Even before the arrival of Mesut Ozil there was the sense at Arsenal that this season was off to a better start than last. Yes, there was the opening day home upset by Aston Villa. But that seemed as much to do with questionable refereeing as anything else.
In spite of the opening day chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” that rung out around Arsene Wenger’s ears, events since then seem to have vindicated the Arsenal manager’s statements to the effect that not losing a marquee player this year has been almost as good as making a signing.
Arsenal’s strike-force, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski started the season as men on fire; both seemingly out to prove that Arsenal already had the world-class frontman fans had been crying out for in their ranks. They’ve made a strong case, with Giroud scoring in all of the matches the Gunners have played so far this season and Podolski netting twice against Fulham before being sidelined by injury last month.
And now with the signing of Ozil, there’s a sense that Arsenal have at last found their missing piece.
Yet despite the player’s obvious quality, there were initial grumblings in some quarters that the Germany international was more a symbolic signing than one that would genuinely shake things up on the pitch. After all, midfield creativity is about the only area in which Arsenal hadn’t been found wanting.
But with one 11th minute silky, sliding pass to set up Giroud’s opening goal against Sunderland, the former Real Madrid man has already demonstrated himself to be on a different level than the rest of the Arsenal midfield.
Indeed so excellent was Ozil’s vision, passing, and linkup play in the first half at the Stadium of Light, that the absence of Arsenal’s best player last season, Santi Cazorla, was scarcely noted. Indeed, the German playmaker’s arrival seems to have proved the old adage that truly great players make the players around them better. Ozil’s arrival already seems to be bringing out the best in the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshire, and Olivier Giroud.
With Manchester City, Man United, and Chelsea all falling somewhat short of the flying starts that had been expected of them, there’s a growing sense that the German’s arrival at the Emirates has transformed the Gunners into legitimate title contenders.
Of course at the moment, it’s a highly delicate equation. Podolski’s injury has left Arsenal with only one recognized first team striker in Giroud. And on Saturday the Emirates faithful collectively holding their breath as they watched him hobble off with a knee injury at Sunderland. Were the Frenchman to be sidelined for any length of time, and with even the unproven young Yaya Sanogo on the injury bench, Arsenal would find themselves with only perhaps Theo Walcott as an option for leading the line.
Thankfully current reports indicate that Giroud should be okay to face Marseille in Arsenal’s opening group game in the Champions League Wednesday.
Cazorla is due back in mid-October and other reports indicate Arsenal’s other Spanish midfielder, Mikel Arteta could be fit to face West Brom in the Capital One Cup as early as next week. Lukas Podolski too has reportedly been responding well to treatment and while initially it was believed the German striker would be out until November, it now seems likely the former Bayern and Cologne man could be fit to face Napoli in Arsenal’s home Champions League group stage opener on October 1.
With the signing of Ozil, Arsene Wenger’s tired refrain that the returning injured are like “new signings” suddenly seems to hold a bit more water. Such has been the impact of the German both on the pitch and in terms of team morale that the returning players may indeed shine in a new light.
Of course thus far Arsenal have been enjoying victories against the likes of Fenerbahce, Fulham, and Sunderland. Their 1-0 derby win against Tottenham not withstanding, the real tests of the Gunners’ title and Champions League credentials still await them in the likes of Marseille tomorrow, Napoli on October 1 and Manchester United at Old Trafford on November 10.
However for the first time in what seems like a very long while, Arsenal fans seemingly have reason to be optimistic, although perhaps somewhat guardedly so.