On a sunny day in mid-August, Arsenal’s curtain-raiser optimism was squashed by Aston Villa’s party-pooping 3-1 smash-and-grab at the Emirates, initiating all kinds of panic-mongering among Gunners fans and pundits alike. Arsene Wenger, as seems the norm, was vilified for his apparent lack of action in the transfer market, and for an equally apparent lack of ambition and imagination. Two weeks later, Wenger pulled 42 million pounds out of his reluctant chairman’s deep pockets and quicker than Paul Daniels could say “now THAT’S magic”, a young Muslim German of Turkish descent appeared like a rabbit out of a hat and almost overnight seems to have transformed Arsenal’s hopes, ambitions and their self-belief.
Since that woe-begotten day, Arsenal have won ten straight games, five in the Premier League, four Champions League ties along with a penalty shootout in the League Cup. Much praise has been aimed Ozil’s way, and rightly so – he is a class performer, providing skill, vision and slick incisiveness to an Arsenal side that has been trying vainly for a year to fill the vacuum left behind by Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie.
All that said, it needs to be asked how much Ozil is the cause of this apparent revival and how much he is merely a catalyst, inspiring just by his arrival and presence those young guns around him to believe they now have the class to fulfill much long-awaited potential.
It should not be forgotten that in qualifying for their Champions league spot, Arsenal went 10 games unbeaten at the end of last season, of which only two were drawn, so it can hardly be said that Ozil was joining a struggling team, nor would you expect a player of his ability to leave Real Madrid to do so. For all of the media’s criticism of Arsenal’s and Arsene’s transfer policy, a record of P22 W18 D3 L1 is hardly that of a club in crisis. Add to that the brand of footballing flair they already possess, enhanced and supported by the likes of Cazorla, Arteta and now Ozil and it will be seen as no coincidence that a player like Aaron Ramsey is suddenly strutting his stuff, exuding self-belief and attacking flair and scoring goals for fun.
One man can never make a team, but he can be the missing cog that makes the whole machine run smoothly, and suddenly the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. In the meantime, the Premier league has a refreshing look, albeit early days yet, with United and their City rivals both stuttering over unexpected hurdles, leaving Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham with renewed hope that they can at last break the Manchester stranglehold.
If watching Ozil perform at the top of his game is what brings that about, I think most football purists would welcome it.