By Daniel Cowan
When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil on deadline day 2013, the buzz around the club became almost deafening. Arsenal had been crying out for a so-called big signing for a long time and they didn’t come much bigger than one of the world’s best playmakers.
Ozil was heralded as the new Dennis Bergkamp for multiple reasons but his vision and passing ability resulted in the comparison. For many he was the new Bergkamp because his signing was of the magnitude of the man we called God.
He was a big name signing, a world-class player, and miles above the rest of our squad. This was a man who was going to inspire those around him and elevate Arsenal back to the pinnacle of their game.
"Like Bergkamp, Alexis is head and shoulders above the rest of his team at the moment and is our main goal threat. He is our match winner"
Sadly, Ozil’s impact has been less profoundly felt for a variety of reasons including injury – both to him and the players he has tried to forge an understanding with – and fatigue, acclimatisation and position.
Possibly it was too much to assume Ozil could leave a team with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria gratefully accepting his perfectly weighted through balls to a team with – with no disrespect or judgement to the players we have – the likes of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo, and still be the premier assist maker in Europe.
Ozil did perform admirably and certainly lifted the team, helping to guide them to a 1st trophy in 9 years and, for most of the season, lead the challenge for the title.
Various injuries, as mentioned, to both him and his team-mates, coupled with frustration over Arsenal’s faltered title challenge has possibly led to a little revisionism when it comes to how Ozil’s first season with Arsenal is appraised.
World Cup hangover, playing in an unfamiliar club position with even more new players to gel with and a struggling team all adds up and equals an expensive player who people find incredibly easy to criticise and write off.
Ozil, in the space of a season, has gone from being Bergkamp’s heir to expensive liability (in the opinion of some). In a sense, these people are right - Mesut is not the new Dennis. No, that title, in my opinion, belongs to Alexis Sanchez.
Alexis isn’t built in the image of Bergkamp, as some would say Ozil is, but away from playing style he embodies everything great about the Iceman.
When Bergkamp joined Arsenal it caused shockwaves. The buzz around Highbury could in some sense be described as silenced. We were dumbfounded. This was Dennis Bergkamp and we were Arsenal. How did we manage to pull that one off?
"We’re all walking around with silly grins and pinching ourselves at our inordinate fortune in having such a player in our midst"
The silence quickly turned into jubilation – not the running in front of cameras waving adult toys or conspicuous 40-year-old worryingly milling about outside the stadium with a bunch of barely pubescent teenagers and dancing a merry jig kind of jubilation.
It was more the kind of jubilation where you can’t stop smiling and walk around in some kind of dream state where everything feels warm and fuzzy, which might have been the numerous beers sunk in celebration.
The media at the time and rival supporters painted him as a flop who couldn’t cut the mustard in Italy and wouldn’t cut the mustard here either. The first few games of Bergkamp’s career with Arsenal only made them crow louder but it wasn’t long before they were eating their words as he displayed his quality and inspired the team to lift their own game.
This is exactly how I feel about Alexis. He was labelled as a Barcelona outcast and took a few games to bed in too. But now, well, the quality is there for all to see. We’re all walking around with silly grins and pinching ourselves at our inordinate fortune in having such a player in our midst.
Like Bergkamp, Alexis is head and shoulders above the rest of his team at the moment and is our main goal threat. He is our match winner.
His tireless running, directness and determination is not only winning us games but it is inspiring those around him. Danny Welbeck, who was already a great runner, is chasing down balls he didn’t at first and picking the ball up deep to drive forward with it.
The full backs are pushing forward to put more crosses and passes into the box and bank on someone taking a gamble. Alexis is lighting the way and the team seem only too eager to follow him.
His work ethic on the pitch is as revered by his adoring supporters as his training ground ethic is by his team mates. Like Bergkamp, he puts the hours in and doesn’t rely purely on natural talent.
Alexis is, as many have said, Luis Suarez without the biting. He makes things happen. He has been a revelation in this team and like Bergkamp before him, has completely lifted the mood.
People are still a little unsure of Arsenal at the moment and have mixed feelings at best but turn the conversation to Alexis and any lingering negative thoughts or feelings are pushed aside and a wonderful discussion takes place. It’s nice to have a player who isn’t polarising and actually unites the fans for once.
Ozil still has a place in this team and his quality will eventually shine through the way people expected it to but at the moment Alexis is Bergkamp’s successor and the one who will inspire our team to greater things.