Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:

Mesut Ozil's Slump

Fuzzy Logic: Week 14 Rankings

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Steve Rothgeb breaks down the player rankings at each position ahead of Week 14

There was an email conversation going on among the team here at the Premier League page, the result of which I'm going to share with you at the request of one of our other writers. The conversation started off with one of the guys complimenting Jeremy's pick of Willian in his First XI post but indicating that he wasn't sure who to sell in his current midfield to be able to bring him in. Jeremy suggested Mesut Ozil, but went on to suggest that I might have a different point of view. I don't know if my point of view is different but it is certainly more detailed and here it is:

Neal's Theory on Ozil's Slump

When putting a defensive game plan together, managers are likely to focus on trying to take away what they view as an opponent's greatest strength if at all possible. Early in the season, when Giroud was scoring and assisting in bunches, Walcott was healthy and scoring well, and Ramsey was the best midfielder in the league for about 2.5 straight months there were lots of potential focal points for a defense to concern themselves with when planning for Arsenal. It is hard to say that a player of Ozil's stature was an after-thought in an opponent's defensive gameplanning but at the very least, the opposition looked at him as one of a number of high priorities that they tried (generally unsuccessfully) to focus on.

Ozil's slump has correlated with those other focal points being diminished or absent for Arsenal. Giroud has been far less productive over the last two months making him a secondary concern for defenses, not a life or death concern. Walcott has been injured for much of the Ozil slump and while Gnabry seems like he has a bright future, he's definitely a secondary concern for defenses in 2014. Finally, Ramsey has been injured for Ozil's entire slump which removes yet another potential focal point of an opposing defense that might distract from them being able to expend energy on shutting Ozil down. If you're looking at an Arsenal attack that consists of a less productive Giroud supported by Cazorla, Gnabry, Wilshere, and Ozil then it seems pretty clear where the defense should be focused...on stopping Ozil and focing those other guys to beat them. What this has done is limit Ozil's fantasy-point-producing opportunities while putting players like Wilshere, Cazorla and Gnabry in a position where they are getting slightly less defensive attention resulting in more opportunities. This has led to both Wilshere and Cazorla scoring multiple goals in recent weeks and becoming fantasy-relevant while Gnabry and Podolski have gotten opportunities that have ended up in solid SOTs but no goals.

Moving on to the sell/don't sell question, it really comes down to whether you think other Arsenal attackers - Aaron Ramsey back from injury, a revitalized Giroud, or one of Cazorla/Wilshere/Podolski/Gnabry/Ox that finds another gear regularly - can force defenses to play Ozil more honestly than they have been recently. If you think this is likely, then you'd be a fool to ditch Ozil at a huge discount (assuming you have him at the season-opening price in the Yahoo game). If you think Arsenal's early season was a perfect storm of temporary good form for players like Ramsey and Giroud rather than permanent developmental steps forward then you should jump ship on Ozil.

The final question is how confident you are in your Ozil replacement strategy. Willian may be an intriguing replacement for the upcoming match week but I'd argue that no Chelsea midfielder/forward is THAT compelling as anything other than a spot solution because of the tendency for rotation and the very inconsistent performance of each player even when they do play. There's simply no consistently productive attacking player for Chelsea in the Yahoo format - Hazard's point total is great but he's been wildly inconsistent with 12 matches in single digits. That would leave you with a Willian-shaped lottery ticket this week followed by a roster spot to try to fill each week for significantly more money than what you were spending on Ozil. The alternative would be to take the Willian risk for one week and then hope that the next ten days will see a potential long-term, entry-level priced Ozil replacement arrive in the Premier League during the transfer window.

My answers to the above questions are:

1) I think Ramsey is that good and will be back soon and that will help Ozil significantly.

2) I think Giroud is better this year than last but that he was also in exceptional form early in the season and will never consistently be a focal point of opposing defenses.

3) I think Arsenal's other attacking midfielders/forwards will have stretches where they are productive but will never trump Ozil in the minds of opponents building defensive schemes.

This leads me to the conclusion that Ozil will be better as soon as Ramsey gets back and that I'd need to do some serious budget analysis before considering paying almost double for that line-up spot to insert Willian at what may well ultimately be a similar productivity level. Would I be pricing myself out of someone like Hazard or Cabaye by paying so much more for Willian than Ozil? If so, Hazard/Ozil seems like a better long term combination than Lukaku/Willian or Benteke/Willian. If you've worked your budget and you don't feel like you'd be sacrificing much elsewhere by switching out Ozil for Willian then by all means, have at it.

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