Monday 18 December 2017

Step by step, it's time for Ozil to walk the walk

Frenchman demands Gunners keep up with Chelsea from the start

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil in action
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil in action

Amy Lawrence

There are not many aspects of football where Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho naturally find agreement but there is no discord on the subject of Mesut Ozil. Considering his languid wizardry is not to everybody's tastes, it is intriguing that Ozil should inspire shared admiration from managers as contrasting as the pragmatic Mourinho and romantic Wenger. Both have worked with the German playmaker, and both have found his interpretation of the footballer's art fascinating.

Mourinho, who had a spell with Ozil at the Bernebeu, described him as unique. "There is no copy of him - not even a bad one," he said. Wenger, mulling over his squad before the new season, predicts - not for the first time - that Ozil should be a contender for player of the year. Perhaps that pronouncement can help normal service on the Wenger-Mourinho-ometer to resume. The Chelsea manager, naturally, backs his virtuoso Eden Hazard to retain that particular crown.

The high hopes pinned around both players are cranking up. Chelsea know what Hazard can bring in hitting that level others do not easily reach to turn Premier League matches with a bewitching moment. Arsenal expect the same from Ozil. Wenger thinks the player he bought for a club record £42.5m from Real Madrid two summers ago is readier than he has ever been to excel, to design the game, consistently and decisively.

"What I think is that he shows more authority to dictate the game than before," says Wenger. "He is physically stronger, that is for sure, and he is more equipped to deal with the Premier League.

"In the second part of last season we saw the intelligence of his passing, the fact that he added some steel to his game that was needed certainly in the Premier League. I'm confident that he can be one of the great players of 2015-16. He can become player of the year. It's a very important season for him."

Wenger is challenging Ozil, particularly in the scoring department. He thinks the 26-year-old should aspire to deliver more in the manner that Dennis Bergkamp did as a traditional No 10 with an ability to combine the joy of the pass with the clinical shot. "I want more goals from him because he plays in that position and he is a good finisher," insists Wenger. "But he doesn't take enough chances. He is conscious of it and wants to do it now, so I am confident in that."

Maybe because it is so difficult to buy an elite striker, to magic up a Diego Costa as Chelsea did last summer, Wenger is targeting more goals from the cadre of offensive players who get to play off the main striker. Alexis Sanchez scored most of his goals from there last season, and Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ozil are all capable of chipping in with a healthy number.

Having spent a full pre-season with Ozil for the first time, Wenger sees a very settled player who feels entirely comfortable about his role at the club. He was the only player who started both Emirates Cup games, positioned in his favoured central role. There was a message in there somewhere, about the manager's faith in him as a creative source whatever is around him.

"I am super happy with the No 10 position and will confirm that trust," Ozil said afterwards. Wenger is pleased the noise around Ozil has eased off. At times ineffective moments became almost provocative due to a style which - when it does not work - can be perceived as a lack of effort. Did the manager ever, for one moment, consider he had made a mistake when Ozil was under severe pressure? "No. You come with me for a week in training and watch him play you will never think you made a mistake.

"You can see that people have turned in favour of him recently, they are starting to enjoy his game," says Wenger. "You have players like that who are more fluid, more subtle, more slalom than direct. Sometimes with their style it is deceptive as he is quicker than people think he is and works much harder than people think he does."

In conversation about captivating game-changers, Wenger also found time to compliment Hazard. He does not quite agree with Mourinho's elevation of the Belgian to the stratosphere inhabited by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo but is nonetheless a fan of Hazard's craft. "Hazard is for me a great player but Ronaldo and Messi are still at the moment [above]."

The Community Shield today brings Arsenal and Chelsea together at Wembley. That cannot happen without a certain friction. Wenger's priority, really, is to use the exercise to fine-tune preparations for the season proper next weekend.

If his team are to close the gap set by the Premier League champions last season, the level of concentration and sharpness needs to be right from day one. "After six games we were 11 points behind Chelsea. We finished 13 points behind Chelsea. That means after six games the decision was made," Wenger explains. "That's what they had - a strong start while we had a slow start."

Ozil says Arsenal feel better than last season. "We trust ourselves to improve," he says.

Step by measured step it's time to walk the walk.

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