ball retention was in no small part attributable to Mesut Ozil, whose distribution of the ball has vastly improved in recent months, following a mid-season slump that invited reproach from fans and the media alike.
The German playmaker completed 94% of his passes (72/79) on the weekend, second only to Mikel Areteta’s 85 completed passes. While the Spaniard’s passes were predominantly lateral and executed from a deep-lying midfield position, Ozil flitted in a perimeter tens yards from the opposition’s penalty box, feeding balls into dangerous positions.
Of the 12 clear-cut chances fashioned by Arsenal, Ozil was the architect of more than a third, making five key passes from the left flank. His most productive play came from the left wing, but as evinced by his overall pass distribution map, the former Real Madrid star was eager to get on the ball in all areas of the pitch – a far cry away from the withdrawn display that saw him receive the ball just 36 times when Arsenal were thrashed 5-1 by Liverpool at Anfield.
While Arsenal’s trademark tika-taka brand of football – and cumulative height of their personnel – is not conducive to traditional wing play, Ozil did manufacture two of Arsenal’s two shooting opportunities from crosses, whipping in dangerous corners for Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker to attack. In all, he was behind six of his side’s 17 crosses.
In the name of balance, it’s worth nothing that Ozil made little to no contribution on the defensive front. Apart from two interceptions, the 25-year-old completed zero tackles (attempted one) and triumphed in zero headed duels (attempted one).
It’s understandable that Ozil didn’t contest any aerial balls, but to only try to recover possession once – irrespective of Norwich’s relative lack of possession – is unforgivable in England’s top tier, particularly when the recently returned Aaron Ramsey is tallying four times that number.
Additionally, Ozil failed in his three attempts to beat a man, executing zero of three take-ons. For a player that revelled in outfoxing opposition defenders throughout his three-year stint in La Liga, this is somewhat surprising. One would venture that tired legs and lack of confidence played its part; although, Norwich’s tactical decision to drop deep restricted the space in which Ozil could break into.
That being said, Arsene Wenger will be relieved to see Ozil conclude his first term at the Emirates on a high, validating the board’s decision to sanction a £40 million bid for the world-class attacking midfielder.