“Lost and lazy Ozil might have cost Arsenal 42.5 million pounds, but he isn’t worth two bob and he’s nicking a living.”
Those were the words of Neil Ashton, columnist for the DailyMail, back in March 2014. Fast track to 2015 and it is quite visible which of the 2 is nicking a living in truth. Arsenal’s record signing Ozil is starting to catch fire like his pre-Arsenal days, while Neil Ashton is well, still writing similar pieces for the Mail. The German has turned a corner since returning from injury and come back roaring, silencing critics and nitpickers who have mellowed down considerably. Yet the recent comments from club legend Thierry Henry are proof that not everyone is convinced, yet. All in good time.
Mesut Ozil’s season started in curious fashion. With a World Cup medal under his belt, his Arsenal form was far from spectacular with anonymous displays against Everton, Manchester City, Dortmund and Chelsea, reigniting the media notion of Ozil being “invisible in big matches”. In the 2 league matches separating those 3 games, Arsenal played Aston Villa and Tottenham with Mesut Ozil being the team’s best player on both occasions. These were punctuated with an excellent European display against Galatasaray as well, before injury struck. The extremes in Ozil’s performances cemented what is now well known and accepted viz. Mesut Ozil would pilot any team when on a high flying cruising jet, but once it turns into a sinking ship the German would be the first to jump off. The media fed perception of big games-small games probably fits into a direct correlation with the same. The Arsenal team as a whole had it’s fair share of struggles in the “big games” and Ozil’s struggles were as much the effect of that, as they were the cause for it. But that was until 2015 dawned.
The Arsenal of 2015 have not just upped their ante, they have been on another level, something that even the biggest optimists wouldn’t have forecasted. Mature, unified and brave, the present Arsenal side is free spirited and Mesut Ozil’s form has been at the very core of this revival. 3 goals and 4 assists since the turn of the year Mesut Ozil is showing signs of the player, Arsenal paid the humongous 42 million fee for. Being finally deployed at the central attacking midfield position, Ozil is starting to pull the strings with just about the right force again. His pass to Alexis Sanchez for Arsenal’s opener vs Reading was Ozil at his artistic best. Scooping the ball tenderly to the Chilean, thus bypassing 4 Reading players in the process. Textbook stuff.
Then there was the non-textbook high-foot flick on to set up Giroud for the opener vs Villa. That 5-0 win was arguably Ozil’s finest performance in an Arsenal shirt. With 67 minutes gone, there was an opportunity for the German to whip in a cross from the left byline. Ozil stalled to measure up his options, when Fabian Delph came thundering in, hassling and shoving in an attempt to win the ball. It was followed by both players down on the turf, but what caught the eye was Ozil going back to his feet and back to the ball almost instantly. Delph joined in but Ozil shielded the ball out of play, earning a throw in. That laid down a marker. You could see the hunger and the willingness to fight. Contrary to the claims of being a “lazy” footballer. Criticism however has been Ozil’s unerring friend and as Arsenal crashed to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Monaco, all hell would break loose again.
Undoubtedly the former Real Madrid was the worst player on the pitch that night but one poor performance after a decent run of games was probably a tad too harsh. But then as the cliche goes a player is as good as his last game, and incidentally that last game happens to be vs Chelsea, where Ozil was the best Arsenal player on the pitch. Or well joint best, considering Koscielny had a superb outing too. But you get the point, Mesut Ozil has improved and now at touching distance to his relaxed best. Clearly more bulked up now, those hard hours spent at the gym and on the training ground are starting to bear fruit. For starters, Mesut Ozil is now arguably the 2nd or 3rd best hold up player at the club, depending on how highly/lowly you rate Welbeck’s hold up play.(Giroud obviously is head and shoulders above the rest). Then there’s the running. Distance covered stats underline the fact that Ozil is now much more involved and willing to put in a shift for the side, again contrary to the notion that he is “lazy”. Impressive displays in “big games” against Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea; as well as in the FA Cup semis redeem the much maligned Ozil from the other prominent notion of him going missing when it matters. Other players have obviously played their part and how.
Ozilexis are starting to hit the right notes together
With every passing week, it’s visibly that a better understanding is fostering between Arsenal’s 2 most expensive players ever. The thrilling Alexis Sanchez has returned to form and with Ozil, added more spice to the Arsenal attack. Not to mention providing an even higher ceiling for Ozil. As the duo’s frequencies combine, the establishment of a resonance frequency could be key for next season. Then there’s the rediscovered Coquelin who has unburdened Ozil massively by being a constant disruptive force in the middle of the park. That doesn’t mean Ozil hasn’t contributed defensively himself. On the contrary Coquelin’s donkey work seems to have rubbed off on the German as well, who now averages an interception every 2 games and roughly 2 tackles every 3 games. Shows how far he has come.
What also highlights how far he has come, is his nomination for the PFA fan’s player of the month award. Recognition is in the air, and nobody could argue that Mesut Ozil hasn’t deserved it. It now is all about keeping up the good work and carry it into pre-season and then next season. Who knows Wenger’s prophecy of Ozil being in the running for the player of the year might as well come true. Too early to say? Definitely. Would it be shocking? Definitely not. The ball is well and truly in the German’s court.