Mesut Ozil and Paul Pogba outshone by Spanish subtlety as Arsenal’s £40million man disappears


It was a tale of two 10s, albeit one wearing 6 and the other draped in 11.

The more traditional roles associated with those shirt numbers quite neatly allude to the different ways that Paul Pogba and Mesut Ozil respectively interpret the central midfield position they’re asked to play.

But this was a game where neither could truly shine, the most expensive player on each side largely nullified and unable to stick their head above the parapet as you might hope a superstar would.

Ozil nutmegged Pogba in the second half, providing Arsenal fans with the sort of minor moment that can be condensed into six-second Internet victories.

But the real glory looked, until the final moments, like it would be Manchester United’s as the outstanding man on the field, Ander Herrera, set up another of the day’s best performers, Juan Mata, to score.


The Spanish duo outplayed £140million worth of talent in Ozil and Pogba, but their combination for this game’s deciding goal wouldn’t have been possible without the French international.

Pogba, pausing intelligently in possession and coaxing the run from Herrera, threaded a pass perfectly for the Basque midfielder. His cutback fell to the edge of the box, begging for someone of sound technique to arrive, and found its ideal partner in Mata. 1-0.

Before that, Pogba had been Ozil’s superior on a day when the closest that the Arsenal man would come to creating something was a whipped corner which Laurent Koscielny should have done better with from six yards out.


In the fifth minute we saw Pogba’s dire first touch escape him and hand possession back to Arsenal. It was the sort of clumsiness we rarely see from Ozil, but Ozil’s problem today was that he was rarely seen at all.

He averages three key passes – passes that create a chance, according to Opta data – per game this season.

At Old Trafford he had zero on a day when the only thing creating danger for Arsenal was the energy of a jetlagged, semi-fit Alexis Sanchez.


Pogba’s creative success often stems from his ability to to drive forward with the ball, powering through midfield shields and defensive lines.

During his time at Juventus, no player in Europe carried the ball 20+ yards and into the opposition’s defensive third more than Pogba. That driving force is difficult to defend because it attracts opponents and creates its own spaces for teammates.

Ozil’s gifts lie in his subtleties, the way he wanders into unguarded pockets of grass and can instantly turn, aware of everyone’s positions, to thread a weighted pass beyond the defence.

In the first quarter of an hour we saw the German curve delicate passes into the path of Alexis Sanchez, anticipating the forward’s movement and teasing him into space. Against a patchwork United backline, it was the sort of pulling and stretching that hinted at the hosts’ eventual undoing – only for a timid Arsenal to recoil and retreat, spending the rest of the game ceding United possession and then complete control of the game.

Pogba’s instructions clearly came with a lot more defensive responsibility than his opposite number but he also managed to burst beyond the Arsenal backline on the break. It was the sort of penetration that the Gunners lacked until Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s late introduction.


Even after going 1-0 down there was no Alamo. The kitchen sink was still securely plumbed in and United were seeing out the day comfortably.

Then Oxlade-Chamberlain broke forward, bypassing Marcus Rashford to cross for Olivier Giroud, whose towering header silenced Old Trafford with Arsenal’s first shot on target.

Even in Arsenal’s equaliser, Ozil had no input. It was a quiet day – “lethargic… pathetic” (Gary Neville, 2016) – for the 28-year-old but his side got away with it.

There will be other days when he shines and wins them matches. Indeed, there have already been them this season.

But it wasn’t a game to dispel his big-game doubters.

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