The assist master is in the Premier League and forty-two point five million pounds later the reviews have been somewhat mixed. Some for quite laughable reasons and others more justifiable however the consensus on my side is that one of the best players in the world is now in the acclaimed world’s greatest league and too much may be expected too soon.
Manchester United fans looked on in awe, first, at the spending power of Arsenal, and second, Fellaini in comparison was nowhere near in the slightest. This signing shocked world football and although it may have seemed a luxury for Arsene Wenger, the statistics don’t lie and with 47 assists in two seasons who wouldn’t want a player like that? With all the money being spent around Europe, from Neymar (£48.6m), Falcao (£50.6m), Cavani (£55m) to Bale (£85m), other than the Neymar signing, this one stood out. Firstly due to the fact Özil was going to grace the Premier League and secondly for the fact that he’s brilliantly ruthless at what he does.
Özil’s first game was against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and for all the expectation, he didn’t disappoint. His first touch to bring down a lofted through pass and then the weighted ball to Giroud to score was sublime. His next Premier League game against Stoke at The Emirates yielded two assists and he was the new darling of North London. While Spurs were spending £100m to assemble a squad worthy to finish in the top four, Wenger went out and bought arguably the best creator of goals in the world. Quite the coup. A quiet away performance against Swansea followed which was a precursor to the game against Napoli where he showed the rest of the league, and Europe for that matter, what £42.5m buys you: a fantastic goal, an assist and a man of the match performance in a battering of Napoli at The Emirates. Mesut Özil was here and announcing himself to the world as not making a mistake in leaving Real Madrid for Aresenal. Many in Madrid claimed that he was a coward for leaving and that he should have fought for his place in the team. However the problem stands that if he wasn’t to be sold then he wouldn’t have left. Quite why Real Madrid decided he was surplus to requirements given his stature in the team might not ever be known. What is known is that his sale funded the purchase of Gareth Bale who is, only now, starting to hit a slight run of form. It’s even come to the point where Madrid based paper Marca wrote an article earlier this week titled ‘Who needs Özil?’.
That poses a good question as it’s quite clear that Real are scoring just as many goals and the only reason that they’re not doing so well in the league was the long term injury to Xabi Alonso. Something that could be seen in the game against Real Vallecano as when he was substituted, Vallecano should have won the game after being 3-0 down. It can be viewed that Özil’s stats may have been slightly skewed given that he was passing (for the record these are key passes) the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet when you take away Ronaldo’s goals from Özil’s assists statistics, he still had more than anyone in the Premiership last season. To make a comparison, albeit not the greatest one, Özil was assisting Ronaldo, Benzema, Higauin and Di Maria. At Arsenal, currently, he is assisting Giroud. It may not be the fairest of comparisons however it is the reason that he isn’t playing at the level required when he has only one recognised striker to assist. Özil’s impact since his two goals against Norwich hasn’t been at the same level and that is down to personnel. It is only a matter of time before his German counterpart Podolski returns as well as the speed of Theo Walcott. With these two in the side, Özil will shine and his key pass ratio will sky rocket.
On the other side of the coin, aside from Özil’s clear ability, there are some points that have been raised and creating negative press. If you detract from the point that Özil is mostly effective during the first 65 minutes of games and his stamina isn’t the best then his big game performance is what’s in question. In two meetings with Dortmund this season, Özil was nowhere to be seen and the same can be said against Arsenal’s recent loss to the stuttering Manchester United. From his dismantling of Napoli and shining in games against Sunderland, Stoke and Norwich it should not be difficult for a player of this class. What is worrying is the ghost has followed him from Spain: that he can go missing in the big games. As much as many don’t want to believe that, games against Liverpool and Chelsea along with the aforementioned two, Özil did very little to justify his price tag. This price tag was Wenger’s hope to have more impact in the big games, the games where Arsenal would always lose ground at the top of the table. While the former Real Madrid man should not be expected to single-handedly win every game, it is felt that he still has to deliver more on the big stages.
Arsenal have failed to match teams with high pedigree in Europe and this has left them trailing in the Champions League. Özil was Arsenal flexing its new-found financial muscle and this was a supposed means to an end in that Wenger finally had the resources everyone had been crying out for. He was now able to recruit the talent that can move Arsenal from a team on the fringes to one that can match the heavyweights. It is this level of expectation that is now facing Özil and he seems to be struggling to shoulder this burden.
Showing the class that he has against Sunderland, Norwich and Stoke should never be looked upon badly however these are games that Arsenal would be winning without him in the side. The price tag involved demands big stage performances and at Old Trafford it could not have been a better place to showcase his talents. However, in what was one of his worst performances this season, Özil was largely anonymous and finding himself dropping deeper and deeper in search of the ball. It isn’t fair to say that he had a bad game, this was more of a flat performance against a first half display from a very Evertonian looking Mancester United. Wenger can take encouragement from their second half where they appeared to be gaining some momentum but he shouldn’t be castigated for wanting more from his new talisman.
It’s harsh to judge him so early on in his career at Arsenal and his glimpses of utter brilliance are reason enough to never lose faith in a player that can make Arsenal, with signings and the aforementioned returns from injury, the force that they have been wanting to be for a number of years.