Despite Arsenal’s false start, this could finally be Mesut Ozil’s year
After an impressive conclusion to last season, and a restful summer, expectation is now weighing heavier on Ozil than ever
Mesut Ozil is the archetypal Arsene Wenger kind of player. Technically exceptional on the ball with intuitive awareness and an artful flair, the German playmaker - who cost a club record £42.5 million two years ago - was both the most surprising and least surprising Arsenal signing in a generation.
Yet, in keeping with the mantra of the club he now plays for, there is a perception of underachievement when considering the impact Ozil has made in the Premier League. His brilliance is in no doubt - and there have been flashes of it over the past two years - but that hasn’t always been in evidence as consistently as Wenger might have hoped. At times - like in Arsenal’s opening day defeat to West Ham - he has been almost anonymous.
Ozil very quickly became an illustration of modern football’s erratic fickleness, with the very same fans who gathered in a frenzy outside the Emirates Stadium to great his arrival turning against the German within just a few short months. Admittedly, his timid disposition in big-games - on the occasions he was bought to influence - hardly helped his cause. Some even accused him of lacking effort and fight.
But after an impressive conclusion to last season, and a restful summer, expectation is now weighing heavier on Ozil than ever before - even after his indifferent display against West Ham. For the first time in a decade, the Gunners find themselves in a position to mount a genuine title challenge - and the German playmaker could prove to be the creative kingpin around which the club’s prospects revolve this season.
“What I think is that he shows more authority to dictate the game than before,” Wenger explained ahead of his side’s Community Shield clash against Chelsea. “He is physically stronger, that is for sure, and he is more equipped to deal with the Premier League. In the second part of last season we saw the intelligence of his passing, the fact that he added some steel to his game that was needed certainly in the Premier League. I’m confident that he can be one of the great players of 2015-16. He can become player of the year.”
Arsenal have changed as a team and a club in the two years since the purchase of Ozil from Real Madrid, with Wenger now possessing the financial clout not just to keep his best players but to pluck some of Europe’s brightest talent from the transfer market too. And so Ozil must also adapt in accordance with the team around him. Arsenal, both on and off-the-field, are a different side now than the one that bought Ozil two years ago.
It’s true that the German must learn to be somewhat more combative, particularly against Arsenal’s rivals near the top end of the table, with his resilience often in question on such high-octane occasions. Wenger insists that Ozil has indeed added a physicality to his game, but now he must show that development for all to see.
By the game’s modern definition of the role, Ozil is very much Arsenal’s number 10 - both technically and expressively. But Wenger needs him to be more than that, with the Frenchman challenging his creator-in-chief to become more of a dependance goal threat this season. “I want more goals from him because he plays in that position and he is a good finisher,” the Gunners boss said, putting down a marker the midfielder.
Wenger must look at the contribution Eden Hazard made to Chelsea’s title-winning campaign last term and desire the same thing from Ozil. The German certainly has the ability - as arguably the most naturally gifted player in the Premier League - to carry Arsenal closer to Chelsea (after finishing 12 points adrift of their London rivals last season), but now he must show the mental capacity and presence to do so.
Of course, the time taken by Ozil in adapting to his not-so-new surroundings in England is not totally attributable to the man himself - with the German suffering a series of persistent injuries over the course of his time at Arsenal so far. It’s not always fair to judge a player on such spurts starts, and with the benefit of a full pre-season Ozil could really find his groove this season.
As he does with nearly every one of his players, Wenger has placed absolute faith in Ozil. In fact, he is now so integral to Arsenal’s way of thinking, Wenger has started using Ozil as the basis around which he builds his entire team. The German was the club’s only player to start both Emirates Cup games over the summer, giving an indication of just how highly Wenger rates the playmaker.
Even after their false start last week, Ozil himself has set Arsenal’s sights on winning the Premier League this season - and progressing further in the Champions League. If the Gunners are to make good on those targets the German playmaker will surely play a significant part, as he finally grows into the player he was always meant to be - and yet simultaneously, something rather different.
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