20 March 2014

Mesut ♥'s Arsenal

Well, if his facebook page has anything to say about it, that is. Laying to rest weeks, if not months, of anxious speculation—does Mesut like it here? Is the media frenzy getting to him? Is he overrated? Will he want to leave if Arsenal don't win something?—Mr. Özil has provided reassurances via a post at his facebook page. While this may not carry the weight of a legally binding contract, it does go a long way towards suggesting that the midfielder is in fact enjoying life at Arsenal some 200 days into his stay here. I wouldn't suggest that the club must win silverware to encourage the man to stay, but it wouldn't hurt any—which is not to say that we should be falling over ourselves to please Özil. It is to say, however, that we should go so far out of our ways to deride the man.

After all, ever since he's arrived, many of us have been of two minds, neither of them exuding all that much confidence in ourselves. One, what if we aren't good enough for a player ranked among the top-ten in the world at his position, one accustomed to winning silverware on a regular basis. If we fail to win anything this year, might Özil regret his move from Real Madrid? Two, what if he's overrated and we've spent way too much for him? What if we've been bamboozled into buying a pig in a poke? In both cases, the weight of the trophy-drought seems to be doing the bulk of the thinking for us—and the media's been doing most of the talking for us.

And that makes it fitting and timely then for Özil to take to social media to lay these concerns to rest, for what it's worth Posting to facebook, Özil  (or whoever manages his facebook page for him) has uploaded a collage-esque image of the man with all sorts images celebrating his arrival at and performance with Arsenal to this point. In case the image (shown above) doesn't quite make the point clear, it's captioned thusly:
I've been a Gunner for 200 days now. from the first hour I felt well in my Arsenal family. I want to finish my first season with at least one title. I'm looking forward to returning to the pitch. #coyg
I feel like making that heart-sign with my hands but I worry that Gareth Bale already copyrighted it. More seriously, it's great to see Özil make the statement. In particular, the phrase "at least one title" pulls at the heart-strings, as we do still have a chance, however slim, at pulling off a double. More vitally, the allusion to "my first season" implies that there will be more seasons to come, not to mention more silverware.

I think we'd all agree that the idea of Özil as a flop, or that he's disenchanted with Arsenal, are conjurings of the media often desperate to sell stories, and a headline like "Özil: Everything's a-ok at Arsenal" just won't drive ad revenues in the same way as something like "Özil desperate to leave Arsenal", which will get snapped up by paranoid Gooners and desperate followers of all other clubs. He's answered the "flop" charge, just not as thoroughly or as convincingly as some of the critics insist. Where they (and we) overestimated him is in the final product. We all somehow knew that he was a chance-creator, offering killer passes that depended on others to convert into assists. As such, he's somewhat at the mercy of the finishers ahead of him, who, let's be honest, are a varied lot and somewhat a cut below the Ronaldo-esque level. Still, he's delivered eight assists in the Prem, third in the league and amidst players whose squads are scoring at ridiculous rates. Counting only actual assists and  not "second assists", he's had a foot in 15% of our Prem goals to this point.

There was bound to be a dip in form as Özil adjusted to the rigors of the Prem and to the fact that he would no longer be playing with one of the best goal-scorers in the world (in one of the top-heaviest leagues in the world). That said, I don't think I'm alone in saying he's had a dramatic impact, not just in the statistics, but in the confidence in the squad. Knowing that he'd pledge his future to Arsenal back in August was a shot in the arm. It not only announced to the rest of the Prem that we meant business; it also encouraged the rest of the squad to live up to that announcement.

For Özil to take a moment to remind us of how he feels about his pledge, days before the most vital fixture on our schedule, should then provide a jolt of confidence to everyone involved. Whether that's enough to catapult us to victory on Saturday is one question; I'm wiling to believe that Özil has, for now, laid to rest the question of where his future lies.