Whilst the dust settles on Arsenal’s capture of Mesut Özil, those of us not still blinking in disbelief at the size of the transfer fee have moved on to wondering how, where, and why the German will fit into Arsenal’s outfield setup. This is a lineup that was thought to be most crucially missing a striker, a defensive midfielder, and a centreback – and he is quite clearly none of these.
Mesut Özil is an absolutely outstanding footballer of “top, top quality”, and a perfect Arsene Wenger footballer if there ever was one. He has peerless technique, is extremely unselfish, always picks and executes passes sublimely, and he can beat players when needed (this is to imply that he does not set out to dribble – he merely does so to get into situations that enable him to pass or shoot better). You might compare him, if you had to, to a player like Robert Pires (without the swoon factor of course), whose every action was made with the team in mind, and executed effortlessly. If I’m overdoing the hyperbole, excuse me – I’m as excited as you are. If you aren’t, check out some video evidence, or 7am kickoff’s excellent (as always) numbers review.
His versatility also open up Arsene Wenger’s options in terms of setting up the team and shifting players around. And he suits the way we play – quick, inventive passing when we’re dominating possession, and swift counter-attacking when we aren’t. Both under Mourinho at Real, and for Germany, Özil has been a fantastic exponent of counter-attacking football. His movement and running (whether in wide areas or through the middle) are excellent, and he is able to set up or finish moves in a variety of situations. Germany’s back-to-back 4 goal performances against England and Argentina were great examples of his movement and ability to be decisive.
Wenger now has the option to mix up the composition of his midfield depending on the opposition – weaker teams might come up against Özil in behind the striker, stronger teams might see us play Özil and Cazorla wide and in front of a more tenacious midfield trio (e.g. Arteta/Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere).
The most important thing about Özil is that he will make the players around him better – there’ll be less of a burden on Cazorla, and more service to Giroud, Walcott and Podolski.
Like Cazorla (who played the majority of his career out on the right) Özil is very two-footed and capable of playing on either flank, but will always roam infield. As you might expect under Mourinho, his positioning was a bit restricted at Real, but expect him to flourish in the fluidity that Arsene Wenger’s systems provide.
We are still lacking a striker, and the failed bid for Demba Ba shows that, but Özil’s ability to play on the left or right offers opportunities for others to play up front. Podolski and Walcott can now be considered genuine contenders for a striking berth in the absence of Giroud – Podolski did okay there towards the end of last season with a couple of goals against Wigan, and has a lot of experience playing with Özil for Germany. Walcott on the other hand will thrive off the kind of service that Özil can provide. And if all else fails there’s still Nicklas Bendtner!
Also, I think it’s safe to say that with the arrival of Özil, the whole Wilshere at #10 / attacking midfield experiment is probably going to be delayed for a few years (if not scrapped). Injury hasn’t helped, but Jack’s performances in that role have been ineffective. He played his best football for us in the year before Cesc’s departure, alongside Alex Song – making tackles, winning possession from deep, and driving the team forward – it’s a role that he seems more comfortable with, and given the makeup of midfielders available to us, one imagines that he will play there again this year.
Our big problem last year was that we struggled to create chances. Some people like to say that it was Giroud’s profligacy, which didn’t help, but the truth was that in difficult/tight games, we looked bereft of ideas, often leaving Giroud with half chances that he missed. Yes, Higuain might have scored a few more of those, but it wouldn’t have remedied the problem. Effectively all we had was Cazorla, and/or sometimes the interplay between two of Giroud/Walcott/Podolski, and when we couldn’t make use of these options, we became predictable and struggled.
So Arsene Wenger went looking for someone to create chances. As yet, no one at the club has shed any light on the Higuain situation, so we don’t know what really happened. What we do know however, is that Wenger wanted Luis Suarez, and going by the rumours, felt that paying more for Suarez offered much better value that Higuain. Why? Well because Suarez is the kind of player that creates chances – he was amongst the top five creators of chances in Europe’s top leagues last season, and if you add his 20+ goals into the mix, it’s what Arsene Wenger might (someday once again) call a “no-brainer”.
But Liverpool wouldn’t sell. So what did we do? We went and bought the player who’s provided the most assists across Europe’s top leagues over the least 5 years. Özil, with his brilliant technique and vision will give us the extra little bit of magic we missed last season, and with him and Cazorla pulling the strings together, we are going to see a new dimension to this already very promising Arsenal side.