This story first appeared in the January 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
Name: Mesut Ozil
Sqaud number: 11
Born: Gelsenkirchen, Germany, October 15, 1988
Joined Arsenal: from Real Madrid on September 2, 2013
Previous clubs: Schalke, Werder Bremen, Real Madrid
Arsenal debut: v Sunderland (a) League, September 14, 2013 (won 3-1)
First Arsenal goal: v Napoli (h) Champions League, October 1, 2013 (won 2-0)
Arsenal honours: FA Cup winner 2014, 2015, Community Shield winner 2015 Germany caps: 70 (18 goals)
Much like Mesut, another owner of Arsenal’s No 11 shirt, CHARLIE GEORGE, was also a firm favourite among the club’s supporters during his time in N5.
Immensely talented, unpredictable and always exciting to watch, Charlie established himself alongside George Best, Stan Bowles and Rodney Marsh as one of the 1970s’ most enigmatic characters during an entertaining career in which he scored Arsenal’s winning goal in the 1971 FA Cup final.
Charlie, who was born in Islington, made 179 appearances and scored 49 goals for the Gunners during his nine years in north London, so is well qualified to pass judgment on a playmaker who he believes is “a dream” for Arsenal’s attackers to play alongside.
“If you make a run, I’m pretty sure he’ll find you,” Charlie begins. “He’s got great technique and it must be great as a striker to know that if you do your job well enough and find space, he’s going to give you the ball.
“He has so much ability and he probably thinks a couple of moves in front of us sometimes. It’s going to be up to him to take hold of the game now, especially with Santi Cazorla not playing for a few months.
“I just think he is a class player. Of course everyone has different attributes that they bring to the team, and he contributes a lot of quality, particularly because he’s so good at knitting forward moves together.”
Mesut has emphasized that very point so far this season, breaking a Premier League record after assisting in seven successive matches between September and November. In fact, since arriving in England, Mesut has averaged fewer than two-and-a-half league games per goal created - the best record in the competition’s history.
“I think it took him a little bit of time to settle,” Charlie remarks. “It’s a lot different to playing in Spain. When you are playing in the best teams over there, it becomes a little bit easier for you.
“There are four or five teams on a par over here and it’s therefore a little bit harder. He’s definitely showing the ability that I thought he had.
“He sees things very quickly, he’s very sharp and knows where he wants to play the ball. Maybe at times, players don’t read the situation as well as him but so far this season he’s combined so well with his team-mates.
“If I were to suggest one area he could improve in, it would be in front of goal. He gets into good positions and if he could be more deadly, that would be fantastic for him and for Arsenal. To be fair to him, he seems to have stepped that up recently.”
While Charlie often played on the wing or as a striker, there are still similarities that can be drawn between himself and Mesut. Both have or had the ability to bring fans to their feet.
Like Charlie, Mesut is a showman - albeit a different type. Charlie had a reputation for scoring from long range or gliding past players when embarking on a mazy dribble. Mesut often excels with intelligent flicks and supreme passes - see his outrageous flicked assist for Olivier Giroud against Aston Villa in February as evidence.
There can be no doubting his attacking influence but some pundits have criticised Mesut for a perceived lack of defensive awareness, which Charlie believes is unfair.
“He runs probably more than anyone. You always get these stats about who runs the most and I think he runs more than or equal to anyone else. Everyone has different attributes, you can’t have 11 players who can tackle in a team and you can’t have 11 players like Ozil. You have a mixture, which makes the team mobile in different ways.
“The game has changed a lot from when I was playing. In the present time, we need to see everybody working for the team. Maybe you could have got away with it years ago when there were different types of players that would play, but I think everyone has to do a job. Ozil runs back, I have seen him sprint back sometimes and, while he might occasionally have a relapse, every attacking player has that from time to time.”
So how would Mesut have fared playing alongside Charlie in the 1970s? “The game has changed so much since I was at Arsenal,” Charlie explains.
“That comes from the way in which teams are set out and how games are officiated now. Nobody would have been able to dwell on the ball for too long when I was playing but they can take an extra touch or two now.
“We had a guy who was called George Eastham who was also a ball player, but I think Ozil gets into the box a lot more than other players.
“George Graham was very good on the ball too. I really enjoyed playing with people like big John Radford. He was a tremendous player who made runs forward and was a different type of player to me. There was Francis Lee and Kevin Hector too, who were out-and-out goalscorers but were also very intelligent players.
“There’s a big influence on numbers now but the players that created a lot in my era weren’t spoken about so much because we never really had stats or anything like that. The great Jimmy Greaves would never run about, he just stayed in the box and would score 30 goals a season - that’s the most important stat.”
And finally, how would Charlie’s game have differed if he was playing in the modern day? “I think the better players would have become even better,” he smiles. “These guys look after themselves really well and keep themselves really charged for the game.
“Everything in football seems to have changed so quickly. Ozil plays in a floating role, I played on the wing or up front basically. Initially though, when I first started off, I used to play in that position too. It is a great role for the player - especially now you have more time on the ball and protection from referees.”
Mesut Ozil’s defining moments
Signing for Arsenal
September 2, 2013
As Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes announced – just before 11pm on transfer deadline day – that Arsenal had smashed the club record fee to sign Mesut Ozil, he was mobbed by hordes of young Gunners fans who had assembled outside Emirates Stadium in anticipation of the momentous announcement.
Those scenes of jubilation were no doubt mirrored by Arsenal supporters across the world, aware that the club was now entering a new era. These supporters had been used to seeing the big names leaving, rather than arriving at Arsenal over the past few years. This signing changed all that.
The fee for the 24 year old was reported at £42.5million - making him the most expensive German ever, and easily Arsenal's biggest outlay, to prise him away from Real Madrid. The deal was likened by many to Dennis Bergkamp's arrival in 1995 – a proven world-class talent to take the club to the next level. Mesut himself said at the time:
"When talking with Arsène Wenger I immediately felt what I had missed: 100 per cent faith in me. I will pay back to the club and the fans in every single match. Now I want to help the club to finally win titles again." It wouldn't be long until he proved good to his word.
Debut v Sunderland
September 15, 2013
11 minutes. That's all it took for Mesut to announce his arrival in the English game. There had been plenty of talk about how the German had been a great creator in both La Liga and the Bundesliga – in fact the 73 assists he had racked up over the previous six seasons made him the top provider in Europe.
So it should have come as no surprise when he perfectly teed up Olivier Giroud from the left for the Frenchman to give Arsenal the lead. In fact he could have had a hat-trick of first-half assists, had Theo Walcott had a better afternoon in front of goal at the Stadium of Light.
His impressive debut was all the more remarkable due to the fact that Mesut was in far from perfect condition for the game. Arsène Wenger revealed at the final whistle: “If Santi Cazorla had been fit, Ozil would have certainly been on the bench. He was sick on Thursday night. I decided only to play him this morning.He had a stomach bug. He didn’t feel well," before concluding "his first half was outstanding.”It was just a taste of things to come.
Winning the FA Cup
May 17, 2014
Arsenal had waited nine years for a trophy, Mesut waited just over eight months. Arsène Wenger's men went into the 2014 FA Cup final as odds-on favourites against Hull City, but also under huge pressure to finally end the club's longest trophyless period for a generation.
Mesut had certainly played his part in getting Arsenal to the final, starring in the wins over Tottenham, Coventry, Liverpool and scoring in the quarter-final victory against Everton. At Wembley he played his part as Arsenal came back from two goals down to clinch a famous victory.
During the post-match celebrations an elated Mesut looked down the lens of the camera and bellowed out "Ya Gunners Ya!" It's since become Mesut's catchphrase and a popular hashtag on social media. His love affair with the famous old competition was born - he's actually won all 10 of the FA Cup matches he's played, including retaining the cup against Villa last May of course.
In fact this first FA Cup win was something of a springboard for Arsenal and Mesut. Just a month later he was lifting more silverware aloft - the World Cup with Germany in Brazil. Collecting honours has become a way of life for Mesut throughout his career, he's simply continued that in north London.
Performance v Bayern Munich
October 20, 2015
What a contrast to the previous year. In February 2014 Arsenal had dominated the opening exchanges against the mighty Bayern, and looked set to take a deserved lead in the ninth minute when Mesut won a penalty after being fouled by Jerome Boateng.
Mesut himself strode up to take the spot-kick, only to see his former Schalke team mate Manuel Neuer deny him. Bayern went on to win the game, and ultimately the tie. Fast forward to this season and Arsenal faced Bayern at home in the group stages, needing a win to stand any realistic chance of qualifying.
This time the Gunners triumphed, and Mesut was the tormentor in chief. He scored late on too, converting from close range after Hector Bellerin raced away on the break. “I had a shot at goal and Manuel saved it brilliantly," Mesut said at the final whistle.
"After two or three seconds I saw that the referee was signalling a goal and I was relieved. It was clear that we had won the game at that point. We’re very, very happy, to win.”
Bayern's Philip Lahm was full of praise afterwards: "Mesut is probably the most intelligent player I have ever played with, he is probably the most intelligent player in Europe today. “Mesut sees things only he can — his vision is as good as I have ever seen."
Breaking the Premier League assist record
November 21, 2015
Had Jamie Vardy not stolen the limelight during his remarkable goalscoring run for Leicester, this Premier League record would surely have received more plaudits. When Mesut swung in a free-kick for Olivier Giroud to head home away to West Brom, he became the first player to contribute at least one assist in seven consecutive Premier League games.
The run started against Vardy's Leicester side - an clipped lofted pass was finished off by Alexis in the 5-2 win. Further assists followed against Manchester United, Watford (two), Everton, Swansea (two), Tottenham and West Brom. The run came to an end away to Norwich, when Mesut decided to score, rather than create, Arsenal's only goal of the game.
After 15 games this season Mesut had racked up 12 assists, six more than any other player in the league, and was well on course to break the record for most assists in a Premier League season - set by Thierry Henry (20) in 2002/03. Overall the German playmaker has 25 assists in his Premier League career, from 61 games, meaning his games per assist ratio is the best in the league's history.
“Assists lead to success, and I’m the sort of player that likes to create goals,” Mesut said during his first ever Arsenal Magazine interview in September 2013. He's continued to show just how much he enjoys it ever since.
Arsène Wenger on…
When he first saw him play…
He was at Schalke at a very young age, about 17 or 18, but didn't play much so he went to Werder Bremen which was where I saw him first really. He played as a left winger, and I could see straight away that there was something special there.
What was special about him…
It was his intelligence that stood out for me. Mesut is like a musician who always plays the right note, and at the right moment. His timing is perfect – when he has to give the ball, he gives the ball. It's just a pleasure to see. It struck me that he was at such a young age, but the boy could time his passing always right.
He got out of impossible situations. Also what struck me was that it was not forced on an individual basis - the team play was in front of his ego. That strikes you because normally when players are that talented, that's not the first quality you see.
How he signed him….
I tried to sign him when he went to Real Madrid, and we kept the relationship because he called me and said 'look, it was between you and Real, and I have opted for Madrid.' At the time I found that very well educated. He called me and said sorry, and why he chose Madrid. I wished him good luck, but when I heard there was an opportunity to get him out of Real Madrid, of course I was candid again. This time it worked which shows you sometimes the seeds you sew earlier, work later. The fact he called me when he first went to Real Madrid really remained with me, and I thought 'if I get the opportunity again, I will not miss it!'
The verdict from Torsten Frings
“Mesut joined us at Bremen when he was still a teenager. By Werder’s standards, we paid a lot of money for what was still a very young, albeit talented, player. But when he joined, we noticed his incredible ability straight away.
"Even as a very young player, he was so convincing technically. It took him a while to settle in because he was still young and had moved away from his family. From time to time I would take him to one side, ask him how he was feeling and give him a couple of tips in terms of how he could improve.
"But Mesut was always the sort of person who would come to you and ask how he could solve certain issues or become a better player. It was always a joy to play alongside him. He quickly acclimatised, felt comfortable and gave some outstanding performances for us.
"For me it was always really good to play alongside him. You could see straight away that he was mega-talented. Maybe at that stage you couldn’t be sure that he would go on to have the career that he has but I’m really pleased with what he has managed to achieve. It’s hard to pinpoint one moment because Mesut played so many good matches in his time at Werder.
"A lot of people will remember certain moments like his performance in a 5-2 win at Bayern Munich or when he scored the winning goal in the German Cup final in 2009. He was just a complete player and you could see early on that he had all the ingredients to make something big out of himself. I think Mesut will have benefitted from how experienced our team was.
"He was young but he fitted so well into that system and was able to play with freedom, which was what he needed. Thomas Schaaf was the manager at the time and I think he was important for Mesut too, because he is the sort of coach that gives young players an opportunity and a lot of trust.
"When you have a manager who presents you with that, as a young player it certainly aids your development and helps you to make the most of your career. We had Diego in the squad at the time too, who played as a playmaker, and I’m sure that Mesut will have picked up a lot from him in those early days. Looking back on his time here, we are all pleased to have had a player like Mesut at Werder.”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