September 13, 2013
The words "international break" make Arsenal fans cringe.
Loss of momentum in the league. Fatigue. Injuries. These are all things that we feel are inevitable every time our players pull on their national team kits.
But over the last three seasons, the first break in league play has actually been beneficial. In 2010, despite some injury woes Arsenal scored 10 goals in the two games immediately following the break. Two years ago the break couldn’t have come at a better time as it gave us time to recover and adjust after the brutal loss in Manchester. And last year Arsenal rode some good momentum through the lull and came back to go on a four game unbeaten run – including grabbing a key point at Manchester City.
Still, this year there were plenty of reasons for Gooners to be frustrated by the timing of the break. With a number of key players already out, the risk of picking up even more injuries was again a chief concern. Losing momentum after four straight wins was another. But what really made it almost unbearable was that we've had to wait this long to see Mesut Ozil in action.
All in all, the break could have gone a lot worse. Injury-wise, Tomas Rosicky who scored is the Czech Republic's first game of the break, tweaked a hamstring on Tuesday and Yaya Sanogo missed out on France's U21 match. But on the other side of the roughed-up coin, Thomas Vermaelen returned to training and got time to find some fitness. He could even make the bench this weekend.
But all eyes will be Ozil. After scoring for Germany against the indomitable Faroe Islands, he finally had his first training session with his new teammates on Thursday. He was all smiles as he posed for pictures at his official unveiling and trained next to his compatriots at Colney. He also joined Arsène Wenger for the pre-match press conference and said all the right words. But you know… in German.
Ozil explained why he feels Arsenal was the right move for him "Many young players came here and got better and became the best players in the world. This is why I wanted to come here."
The boss has the same line of thinking. "He's at a good age. He is 25 in October and he's already a great player. There's room now between 25 and 30 for him to become a dominant player and to make a step up from that."
And as Ozil said shortly after the transfer went down, that kind of confidence from his manager is exactly what he's been looking for. "The most important thing is the manager trusts me and that I can get trust from him," said Ozil. "This was the most crucial point for me."
At the press conference Wenger discussed the process of actually signing the German international. “Honestly I think it was linked with the Bale transfer,” the manager said. “I don't know exactly what happened inside the club in Madrid. Was it down to financial reasons? Was it down to the fact that when they bought Bale they had Isco and they had to let somebody go? I was surprised, yes."
He added that while he was confident he would pull off a big move in the window it wasn't until just before kickoff against Spurs that "we were 90 per cent there" on the Ozil deal.
The manager also compared Ozil's signing to that of Arsenal bringing in Dennis Bergkamp back in 1995. "They are similar players in the same department and they are big names who come from big teams," Wenger told Arsenal Player. "You must say as well that Ozil was not perceived as being a failure at Real Madrid, he was perceived by the whole world as being a huge success at Real Madrid so of course the noise made by a signature like that is big."
Bacary Sagna chimed in to give the players' perspective on Ozil and gave him probably the clearest praise a defender could give to any attacking player. "I played against him with the national team and he was the man of the match. It's not good to have him against you."
Not to leave out the Club's other deadline day signing, Wenger described taking Emiliano Viviano on loan as "a no brainer." While he says that he currently sees the Italian as the third-choice keeper, he said Viviano "comes to the Club at the top of his game. It was a very good deal for us at a good moment."
Meanwhile, the current No. 2 Lukasz Fabianski said that he is determined to take back his place in goal. And but for an unfortunate rib injury during last season's run-in, Fabianski conceivably could be the No. 1 right now. He said, "I have been competing for a few years now to get that No. 1 spot. I'm not going to lie, I really want it.”
That much desire can only be good news for Arsenal - and should also keep a fire lit under Szczesny. The younger Pole said “It wasn't nice [to be left out last season] - you want to be playing every week," but he readily admitted that being benched in favor of Fabianski was a good move that forced him to work on his fitness and sharpness. It sounds like "focus" rather than "complacency" will be the word we will hear when it comes to the goalkeeper position this season.
Speaking of focus, Wenger touched on one Nicklas Bendtner this week as well. The boss confirmed that he did block a move for the Dane because of depth concerns up front. But he added that Bendtner "with the right state of mind and the right focus, has the quality to help the squad to win things."
It's an odd thing to consider really. Most of us have not considered Nick to be a Gunner for a couple of seasons now and many were looking forward to Arsenal picking up another striker in transfer window. But when you consider where Bendtner was as a player a four or five years ago, if he can find that focus, determination and fitness, maybe his presence could actually pay off.
Looking ahead, Arsenal travel to the farthest reaches of the kingdom on Saturday to face Sunderland. The Stadium of Light has been a tough place to play in recent years, but the Black Cats' style of play will be very different from the last time we faced them when Martin O'Neill was in charge. Paolo Di Canio likes to attack and has been known press in the midfield early in hopes of frustrating the opposition in the first half. Even so, it's a difficult match to preview since Di Canio made so many moves in the transfer window.
For Arsenal there are so many things to watch out for. How much will Ozil play and how will he transition to the English game? How many chances will Arsenal create between Ozil and Sant Cazorla? Will Olivier Giroud be able to find the back of the net away from home? What about Ozil? Did I mention Ozil yet?
It's your classic 10am ET kickoff in North America. You can find it on TV in the USA on NBCSN and in Canada on TSN. And if you are going to join your fellow Arsenal supporters at the pub, you may want to show up early because word on the street is it's going to be a big turnout for this one to see Ozil's debut. Let's hope it's a very, very good one!
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