Can Arsenal Afford to Leave Out Midfielder Mesut Ozil vs. Manchester United?

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 18:  Mesut Ozil of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Fulham at Emirates Stadium on January 18, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Mesut Ozil is desperately short of form. Against Liverpool, he appeared to hit rock-bottom. Not only was he completely ineffective in an attacking sense, but he also ceded possession at two crucial moments to gift Liverpool their third and fourth goals.

Ozil wasn’t the only Arsenal player to perform badly at Anfield. However, the disparity between his talent and his actual contribution was glaring. His price tag and reputation means he is subject to certain expectations, and against Liverpool he fell woefully short of that mark.

It’s clear he’s playing without confidence. One of Ozil’s best attributes is his ability to beat men on the ball. However, according to Squawka, he failed with two of three attempted take-ons against Liverpool.

Graphic via Squawka

One of those failed take-ons led directly to a Liverpool goal. 

Ozil’s passing remains accurate. Against Liverpool, he completed an impressive 89 percent of his attempted passes. However, few of those passes carried any penetrative threat. He is coasting through games rather than moulding them to his will.

Graphic via Squawka

Ozil’s form has been in decline for some time. Since Arsenal’s crushing defeat away to Manchester City in mid-December, he has amassed just one Premier League assist and not a single goal. 

Ahead of a vital clash with Manchester United, questions are being asked over Ozil’s place in the Arsenal XI. Should he be left out for the visit of David Moyes’ team?

It’s tempting to replace him with the more energetic Tomas Rosicky. When Ozil is off his game, he can appear lethargic and disinterested. Rosicky, on the other hand, is a hummingbird of a midfielder, constantly buzzing around the area between midfield and attack. His mere presence injects the Arsenal midfield with tempo and purpose.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal celebrates victory after the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James' Park on December 29, 2013 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Rosicky certainly offers more on the defensive side of the game. At Anfield, Squawka’s records show that Ozil succeeded in just one tackle. He failed to go in for a single headed duel or win any interceptions. By contrast, on December 29, Ozil was absent and Rosicky started in the 1-0 win away to Newcastle. On that occasion, the experienced No. 7 contested four tackles, three headed duels, and made two successful interceptions. 

From a defensive point of view, it's a no-brainer. However, dropping Ozil has its own risks. Being left out of one of the biggest games of the season could cause further damage to his already fragile confidence. At this delicate time, he requires support rather than censure. 

Furthermore, Arsenal still need Ozil on the pitch. In spite of his poor form, he remains a majestic talent, capable of single-handedly unpicking any defence. No Arsenal player has accumulated more assists this season. Even when he’s not at his best, he’s still capable of finding that incisive pass. In these elite encounters, his contribution could be decisive.

The most sensible option may be to include both Ozil and Rosicky against United. Rosicky could replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, forming a rotating trio of attacking midfielders with Ozil and Santi Cazorla. 

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21:  Mesut Oezil (R) and Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal in action during an Arsenal training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group F match against Borussia Dortmund at London Colney on October 21, 2013 in St Albans, Engla
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

A match-winning moment from Ozil could save Arsenal’s season. What’s more, it could also prove a turning point for the German’s form.

If Arsenal are to end the 2013/14 season as Premier League champions, they will need more from their record signing. The match against Manchester United would be the perfect time for Ozil to snap out of his slump.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.