Arsenal: Midfielder to sign new contract; Walcott's new attitude; Vardy on Gunners snub
When Sadio Mane buried Liverpool’s fourth goal in front of the Clock End on the opening day, things looked as though they might turn mutinous at the Emirates. Despite his continuing struggles, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s immediate reply might be seen as a key moment in Arsenal’s season; a goal that averted a possible humiliation on par with the 8-2 loss at Manchester United in 2011. The Gunners still lost the game 4-3, but there was almost a sense that they had gotten away with one. Since then, there has been little other than good news for Wenger’s side. Two new signings, four straight wins in the league, a point away at PSG in their Champions League and now the news that playmaker Mesut Ozil is to sign a bumper new contract. Moreover, from next season, he will be handed the prestigious number 10 shirt.
According to the German newspaper Bild, Ozil will extend his deal that was due to run out in 2018 and will take his weekly earnings to somewhere close to the £200,000 per week mark. With Alexis Sanchez also locked in contract negotiations, the Gunners will hope Ozil’s decision will prompt him to do likewise. With complex issues such as image rights to factor in, these deals always take a long time to complete but Arsenal were always confident that Ozil would sign. The German has flourished in the last 18 months since returning from a knee injury. That enforced lay off gave him some rest following his victorious World Cup campaign in Brazil, and allowed him to develop his physique to cope with the rigours of Premier League football.
Much has been said about Ozil adapting ‘physically’ to the English game, but a more fundamental adjustment has been a mental one. At Real Madrid, the German international was the facilitator of talents such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. The former Werder Bremen man is not the type of personality who craves being the ‘big fish’ in the team; he is happy using his talents to help others and serve the needs of the team. Wenger loves this attitude in players, but it did frustrate many fans who wanted him to take more responsibility and show more bravado. In the last 18 months he has reached a nice ‘middle ground’; he plays like he knows he is Arsenal’s best player, but remains unselfish in his decisions with the ball.
Elsewhere, Theo Walcott has put his improved form down to a change in attitude. Walcott has attempted 12 tackles in the Premier League this season, more than the last two campaigns combined, following some straight talking between him and Wenger at the beginning of the summer. Speaking in Arsenal’s pre-match press conference before Basel, Walcott said:
“Me and the manager sat down and I’ve just looked at myself. I know what I can do. I want this team to do well and you can see that in my desire and the way I’m playing. I want it more than anyone else but that’s just me and the way that I work now. It’s a shame, maybe it should have hit me a few years ago but there’s been a change in my whole attitude.”
It seemed as if Wenger had given up on the idea of Walcott as a striker, and nor did he trust him to do the defensive shift demanded of a wide player. Therefore, the only solution seemed to be for Walcott to seek pastures new. However, the former Southampton man has made sure that his defensive contribution is of requisite standard. It is something of an indictment on the player and Wenger that this was not demanded of him at an earlier stage, but better late than never.
Finally, Jamie Vardy’s autobiography has been serialised in the The Sun today, with the Leicester striker claiming his decision to snub Arsenal was due to tactical reasons. Vardy wrote:
“With people like Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil creating chances, Arsenal felt they could benefit me as much as I could them.
“But I also thought about the tactical aspect.You look at Arsenal’s style of play and they don’t get the ball forward quickly in the same way Leicester do for those runs I like to make in behind the defence.”
These are concerns that were shared by many Arsenal fans and pundits, but the speed at which the Gunners sliced through Chelsea on Saturday would have been perfect for a player like Vardy. Arsenal do not always face team who are interested in having the ball however, so the England man may have struggled when confronted with the 10 man defences Wenger’s side often come up against.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Emrah Partal