By Greg Stobart
When Arsene Wenger was asked about Mesut Ozil’s state of mind ahead of Arsenal's trip to Stoke this weekend, he tried his best to relieve some of the pressure on his club record £42 million signing.
The Gunners boss spoke of the “toughness” of the Premier League and expressed his confidence that Ozil will be able to adapt mentally to the English game and handle the pressure that comes with being the club’s most expensive player.
Behind the scenes, though, there are long-standing concerns.
"I never tell Mesut, 'You have to win us the game’,” Wenger told the world's press. “He shouldn't do that. It's down to the performance of the team. But maybe he feels that a bit in a different way than I do. I just want him to enjoy it and play well.
"It is difficult for him mentally to be confronted with that pressure every three days and in every single competition. But he will adapt. He had a difficult game [against Bayern] because he missed that penalty and it was on his mind. Sometimes, when you are under this kind of pressure, it's good to refresh."
Ozil was left out of the Arsenal squad for last weekend’s home victory over Sunderland but returns to action at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, hardly the most forgiving of grounds for someone who has shown even the slightest of cracks in his state of mind.
Taking Ozil out of the spotlight following his penalty miss against Bayern - at the end of a string of poor performances - was a sharp move by Wenger but also reflected concerns within the Arsenal camp about Ozil’s ability to cope with the strain.
|13/2||Mesut Ozil is 13/2 with Betway to score first against Stoke|
When the north London side scouted Ozil four years ago while the German was at Werder Bremen, the reports suggested that Wenger should stay away because of the playmaker’s mental weakness.
Indeed, despite impressive performances at the 2010 World Cup and an expiring contract which made him available at a reduced price, Wenger opted against signing him due to the information gathered by the club's top-level scouts.
The same reports also cited Ozil’s lack of team ethic and laziness off the ball, which have become evident at times since he joined Arsenal, with the 25-year-old clashing on the pitch with team-mates Per Mertesacker and Matthieu Flamini in recent weeks.
Ozil has frustrated fans and team-mates alike with the lack of intensity in his pressing off the ball, an almost blase attitude towards the ugly side of the game.
While all and sundry hailed Arsenal’s ambition in signing a bona fide star on the final day of the transfer window last summer, some within the club’s structure were already worried that they were signing a man who did not fit in to the club’s ethos.
Arsenal are hoping that Ozil has matured as a player and a person following three years at Real Madrid, the biggest club in the world where it is virtually impossible to escape scrutiny.
They also accept that the make-up of the squad does not suit Ozil’s style of play. Injuries to Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey mean there are few runners to take advantage of Ozil’s main skill - his ability to spot and execute a killer pass.
While Wenger took Ozil out of the firing line last week, the manager will not be granting the Germany international any special treatment.
Ozil has played 35 games already this season since joining Arsenal on the final day of the transfer window, and there is already excitement around the club about the potential once he gets a full pre-season under his belt and truly settles.
But will Ozil ever be a true leader, the kind of player to take responsibility and drag Arsenal to trophies?
The evidence so far suggests those scouting reports four years ago were right.