Mesut Ozil arrived at Arsenal smashing the transfer record on transfer deadline day with a reputation of being one of Europe’s finest but having a tendancy to be flaky in the big games. Rumours were that former Real Madrid coach, Carlo Ancelotti was more comfortable with selling him than Angel Di Maria, due to the latter’s hardworking nature and ability to do work at both ends of the pitch. But after two years of highs, lows and ample criticism, Ozil finally seems to be growing in stature and importance at Arsenal as he has become the most vital piece of what is Arsene Wenger’s most talented squad in recent years.
Something that has drastically changed is the German’s body language as in his first two seasons when things didn’t go his way, he would sulk and stomp around the pitch bereft of confidence and devoid of motivation. Now, he buzzes around linking things together constantly as there is more endurance to his game due to the fact that the confidence is coursing through his veins. He has become the undisputed starter in his favoured central number 10 role and has repayed the liberation given to him by Wenger with an abundance of creative industry. The 27 year-old already had 16 assists this season as he stalks Thierry Henry’s assist record with baited breath. It seems a millenium ago that Germany manager Joachim Loew was criticizing his body language.
“Mesut needs to work on his body language. He has heard it from me, and, I believe, also from Arsene Wenger. He is an inspired footballer. But when he fails or is not able to solve a deciding situation, he also needs to show that he can swallow that and send out signals like: In spite of that, I am still here and I can still affect the game,” said the World Cup winning manager to Kicker.
This season, his influence at Arsenal has grown with every passing injury. None more so than with the injury to Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin as Wenger had to implement or re-implement Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini as a double-pivot. The alteration was apparent in the early stages of Arsenal’s away game against Olympiakos when the Gunners were struggling to find any rhythm. Laurent Koscielney was attempting to bring the ball out the back and instead of coming short to receive the ball, Ramsey made a darting run forward hoping for a line-breaking pass. Ramsey who is adept at bringing the ball forward would much rather bomb forward which means Ozil has to drop deeper and lend a helping hand in working the ball forward. His 62 passes at an 87% pass succession rate are the best example of that.
Ozil was once considered the player who the armchair analysts were too blind to recognise as his third-man runs, linking passes and ability to create space by drawing defenders out of position didn’t translate into any meaningful statistics. However, this season his brilliance has been there for all to see as he is leading Europe in assists and his performances in the big games have been exemplary. Goals against Bayern Munich and Manchester United have been coupled by a bounty of assists against Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Olympiakos and Leicester City. The beauty lies in the range of assists, whether it be a pin-point long ball for Theo Walcott against Stoke, a guided switch ball for Kieran Gibbs against Tottenham or a flurry of well weighted crosses for Olivier Giroud and many more.
There is also a change to the way he approaches physical duels as one can remember when he got injured last season, the bruising he received by the defenders against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Now, he is much calmer with his jawdropping control of the ball and ability to twist and turn away from the toughest of defenders and create enough space for himself for a nonchalant reverse pass or a defense splitting one-two with a teammate. Ozil understands that he can’t go shoulder to shoulder with some of the best defenders so he uses his superior bag of tricks to beat them. Arsene Wenger hasn’t run out of superlatives to describe his star man as he is forced to do it week after week.
“At the end of the day you need one guy who gives the ball to one who scores the goal, in our team most times Ozil is this player, the guy who sees it, makes you win and he’s that,” said Wenger in the post match press briefing after Arsenal’s win against Manchester City.
“Mesut is absolutely fantastic at the moment and you have to give me credit – I always defended that point of view when people were sceptical!’Mesut was the focal point of our team. We had a new midfield and he gave them confidence and security with his technical ability and handling of the ball.He is not only a talented player but he also works very hard for the team and adds goals to his assists. He is a complete player,” said Wenger eight days later after the match against Bournemouth.
It’s been long since the Frenchman has been able to justifiably wax lyrical about a player this special as his record signing is becoming a leader of a side that has the potential to go all the way this season. Ozil is not only brimming with confidence and quality but he has become a demanding figure in the Arsenal dressing which was proved after the team conceded the first goal against West Brom when he was gesticulating wildly at the horrible marking in the box. The player seems to have the world at his feet instead of bearing down on his shoulders. His will to win was signified in a recent interview with Henry Winter in The Times.
His belief in his teammates and himself has helped him escalate his game to a new level and there could be many reasons for this it, be it his better grasp of the language or finally having a chance to get a full pre-season with the team under his belt. Arsenal fans have another incredibly talented player to make them dream and believe as with Ozil’s selflessness, his brilliant run of form seeps into the rest of the team. Arsenal have a squad of World Cup winners and Copa America winners while the ‘automatisms’ the team spent harnessing in the summer seem to be bearing fruit as the team finally look to shed the tag of perennial underachievers to real title contenders.