Mesut Özil – Arsenal’s big buy finally coming good

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There is an anecdote Jose Mourinho tells about his time at Real Madrid which sums up just how special a player Mesut Özil is.

Like every manager, Mourinho was familiar with all his players during his stint at the Bernabeu.

Usually he would watch them like a hawk in training, running his eye over them to assess who was in line to start the next match.

However, on the rare occasion the Portuguese manager did have his back turned, he was still able to identify when Özil was in possession.

In Mourinho’s words, the ball sounded different when the German hit it. The noise was sweet, pure and beautifully unique.

Such a tale will now come as no surprise to Arsenal fans, who have fallen under Özil’s charm this season. The playmaker has turned the Emirates into his canvas, painting a masterpiece with countless assists.

Özil’s performances really have been a thing of beauty and a joy to watch, but it is easy to forget such a great feeling of love towards the German did not always exists.

The media and supporters have had several snipes at Özil since he arrived from Madrid in the summer of 2013 for £42.5m.

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Mesut has stepped up his game this season and has lead Arsenal on the pitch. Credit: joshjdss under license

He was famously accused of ‘nicking a living’ in March 2014, as an opening 45 minutes against Bayern Munich in the Champions League brought just 21 touches of the ball.

It was harsh, and perhaps a little over the top, but it encapsulated the mood of the British public. Was Özil really worth all that money?

The sceptics continued to question even into the 27-year-old’s second season. There were of course flashes of brilliance, such as Özil’s delightful winner in the 4-1 victory over Liverpool towards the end of the campaign, but many were still unconvinced.

It meant by the start of this campaign all were expecting Özil to deliver, none more so than Arsène Wenger.

Speaking to the Arsenal manager back in August as part of a Sunday newspaper briefing, the Frenchman opened up on how he thought this would be Özil’s year.

Far from trying to be north London’s answer to Mystic Meg and examining clairvoyant cards, Wenger was instead looking at the German’s workload.

When Özil joined Arsenal in 2013, it was very late in the transfer window and he took part in none of the club’s pre-season.

The following summer told a similar story as Özil’s preparations were interrupted by Germany’s World Cup triumph.

This time around, though, there were no excuses.

“He is physically stronger, that is for sure,” Wenger said back in August.

“He is more equipped to deal with the Premier League and in the second part of the season last year we have seen that intelligence of his passing.

“The fact is that he added some steel to his game that was needed, certainly in the Premier League, and I am confident he can be one of the great players of 2015/16.

“He joined very late without any preparation with the team, and in 2014 he came back exhausted by the World Cup. He got injured for four months and in the second part of the season he started to really adapt.

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The German has made the Premier League his stomping ground this season. Credit: Brian Sikorski under license

“This is of course the test, it is a very important season for him. But you can see that people have turned in favour of him recently, they are starting to enjoy his game.”

As Wenger says this season was a test for Özil, but he has so far passed it with flying colours.

The attacking midfielder already has 16 Premier League assists, just four shy of the current record held by Thierry Henry.

Özil has established himself as one of the division’s best players and if he keeps up his form into the second half of the season he will be a strong contender for Player of the Year.

Perhaps more importantly, if he performances continues, Arsenal will also be a strong contender for a first Premier League crown since 2004.

As Wenger hinted back in August, a full pre-season has given Özil the physical capability to make his mark in England.

He has now fully adapted to the pace and power of the Premier League to the point where his size is no longer even discussed.

And it is fitting that when asked about this Wenger recalled upon his memories of Robert Pires.

Like Özil, the Frenchman cast Arsenal fans under a spell of beauty. His performances at Highbury were mesmeric and he undoubtedly goes down as one of the clubs all time greats.

Pires had that craft and vision that only someone like Özil can replicate.

But like the German, Pires took time to adapt, as Wenger recalls from an afternoon at Sunderland.

“The Premier League is sometimes a shock as well for the players because they think, ‘Oh, what’s happening here?’,” said Wenger.

“And I remember when [Robert] Pires arrived, the first year I put him next to me at Sunderland and I said, ‘You will sit next to me today and watch the game.’ After 20 minutes he said, ‘Is it always like this?’ But he adapted.”

Indeed, Pires did adapt as 19 months on from that trip to Sunderland he was voted Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association.

Such an achievement is no doubt in the offing for Özil and on this form he would thoroughly deserve it.

Simon Collings is a Regular Columnist here at #ABW – check him out on Twitter at@sr_collings.  He is also part of a Premier League Podcast called All About the 3 Points which we definitely think you should check out.


Have you listened to the latest #ABW Podcast, Episode 135: Hello 2016?  How about the Radio Show from post-Sunderland?  Go give them a listen!

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