Mesut Ozil is the type of footballer Arsenal aren’t accustomed to signing - a big-money, established world-class player, a regular for one of the world’s best club sides, and one of the world’s best international sides.
Arsenal’s 2013 summer transfer window seemed set to be extremely quiet, but it ended with the biggest signing in Arsène Wenger’s 17 years at the Club. The statistics prove Ozil’s class - over the past five seasons, across Europe’s major five leagues, no-one has recorded as many assists as the German playmaker. He’s directly created 72 goals, more than Lionel Messi (67), Xavi Hernandez (56) and Juan Mata (51). “I’m the sort of player who likes to create goals,” Ozil said upon joining Arsenal. “My team-mates know me as a player who is not selfish.”
"He’s excelled in counterattacking sides at both club and international level, striding forward directly with the ball and selecting clever passes on the run - but he’s also capable of sliding the ball neatly through deep, packed defences"
Many number 10s are flawed because of their insistence upon doing everything themselves, undermining their supposed role as a playmaker - Ozil embraces, and actively stresses, his selflessness. The tremendous thing about Ozil’s skill-set is his flexibility. He’s excelled in counterattacking sides at both club and international level, striding forward directly with the ball and selecting clever passes on the run - but he’s also capable of sliding the ball neatly through deep, packed defences. That adaptability makes him a perfect tactical weapon, capable of deciding games regardless of whether his side are dominating, or being dominated.
Although his assist record demonstrates his quality in possession, Ozil might also lay claim to being the world’s best ‘off-the-ball’ footballer. His playing style sometimes appears languid but his movement is extremely calculated - Ozil’s appreciation of space is quite wonderful, managing to position himself between the opposition lines of defence and midfield, before drifting away from the man that attempts to close him down.
In that respect, he shares many qualities with Dennis Bergkamp in central positions, but there’s also an element of Thierry Henry about him, in his inventive use of space towards the flanks. Henry was famed for starting in a wide-left position despite nominally being a central striker, and although Ozil is an entirely different player from Arsenal’s record goalscorer, there’s a similar feeling of invention and intelligence in the way Ozil drifts around.
Ozil also borrows a trick Henry used - standing out on the touchline, apparently uninterested in the game, before bursting into life. It hardly fools defenders on a regular basis, but it underlines the desperation to get space and time wherever possible. That movement into wide zones worked particularly nicely at Real Madrid, where both Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria wanted to cut inside and shoot with their stronger foot.
At Arsenal, it will work slightly differently - to the left, Ozil will dovetail nicely with Santi Cazorla, a similar style of player, while on the right he might cover for Theo Walcott, moving out to the touchline to ensure Arsenal retain balance when Walcott charges in behind the defence in central positions.
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