Some players need to be watched in detail to get an appropriate grasp of their impact.
It’s not easy to do either; matches are typically taken in tackle-by-tackle, pass-by-pass, shot-by-shot, but if you consciously detach yourself from that pattern, sometimes other traits are revealed and a fuller appreciation of various duties can be accrued.
Arsenal are a great team to do this for. Their passing is sharp, they dazzle with wonderful individual moments and can score some breathtaking goals, but the intelligence of team off the ball—the little darts into space, taking markers away with intelligent runs or even just standing still at the right moment—make the Gunners an aesthetic treat.
Mesut Ozil is a footballer whose own attributes marry up perfectly with these principles and as Arsenal forensically probed at Aston Villa in the FA Cup final on Saturday, it was easy to be enchanted by the German. He didn’t score, he didn’t notch any assists, but he had a major say on the Wembley showpiece in his uniquely languid and often understated fashion.
The fact his influence is not immediately obvious is what makes Ozil such a divisive player. During Arsenal matches, the Twitter cognoscenti’s views of the German are extreme; either outstanding or overrated. But after two seasons in north London, the demographic is shifting towards the former, more positive standpoint.
At the start of the campaign, the World Cup winner—perhaps still jaded from Germany’s success in Brazil—was enervated in his exploits, often shunted out wide and when he picked up a knee ligament injury in October, there were a flurry of reports linking the playmaker with a move away from Arsenal.
But since his reintegration into the team, Ozil has flourished. Given a prolonged run in his preferred and undeniably most effective position behind the striker, the former Real Madrid man has been the Gunners’ brightest performer in 2015. His modus operandi is to create and although five goals and six assists this season isn’t an emphatic tangible return for a £42 million player, with Ozil, you have to look a little deeper.
The German’s penchant for conjuring space between the lines is only rivalled by David Silva in the Premier League. When he does pick up the ball, opposition players swarm around, but his fundamental skills usually see him stride away from the situation with a drop of the shoulder or casually pop the ball off into a dangerous area. Wherever Ozil has played, he’s always conjured up a demand for tickets in the European soccer ticket marketplace due to how he makes the whole team play better around him, even if he’s not always making the assists or scoring the goals. Not all fans see him as the architect of success, but facts are facts – with Ozil on form, the teams play better, sell more tickets, win more games.
With energetic players like Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla accompanying him in midfield, Wenger finally seems to have found a system that caters for Ozil’s bespoke talents but lack of defensive dynamism. In this blueprint he’s blossomed into conductor of Arsenal’s sweet symphony; a figure who may not make brash din, but someone who’s gravitating, unifying presence would be sorely missed if absent.
The run-in is the best Arsenal fans have seen of their No. 11, who is one of the Premier League’s few genuine world-class talents at his best. But watching Ozil finally acclimatize in 2015, encouragingly for those at the Emirates, there’s a sense there is still more to come from the tremendous technician.
If he does take his game on next year, it’ll be key to any potential title challenge Arsenal can muster. Granted, this Gunners squad does need bolstering, particularly at the base of the midfield, in defense and between the sticks. But there’s also a responsibility on the current crop of stars to raise their levels too.
While at times in his debut campaign and the one just finished Ozil seemed to recoil when tasked with taking initiative, now he’s relishing the responsibility of being a central figure. His performance in Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Liverpool—a match which was crucial in the race for the Champions League spots—was flawless, while his two assists in the FA Cup semi-final helped the Gunners conquer an obdurate Reading team.
His Man of the Match performance in the FA Cup final was the coupe de grace on a stirring end to the season.
With time to recuperate and the chance to get a full pre-season under his belt, expect big things from the German in 2015/16. He’s not the kind of player who will take a merciless grip of a campaign and propel Arsenal to glory. But there have been clear signs this year that after plenty of tinkering, Wenger has finally realized how to get a tune out of this complex player.
Consequentially, Ozil is getting an encouraging harmony out of the Londoners and if some summer signings can add some vital fortitude to the team, expect his talents to be further enriched when Arsenal embark on a critical campaign.
The German continue to go about his business in his typically insouciant style and subsequently, will continue to divide opinion. But if an Ozil-inspired Arsenal are flying high in the opening weeks of the season, expect plenty in the football firmament to pay a lot closer attention to the Gunners star and come to appreciate the immense value he adds to this team.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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