Everyone needs Özil
With Arsenal completing the club record signing of Mesut Özil on transfer deadline day, Adam Bate looks at what the Germany international can bring to the Premier League.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 03/09/13 1:10pm
Do Arsenal really need Mesut Özil? He's no striker but the point really ought to be moot. This is the most stunning Gunners signing since Dennis Bergkamp. If there's a difference it's that the Dutch master came with question marks over his ability to translate his form abroad after a difficult spell in Italy. With Özil, there should be no such doubts. "Özil is unique," said his former Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho. "There is no copy of him. Not even a bad copy. He is the best No.10 in the world."
In the 24-year-old German, Arsenal have signed a world-class player at the peak of his powers. Just as Mourinho asserts, with more assists than any other footballer in Europe's top five leagues over the past five seasons, Özil has a justifiable claim to be regarded as the game's foremost creator - the pre-eminent playmaker around today.
|Real Madrid - La Liga 2012/13|
|Player||Key Passes||Key Passes per 90 mins|
|Angel Di Maria||44||2.00|
If you're a cynical soul of the view that those assist records are bolstered only by the genius of Cristiano Ronaldo - passes that preceded goals, rather than goals resulting from passes, if you like - consider the differential between Özil and his Real Madrid team-mates. While the rest of the creators in Real's midfield - Ronaldo, Kaka, Angel Di Maria, Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso - produced no more than 2.33 key passes per 90 minutes, Özil delivered 4.07 key passes per full game last season.
To achieve these feats that require ambitious forward passes and still retain a pass completion rate of more than 84 per cent is indicative of the fact that Özil is an intelligent user of the ball as well as a creative force. Put simply, he will keep the ball when it needs to be kept and play the killer pass when it needs to be played.
But Özil is more than just stats. In fact, he is as hard to define as he is elusive to pick up in those attacking midfield zones, with his instinctive ability to drift to the flanks in search of space. His game is about occupying those little pockets wherever he can find them. His touches of the ball against Galatasaray (below) show this lateral movement well.
With this awareness not only to find space away from the opposition but also from his own team-mates, it is easy to see why Özil is regarded as the perfect foil. "Mesut is a great player and it is good fun to play alongside him," says Ronaldo. He is the facilitator for the blunt instruments of destruction around him.
Mourinho saw it. "Özil makes things very easy for me and for his team-mates with his football vision and the decisions he makes," he said during his time in charge at the Bernabeu. "It's easy for him to make decisions on the pitch, which is actually the hardest thing there is in football. It is an art to make football look easy and he has that quality."
The Real Madrid supporters saw it too. While Bale's ceremonial introduction to the fans on Monday was hailed as a triumph, the chants of "Don't sell Özil" made it clear that many are aware the arrival of the Tottenham star may have come at a cost far greater than the money deposited in Spurs' bank account. Whether Gareth Bale will complement Ronaldo quite so effectively is now Carlo Ancelotti's problem. There are echoes of the Claude Makelele sale here for Florentino Perez.
47 - Mesut Özil has laid on 47 assists in La Liga since joining Real Madrid. No-one has more in that time (level with Messi). Creator.- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 2, 2013
For their part, Arsenal supporters of a pessimistic persuasion may choose to focus on the defensive weaknesses that remain or the striker the team still needs. These are valid concerns. The matter of a surfeit of attacking midfield talent is less relevant. Özil is, by definition, an upgrade. And besides, as the Hollywood actress Mae West once said: "Too much of a good thing is wonderful."
There will be consequences. The likelihood of Santi Cazorla taking his starting position from the left wing increases. But, to borrow Ronaldo's words, he will have fun with Özil. Indeed, with the German's inclination to move into wide positions, there will still be opportunities for Cazorla to interchange and impress in the centre. Özil is used to playing with Ronaldo and Di Maria cutting in from the flanks. It is hard to think of a player less likely to get in the way.
|Most Through-Balls - La Liga 2012/13|
|Player||Successful Through-Balls||Through-Ball Accuracy|
|Angel Di Maria||18||32%|
Walcott can also be expected to thrive. The driving run in behind the left-back has become the speedy winger's calling card in recent times, leading to the opening goal of the game in each of Arsenal's last four matches. Clearly, slipping that pass through is a key weapon for Arsenal and the move relies upon the quality through-balls that the likes of Cazorla can supply.
Now there is another player at the Emirates capable of such precision. Only three players played more successful through-balls in La Liga last season than Özil and none had the same success rate. Olivier Giroud might not be Robin van Persie but he is unlikely to be able to complain of a lack of service.
Of course, the example of Van Persie is apt here. Twelve months ago, the Arsenal hero left for Manchester United with pundits opining that for all his qualities he was not addressing the midfield problems at Old Trafford. Arsene Wenger has yet to buy his replacement but he appears to have pulled off the reverse RVP in more ways than one.
Do Arsenal really need Mesut Özil? As those Real Madrid fans already realise, every team needs Mesut Özil.