Mesut Ozil can make the difference for Arsenal this season, says Robert Pires
By Geoff Shreeves and Richard Morgan
Last Updated: 19/11/16 1:12pm
Mesut Ozil can prove the catalyst to Arsenal finally getting their hands back on the Premier League title, according to former Gunners midfielder Robert Pires.
Arsenal take on rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime - in a match you can see live on Sky Sports 1 HD - having enjoyed an impressive start to the season.
Arsene Wenger's side sit fourth in the table, just two points behind leaders Liverpool, with Ozil's preformances crucial to their good form domestically and in Europe.
In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports' Geoff Shreeves, Pires said: "I always believe in Arsenal and the squad. At this point, Mesut Ozil can make the difference and I hope he can make Arsenal win the title this season because he has very good quality. Now he needs to put in his head that he can score."
The Germany international has scored seven times and contributed a further four assists in 14 games in all competitions this campaign, but it has been his goalscoring exploits that has pleased Pires the most.
If I compare Ozil and Bergkamp, they're very similar because they can, how do you say in English… smell the same football.
"Normally he wants to pass or assist, which is very good and I love it when you have a player like him on the pitch," Pires added. "But sometimes you need an ego, not too much, but a little bit of an ego. But I do not want to put too much pressure on Mesut though!"
Pires, who spent six seasons with the Gunners, likened the 28-year-old's influence to that of his former Arsenal team-mate, Dutch maestro Dennis Bergkamp.
"I do not like to compare the players, the team or the manager", he said. "But for example in my time, it was an honour to train every morning with Bergkamp or Thierry Henry.
"But as I am still training with the team, I can judge some players. Because if I can compare Ozil and Bergkamp, they are very similar in everything because they can smell the same football.
"They play for the team and not anyone else, they have very good control. Bergkamp and Ozil can play very long balls and they have very good vision. Ozil and Bergkamp are very close."
However, it is not just Ozil, but players of the quality of Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny who give Pires the belief his old team can win their first title since he was part of the 2003-04 'Invincibles' side.
He added: "I think when you see the name of the players at Arsenal, you can say: 'This team can win the title at the end of the season.
"Because you have Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla and Koscielny. I think all the players have won some titles with their country or the national team, so this is very good for Wenger and the club because they can put this experience on the team.
"Maybe we need more character, like from my time with Patrick Vieira or Tony Adams, but the team is very good.
"It is very difficult as normally this is natural, like Adams, Ray Parlour, Lee Dixon, Vieira or Thierry Henry. But when I see the guys - maybe [Francis] Coquelin - they have a very good character and spirit like English players. But maybe we need more players like Coquelin.
Six months half price
Upgrade to Sky Sports to watch Man Utd v Arsenal on Saturday and get the first six months half price
"But in a team you need a mix of players with ability, technique, physical and sometimes you can fight with the other players."
Pires, though, feels Saturday's encounter at the Old Trafford will reveal a lot about the Gunners' championship credentials this season, with an Arsenal win proving they are "ready" to end their 13-year wait for the title.
"Of course it is still a special game, a big game," said Pires, who won two Premier Leagues during his time at Highbury. "We know the reality of Man United v Arsenal, normally they both fight for the title, so I think - and hope - it will be a great game.
"I think it is a good test for Arsenal, normally at Old Trafford you can see your team's performance, so of course it is a special game for everybody. If you win at Old Trafford, then you can say: 'Arsenal are ready and compact,' because the team is very good.
"I do not know what is happening with the game for United, but it will be a very good test for Arsene Wenger and the players."
Pires, meanwhile, describes Arsenal's opponents this weekend as being in a "complicated" situation at present, who languish outside the top five in the Premier League and eight points off top spot.
"This period is actually a little bit complicated for Manchester United, especially for Jose Mourinho," he said. "But you know Mourinho, he is still the 'Special One' because he is one of the best managers in Europe and maybe in the world, because he won in Portugal, Italy, the UK and Spain with Madrid."
However, the Frenchman has called for patience, not just with the United manager, but also his compatriot Paul Pogba, who has struggled since joining the club from Juventus for £93.25m last summer.
"Sometimes you need, even for Mourinho, time because it is normal, he wants to build something with Man Utd," said Pires. "So maybe in January he wants to change some players and sign some players who want to play for Man Utd.
"But it is not serious for Man Utd, it is, an accident? This is a transition for Man Utd and Jose Mourinho. Even for the players like Paul Pogba, who is a very good player.
"He is doing very well with the national team, he did very well with Juventus, so now he changes everything. Of course he knows the Premier League and Man Utd, but it is not the same, it is not Serie A."
Pogba's critics should wait a while before passing definitive judgement on the world's most expensive player, according to Pires, especially given the time it takes to adjust from life in Serie A to that of the Premier League.
"It is too early to judge him because he is very young and for him it is very difficult because he has a lot of pressure on his shoulders," he said. "Even for Zlatan Ibrahimovic it is a problem. It is not the same, it is very difficult, very physical, every game is very tight."
But Pires, who knows a thing or two about how to make it as a Frenchman in the English top flight after helping guide Arsenal to two league titles on his way to being voted the Football Writers' Player of the year in 2002, has no doubt Pogba will be a success at United.
"For Paul we need to be patient with him and then maybe after five or six months, the people can judge Paul Pogba, but believe me he is a very good player," he said.
Watch the Robert Pires interview in full ahead of Manchester United v Arsenal on Sky Sports 1 HD on Saturday at 11.30am, as well as getting it on demand.