After 10 fixtures and almost 3 months of the 2013/14 season Arsenal currently sit 5 points clear atop the Premier League. Now there are very few football fans that could have foreseen this after Arsenal’s curtain-raiser in mid-August where they slumped to a 3-1 home defeat to last seasons relegation threatened Aston Villa. Quite frankly, if anybody says they did predict it – they’re lying.
The reason being, on that sunny mid-August day, Arsene Wenger, as was the norm at the time, was being vilified by fans and media alike for his lack of action in the transfer market, and subsequently his apparent lack of ambition. As we all know however, football is a very unpredictable game, and sure enough, 2 weeks down the line from that Villa defeat a vast majority of the football community (in particular Talk-Sport’s Adrian Durham) had to chomp down on a £42.4 million slice of humble pie. This, in turn, directly correlated to Arsene Wenger becoming to smuggest man in North London as he posed outside The Emirates, grinning like a Cheshire cat, next to a fish-eyed Turk-come-German adorned in a Arsenal shirt. That man was Mezut Ozil. That’s right, the Mezut Ozil; Arsenal pulled off the surprise of the transfer window and signed a lad from Real Madrid who had had the most assists in Europe’s top divisions in the last 3 years. Even then, with all that being said, you’d have to say that there would still be scarcely any football fans that would have predicted Arsenal to be where they are today.
The reality of the situation, however, is that Arsenal do lie 5 points clear from nearest challengers Chelsea, and since signing Ozil on 31st August 2013, they have been undefeated in the League, winning 7 and drawing 1. Not only this, but after a 1-0 away win against Borussia Dortmund last night, they currently head the Champions League ‘group of death’. Evidently then, from that 3-1 defeat, Arsenal’s fortunes have definitely changed. But can one man really make that much of difference? Many sections of the media seem to think so, as praise has been heaped on Ozil and his performances – and rightly so – he is a quality performer; providing skill, class and incisiveness to Arsenal’s attack. However, all that being said, how much is Ozil the cause of this apparent revival, or merely the catalyst? – inspiring his new teammates to fulfil their potential simply by his arrival and presence on the field.
I think it’s the latter, Ozil’s performances have been of a high calibre yes, but he’s not been head and shoulders above the rest of the team. In fact, he’s not even been the stand out player. Aaron Ramsey for example has been unbelievable so far this season, and I mean that literally, I cannot believe how good he’s playing. It’s a joke really, this is a guy who before this season had scored 10 goals in his previous 148 Arsenal appearances – yet this year he’s scoring for fun, after bagging in the Westfalenstadion last night he’s now got 11 in just 18 games. And it’s not just his goal return, his all-round game has also been top drawer. He’s playing with confidence, exuding self-belief, almost as if he’s found a new lease of life in a red and white shirt. And it’s Ozil that’s given it to him, the presence of this world class player has acted as a catalyst, reinvigorating and rejuvenating players like Ramsey, giving them the opportunity to step up and really express the footballing talent and flair they clearly already had.
The thing is, the capture of Ozil was such a huge deal for Arsenal that it completely changed people’s perceptions of the club. In the past few years Arsenal had been viewed as a selling club: In 2011 captain and talisman Cesc Fabregas swapped North London for Barcelona, and playmaker Samir Nasri left to join Manchester City; these transfers were closely followed by their top goalscorer and match-winner Robin Van Persie moving to notorious adversaries Manchester United. The Gunners were selling their best assets to their rivals and the backlash was felt in the stands, but more importantly, on the pitch. Performances dropped, and the objective of the club changed; instead of challenging for titles, Arsenal were challenging for 4th place and Champions League qualification. If you think about it, it makes sense, it cannot have instilled confidence in the players that remained at the club when all the top performers were looking for the nearest exit. Which is probably why, last year, fans were calling for Wenger’s exit. But now, with Ozil joining, people fear Arsenal again; teams now don’t rock up to The Emirates on a Saturday afternoon expecting to get something from the game, they go hoping to get something. And the positive attitude is being felt throughout the red half of North London as the ‘in Wenger we rust’ chants have transformed into ‘in Wenger we trust’.
To sum it up, one man can never make a team, but he can definitely be the catalyst. Ozil has acted like a missing cog, that star factor that alters perceptions, improves performances, and ultimately makes the Arsenal machine run smoothly. And suddenly, with Ramsey and co. stepping up around him, the whole can be greater than the sum of it’s parts.