The biggest and best surprises are usually worth the wait. Mesut Ozil may not have joined the Gunners until the very end of the summer transfer window, but his arrival was enough to spark thousands of dreams among the Arsenal faithful.
The German playmaker has been widely viewed as one of the world’s very best over the past few years, and his signing can be described as a coup for any Premier League club. Europe’s top chance-creator in the last five years will be weaving his patterns on the Emirates Stadium turf from now on - and, shortly after signing, he spoke of his desire to help Arsenal bring major honours to north London.
“It’s very exciting," smiles the German schemer. "This is a perfect decision for me and I’m looking forward to it all.” The move came to the public consciousness pretty quickly - but Mesut explains that his decision to join Arsenal’s drive for success was a highly considered one. “I chose Arsenal because they are one of the top clubs in England,” he states. “The coach is a world-class manager - he has demonstrated that for years.“A lot of players have developed under his guidance in the past and that’s why I decided to come here. I want to improve further. Arsenal are well known for the strength of their technical game and their desire to play attacking football, and I think I will fit perfectly into that.”
All creative players need to be loved, to be given a certain licence to roam. Mesut admits that Arsène Wenger’s clear faith in him was another big factor in his upping sticks from the Spanish capital. “The most important thing is that the manager has given me his trust,” he says. “I want to show my potential and have fun on the pitch. I think that I can help the team through my performances.”
Assists lead to success and I’m the sort of player that likes to create goals. I think a lot of my team-mates know me as a player who is not selfishMesut Ozil
That much seems pretty nailed on. The attacking midfielder scored nine La Liga goals last season but laid on many more, making up a total of 71 during his time in Spain - and says that his assist-making prowess is something that gives him particular pride. “Assists lead to success and I’m the sort of player that likes to create goals. I think a lot of my team-mates know me as a player who is not selfish. It makes me very happy when I create goals or score goals myself. But the most important thing is that the team reaches its goal and plays positive football.”
Mesut’s ability to ghost into space, thread passes through the eye of the needle and drift past defenders needs little introduction. He reveals that he first learned the art of operating in tight spaces when playing ‘Affenkafig’ - cage football - back home in Germany as a boy. “The pitch was so small,” he recalls. “Most of the time, I played against people that were five or six years older than me. At the time I was not that tall. I had to establish myself against older and stronger people. Because the pitch was so small, we didn’t have any corners. The game always went on. This helped me to improve my technique a lot. That definitely made my life easier for the future. I think you can see on the pitch that I’m technically gifted.”
Such experience won’t do him any harm in what is, sometimes, a rough-and-tumble Premier League. Physical and mental toughness are vital alongside those flashes of class that are needed to turn a tight game. He is realistic about the size of the challenge ahead in a league he believes is the world’s hardest. “I’m happy to be playing in the Premier League because everyone knows it’s the strongest league in the world,” he says. “There are simply a lot of top teams. I want to prove myself there. It’s a new challenge for me, a new task. I want to improve further under the boss and in the team. I’m really excited about it.”
Arsenal’s recent wait for a trophy is well documented, but Mesut is certain he has joined a squad that can compete for honours straight away. “In the last few years, Arsenal haven’t been so successful but we want to change that,” he states. “We want to win trophies, and I think the fans are looking forward to that too. We have a very strong and a very young team that can improve a lot under the manager. I think we will win trophies because we have the potential to do so.”
We have a very strong and a very young team that can improve a lot under the manager. I think we will win trophies because we have the potential to do soMesut Ozil
When Mesut entered the Arsenal dressing room for the first time, there were of course two very familiar faces. Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski are both good friends of his in the German national team and have helped his settling-in period no end. In reality, he’s crossed swords with many more of his new team-mates - including, memorably, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs. The two were in the England Under-21 side that Mesut and Germany destroyed 4-0 in the 2009 Uefa Under-21 Championship - a tournament that went a long way towards convincing the world of Mesut’s outstanding talent - and it’s a game that the new boy remembers fondly.
“It was a great time,” he recalls. “We won the competition, and the team was just class. We had very good players in our ranks under the management of our coaches, Horst Hrubesch and Dieter Eilts. The game against England was a very nice moment and I think we dominated it. We really fulfilled our potential and deserved to win by such a scoreline. It was a great experience for me, personally.”
Mesut has blossomed into one of the world’s top players since then. And, although he has now left his life at the Bernabeu behind, there is one former Madrileno in whose image he has been determined to work throughout his young career. “I’ve said that my idol was Zinedine Zidane because for me, he was the perfect player,” he says. “He was good in the air, strong defensively and offensively - he was my idol. He had hardly any negative headlines, including in his private life. He was a role model for me.”
As well as exploring new frontiers on the pitch, Mesut is excited by the prospect of discovering another city. London’s ‘global’ status is a big draw for footballers nowadays, and he says that, even though football is clearly the priority, he is looking forward to seeing what it has to offer. “I think I will enjoy it a lot. I have heard a lot of positive things about London. It’s a ‘world city’ where there is lots going on. You can do lots of things, also privately, so I’m looking forward to the city. But I will be working there first and foremost, and that is what is important.”
Read the interview with Mesut and more in the latest edition
That work will manifest itself, hopefully, in a triumphant dovetailing with the likes of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere as Arsenal look to construct incisive attacking moves that can destroy the very best. Mesut concludes by reiterating the belief that his style and that of the Gunners can be the perfect match for one another.
“Arsenal are one of the technically strongest teams in the world,” he says. “The manager always wants to play attractive and attacking football. I think I fit into that because I enjoy playing quickly - that 'one-touch football’. I’m happy to be part of the Club and I hope I can help the team. I feel honoured to be here and I hope that we can have a very successful time together.”
The feelgood factor surrounding Mesut’s arrival at Arsenal is such that you wonder whether the sky might, indeed, just be the limit for this particular union
Danish forward Peter Lovenkrands, now with Birmingham City, knows Mesut’s talent better than most. The pair were at Schalke together when Mesut, then a teenager, made his breakthrough into senior football - and Peter provided us with his unique insight into our new signing’s character…
"My real memory of Mesut is what unbelievable talent he had. He was such a nice mannered and happy boy and he loved playing football. In training, him and another young boy at the time, Alexander Baumjohann, were the two dominant players. They played in the same position which is probably why they were up against each other all the time. He was so brilliant. He was fun to be around, laughing and joking. He was hilarious. It was a shame that they let him go.
"I remember in training, Mesut would often get himself surrounded by people and then somehow get away from them. One time, I think another player and myself had closed him in and I can’t even remember what he did but a second later, he was past us and I hadn’t even noticed how he had done it because I was still concentrating on trying to close him down. The change of pace he had was phenomenal. Andreas Moller was the sports director at the time and I said to him that they couldn’t let him go. But he said that Ivan Rakitic was coming in and that it would be OK.
One time, I think another player and myself had closed him in and I can’t even remember what he did but a second later, he was past us and I hadn’t even noticed how he had done itPeter Lovenkrands
"Mesut was 17 but he was playing like he was in his mid-twenties. His football knowledge was brilliant. I tried to tell them not to let him go. I’m not surprised that Mesut has become such a good player because he was so talented when he was 17. The team we had was good - we almost won the league that year. We had a fantastic team and he could fit right in with that. He was that good at 17 years old. He could play with no problem.
"I think he’s grown as a player. He’s taken everything in his stride. He’s always been that sort of player. When I knew him, he was always a fun guy who just took each day as it came. He was playing football and enjoying himself. Even when he went to Spain, he was fantastic straightaway. It’s good to see.
"I think he’ll be especially good at Arsenal. It’s one of the most exciting signings I’ve seen all season. It’s a great coup for Arsenal to get him. He’s going to create a lot and he fits in well with the type of play. I think the likes of Walcott are going to have a lot of joy with him dictating the play in the middle. The Premier League is hard but for me it wasn’t that hard to settle into, because I enjoyed it that much. He’s an international and has played in the Champions League. I don’t think it will be a problem for him at all. It’s always nice when you have somebody from your own country around. It was great for me to have Danish guys around and that will help him as well. It will be good to have people [like Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker] to lean on outside of football."Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source