With title hopes all but lost and all aspirations of retaining the FA Cup up in smoke, apart from their monotonous habit of going out of Europe lingering on, Arsenal hardly have anything to play for. In a season that promised so much during the initial and during the middle stages, Arsenal has shown that they’re the masters at blowing it away when you least expect them to. We were slowly getting used to get simply blown away by the mind-blowing brand of football that they played, much like the opponents they faced. We haven’t just seen glimpses of flashes of what the Gunners are capable of, but we’ve also seen whole fires of it. And although, fires have turned into embers, they were fires once. And the man behind most of it was the wily and skillful, Mesut Ozil.
At a time when the Premier League was nearing transition in 2013, thanks to Manchester United’s decline and Liverpool’s state of continual woes, the Gunners had the opportunity to establish themselves as an English Champion once again. Ozil’s signing on deadline day reflected their intent and what the men from the then superior part of North London desired to achieve that particular season. Signed from Real Madrid, after the Los Blancos had managed to snap up fierce rivals’ Spurs’ superstar Gareth Bale, Wenger had sensed the opportunity to trump David Moyes’ men, who were in a desperate need for a creative midfielder, in their attempt to sign the marvelous German. Arsenal’s demoralizing 3-1 loss to Aston Villa on the first day of the season had knocked some sense into Arsene Wenger’s brain, whose acquisition of Ozil was met with rejoicing, contrary to the gloom that surrounded it. After Ozil’s capture, the exacerbation at the club’s inactivity in the market died down substantially.
As the then decorated and grinning 25-year-old posed for a photograph with the famed Arsenal kit, few knew how the former Schalke man’s career was about to pan out.
During Boxing Day, Arsenal topped the Premier League charts, giving fans hope that they had taken advantage of the transitions at other clubs to perfection. A promising debut at the Sunderland that saw Ozil deliver a crucial assist due to which the Gunners reached the table’s pinnacle was something Wenger would’ve been proud of. A brace against Norwich the next month followed. That was when the problems weren’t beginning to come to the fore yet.
As December beckoned, the physicality of the Premier League was seemingly troubling Ozil and his wizardry. The tiredness and the labored movement on the pitch was taking a toll on his game and the fact that Arsenal was a light weight midfield side meant that Ozil had to do the dirty job often. At Real, all he had to do was do what he does best- create. The likes of Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta had to be helped out if Arsenal had to provide cover to their unusually soft underbelly. A 6-3 loss against Manchester City suggested that the big games were a problem to them. Ozil was consistently being forced to drop deep and help out the players behind him. And the fact that the German wasn’t being favored behind Olivier Giroud in the number ten role meant he had to help out the aging Bacary Sagna, who happened to be Arsenal right back when playing on the right of the midfield.
Being arguably the best attacking midfielder in the world won’t make sense if you’re being deployed wide that too in front of a light weight midfield. Ozil was being forced to do just that and his consequent effect on the pitch began to fade.
Tiredness and the aforementioned factors meant that Ozil had to endure a tough February. His spot kick was saved by compatriot Manuel Neuer during Arsenal’s important Champions League 1st leg against Bayern Munich and the German’s dip in form was clear when Arsenal drew 0-0 at home to Manchester United and later succumbed to a 5-1 loss against Liverpool, where in Ozil was at the center of attention due to a pathetic showing. The physicality and intensity of the games as big as those were making sure that Oz had to try very hard to adapt to the Premier League.
After returning from a month-long hamstring injury, Ozil managed to reach the performance levels that he had early on, playing a part in helping Arsenal win the FA Cup and coming up with inspiring performances against Newcastle and Hull. During his debut season at England, Ozil mustered 13 assists and 7 seven goals, which could be considered very good taking into account the fact he was not being deployed in his favored role.
The hangover the World Cup, in which Ozil played a massive role in helping Germany win it, was a bit of a hinderance for him as the next season began. A decent period early on in the season meant there was a certain room for improvement but his progress was halted by a knee ligament injury, that kept him out for 12 weeks.
In what was a rather below par season for someone as good as Ozil, he racked up five goals and just seven assists in as many as 31 appearances. The criticism regarding not being able to prove his mettle in big games was ever existent and this season proved that. The defensive burden on him, which was unknown to him and disallowed him for playing freely was enough for Ozil to never reach his actual levels. But, the emergence of Francis Coquelin as a defensive wall and the capture of Alexis Sanchez was something that would’ve helped Ozil, if not for injury concerns.
This season, with a lack of injuries and a lack of the need to help out his team defensively, has helped Ozil a lot. Arsene Wenger had predicted that the former Werder Bremen man could have the best season at Arsenal before the campaign had begun and rightly so, he has racked up 18 assists this season. He’s got accustomed to the way this league works and now seemingly has what it takes to be fit enough to compete in the league.
At Real Madrid, throughout his 3-year tenure, Ozil hadn’t sustained a single injury and the fact that he sustained as many as five in two seasons in England suggests he was struggling to find his feet. He used to get shrugged off the ball too easily and the onus of dribbling and stringing and threading key passes, apart from defending fell all on him.
With Sanchez in the side to provide a threatening burst of pace and quite often the one to split defenses open and Coquelin behind him to provide the defensive assurance, Ozil has the freedom to deliver his goods. His telepathic relationship with Karim Benzema at Real Madrid was highly admired. Both had, collectively racked up 22 assists in total, more than any duo in the La Liga that season. This season, Ozil has 18 assists in total and has created a total of 118 chances, which means 100 chances blown away. Olivier Giroud has scored 12 times and a majority of them, with 52 percent shot accuracy.
The Ozil-Giroud duo hasn’t been as devastating as the Ozil- Benzema one but has been effective enough to sometimes blow teams away at will.
Ozil has, all in all, had a good stint at the Emirates. The role that he played at Real Madrid is quite different to one he was playing at Arsenal. And now that he’s been handed a similar role, he’s well set to improve even more. External factors have played a massive role in determining his fate, but now that they’ve lost their prominence, Mesut Ozil looks ready to shine, once more.