Mesut Ozil confirms status as England’s best creator – and hints at even greater feats
Tom Adams was at Emirates Stadium to see Mesut Ozil give a vivid display of his talent, and lay down a marker for future improvement.
If you were playing Mesut Ozil Bingo on Tuesday night, you would almost have had a full house during Arsenal‘s 3-0 Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb. A diving header to score from the edge of the six-yard box wouldn’t have even made the card, but, improbably, Ozil did one anyway.
It was a display which showed Europe why Ozil must be considered the best playmaker in England on current form, and hinted at the even better player Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have hoped he will mutate into for some time.
Just seven minutes into the Dinamo Zagreb match it was clear that Ozil was intent on having the time of his life, releasing Santi Cazorla with the kind of reverse pass that has defenders reaching for their protractors to work out just how he managed to find the angle.
An audacious intervention on 36 minutes was even better. As Joel Campbellnurdled a short pass infield for Ozil, the obvious option looked to be a quick return; instead he flicked the ball through his own legs with his left heel to find Hector Bellerin and spun 180 degrees in the process.
In fact, the only thing missing was an assist, which was slightly bizarre when you consider that at the weekend Ozil extended his Premier League record by setting up a team-mate for the seventh match in succession. It is a statistic which confirms what the eye can see: Ozil is the best creator in English football.
Widen the perspective and the picture which emerges is Ozil actually being the most prolific creator of chances anywhere in Europe at present. In the big five leagues, the player who comes closest to his tally of 11 assists is Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa with seven. Ozil has conjured up the most chances of any player as the data below, provided by Opta, reveals.
But on Tuesday night, it was not his creative attributes which caught Wenger’s eye, rather his very atypical charge into the penalty area and stooping header to meet a cross from Alexis Sanchez after 39 minutes.
“I think Mesut Ozil had an outstanding first half,” said Wenger. “He has got the taste for scoring now. I have never seen Ozil in the box so many times as in the last five or six games.”
It was Ozil’s first goal for Arsenal in seven matches and if he does have the taste for scoring it is more that of that of a culinary connoisseur, occasionally experiencing the latest Michelin-starred restaurant, rather than a ravenous student devouring an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.
Wenger set the Germany international a target of 10 goals at the start of the season and approaching the end of November he has just three, having also found the net against Bayern Munich at home in the Champions League andManchester United at home in the Premier League. Pretty big goals, but not too many of them.
As Rio Ferdinand expressed on Tuesday night, tricks and assists establish Ozil as a joy to watch and an artist who is almost without peer in the Premier League. More than that, they also importantly establish him as a highly effective player within a team structure which makes space for individual expression. But goals will take still him to a new level. He need only look to Tuesday’s other goalscorer for evidence of that.
Sanchez scored twice to take the headlines yet despite having a more inconsistent season than Ozil he is currently joint favourite to collect the PFA Premier League Player of the Year award with Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero. Ozil, setting new records with his run of assists in the league, is fifth on the list at 10/1.
The difference is the explosive, unavoidable talent of Sanchez, the dribbler and goalscorer, versus the more considered, artful talent of Ozil, the creator and assister. It’s a fundamental fault line in football. Goals give greater validation and attract bigger wages.
Sanchez scored twice and took the headlines. That is not to say his own performance was not equally creditable of course. Both of his goals were nicely taken and he also conjured up a piece of skill to match even Ozil’s.
Still, the enduring memory was that of Ozil having as much fun as is possible on a pitch. If he can add the goals Wenger is asking of him, and that the manager senses Ozil also wants himself, just watch him go.