Blog by: Rudh
The debut of Mesut Ozil, a player bought for 50 million euros, was always likely to draw intrigue. It was evident from the stuffed press room and clutch of freshly printed replica shirts that had made their way up from London on the backs of Arsenal fans — all bearing the name Ozil.
It was a lot of pressure to put on one player. Talk he may not be fit for Saturday’s game had stirred the early throes of panic among Arsenal fans. The parsimony of two free transfers had been eradicated late on Deadline Day with the German international’s expensive arrival, quelling the calls of Arsene Wenger’s detractors.
A move that delighted Gunners fans, it bemused those in Madrid in equal measure. Their view had first displayed itself at the Santiago Bernabeu, in the midst of Gareth Bale’s unveiling. Nestled among the crowd’s cries and cheers, one message resonated: “Don’t sell Ozil.”
Even new teammate Santi Cazorla revealed he could not fathom why Madrid had seen fit to sanction a deal for such a special player. The stats had backed up Cazorla’s belief: The 24 clear-cut chances Ozil created last season were the most in Europe’s top five leagues.
On the evidence of today, Cazorla’s description of Ozil as a unique player was not wrong. Slight in frame, he took welcoming early bumps of the Premier League with little suggestion of being flustered. Noted for his creative prowess, it took just 10 minutes to witness his powers in action. Peeling into the channel, a delightful touch and weighted pass to Olivier Giroud broke records for both — Ozil’s first assist and the Frenchman’s first goal outside London, two notable habits that the club hopes they will both continue.
On the stroke of the half hour, it seemed as if Arsenal fans were ready to purse their lips and indulge Wenger with the same cries their Madrid counterparts had made just weeks prior. Playing the pitch horizontally and consistently finding pockets of space, Ozil and his nonchalant ambling across the grass gave connotations of a man supremely confident in his abilities.
Not content with a solitary assist, he sought more, quickly backing up his confident demeanor with results. By the end of the first half, he could easily have had a trio of assists had Theo Walcott made more of the two excellent slide-rule passes he received from Ozil.
Seeming to almost disappear and reappear on the pitch like a vaudevillian magician, the German playmaker had an influence on the play that was brief but telling.
Yet despite the magical aurora, the marquee signing cannot remedy every problem present at the club.
Take Arsenal’s much publicised defensive fragility. A late injury to Per Mertesacker and a lack of summer spending on sufficient reinforcements meant that, for the second season in a row at Sunderland, Bacary Sagna was forced into a central position. With options including Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho available during the transfer window, today furthered questioning as to why no move was made.
Allowing Sunderland into the game, the period after Craig Gardner’s penalty conversion served as the first test of Arsenal’s mental toughness. Previous iterations of Wenger’s side may have cracked under the intense, frenzied atmosphere Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio orchestrates at the Stadium of Light.
Regardless of their ability to surpass the brief Sunderland onslaught, few of Arsenal’s defenders drew credit from the penalty that came before it. After gifting Adam Johnson a gulf of space, Laurent Koscielny’s decision to dive in further highlighted the lack of organisation among the back four.
As the game looked to descend into a ragged open affair that would ultimately suit the home side, Aaron Ramsey provided calm thanks to a delightful volley.
Ozil’s perfect debut could have easily been ruined had Sunderland not twice hit the post, and the Mackems’ misfortune hit a crescendo when Jozy Altidore’s first Premier League goal was cancelled out. Shirking off the clutches of Sagna as he burst past into the box, his finish just trickled over the line. As the home fans unleashed jubilation from the stands, it quickly turned to incredulity as referee Martin Atkinson opted to award a free-kick for the initial challenge.
“We were a bit lucky,” Wenger said afterward, a wry smile across his face and knowing look in his eye, the questions on Ozil primed and ready.
As the game wound down, so did Arsenal’s new star turn. The Stadium of Light is an easy place to rile under Di Canio, but even the most passionate fans require a rest period. Left somewhat deflated by the denial of a second equaliser, Ramsey’s second dented their hopes further. Initiated by Ozil, a clever round-the-corner pass from Giroud into the path of Ramsey allowed the Welshman the chance to calmly finish under Keiren Westwood to give a certainty to the result.
Three minutes later and Ozil’s debut was complete. Removed with 10 minutes remaining, Wenger sought keen to praise his “outstanding” first half, a feat made all the more impressive by his manager’s postgame revelation that Ozil had been sick as late as Thursday.
And it will be in his persistence that Arsenal fans will find the ultimate joy as he looks to take to the Premier League with the same grace he did for the first half Saturday.
Meanwhile, back in Spain, where the talk tonight will likely be of Bale, perhaps under the breaths there may just be the question among colleagues of whether they had seen Ozil’s impressive performance just hours earlier.