Who Lifted Arsenal More in Their First Season: Ozil or Cazorla?

This is a very polarising topic and one that I have really struggled to write. This is particularly difficult for me because I am against pitting Arsenal players against each other. I am a socialistic supporter: the team wins because all players are great and loses because they all didn’t do enough. Of course, I am not that blinkered to think that all players make equal contributions but I prefer to not over criticise under-performing players and not over-praise the ones on form.

With this mindset, why embark on a venture to draw a line under the performances of 2 of our most important players? Why start a Cazorla vs Ozil battle? Well, as much as I want all Arsenal players to be viewed the same as much as possible, I have no power to make everybody else do this. The implication of this is that people keep praising individual players and giving accolades which aren’t always deserved while making critiques that aren’t always fair. The Libran in me struggles with this injustice and ultimately my desire for justice trumps my unwillingness to pit Arsenal players against each other.

I have had to argue too many times on this site about the impact of Ozil on Arsenal this season and I won’t be surprised if some readers have already concluded that I dislike the guy. Unlike maybe 90% of Arsenal fans, I was not over the moon when I got confirmation that we’ve signed Ozil. I had exactly the same feeling as when I first saw Koscielny with the number 6 jersey on Arsenal.com a few years back. I have always welcomed new signings with a reserved enthusiasm that goes like this:

“Welcome to Arsenal (name inserted), I know you must have good prospects for Wenger to have signed you. I hope that you realise those potentials for the team.”

I know that I am in a very tiny minority but that was my sentiments about Ozil. And yes, I am quite aware of his stats and reputation, I just like to base my accolades on what players have actually done for the team rather than what they are reputed to be capable of. At the same time, I was rooting for Ozil to succeed just as I had rooted for Sanogo and every Arsenal player signed before him. I don’t give a damn about how much it cost to bring Ozil over and to be honest, his high price tag (yes, I know we got him for a bargain) was a kind of put off for me. It’s not about Ozil, I am just against huge transfer deals in principle.

As we all know, Ozil was brought in at the tail end of a campaign of calumny against the manager because he “wouldn’t spend the fucking money”. Spending over £42 million and bringing a player of Ozil’s calibre was like killing 2 birds with a stone. A quality player has been brought in and the “fucking money has been spent”. When I hear the media and many of our fans repeat the mantra: “Ozil has lifted Arsenal”, I want to tear out the little hair in my balding head. Ozil has not “lifted” Arsenal; spirit or performance. Some fans’ obsession to see a big name signing has just been appeased by who the player is and how much he cost; no more, no less. We did not lose to Aston Villa in the first match of the season because the “fucking money hasn’t been spent”. We had also gone on to win our next 4 games, home and away, before the “fucking money” was spent. In short, the Aston Villa loss was quickly proven to be a freak result and the team was back to its usual self before the signing of Ozil was completed.

Ozil hit the ground running and even if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t give him any stick over it. The guy is real class though and we all agree that the money was well spent. I, unlike many Gooners that I know, however, was never comfortable with the over the top praise of Ozil and I get agitated whenever I hear anyone ascribe the team’s success to his signing. It is not only wrong and unfair to all our other players but shows lack of any sense of perspective on the part of those doing it. I have looked at all our results against the top teams (our one true fair criticism at the moment) and compared pre and post Ozil ones head to head. We came out a little better pre Ozil! Our results against the lower teams have been pretty consistent pre and post.

So, how exactly has Ozil lifted Arsenal? Making disgruntled “buy-buy-buy” brigade happy does not count in my book. I decided to write this piece after thinking about the circumstances that we were in at the time of Ozil signing and that of Cazorla’s. I therefore decided to compare the impacts of the 2 players and hence the title.

Cazorla joined Arsenal for £15 million from Malaga in the summer that we lost our most important player along with arguably our most important midfielder. The loss of RvP and Song was a very big one and it was a despondent time for most of us fans. We did not finish the season before that anywhere near being the best team at the latter half of the season and we have lost 2 very important players. Cazorla hit the ground running and for me personally, he was a beauty and great joy to behold. Cazorla amassed Man of the Match awards match after match and he was the Player of the Month for his first 2 months in the club according to voters on Arsenal.com who I want to believe were Arsenal fans.

Nobody in the media or amongst our fans ever said that Cazorla lifted Arsenal despite the overwhelming evidence that he actually did. Yes, Cazorla got the accolades that he deserved but that silly line about lifting the club was never used. Cazorla ended the season with 5 Player of the Month awards and was justifiably voted Arsenal Player of the 2012/13 season. That was his first season, in case anyone is wondering.

May 2013 Aaron Ramsey
April 2013 Santi Cazorla
March 2013 Santi Cazorla
February 2013 Santi Cazorla
January 2013 Olivier Giroud
December 2012 Theo Walcott
November 2012 Theo Walcott
October 2012 Theo Walcott
September 2012 Santi Cazorla
August 2012 Santi Cazorla

Cazorla joined a badly depleted team that was really low on morale after losing its captain and league’s best striker along with our best midfield enforcer. He joined a team that was not in any kind of consistent run from the previous season. True we came 3rd in the league but it was a crazy season in which Newcastle came 5th and the Tinies threw away a 13 point lead between within 3 months! Okay, I love that bit, especially them making way for 6th placed Chelsea as UCL winners. Happy days! Bottom line, before I wander off again, is that Cazorla indeed lifted Arsenal in his first season and his numerous awards are a testament to that fact.

Ozil joined a very stable Arsenal team that was the best team in the second half of the previous season’s league and that had a very successful pre-season for £42.5 million. The team had already proved with their next four victories that the debacle against Aston Villa was just a blip and they were just carrying on as they ended the previous season. But if anyone had been asleep for the last year, they would be forgiven if they thought that Ozil joined a failing team and single handedly turned its fortunes around.

List of winners of the Arsenal.com Player of the Month awards for the season so far:

January 2014 Santi Cazorla
December 2013 Theo Walcott
November 2013 Aaron Ramsey
October 2013 Aaron Ramsey
September 2013 Aaron Ramsey
August 2013 Aaron Ramsey

In the absence of an objective means of comparing Arsenal players, I think the player of the month is a pretty decent yardstick because it is based on votes by Gooners and they have never been controversial. They are close sometimes but they are never controversial. If an Arsenal player is ‘lifting’ the team, I would expect that Gooners will recognise that and honour him accordingly with votes but the best that Ozil has done is come a very distant second in September and a close second in October, both to Ramsey. A cursory look at the tables shows a few important facts.

1. If we were so eager to use the term “lift the team” for any player, we should have used it for Santi Cazorla who indeed lifted the team in his first season.

2. Ozil is a great guy, a fantastic player and a very humble person but he has not lifted Arsenal. The fact that those who are desperate to see us spend are happy that we signed him is not the same as him lifting the club.

3. We have done incredibly well in the absence of our most important player – Aaron Ramsey. Let’s hope that he gets back soon and returns with his pre-injury form.

An objective look at this team for the last 14 months shows that we are a great team that has been made better by the inclusion of talents like Ozil and Flamini. Based on available evidence, no new player is lifting the team.

Finally, if there is any good thing that can be taken from the media’s latest campaign against the player that they had originally labelled as our saviour, it is the fact that if we win a trophy this season, they (hopefully) won’t give the credit to Ozil. That will be a great injustice to our dedicated band of brothers. All for one and one for all!

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