Arsenal: Özil Proved Haters Wrong & Brought Optimism To The Emirates
In the last few weeks, it's been the popular thing in football to criticise Mesut Ozil. He hadn't adapted to England, he wasn't dominating games, he missed a penalty, he didn't work hard enough, etcetera etcetera.
Even Germany supporters jeered him after appearing for the national team.
However the majority of the Emirates faithful has remained behind the German. For a player that is still adapting to the pace and intensity of English football, and who has played more minutes than he did at Real Madrid, Ozil has had a good season.
The benefits of his arrival were obvious in the way other players stepped up to reach his quality level of performance, but there's no denying that Ozil has suffered a mid-season dip. He was still cheered, but with the media pressure building, there was a sense of the fans needing a big game from Ozil just to silence the doubters and send a wave of optimism round the club to lift the flagging season.
After a short break and a refreshment following the defeat to Bayern, Ozil was back in the starting line-up for the visit of Everton in the FA Cup. In the spring sunshine at the Emirates, Ozil lit up the match with a performance that was reminiscent of his early days at the club. However this wasn't just a league game against Norwich or Sunderland, this was a quarter-final that Arsenal had to win against an excellent Everton team.
The early goal got his confidence flowing. Sensing where the space was behind the full-back, Ozil burst forward to get on the end of Santi Cazorla's pass and slide the ball perfectly into the bottom corner. For a man that has been under pressure from the media, and was under pressure from two sliding defenders, Ozil looked so calm and relaxed when the ball came to him. In typical Ozil-style, his finish was barely a shot as it was more like a caressed pass into the net.
Ozil played his part in the second goal with quick feet freeing Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right leading to the winger being fouled for the penalty, before he notched an assist with a delightful pass at the end of the flowing counter-attack for the clinching fourth goal.
But it wasn't just the contributions to the goals that made Ozil the stand-out performer. His link up and understanding with Santi Cazorla was excellent, whilst Ozil looked so much more comfortable by having a pace outlet in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
For Ozil to be at his best, he needs options to pass to and bring into the game. Having a player that is willing to run in behind defenders gives the German more space and a chance at a killer pass. Ozil's runs off the ball were good as he made space for others, and he even tracked back in the first half to block off Kevin Mirallas and win a goal kick.
A lot was made of Ozil being bawled at by Mathieu Flamini against Bayern for his (lack of) defensive work. He might not have appreciated it at the time, but the way he sprinted back and made a tackle showed he wasn't up for a blast of Flamini again.
Ozil wasn't bought as a player to take on a whole team and win games individually, a la Messi or Ronaldo. He is a real team player that looks to bring others into the game, and his dip in form has been down to some struggles for players around him. However he did take the lead on Saturday, and everyone followed him, making for an excellent team performance.
It was a big day for Arsenal as the season could have spiralled horribly had the Gunners gone out of the cup, but that was emphatically halted. With the expected Champions League exit likely to come this week, a cup exit and a faltering league challenge could have ended trophy hopes just as the spring sun emerged. However, in that sun Arsenal's greatest star shined brightly again.
With Ozil refreshed and ready for the run-in, optimism is back at Arsenal with Wembley waiting.
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