The time has come for Arsenal’s contract rebels to prove they are worth every penny of their wage demands. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil remain locked in an impasse over talks to extend their current deals as they seek parity with the Premier League’s highest earners.
Sanchez’s worthiness for remuneration on those terms is less in doubt than Ozil. The Chile international has retained a talismanic importance throughout this troubled campaign, often existing as an outlier in high work-rate and determination compared to his team-mates.
The 28-year-old adds intangible value through his sheer force of will. He has won the Copa America with Chile but if there is a question mark against his name at club level, it is in his effectiveness against the best sides.
Barcelona were sufficiently uncertain to offload him for £35million and Sanchez has not always bent the will of big matches in Arsenal’s favour: in 23 matches against Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United since arriving in England, he has scored seven goals.
That said, Sanchez is unequivocally adored by Arsenal supporters because he is capable of aligning moments of pure quality with a sustained hunger to succeed. On the occasion when talent fails him, his industry almost always endures.
Doubts about Ozil’s effectiveness against top opposition run deeper and Bayern Munich are timely opponents here this evening given previous encounters provide a potted history of his inconsistency.
Ozil missed a penalty eight minutes into the first leg of their last 16 tie in 2014 and subsequently retreated from view. Arsenal lost the game 2-0 and with it any real chance of qualification before the second leg.
The return game was arguably worse on an individual level. Ozil often drifts out to the right to stoke the fire of his creative talent but he was curiously deployed on the wing from the outset and ended up as an auxiliary right-back to help combat David Alaba’s marauding runs as Pep Guardiola’s Bayern pressed furiously all over the pitch.
Ozil was substituted at half-time with a hamstring strain but the stain on his reputation was permanent; he was jeered in his home country for the second time in a week, having been booed despite assisting the only goal in Germany’s 1-0 win over Chile, who had Sanchez among their ranks.
German magazine kicker carried a feature on its front page prior to that friendly with the headline: “The Ozil debate: is he one for the big games?”
That debate has never been conclusively resolved but Ozil went some way to silencing his critics with an influential performance as Arsenal defeated Bayern 2-0 in last season’s group stage before drifting into anonymity again as the Bundesliga giants ran out 5-1 winners in the reverse fixture a fortnight later.
Ozil’s languid style oozes class when he is in form but encourages accusations of idleness in times of struggle. His excellent start to this season was lost in Sanchez’s slipstream and a recent downturn in form prompts familiar allegations of indifference, especially when compared to Sanchez’s palpable drive.
Yet the Champions League statistics, at least, suggest otherwise. Four outfield players featured in all six group games for Arsenal and Ozil covered the greater distance (59,820m) of that quartet which included, interestingly, Sanchez (49,486m).
No Arsenal player attempted more crosses (23) or more passes (368). Arsenal supporters tired of being told the club’s healthy balance sheet is a measure of success probably don’t want to see yet more numbers being offered as a better gauge than what they see with the naked eye.
But it is evidence Ozil is trying to make things happen in a team which does not always play to his strengths. As noted in this column in 2013, an analysis of Ozil’s 72 assists during his time at Real Madrid highlights the importance of runners bursting ahead of him to maximise his efficiency.
Of those 72 assists, 15 were corners and two were free-kicks. Of the remaining 55, 21 were assists in the form of a through-ball or pass for an onrushing attacker and so it is tempting to conclude Sanchez’s deployment as a central striker suits Ozil’s game better than when Olivier Giroud is utilised in that position.
Ozil’s form has dipped to the extent there was some speculation he could be dropped this evening or reshuffled away from his preferred number ten role. Should Wenger keep faith, it is time Ozil and Sanchez revived their double-act on the biggest stage. Their case for a big payday could then become irrefutable.