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Modern football has moved past Mesut Ozil

Mesut Ozil was one of the greatest creative midfielders in world football. But football has moved past his style, and Arsenal should move with it.

It was not too long ago that Mesut Ozil was considered one of the greatest attacking midfielders in world football. Cristiano Ronaldo was dismayed at his exit from Real Madrid, he was on pace to break the Premier League assists record, eventually ending with 19 on the season, and he won the World Cup in 2014 as the creative heartbeat of a truly brilliant Germany team.

Fast forward just a few years and it has all come crumbling down. A new £350,000-per-week contract immediately looked like a mistake, his relationship with Arsenal supporters has only fractured, he suffered an awful end to his national career, though that was not his own fault, and now he is seen as a drain on the team.

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This season, Ozil has played just short of 1,500 Premier League minutes. He has just one goal and two assists. It is not the type of production you expect from a world-class attacking midfielder. His performances have been more impactful than the basic numbers convey. Only Kieran Tierney has created more chances from open play per 90 minutes, his work-rate has substantially improved under Mikel Arteta, and he is still neat and tidy, if not producing those spectacular passes like in previous years.

However, whatever way you want to slice it, Ozil is not performing at the same level or producing at the same rate as he used to — or as he is expected to given his calibre and salary. There is an obvious issue here, and it all stems from the evolution of football over the past decade, one in which the majority of Ozil’s senior career has existed within.

In modern football, attacking midfielders must be more than creators. They are still expected to create chances and score goals, as before, but they must now press high up the pitch, drop into midfield to help progress play by receiving possession under pressure, spinning clear, and shuttling it to a teammate elsewhere on the pitch, and track runners deep.

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Football is a more complete, high-tempo game. And players are having to match that evolution. They must possess the minimum level of athleticism to handle the faster pace of play, while also having a rounded skill set that allows them to contribute in a number of ways. Experts in particular skills are an increasingly endangered species. Goal poachers are dying out, hard-nosed defenders must now be able to pass the ball, and creative midfielders must do more than just create.

This is where Ozil struggles. From a purely creative viewpoint, he is one of the best players to ever grace the sport — of players with more than 200-plus assists in their career, his per-90 rate is the highest, and the number of chances he created is even more superior to that. But modern football requires players to provide more than just one element, and even at his best, Ozil only provides creativity. Now that he is not at his best, he barely does that.

Next: Arsenal: 3 replacements for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Put simply, football has moved past Mesut Ozil. It has evolved. He has not. And it is time for Arsenal to accept as much.

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