It’s easy to get carried away with Mesut Ozil scoring two goals in two games but it’s hard to escape the fact that this season he’s being asked to be a regular member of the squad and actually seems to be enjoying it.
It has been a turbulent time for Mesut Ozil. Retiring from the German national team without any support from his teammates who decided to leave him swinging, Ozil has had to face questions about his ability, application, and desire.
Handed a mega-contract by Arsenal before Arsene Wenger left, he’s now earning a salary so big there can be no thoughts of moving him on any time soon. Nor should there be.
This week we’ve seen Ozil play at Newcastle away and come on as a sub against a team nobody had heard of before this season’s Europa League draw. He scored in both games and didn’t seem bothered in the slightest about playing in matches Wenger allowed him to miss.
Wenger took the kid gloves approach with Ozil and it seemed like he might be the sort of player for whom that was the best move. But Unai Emery has been much firmer with the German, from reports of a training ground bust-up, as the Spaniard told Ozil he would be playing out of position, to selecting him to travel 274 miles north, there has been no special treatment.
Ozil, to the surprise of some, seems to have responded to this approach.
Against FC Vorskla I was struck by the smile Ozil played with, not a look he often sports and one of the reasons so many pundits struggle to get past his body language.
As a self-confessed Ozil fanboy, it’s hard to accept he is the waster his haters say he is, but I also think the time has come to step back from the full-on worship of a player who is in the middle of a crisis in both his professional and personal lives to asses him honestly.
If Ozil was as mentally weak as his detractors would have us believe, then the events of this summer would have destroyed him. He has been all but abandoned by his home country that worshipped him for years, blamed for their failure at the World Cup despite helping win it for them four years earlier, left to stand on his own as he challenges racism, and had to watch as his character was dissected and devalued in public across the world.
Who wouldn’t crumble under the weight of that?
But, in fact, Ozil hasn’t crumbled. He was a bit off form in a team filled with players struggling for the same – yet once again he was apportioned the largest share of the blame.
Whatever truckload of money he’s now getting per week, we should all expect more. That’s fair. It seems Emery thinks so as well, and what is being asked of Ozil is nothing that isn’t in his locker. He finds himself at a crossroads. Despite having a trophy cabinet rammed full of the world’s top prizes, massive doubts hang over his career and the decisions he makes this season will go a long way to sealing his reputation one way or the other.
Will he step up and let Emery guide him to another level or will he sink from the weight of expectation? He looks like he might just do the former and with Arsenal’s next run of games all winnable, they will expect to put together a sequence that lifts them up the table significantly. Will Ozil accept the challenge Emery has laid at his feet to be one of the club’s five captains?
One of the finest players of his generation needs to make another choice that is as significant as his decision to retire from international football for the immediate future.
Can he change his game to suit Emery and Arsenal or will he fade away as a £350k-per-week Arsene Wenger mistake?
The last two games hint that he can, now we just need him to keep that up and with Emery less willing to indulge him, perhaps he will finally be able to.