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Commentary

Football: Ozil's lack of courage sums up Arsenal

It was interesting to hear Bayern Munich coach Carlo Ancelotti cite "courage" as the most important quality needed by a team hoping to win the Champions League.

That has always seemed the most British of responses - roll up your sleeves, clench your fists, up and at 'em, play through the pain barrier.

Courage, though, can take many forms. It is not just about going into 50-50 tackles or sticking your head in where it hurts.

It is about showing the mental resilience to cope in moments of adversity. It is about showing the strength of character to demand the ball, time and again. It is about taking risks, being bold enough to make the difference in possession.

That is the type of courage that Arsene Wenger wanted to see from his Arsenal team - the type that Alexis Sanchez showed in bucketloads and Mesut Ozil, his accomplice, simply failed to demonstrate.

There have been times when criticism of Ozil, in big matches, have felt like cheap shots. He is, undeniably, an easy target, a player whose demeanour suggests an air of languor even when he is performing with bravery of the kind that all creative types must.

He is, undeniably, an easy target, a player whose demeanour suggests an air of languor... At the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, though, he lived down to the most negative of portrayals.

At the Allianz Arena on Wednesday, though, he lived down to the most negative of portrayals.

The confidence and the belief were not there and his usual silkiness of touch deserted him completely.

Watching him going through the motions, as that sinking feeling took hold of Arsenal in the second half against a rampant Bayern, was to see him reduced to the role of a passenger.

Talking of courage, where was Wenger's? It seemed wrong to indulge Ozil, keeping him on the pitch, when Arsenal needed something different. In fact, he looked like a player who needed to be taken out of his misery.

In many ways, it was an unenviable task, asked to supply the touches of genius in a team that was starved of possession for long periods, against a Bayern side who control the space so wonderfully.

But an on-form Ozil would have found a way. Unfortunately, nothing worked for him. He had few opportunities to exhibit his skills, but when the ball came, he showed nothing like the conviction a player of his quality needs to.

Is that not symptomatic of a wider issue at Arsenal, though? They are a team who know and accept their place too readily, too often, in the big matches.

When the chips are down, they do not know how to perform. They do not play with courage. Sanchez does but, collectively, this team do not.

Against an excellent Bayern side, they wilted in the second half and Ozil was among the first to allow his shoulders to drop.

Since a rich spell of form in the autumn, he has been profoundly disappointing.

That the downturn has coincided with an impasse over his contract negotiations, with his representatives looking for a deal worth well in excess of £200,000 (S$355,035) a week, has not helped matters.

In an interview with German sports magazine Kicker, he offered the standard footballer response when asked how he deals with criticism.

It makes him stronger, he said. They all say that.

With some individuals, it really does seem to fuel the fire. With most, it does not and Ozil, whatever his protestation, seems more fragile, at his best when feeling appreciated.

Most players are - creative types, in particular. If you are going to play as he does, contributing sporadically but brilliantly, a sense of self-assurance is essential.

He showed none of that on Wednesday night. When the final whistle went, he was the first player off the pitch and down the tunnel.

The mystery is why, on a night like this, Wenger had not taken him off earlier - a reminder that managers need to show courage too.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'Ozil's lack of courage sums up Arsenal'. Print Edition | Subscribe