By Ewan Roberts
Arsenal didn't need Mesut Ozil. They needed a world-class striker, a midfield enforcer, a proven goalkeeper, ad infinitum. Yet, by accident or design, the north Londoners have landed themselves a “football grenade” according to Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp, and, even if Arsene Wenger did not get his priorities entirely right this summer, there is no doubt that the team is elevated by a player of Ozil's near-peerless quality.
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Arsenal's run-in last term, despite the plethora of diminutive artisans, was typified by an inability to convert their superior possession into a more commanding scoreline. In five of the Gunners' final six games of the season, they failed to score more than one goal. Against Fulham in April they enjoyed 64 per cent possession but had just three shots on target, while against Everton they enjoyed 55% but produced a measly two shots on target and zero goals.
That theme has continued into the new season, with a 3-1 opening-day defeat against Aston Villa accompanied by just four shots on target despite 64% possession. Maybe Arsenal need Ozil more than people realise.
Though lumped together with the rest of the Gunners' creators, Ozil is exponentially more devastating. He's not so much a creator as an executioner, he doesn't just create chances, but sets up unmissable scoring opportunities. In a statistical age where Gareth Bale's last-minute, 30-yard screamer against West Ham can credit Tom Carroll's five-yard pass as an assist, Ozil has redefined creativity.
Seeing the play in “bullet time”, aware of slivers of gaps in defences quicker than other players and spotting passes in the blink of an eye, an extraordinary number of the German's assists are put on the proverbial plate and sprinkled with condiment. Devilish flicks, pull-backs that set up open goals and outside-of-the-boot crosses that take even the goalkeeper out of the equation; Ozil doesn't need to have the final kick to land the coup de grace.
The former Werder Bremen star created 24 clear-cut goalscoring opportunities last season, the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues*, at a rate of one every 84.25 minutes. He also created 91 chances, on average every 22.2 minutes, and, since he moved to Real Madrid three years ago, his total of 47 assists is matched only by Lionel Messi over the same period.
By comparison, in the Premier League, Leighton Baines created the most clear-cut chances with 21, but at a rate of one every 162 minutes – far inferior to Ozil. Arsenal's best, Santi Cazorla, created 15 clear-cut opportunities, but only every 219.8 minutes, meaning the £40 million man is over 2.5 times as creative as his new, much-hailed Spanish team-mate.
That does, however, hint at a couple of potential problems: firstly, Cazorla is likely to be shifted out wide to accommodate Ozil in his familiar role through the middle, with the Spaniard enjoying far less influence on the left wing when deployed there last season (much to the ire of the club's fanbase). Secondly, while Ozil may have an almost unparalleled capacity to create clear-cut chances, Olivier Giroud has an equally astonishing ability to miss them.
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One facet of Arsenal's style that Ozil is tailor-made to slot into is the club's slick counter-attacking game. The Gunners scored seven goals on the break last season, a Premier League high, and the German's awareness of space, click-of-the-finger passing and sniping runs – demonstrated to English audiences first hand against then boss Fabio Capello's Three Lions in Bloemfontein at the 2010 World Cup – are a match made in heaven.
Those skills were honed in the Spanish capital, where Mourinho's Madrid scored 50 counter-attacking goals across three seasons in La Liga, and there's a sense that Theo Walcott finally has a partner in crime to maximise his ferocious pace on the break.
Walcott perennially lurks on the shoulder of the last man, itching to dart behind the full-back, but, through a combination of his own overeagerness to make the run and Arsenal's conservative nature, is all too rarely picked out. Ozil's higher-risk passing, his perfection of timing and weight, could get the best out of the speedy Englishman.
Ozil is a fabulous addition to Arsenal's ranks, and far from the superfluous, crack-papering signing he could be regarded as. An explosive final-third spark, a through-ball demon, a counter-attacking assassin, and probably the most exhilarating, established talent to ever join the Premier League from foreign shores.
*Stats courtesy of www.WhoScored.com
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