Life After Ozil: Who Should Replace our Mozart?

The succession of Mesut Ozil


What makes a good #10 in football?

While it might be a cliché, my answer would be unpredictability. Or maybe I’m cheating, as a player can only be unpredictable, if he/she is highly capable of dribbling, passing and scoring. That makes the life of a defender a nightmare, because if you mark the attacker the #10 might get to shooting distance, but if you step up to stop him, he might provide an assist with a through ball behind the gap you left behind. And a fine player always has a few tricks up their sleeves from a one-touch pass to a cheeky nutmeg. Because #10s are also especially skilled in ball control.

That usually makes them contenders to take set-pieces, but this is not a obligatory. If you visit Mesut Ozils’s WhoScored profile, it checks most boxes: he is a great passer and crosser, he is strong when it comes to holding – and controlling – the ball, he is dangerous with set pieces. On the other hand he is more vulnerable in aerial duels and doesn’t bring those defensive contributions to the team as the holding midfielders.

Mesut has 1 year left on his contract. I don’t think we would (nor could) sell him in the summer, and he should take a hefty salary cut if he wants to stay with the club after 2021. So our question for today: who will be Arsenal’s main attacking midfielder from 2021? I will high-light 3 alternatives, and looking forward to your view on the subject.


Many top clubs play without a #10. For example Liverpool has such a strong front 3 that they don’t deploy a further attacking player. Same applies to Juventus and FC Barcelona, they play with 3 CMs behind a deadly trio of attackers. And while Isco, one of the best AMs of our time works for Real Madrid, the royal club often plays without him in the regular 4-3-3 formation with 3 defensive-minded midfielders. But there are other popular formations without a #10: Inter plays in 3-5-2, and when Eriksen is on the bench, they rely on the 2 strikers (Lukaku & Martinez). Atletico Madrid plays 4-4-2, and they don’t even have an attacking midfielder in their squad. Borussia Dortmund play a visually attractive attacking football in 3-4-3. So it is perfectly feasible to play without a #10.

However, many top clubs still use them: Man City has de Bruyne, Tottenham has Alli, Leicester has Maddison, United has Fernandes (the best transfer of the season). However. Leicester and Tottenham don’t play a front 4 – and even Man City rarely puts de Bruyne with Silva and Sterling to support the lone striker – so the 2 clubs (besides Arsenal) that regularly plays 4 attacking player are Bayern Munich (where either Müller or Coutinho supports the already tough trio of Gnabry, Coman & Lewandowski) and Manchester United (where Fernandes provides the front 3 with key passes).

I’m 100% positive that we would concede a lot less goals in the regular 4-3-3 formation with Xhaka, Torreira and Ceballos at midfield (thus no #10), but most likely we would score a lot less too. I’m not preferring this option, but it is clearly an alternative. It is up to Arteta and the club to pursue this scenario if they see reasonable.


Let’s see, who can be a capable successor for Ozil among those who already play for Arsenal. I will list a few options and try to give a score how well they could supersede the German magician.

A: Dani Ceballos

He is good with the ball, and has a vision that not many player have. He has the dribbling skills of Ozil and not bad with short and long range passing either. But he is a weak finisher. Plus he is too good with tackles and interceptions, so the #10 role is not a perfect fit for him. Successor score: 7.0

B: Lucas Torreira

While Emery tried him (to our surprise) in box-to-box role as well as in #10 I don’t really think that would be a viable option. He can pass, but doesn’t have the vision of an attacking midfielder. He is not a big threat for the goalkeeper. And his key skills like tackles and concentration would be misused in a more advanced role. Successor score: 4.5

C: Joe Willock

Many see him as Ozil’s successor, but I’m not among them. Only if we abandon the #10 concept and replace the German with a box-to-box midfielder. Because Willock is indeed a box-to-box midfielder. He has the stamina to run all game, he has the muscular build to look for body vs. body challenges. Joe can dribble and he’s not a bad finisher either, but he is a weak passer. But even worse: he is a poor decision maker. And those 2 skills are vital for a #10. Successor score: 5.0

D: Emile Smith-Rowe

The 19-year-old is a natural central attacking midfielder. His competency profile is practically identical to Ozil’s: strong in passing, dribbling, chance creation, weak in aerial duels and defensive contribution. According to TransferMarkt he is right-footed, but I think he is as close to being ambidextrous as it gets. He already has 18 junior caps and played in the Europa League, the FA Cup and the Premier League. Just look at this video – especially at 1:18 and 1:56 – and don’t forget, this was 2 years ago: He has the raw talent, no doubt about that. Now it is up to him and the coach to bring the best out of him. Successor score: 9.0

E: Gabriel Martinelli

He is a year younger yet worth 9 times as ESR, but less of a natural choice for the #10 role. He is another gem of the season – I think TA is already composing his post on him – as he is an efficient, almost clinical scorer and a dangerous, fast winger. Unfortunately we have better strikers in the squad (disregarding current form it is unlikely that he would displace Auba, Lacazette or Nketiah from the first team and the primary substitute), and similar applies on the wing as Auba and Pepe, hell maybe even Nelson comes before him in the pecking order. But for somebody who is a capable finisher, a fine dribbler and doesn’t mind switching between the wing and the center he can be a surprise yet viable candidate for the #10 role. He has to work on his passing skills, but never say never. Successor score: 8.0


Given our financial situation I don’t think we have either the cash or the attractiveness to sign Kai Havertz – my main man for the position – and the ships to buy Donny van de Beek or Martin Odegaard have probably also sailed. The only way to sign an experienced, big name attacking midfielder is the Aubameyang-swap. We can either exchange him to Coutinho with Barcelona (who earns a lot, but does have a good season in Munich) or swapping the Gabonese with the duo of Ceballos and Isco with Real Madrid. Isco is 27 (just like Coutinho), but didn’t have a single assist this season. Ceballos and Isco together worth 81M according to Transfermarkt, but Real wants to get rid of him in a major summer overhaul, while we would rather stick to our Golden Boot candidate captain, so this double swap is not entirely unlikely.

We decided not to sign Cristopher Nkunku in the summer, which was probably a mistake. We could have bought him on the cheap as he was a former Emery player who was not satisfied with the lack of minutes at PSG. They sold him to RB Leipzig for 11M in the summer, and after 19 goal contribution in 2000 minutes he worth more than 31M now. But that is all in hindsight.

We are often rumoured with the following young starlets: Eberechi Eze, 21 (QPR, 12 goals and 8 assist in 3400 minutes), Jonathan David, 20 (KAA Gent, 23 goals and 10 assists in 3250 minutes) and Orkun Kökcü 19 (Feyenoord, 3 goals and 6 assists in 2800 minutes but another 19 goal contribution last year in 2000 min). From them I would go with the latter, whose only main disadvantage is his name. (Especially as Jonathan David has already stated that a jump to a TOP6 club in the EPL would be too soon for him.)

Among those who haven’t been associated with an Arsenal move, my choice would be the Croatian Nikola Vlasic, 22, currently playing for CSKA Moscow. He has already played for Everton. Good at passing and dribbling, and capable of dangerous long shots. He is not a shere talent as Ozil or ESR, but he is diligent, hard-working and experienced.

mesut happy

What do you think? Who should be Mesut Ozil’s successor?

By Pbarany

15 thoughts on “Life After Ozil: Who Should Replace our Mozart?

  • That’s a really well researched post PB and displays your vast knowledge of both the game and the European players. Thank you.

    As I’ve stated before on BK formations and tactics are not my strong point but I have to agree with your assessment of both the players and the number ten role. However I’ve definitely got a soft spot for the skill players and their ability to be the central part of so many key moves.

    Moving away from the number ten role I would like to see Arteta concentrate on our young players and nurture them to becoming intricate parts of our starting eleven, after all they have spent a lot of time playing in our academy team and already know each others game well.

    Given the 2019/20 shortened season and most likely not playing in Europe next season 2020/21 will be a very difficult financially for all teams including Arsenal unless Kronke injects some of his fortune into buying players. However the stock market reductions will have also been hard on him and his financial position will have been substantially reduced and he also has his American teams to take into consideration. Which makes utilizing our existing players even more likely.

  • Great post with clever angles, Pb. 🙂

    I guess Arteta really wants us to play pressing football, as much as possible in the opposition’s half. This can be done without a typical nr10 and with the three mids you described, but having (an) Ozil would definitely help to make things happen easier.

    In terms of replacing Ozil, I like your options even though I don’t agree that ESR is the one to replace Mesut. He may come good but I am not sure he has the vision and subtlety of an Ozil. 17HT suggested a while ago to play Saka in the hole and I reckon that could work. I also rate Willock much higher than you do even though he has been a bit disappointing in ‘recent’ games.

  • Excellent post, PB… I have to say, with Arsenal out of European Football so early–and then Pool out of the CL, I was actually looking forward to that tournament (the CL) as I thought there were several teams that could win it…and make up for difficult seasons in their (various) national leagues. Of course, that ship has sailed (or gone viral)… But, in general, there’s less real dominance (among the biggest/best clubs), though, of course, what Klopp and his club have achieved is quite stunning. Now, with the enforced break, I think there could be a lot of wheeling and dealing when a (or the?…) transfer window finally opens. All the billionaires and oligarchs will have to assess their finances–and their other goals–but top level club football, I think remains an economic bubble…and could be primed to go even bigger, what with the “new” globalism…

    And, even though our owner doesn’t think in these terms (and likely just wants to buy up land to hunt more big game or raise cattle or something)…I still think Arsenal could benefit…

    So I say C… But, I’d go and get me some lovin’… One Aleksander Golovin, currently at Monaco…though, of course, he may have played like crap since the last time I saw him (with CSKA Moscow, when Arsenal beat them over the two legs last spring in the EL). At the time, however, I was impressed…

    In truth, I think Arteta is less dedicated to playing a “real” #10 compared to Wenger (but maybe more open to the idea than Emery ever was)… The game has just moved on from that sort of thing, I fear… So that would mean that I think reality gives us more like answer A… And, yes, of our players (if we go for answer B…) I still like the idea of Saka not having to mess with too much defending (not to mention throw-ins)… His “balanced” skill set and heads up play seems ideal, IMO…

    Again, great post… Keep ’em coming…

  • Fekir.
    He has had a decent season in Spain with R.Betis and he knows Laca from their time together at Lyon, those two appeared to be good mates and worked well together.
    26 so the ideal age for ESR to be backup and push to replace in a few years, given that Ozil has 12 months left, that is time for Fekir to settle and increase game time as he settles to EPL.

    Fekir can play on the left, on the right, as a AM or as a CM. Flexible to allow Arteta to fluctuate between a number 10 while in attack and 3 CM when defending. Look how well Arteta has got Xhaka to cover for Saka at LB to allow the LB to play as a LW while we are in attack… This fluid style is Arteta and Fekir could suit it.

    Could cost £30-40 million, depending on how well we negotiate and if Fekir wants to join his pal Laca in North London… This fee could be worth it if we can get Laca to sign a new deal and rekindle the form that made us spend a record fee to buy.

  • Good comment Midkemma and a strong shout for keeping Laca, a player I would imagine could be sold this summer. I don’t know Fekir at all but our man from Budapest may give you a response soon. Where are you Pb?! 🙂

  • And Pb how are you and family coping with Covid-19? Are you working from home or office? Any tips from your wife re keeping (mentally) healthy in these difficult times?

  • Here I am. Working from home, but cannot occupy myself for 40 hours.
    (I hope my boss is not such an Arsenal fan, that I might be busting myself.)
    In Budapest it is not military enforced quarantine yet, but the government has just authorized the police to check who and why are outdoors as there are only a handful of excuses to leave the house. But coping is bearable so far. I keep reading on the virus and Arsenal my new hobby is to create fancy-sounding but absurd dishes combining phrases from Michelin-star tasting menus I hardly know.
    What are the other best practices from fellow BKers?

  • Regarding Ozil
    Saka is an unorthodox candidate for the #10 role, as he is a LW by trade who plays surprisingly effective at LWB. But to be honest, he ticks most boxes: he is a talented dribbler, good with crosses (and hopefully with passes too), and we could see how good a shooter he is against Frankfurt and Bournemouth. I haven’t seen him playing centrally, but this seems an experiment I’m looking forward to, as he has the stamina for constant pressing and substantial defensive contributions even in an attacking midfielder role.

  • Fekir was a top AM 3 years ago with a market value of 63M
    He got into a nasty quarrel with the club (probably on salary and/or transfer) which didn’t turn out too well for neither of them. Eventually they had to sell him for less than Ł18M to Real Betis, where Fekir started to regain his form and reputation.
    He is a good player with indeed strong ties to Lacazette, but I don’t think Betis is willing to sell him after a single and incomplete season, and even if so, that would cost us in the 40-50M ballpark. It could very well worth it for a 27-year-old player, but it could also be risky, as Lacazette’s position isn’t that strong either. Nevertheless he is a fine candidate if Kroenke is willing to invest heavily – but unfortunately that is not likely.

  • That sounds great, Pb. Are you still able to get the fancy ingredients for those dishes?

    I am trying a few new dishes too but with simple ingredients, nothing too complicated but fresh and cheap. As a househusband (when I am in between projects, which will be much prolonged I fear, that is my occupation), I have a certain rhythm/routine to the day: make breakfast, read (fiction and non-fiction), do the dishes (the dishwasher is broken and I need to stand up within the home so I don’t mind); look at the blog and comment, make lunch, get in touch with wider family and friends, do more housekeeping stuff, go for a long walk slaloming past fellow walkers), read again, prepare and cook food, spend time with the family, watch football or Formula1 repeats, read, go to bed…).

  • A post that deserved more responses, Pb, but there you go… we mustn’t complain. Thanks for a great read.

    New Post New Post 🙂

  • PB, I do not think that Ozil needs to be replaced. He is irreplaceable.

    I am sure that we will be bringing in another playmaker, but will he be like Tor or Ceballos I am not sure, but one of them will be tasked to cover the hole if he is to go. The closest player from within is Xhaka, He is now a DM, can tackle, but he also have an eye for chances and spaces.

    I am not sure if we can play Ceballos alongside Torreira, and Xhaka in front of them in the free role. That role is created specially for Ozil, and before that we played with 2 strikers up front with one striker sitting slightly deeper.

    So, Arteta will have to think about how to tweak the formation to suit us. back to 4-4-2 or stick to 4-2-3-1?

  • Three suggestions:
    Wishere: I think Wenger saw him as a future replacement för Özil. The injuries got in the way of a potentially stunning career, although that means he wasn’t snapped up by Barca or Real when he was 22 :). He has recently suggested that maybe he should have stayed and fought for his place. I find him valuable for unpicking stubborn defences with no space in-behind, or play deeper in CM like he did in our famous victory over Pep’s Barca in 2011. He’d also allow ESR the time to grow into the first team.
    Carzola: he is still good enough to possibly play for Spain in the Euros, was MOM against Barca this season, and he has played in that role before Özil was brought in. A short-term fix as our Academy players develop away on loan.
    Either would be quite cheap, require little bedding-in time, can play in CM (which Özil couldn’t / wouldn’t) so the manager can change formations even during a game withouth having to use up a sub.
    Guendouzi: lovely skills on the ball, good passer, runs & runs (when motivated), can keep the ball in tight spaces, needs coaching on to increase goal contribution.
    Re 4-3-3: Liverpool pull it off because of Firmino, who works his socks off pressing, goes deep to link up play & is a good finisher. He offers the input of both a #9 and a #10, occupying the oppossing DM & CBs on his own. Lacazette does all that as well. Auba cannot play that role, he gets us vital goals but, like Podolski, can remain on the periphery of games for long periods. If we have to sell/lose Auba & Özil, I think Arteta will go to a 4-3-3 with a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-4 for deep-lying teams. The latter 2 formations would require a #10 to unpick massed defences, but with the 3 players I nominate, no subs are necessary to change formation. Thereafter Arteta can coach Eddie to be more like Lacazette in contributing more to the team defensively and in transitions. Possible lineup: GK -> Tierney – CB – CB – Bellerin -> Xhaka – Torreira – #10 -> Pepe/Nelson – Laca – Saka/Martinelli

  • Hi Kush,
    Thanks for your insight.
    I like your formations, and it also shows that T.A. is right about focusing our transfer activity in the defensive midfield, as you perfectly showed that we have at least 2 capable solutions in the attacking positions (both Auba or Nketiah could be Laca’s deputy), and we have a lot of options in defense, including but not limited to Luiz + Mari (for ball playing), Sokratis + Mustafi (experience), Saliba + Mavropanos (young towers), Holding + Chambers (Englishmen). With Kolasinac/Saka and AMN/Soares covering the flanks as back-up we clearly lack the depths in midfield, especially if you consider Guendouzi for the #10 role. Which I don’t necessary agree with, but I am more often wrong than right. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s