I’ve had a piece planned for a while about just how and why this transfer window has frustrated me, I just never got around to doing more than some rough drafting of it. Of course the small piece of business we did on deadline day has sort of ruined the whole thing for me so now I’m going to have to completely change it. Damn Wenger never thinks through what effect his transfer activity can have on the fans.
Jokes aside, signing Özil has completely changed the game. At the start of the season, with all the talk of money to spend and a willingness to bring in star names, coupled with the fact that this year was by far our best opportunity to strengthen and progress, I was, like many gunners I assume, ridiculously excited. I saw us bringing in top class players in nearly every position, I saw us shooting back into the title picture with a bang worthy or our name, I saw the return of the Arsenal that captured my imagination when I was no more than six or seven years old. That, obviously, didn’t happen. That sent me into a bit of a negativity spiral, again as I’m sure happened to many of us, but that’s something I’ll revisit later – I’m talking about Özil now, and there’s nothing negative about him.
The point I’m trying to make is that at the start of the season I was excited. After that, when the North London Derby broke me out of the negativity spiral, Wenger said he might surprise us and a couple of bloggers, reporters and pundits hinted at one or two ‘big’ signings, I was excited then as well. In both cases I saw top players arriving: Higuain, Suarez and Jovetic at the start, Benzema and Di Maria at the end. I imagined that class of player being bought and thought of the difference they could make. But not once did I think of Özil. Never did I dream to think we would bring a player of that calibre in, and it still hasn’t hit me. I honestly think I’m still in a state of shock, it’s only when I really think that I realise just what we’ve done. Benzema, Higuain, Di Maria and Suarez are all world class players, but Özil’s a step above. He might not be in the Messi/Ronaldo bracket, but he’s certainly in the same bracket as Fabregas, Iniesta, Xavi, maybe even Neymar. As good as Bale? Easily, if not better.
I’m not going to go into a minute review of all his attributes or list all the tactical reasons that make him significant, there are already a number of such things from people far more qualified to talk about it than me. However, I will run briefly through what makes me excited; his technical ability with the ball at his feet is remarkable and his vision is unmatched by anyone in this league, and matched by very few outside it. His close control is excellent and his work rate, attitude and professionalism far higher than you might expect from a player of his talents. Someone like Özil could easily get away with the attitude of someone like Berbatov or Taarabt – idling around not making an effort and berating his harder-working but less skilled teammates every time their touch isn’t inch perfect – but he doesn’t. He’s constantly moving regardless of who’s in possession, either hassling the opposition or providing teammates with an option to pass. Everything Özil does is focused on the team, something that even exceeds players like Suarez, who was lauded for his work rate. There is a sizeable difference between working hard and being a team player and Suarez, despite his bitey admirable efforts defensively to win the ball back, then refuses to give the ball to a teammate once he’s got it. Again I won’t go into it as there have been plenty of similar pieces, but there are countless examples of how selfish and, ultimately, wasteful Suarez is in possession. He works hard to pick the ball up, but if he doesn’t score or assist then he loses the ball. Özil is different, he is the epitome of a team player. He picks the ball up, lays it off, gets it back and always plays it to a teammate in a better position. That’s perhaps why he didn’t seem to be valued as much by the media or management at Madrid; in a team built around the ‘look at me’ style of Ronaldo, selfless players like Özil can slip by unnoticed. It might also explain why there was such a backlash from the fans and the players, including Ronaldo. As we all know, fans value hard work over all else – it’s why I never came close to disliking Ramsey during his poor form as much as I did Denilson, and incidentally I think that hard work is also why Ramsey is now the player he is – and, for all their bravado, the ‘look at me’ players know that it’s their less flashy teammates that create the majority of their goals.
This willingness to pass to a player in the better position rather than go for glory could also be the reason for one of Özil’s best traits, his efficiency. There’s been a mention of his high conversion rate with his finishing, which I believe is more down to him only shooting when he has a good opportunity rather than any especial skill at finishing, which would explain his relatively low goal tally compared to his sky-high assist rate, something he’s said he’d like to improve. He’s certainly one that would rather try and slide a ball through the defence instead of just ‘having a pop’ from range a la Townsend (Andros, not Andy, although it’s suspicious how similar their names are and how equally below average their skill in their respective fields is). As previously mentioned, his creativity is unparalleled and, as I’m sure everyone with access to either Sky Sports, Twitter or any of the umpteen Arsenal blogs will know, he’s by far the highest assist maker in Europe over the last few seasons.
This is good for us because, for all our qualities, we have really lacked that killer edge in the last few seasons. Ever since Fabregas left we haven’t had a player that could consistently slide through those passes that unlock a packed defence – Wilshere/Ramsey/Rosicky et al have done it on occasion but at no way near the rate as the Spaniard – and we’ve really struggled as a consequence, stymied by ‘park the bus’ teams and forced to through more and more players forwards, resulting in us becoming very vulnerable on the counter. With Van Persie this lack of creativity was a bit less important as he could consistently put away the few half-chances we would invariably create, but since he left it’s become a major problem. I sincerely believe a large part of the media attack on Giroud last season was because that poor creativity, putting too much pressure on Giroud to finish every slight opportunity as they were the only ones we had in a match, meaning the blame for a poor result was often placed on the Frenchman for missing one of those chances. Of course Giroud wasn’t entirely blameless as he did miss a fair amount of what you’d call ‘big’ chances, but he was far from the flop he was portrayed as last season and his proving now that he has the ability to thrive as a top centre forward. With the added service and his new familiarity with the league I would be highly surprised if he didn’t at least come close to 30 goals this season.
You might think this attack on our creativity is a bit harsh on the midfield we already had, especially Cazorla who was stunning in his debut season, but none them are anywhere near as clinical as players like Fabregas was or Özil will be. Cazorla is a marvel, but his game is more rounded and is built more around feeding other players and creating space than slipping the ball through tight gaps. The same is true of Rosicky, who often provides the assist of the assist rather than supplying the killer ball himself, whilst Wilshere and Ramsey have both dropped back from the initial playmaker roles they had at the start of their careers, with them being more box-to-box players with an extra technical edge than true no. 10s. In a sidebar, that’s a point that really frustrated me with Graeme Souness’ analysis of Ramsey post-Tottenham – he criticises him for not being an effective enough attacking mid, bearing in mind this is during analysis highlighting his improved form, whilst admitting that he ‘doesn’t know what Ramsey is’. The answer, Graeme, is that he’s not a clinical attacking mid because he’s not an attacking mid full stop, and if you don’t know what role he plays then have a look and figure that out before you criticise him for not doing a job he’s not meant to be doing. Anyway…
That lack of a cutting edge is why in my previously planned piece I was going to highlight my frustration at missing out on Coutinho, who is exactly the player we needed to complement Cazorla; a technical player who, whilst being less rounded and overall less skilled than the Spaniard, appears to specialise in that final ball that would make our play so much more threatening. In addition, with the partnership he’s already formed with Sturridge, I think a Coutinho-Walcott combination would be lethal. That’s almost word for word from my earlier draft, and is now completely irrelevant. Replace Coutinho’s name with Özil’s, remove the bits about being less rounded and less skilled, add in a 10,000 word soliliquoy about just how good Özil is, add in the phrase ‘I can’t believe we’ve just signed f*cking Özil!’ and times it all by about 100,000,000 (which is about the equivalent of one Bale). That’s what we have, and more.
The ‘more’ isn’t even what impact he’ll have on the field. It’s what he’ll do to the club off it. I have never been more excited about a new player than I am right not. Not in my entire life as an Arsenal supporter have I witnessed anything as sensational, anything as stunning, although I’ll admit being 18 I’m not the most qualified to discuss that. But that’s the point – in 18 years time they’ll be a whole new generation of Arsenal fans that joined the club because of the excitement of this transfer. Hell, they’ll be a whole new generation of players signing for us because of the ambition shown on Monday night. What striker in the world would not want to be supplied by Özil and Cazorla? What midfielder wouldn’t want to play alongside them? How can any pundit, player or TV ‘persona’ question our ambition or our willingness to spend? I doubt many people could even question our ability to win things after this, although everyone will certainly try. You just have to see the reaction across all levels of the football community. Rival fans joke that we won’t win anything anyway or claim that Özil only joined us because their club didn’t want him (from a few genuinely hilarious Utd supporters on Twitter), showing the bitterness that can only spawn from jealousy. Even Mourinho, allegedly, refused to loan us Ba after we confirmed Özil as he made us genuine title contenders. Of course we need to prove those fans wrong and Mourinho right by actually achieving something this season, and we need to recruit players that deserve to play on the same pitch as our new star.
But for now I’ll leave it there. I’ve already talked too long about how much I love the German and I still have more to say, but you’re probably all bored at this point. Then again, you probably all feel the same way and are just going to switch from enjoying it through these words to watching various youtube videos, looking up stats or exploring the various ways you can express your joy. Interpretive dance, perhaps. Regardless, all this Özil loving means I don’t actually have any room to write about the frustration this whole piece was going to be about, so that’ll have to come another day, along with the points about what we need to do now we’ve bagged the German.
Until then, just think – we’ve got f*cking Özil.
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