Mesut Özil - The Return of the World's Best Playmaker?
Mesut Özil has cut a forlorn figure at The Emirates since his move to Arsenal in September 2013, but statistics show that the Turkish-born German international has been the best playmaker in the Premier League in 2015. With very few truly world-class players in this role around in my view, has he returned to the top of his respective field? In this article, I will be looking at both his club and international career, and what has caused his recent upturn in form.
Mesut Özil was born on 15 October 1988 in Gelsenkirchen, West Germany. He started his youth career for his home town and then plied his trade for five years at Rot-Weiss Essen before moving onto the youth department of Schalke in 2005. The attacking midfielder went on to make his senior debut for Schalke, accumulating 30 appearances for the club and being described as the next big thing. After a contract dispute, he moved onto fellow German club Werder Bremen in January 2008 and this is where he really made his name.
On 26th April 2008, he scored his first ever Bundesliga goal against Karlsruher SC and ended the campaign with twelve appearances for Bremen since his January transfer, six of which were starts. In 2009 he helped his side win the DFB Pokal with the winning goal in a 1-0 Cup Final success against Bayer Leverkusen. Werder Bremen also reached the 2009 final of the UEFA Cup; its last year before the revamp of the competition, but lost out to Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk. That was as good as it got for Bremen though as they had a very poor season in the league, finishing in 10th. Despite Bremen’s poor showing in the league, Özil still managed to show his attacking ability, scoring three goals and getting an impressive total of 15 assists. In 2009-10, Werder Bremen finished third and lost the DFB Pokal Final 4-0 to Bayern Munich. It has to be said that much of this relative success was down to the young German playmaker. He finished that term with 9 goals and 17 assists in 31 League appearances, before going on to have a brilliant World Cup in helping Germany reach the semi-finals. He finished the tournament as the joint-highest assist provider with three and also scored a goal himself. The quick-witted midfielder earned a move to Real Madrid after the World Cup, finishing with 16 goals and 55 assists in 108 appearances for Werder Bremen.
Özil ended his first season for Los Blancos with 25 assists; the most of any player in Europe and was handed the number 10 shirt at the start of his second campaign in Madrid. He started the season with a goal in the first leg of the Supercopa final against Barcelona, before being sent off in the second leg after an altercation with David Villa. Madrid ended the season as the first side to ever reach 100 points as they won a record 32nd La Liga title, Özil again being a key player as he was again the assist leader in La Liga with 17. He then followed that up by repeating his brilliance at the 2010 World Cup by providing three goals in Euro 2012 to again have the joint-most assists. His form for club and country earned him a nomination for the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award, eventually finishing 10th in the final reckoning. The German went on to notch up 29 assists in all competitions that year; 26 of which came in the league, but Real won just the Suprcopa de Espana and Özil moved to Arsenal the following September for a reported £42.5 million.
Özil started the season very well with ten assists and five goals by the end of January, but his fortunes changed in the following months as he hit the back of the net just twice more and provided four goals in the second half of the season. He did end the campaign as a world champion however, as Germany won the 2014 World Cup with the dazzling Özil showing glimpses of his brilliance. The German started the 2014/15 season well with a goal and two assists, before an injury ruled him out for three months and his return was delayed until 11th January in a 3-0 win over Stoke City. Two weeks later, he scored on his return to the starting line-up against Brighton and Hove Albion in a 3-2 FA Cup 4th Round win. His statistics do not obviously show his upturn in form as despite creating 76 goalscoring chances in 2015, he picked up just five assists. Already this time around, he has two assists in four games and has really excelled in the last three particularly, after a disappointing showing in the home defeat to West Ham United.
There are many explanations for the recent re-emergence of Mesut Özil and a vital one is the continual support of Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager has always been a big supporter of the German and his brilliance in 2015 has really repaid that. Most managers would have thrown Özil on the scrapheap or looked to sell him, but Wenger kept faith in him and since he joined the club, The Gunners have won two trophies in as many years to end their 9 year trophy drought.
Another reason could be that he has finally settled into the Premier League, as most players take a while to get used to the level and physicality of the League. We need to look no further than Angel Di Maria. He had a similar reputation to Özil when joining Manchester United, but he had an awful first season at the Old Trafford outfit. Unlike Özil; who chose to stick it out and his starting to reap the rewards, he decided to take the apparent easy way out and join PSG. Mesut Özil has had a lot to contend with: injuries, fatigue after the World Cup, and just general bad form. It takes a strong player to bounce back from that. Özil has that resolve and as the old saying goes: “Form is temporary, class is permanent.”
Moreover, the terrific high of winning the World Cup would give any player confidence, especially someone with the underlying quality of Özil. The German is still only 26 and you would imagine still has at least 6 years at the top level. He surely has the desire of adding more international and club honours to his medal collection before retiring. There are a great deal of top quality players around, but there is no reason why he can’t use his World Cup win as a catalyst to becoming the world’s best player.
The final reason for the upturn in form is the abundance of talent that surrounds him at Arsenal. With Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain all attacking forces in their own right, it gives Özil the opportunity to play incisive passes into holes that have been opened up by the runs of the aforementioned players. He also receives the ball in advanced positions and has the chance to pick a pass or have a shot. This is primarily down to the quality of Cazorla and Ramsey who are also top quality playmakers. Furthermore, he knows that any type of ball he plays can be dealt with by the strikers. Anything in the air will be capably taken in by Olivier Giroud and anything in behind the defence will see Theo Walcott thrive off his pace. The lack of goals scored by the strikers are more down to poor finishing in my opinion and the fact they have spurned lots of chances is down to the quality of Arsenal’s midfield and in particular the vision and quality of Cazorla and Özil.
I can safely conclude that Mesut Özil has returned to the level he had achieved when he was at Real Madrid and this is down to many factors. The most important factor is that he is now settled into the Premier League and will continue to become a better player for as long as he stays at Arsenal. Wenger’s continued employment at the club could also be important as he has always been there for the German and the long-standing French manager has been very staunch in the defence of a player that he sees as crucial in the future of the club.
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