Mesut Ozil’s timing could barely be better. On Wednesday, he set up two goals and scored another in the space of four minutes as Arsenal blasted past Huddersfield Town, adding to his Man of the Match display in the Gunners’ previous home fixture against neighbours Tottenham.
As Arsene Wenger’s side climb the table, it is Ozil who has begun to stand out. And it has not been lost on many that the upturn in form comes as his great admirer and former boss Jose Mourinho prepares to bring Manchester United to Emirates Stadium on Saturday. All this just one month short of what could be a pivotal January transfer window in the 29-year-old’s career.
With his contract expiring next June, Ozil looks a dead cert to leave Arsenal despite claims by his agent recently that he could yet come to a deal which would see him stay on in north London.
“Ozil wants to play another two or three years in the Premier League,” Dr Erkut Sogut explained. “Our contacts with Arsenal continue and are going in a positive way.”
But Mourinho is standing by for a potential summer move and could even be willing to force through a January deal if United can persuade Arsenal to sell. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s form having faltered over recent times and Juan Mata having never made the No.10 spot his own in four years at Old Trafford, Ozil appears to be just what United need in behind the still-raw Romelu Lukaku.
And the Portuguese is a fully paid-up member of the Mesut Ozil fan club despite their spell together at Real Madrid between 2010 and 2013 not having been all plain sailing. Ozil struggled to find a niche in a side loaded with talents such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, with his manager even being caught yelling at Ozil from the touchline against Deportivo La Coruna in 2012: “You want the ball to feet, you have to move!” Yet, while they didn’t always see eye-to-eye on the playmaker’s deployment at the Santiago Bernabeu, it is clear they left an impression on each other.
“Ozil is unique,” Mourinho gushed in 2015. “There is no copy of him, not even a bad copy. He is the best number 10 in the world.” Such glowing praise is in stark contrast to the 54-year-old’s reviews of Mkhitaryan in particular of late. At a time when Lukaku has been struggling for goals, it is noticeable that the Armenian has failed to make a significant impression over the same period, while Mata has also underwhelmed when given the occasional opportunity to stand in for the former Borussia Dortmund attacker.
And Ozil could be exactly the type of player Lukaku would feed off more wantonly, with the German’s wonderful creativity building up quite the database for serving up goals on a plate. Even in games in which he is deemed to have ‘gone missing’, Ozil often provides the odd killer ball for attacking colleagues, and Lukaku loves nothing more than living off the shoulder of the last defender, looking to sniff out a well-weighted pass in behind.
Whether Mourinho can persuade Arsenal to sell in January is doubtful, but it is a course of action worth pursuing given their issues at number 10 right now. Even if they end up paying a healthy fee, it will be a price tag considerably short of Ozil’s true worth and would give them the added bonus of a Premier League-ready playmaker in the quest to chase down Manchester City.
There are still some question marks over whether Ozil would be willing to quit his London lifestyle for Manchester – a concept the manager himself has not found plain-sailing since arriving 18 months ago, but there does feel something of an inevitability about there being another chapter in the tale of Mourinho and Ozil.
Saturday’s game barely needs a sub-plot given the current Premier League standings. United desperately need a win to keep up with runaway leaders City ahead of next week’s derby, while Arsenal hope to maintain their 100 per cent home record to continue the improved form which has seen them tilt the balance of power in north London back their way.
But in Ozil there is a curious figure: a man so often pilloried since first donning an Arsenal shirt, but pursued by an opposition to whom his style could well be perfectly suited. To Mourinho he is “the best number 10 in the world,” and the Special One could do a lot worse than giving him the chance to prove it to Manchester United fans on a regular basis.