Whether included or excluded, Mesut Ozil is always one of the biggest talking points when it comes to Arsenal team selections, and that inevitably goes double when its the first starting XI of a new manager’s reign.
Mikel Arteta put together his first official Arsenal team for Boxing Day’s Premier League clash with Bournemouth and interestingly enough, one of the Gunners’ most controversial players of all time found himself included at the tip of midfield.
There’s an obvious curiosity here; Ozil’s start on Thursday suggests Arteta hopes to get the best out of the 2010 World Cup winner and the club’s highest earner despite his well-documented fall from grace, rather than throwing him on the scrapheap and trying to rebuild Arsenal around younger, hungrier names.
But there’s a subplot specific to this fixture as well. Cast your mind back to around this time last year, November 2018, and Unai Emery had decided to leave Ozil out of his squad for a trip to Bournemouth, implying to reporters that the ex-Germany lynchpin lacked the physicality and intensity for such an occasion.
Clearly, Arteta didn’t agree with that analysis – although it must be said that the Vitality Stadium has hardly been a fearful proposition of late with three defeats and two draws from Bournemouth’s last six home games – and that worked only to Arsenal’s benefit on Thursday.
Indeed, the midfield maestro’s performance was by no means spell-binding, but it did contain traces of the Ozil of old. He ultimately created four chances – the joint-most he has managed in a Premier League game this season – but more pertinent was the orchestrative nature of his play.
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Ozil continuously broke into the pocket between Bournemouth’s defence and midfield, taking up the kind of positions that force centre-backs into hesitating about closing down, and threaded balls through to the wingers, the full-backs and central striker Alexandre Lacazette.
Over the course of the match, that influence did wane, which only serves as homage to Ozil’s lightweight and mercurial nature. But certainly in the opening stages, he was doing more than any Arsenal team-mate to create goalscoring opportunities, even if it wasn’t him providing the passes directly leading to efforts at goal.
Ozil and Emery never seemed to have a particularly tight bond. In fact, he only ever made 36 starts under the Spaniard, and was left out of the matchday squad entirely on over 20 occasions excluding injuries.
And perhaps that was to Emery’s detriment, because within one game of his reign, Arteta has already helped Ozil prove can have a big impact away from home against teams like Bournemouth, who Arsenal need to start beating on a regular basis if they’re to turn this season around.
Of course, we’ve seen Ozil turn up on single occasions before and then fade back into being a largely peripheral presence, but if Arteta can get the former Real Madrid star performing in tricky away games, he will have a massive asset on his hands.