Appreciating Ozil

We look at Mesut Ozil's instant impact ahead of Arsenal's trip to Swansea on Saturday Night Football.

Last Updated: 27/09/13 at 16:02

There are signings and then there are signings. And then there is Arsenal signing Mesut Ozil. After years of being accused of being so tight he could peel an orange in his pocket, Arsene Wenger chose deadline day to pull off a deal that generated the type of shock and awe last seen when Kevin Keegan was forced onto the steps at St James' Park to defend his decision to sell Andy Cole.

Arsenal's new number ten, who wears 11, is the trequartista Arsenal fans have been pining for from the moment Dennis Bergkamp retired his Reebok classics in 2006 as an unused substitute in the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona. Few would dispute the Guardian's assertion that "Ozil can be that zeitgeist signing for the post-Highbury generation". It's fair to say the German has hit the ground running.

"Der Rabe" (The Raven) tames Black Cats

Olivier Giroud enjoys Ozil's caviar of a pass that gave him his goal at Sunderland

On the day before his debut at Sunderland illness looked set to put a temporary halt to his Arsenal career before it had even began. Wenger conceded post-match that he would have been happy to have his record signing alongside him on the bench having recalled the look of abject terror on Robert Pires' face in near identical circumstances in 2000.

"Sometimes the players, at the start, have a shock. I remember the first game at Sunderland, I said to Pires, 'Today you don't start - you sit next to me.' And, after half an hour, he said to me: 'Is it always like that?' And I said: 'It can get worse ...' When I arrived, it was much more violent than today. It's not violent any more. Still, the pace and the commitment is high. I thought there was a similarity with Ozil and Pires. If he does as well as Pires after that, it's not too bad."

Ozil is unique. There is no copy of him - not even a bad one. He is the best number 10 in the world. He makes things very easy for me and for his team-mates with his football vision and the decisions he makes. Everyone loves him and sees a bit of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane in him.
Jose Mourinho

The only thing violent about Ozil's debut at the Stadium of Light was the devastation he caused with his gilded left foot. For a man accused by Florentino Perez of being unable to handle the pressure of Real Madrid, Ozil could not have been more relaxed in his performance.

A Gauloise between his lips wouldn't have looked out of place as he strolled round the pitch like a matinee idol acutely aware that all eyes were on him and for good reason. A world class player at the peak of his powers is one of life's great pleasures and within minutes (literally) Ozil had Arsenal fans, and neutrals, cooing in wonder at how Wenger had pulled off such a snip at a mere £42.5million. His first touch to instantly kill a lofted Kieran Gibbs pass on 11 minutes was worth at least a couple of million, before a perfectly weighted cross to Olivier Giroud was as if gift wrapped at Harvey Nichols. Used to Theo Walcott chucking him a bottle of Brut in an Asda carrier, the look of gratitude was touching.

Arsenal enjoyed a remarkable 73 per cent possession in the first half, with Ozil pretty much given carte blanche to flit between the lines as Walcott provided their only natural width down the right flank. It's interesting to note though how Ozil has done most of his work in the same pocket of space (see graphic below), on the right between halfway and the opposition penalty area, in both of his Premier League appearances to date. The ease in which Ozil twice played in Walcott after he made his favourite run inside the full-back bodes well. If the England man can somehow fine-tune his finishing, and it's a big if, Ozil's presence could turn him from profligate to prolific.

Ozil touches v Sunderland and Stoke respectively

A bow that lasted 80 minutes saw Ozil top the charts in terms of key passes and dribbles, with a pass success rate of 90 per cent also impressive. In his two league games for Arsenal so far Ozil has averaged nearly twice as many passes as he did for Real Madrid from the same number of games before his move.

Arsenal out-Stoke Stoke

"When you look at Ozil's numbers, the assists are not a coincidence - it is a reality of his game," said Wenger after Ozil's home debut against Stoke last weekend.

Ozil's hat-trick of assists against Stoke City on his home debut for Arsenal

"When you play against Stoke you don't expect to score three goals from set pieces but it shows how important his delivery is, and I believe once he has completely integrated you will see even more. He has shown today that he is a great player."

Given the surprisingly porous nature of Stoke's backline (Tony Pulis was spotted aimlessly wandering round the Potteries wearing a black armband the following morning), it's premature to suggest Arsenal have found a new bountiful route to goal but having a deadball specialist can only help. Arsenal scored 12 goals from set-pieces in the whole of last season. To put into context Manchester United bagged 22.

Ozil pass map against Sunderland and Stoke

Sky Sports' Niall Quinn said post-match that Steve Bould has been working with the club's defenders on how they can add value offensively at set-pieces and it certainly bore fruit on Sunday, as Per Mertesacker and Bacary Sagna both registered from Ozil free-kicks.

The Monkey Cage

Wenger has conceded his surprise at Perez's questioning of Ozil's mental strength and given the 24-year-old's background it seems unlikely he's quite the delicate flower in continual need of his coach's assurance, as portrayed by some of his detractors. Growing up in the declining industrial suburb that is Gelsenkirchen as a third-generation German, Ozil learnt his on-field craft in a concrete jungle of a pitch that was encircled by a 10-foot fence. Known to locals as the 'Monkey Cage', it's an arena that takes no prisoners. Ozil is as much a street footballer as Wayne Rooney.

The Monkey Cage where Ozil learnt his craft in his youth

"While playing in the cage there were bars all around, which meant there was no 'out' and no corners and therefore, no break," he told Sky Sports in our exclusive video interview.

"I often had to play against my friends or my brother's friends who were five or six years older and this definitely helped me to improve. I was able to prove myself as a small but strong dribbler and it was definitely a good experience."

Ozil is known to look inwards, an introvert off the field but extrovert on it, but it's wrong to suggest he lacks confidence. This is, after all, a player who joined Real Madrid at 21: "After the World Cup the transfer to Real Madrid was a very big step as I was a young player. But I never doubted my abilities and I believed in myself because I knew what I was capable of. This is why I took this leap and am very thankful to Jose Mourinho who trusted me."

Whole club lifted

The message is clear from top to bottom - Ozil has lifted Arsenal

A signing being lauded with platitudes from new team-mates is hardly a phenomenon exclusive to Ozil but what is novel is that you actually believe the soundbites being offered up by the Arsenal brethren. Santi Cazorla has talked of Ozil's capture providing a 'leap in quality', which given his own ability in a similar position is quite the statement.

From Walcott to Wilshere there's a sense Arsenal's players are genuinely excited by the idea of playing with the German. Their enthusiasm, almost childlike at times, reaffirms a fading belief that football from time to time still excites players as much as those that pay their wages in the stands. "The likes of Ozil coming into the team will only boost our confidence," said Walcott. "He will hopefully bring the best out of the players and I'm personally really looking forward to it. With the amount of assists he has for club and country, it will help my game." From manager to players to board to fans the most oft repeated term in relation to Ozil has been 'lifted'. Arsenal finally look ready to take flight.

The great and the good have expressed their surprise at Real's decision to sell Ozil

Statistician's dream

It seems a shame to reduce a player of real beauty to stats and figures but with Ozil it's equally remiss not to illuminate just what a talent he is in black and white. In last season's Champions League he created more chances from open play (24) than any other player. During his time at Real Madrid he played more key passes than any of his team-mates (92 to Ronaldo's 62) at an average of 4.07 per game. His nearest rival Kaka managed 2.23.

In the previous five years (2008-13) before joining Arsenal, Ozil provided more assists (72) and created more chances (492) than any other player in Europe's top five Leagues. In two games this season he already has the most Premier League assists on three, plus a fourth not officially recognised by Opta when his free kick was saved by Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and Aaron Ramsey scored the rebound. The seven chances he conjured that day is a joint Premier League high for chances created by any one player this season.

Swansea, you have been warned.

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Readers' Comments


ou can't blame De Gea for wanting to leave, he has enough to do in front of goal as it is as well as taking on the role of Man Utd's version of Derek Acorah in trying to contact and organise a defence that isn't there.

rodger's gusset
Van Gaal downbeat on De Gea


f you want to take six points off Arsenal, then that's a great strike force. Can't imagine either of them showing much for the rest of the season though...

foot in mouth
Adebayor & Berbatov: You Have To Admire The Balls


ooks like Real get their man, most likely at their own valuation, yet again. Resistance is futile.

Van Gaal downbeat on De Gea

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