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Sunday 24 September 2017

'Wonder' Ozil's dazzling debut unable to mask Gunners' defensive flaws

Sunderland 1 Arsenal 3

Mesut Ozil who has helped turned Arsenal from a good attacking team to an excellent one
Mesut Ozil who has helped turned Arsenal from a good attacking team to an excellent one

Luke Edwards

THERE was so much to get excited about in Arsenal's bold victory over Sunderland – and not just Mesut Ozil's debut – but there is also enough cause for concern to worry about their weaknesses.

Even after a victory that took Arsene Wenger's side to the top of the table, and a performance from Ozil that re-enforced the view they have landed one of the world's best players, it is impossible to tell whether Arsenal should be considered serious title contenders again or whether they remain a team which is fundamentally flawed.

Arsenal showed off their strengths at the Stadium of Light, but also revealed their vulnerability. Brilliant going forward, but unsecure at the back whenever they were put under pressure, their ambition remains a prisoner to an all too familiar failing.

Indeed, for all of the optimism generated by Ozil's arrival, and as impressive as he was in his first appearance, the £42.5m spent to take him to London has merely turned a good attacking team into an excellent one.

The German international will certainly improve Arsenal as he adds another dimension to their play in and around the area, but they risk falling short of silverware again because a backline that has been found wanting too many times in both domestic and European competition has not been altered.

Attack will remain Arsenal's best form of defence, but in tight games, against the best sides at home and abroad, they will have to soak up pressure a lot better than they did against a Sunderland outfit which is still looking for its first league win of the season.

The last English team that sacrificed a tight defence in order to play in such a swashbuckling style was the Newcastle United of Kevin Keegan.

That side thrilled crowds and won plenty of admiration, but fell agonisingly short of actually lifting a trophy, most memorably when a ruthlessly efficient Manchester United pipped them to the Premier League title in 1996 because of their greater ability to grind out results during the run-in.

Arsenal should be wary of the comparison, although Newcastle's story may well have had a very different ending if Keegan had been able to call on a player of Ozil's class.

Where some foreign players take months to adjust to the fire and brimstone of the Premier League, Ozil (right) appears to be too adept at finding space in a crowd and too aware of what is going on around him to need a settling-in period.

"He looked very comfortable, especially his first touch,"said Wenger. "He had not practised with the team at all, but he looked as though he was used to working with us.

"In the transition from defence to attack, he does that very well. His passing and his retention of the ball gives everyone time to move. His movement creates time for others to get on the ball. He gives us a kind of technical security."

Ozil took just over 10 minutes to create his first Arsenal goal with a perfectly weighted cross which Olivier Giroud was able to hit first time and the German should have had a hat-trick of assists before half-time only for Theo Walcott's finishing to let him down.

Even when he tired in the second half and the hosts threatened to punish Arsenal's wasteful finishing, Ozil attracted the attention of three Sunderland defenders whenever he got the ball.

Stupid

That created time and space for others to exploit, which Aaron Ramsey did superbly to score twice after Craig Gardner's penalty, given because of a stupid tackle by Laurent Koscielny on Adam Johnson as he ran away from goal, had given Paolo Di Canio's side hope and momentum.

"You saw what Mesut is all about with those lovely, telling through balls to set people up one on one with the 'keeper," reflected Ramsey afterwards.

"That's why he is top of the assist chart around the whole of Europe. He is an unbelievable talent and hopefully that is just the start of many things to come from him. The timing of the pass is everything.

"He has a wonder of a left foot and the way he strokes the ball means that the passes he delivers always seem to be perfectly weighted right into players' strides.

"It's going to be great playing alongside him."

Unlike Arsenal's new boy, Sunderland's legion of new signings are still trying to make sense of English football, as well as the unorthodox style of their manager.

Di Canio insists he is not worried by his team's winless start, but the Black Cats boss has managed victory in just two out of 11 league games since he replaced Martin O'Neill in April and he needs points on the board to back up his boasts.

How he could have done with some better refereeing from Martin Atkinson, who inexplicably ruled out a Jozy Altidore goal that would have brought the scores level at 2-2, because he had already blown for a foul on the striker by Arsenal's Bacary Sagna in the build-up. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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