Last week marked the fifth year anniversary of Mesut Ozil’s signing for Arsenal. With the club then unwilling to spend double digits on a player, his arriving at the Emirates Stadium for £42.5 million at a tender age age of 24, especially on the back of winning the World Cup was a huge sign of intent from Arsene Wenger and the club.
The German midfielder duly delivered, helping the club end their nine-year trophy drought, winning the FA Cup in his debut season. He went on to win the same trophy two more times and winning the club’s Player of the Season award in the only season the club failed to win the trophy in his first four seasons at the club. While he brought success with help from Laurent Koscielny, Petr Cech and Alexis Sanchez, he found his form dwindling so much that he was always the talking point after Arsenal games for contrasting reasons.
Nothing attested to his being bipolar when it comes to on-field contributions as his 2015-16 season did. The former Real Madrid number 10 set up 16 goals in the first 19 games, putting the club in a strong position in the league. The second half of the season, however, saw his assists dry up, as he collected only three more. With his dip, the Gunners found themselves crashing out of the title race.
While he’s established himself as a darling at Arsenal, he now has a precarious task: securing a place in Unai Emery’s new look Arsenal. It’s going to be the talk of the town this season, especially after his establishing himself as a solid divisive figure outside the London club following his controversial international retirement.
While Nacho Monreal and the manager himself have rubbished rumours of a spat between the manager and the club’s highest earner, oftentimes in football, there’s no smoke without fire. The German’s reaction every time he was taken off definitely adds fuel to the speculation. Indeed, the manager only took him off only took him off to introduce fresh legs, but it was evident he didn’t take it lightly. His missing the 3-1 win over West Ham United after being taken off after 68 minutes on the pitch in the 3-2 away loss to Chelsea added believability to the rumour that they’re not on the same page on certain things.
However, the Spaniard, who has previously handled an undroppable in Neymar, must know what he’s dealing with at his new club. In fact, he is quite supportive of the 29-year-old. “I want to push him,” said the manager. “I want to be demanding. I want to find with him the possibility to do the best, to make decisive passes and to do more near and in the box to score. He is feeling like I am feeling. He can improve. He can do more.”
He can definitely do more. In truth, it’s easy for a player of his quality to do better than creating no big chance in three starts. However, he’ll have to do that in a not-so-familiar territory: the right flank.
He’s played there before for Arsenal, and will ostensibly be given the license to roam. He can drop down to build from the deep, as he often likes to do, and will probably receive enough defensive backup from Lucas Torreira to stay up the field.
He’s one of the best in the world. Perhaps, he’s the best number 10 in world football today. However, he’s ill-suited to the philosophy the club’s espoused under the new manager. It’s unknown if he can press relentlessly. It’s unknown if he can be his usual self on the right flank. It’s unknown if the manager truly convinced the player a change of position would do him good. It’s also unknown what role he’s been given by the new manager.
It’s entirely possible that he’s given him the liberty not to press at all or more possibly, press less than any other outfield player. It’s a season of uncertainty for the Arsenal midfielder.
He can prove everyone, including his old national team manager who claims number 10 is a lost art, by being just as good as he can be.
With rumours linking him with less-than-stellar clubs and Arsenal supporters proving ready to try a setup that excludes him, he now absolutely needs to prove his doubters and his own fans wrong.
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