Earlier in the season, Thierry Henry, a guest on Sky Sports ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League group game away to Napoli, spoke about the need for partnerships on a football pitch. The Frenchman was obviously drawn into a discussion about Mesut Ozil and he went on to compare the German with former Gunner Robert Pires.
Arsenal’s win against Hull on the weekend gave fans a reminder of what this team were like in the early stages of the season. The returning Ozil not only complemented Aaron Ramsey, who himself returned from a long layoff the game prior, but provided options all over the attacking third.
The point of Ozil isn’t to add too much defensively, and in turn it isn’t to label him a luxury player. The German gives this Arsenal team purpose and direction, of which they’ve been completely lacking for the past six weeks.
He built a strong partnership with Ramsey in the midfield, working to bring others into play. If Ramsey is the engine, tying the midfield and attack together, then Ozil adds the artistry and invention. The opening goal by the Welshman was excellent and evidence of the importance of both midfielders. Ozil was forced wide but turned back on himself and played in Santi Cazorla, who put Ramsey through on goal.
What has been crucial in the pair’s recent return is the production of Lukas Podolski in front of goal. The former Bayern forward may not be the quickest or the most mobile, but he will thrive off the service of others.
Once again, there are partnerships that come from this. Arsenal have been without a consistent goal threat during the second half of the season. What they haven’t lacked is a player who can score goals, as Podolski has shown, but rather someone who can work with him in the final third.
Ozil’s intelligence sees him drift about the pitch in search of openings and points where he can shift the game, either in tempo or direction. Even with Ramsey, Arsenal need Ozil to offer that intelligence to their play. He’s always an option for the other midfielders, who often looked as though they weren’t sure what they ought to be doing. Arsenal’s game needs a runner like Ramsey, as well as Podolski to finish the chances. But it requires the ingenuity of a player like Ozil for the attacks to be put into motion.
Going into the final four games of this season, Ozil will prove vital. Time and again the topic of confidence comes up with Arsenal, and the playmaker will offer that in abundance. We may not be seeing goals or direct assists (second assist may be the fitting term), but the lift Ozil has given this team is enough to merit his £42 million price tag. No other player in the team can get Arsenal playing the way they did against Hull.
Of course, it’s not to discredit the player on the other end of the pass. Ozil needs runners like Ramsey in order to be effective. But with both now back in the team and having picked up where they left off, suddenly Arsenal’s end of season doesn’t look so daunting.