Two late, late goals may have distorted the manner of Arsenal's 4-0 win over Newcastle United on Sunday, but the convincing nature of the victory offered a clear indication that the side are finally moving in the right direction under new manager Mikel Arteta, and one man could benefit more than any other.
Mesut Özil scored the third for Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, and while it made little difference to the end result, it surprisingly marked his first goal of the current campaign. It has been another tough season for Özil, but he finally appears to have found a manager in Arteta who believes in him in the very way that will get the best out of him.
The genius within
There is no doubt that Özil is an incredibly talented player, and his recent struggles with form should not discount his natural ability. A World Cup winner with Germany in 2014, it is surprising how few major honours Özil has collected at club level during his career, considering the plaudits he regularly received at his peak from some of his most revered peers in the game.
Now 31, Özil has just one league title to his name, having lifted the La Liga trophy with Real Madrid in 2011/12. He has enjoyed domestic cup success in Germany, England and Spain, but European glory has so far eluded him. While Arsenal are unlikely to find themselves as Premier League title challengers in the near future, their long-term faith in Arteta could finally repay their significant investment in Özil.
It was Arsène Wenger who attracted Özil away from the Santiago Bernabéu in the summer of 2013 for a reported €50m. In the same way that Wenger persuaded a teenage Aaron Ramsey to reject Manchester United for Arsenal in 2008, the Frenchman spoke to Özil at length about his plans for him and how valuable he would be in his team. This belief continued through to his latest contract and reported salary.
The move caused unrest at Real Madrid, with the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo publicly criticising the club for selling a player who understood his game the most. While pundits and fans will spend hours debating the value and importance of a player, the true testament of their talent is in their opinion of the players that work alongside them on a daily basis, and their appreciation for what they will miss when they are no longer there.
But despite the support of his fellow professionals, Özil has always been a figure who has divided opinion at the Emirates Stadium since his arrival. Moments of genius only add to the frustration of his inconsistency, and he is an individual who demands the faith and support of those around him at all times. Failing to bring the best out of him ultimately cost former manager Unai Emery his job.
But Arteta played alongside Özil at Arsenal for long enough to appreciate his brilliance and understand his delicate temperament. People will question his strength of character, but he is not one to hide his feelings if he is unhappy with his treatment and his perceived status within the team. Arteta has said the right words about Özil since his arrival and has backed his statement in his team selections.
In the modern game, it is easy to forget the human elements that can affect players even at the highest level. The attempted car-jacking of Özil and Sead Kolašinac in July 2019 had a detrimental effect on him and his family and inevitably shifted his focus away from the game. Likewise, the manner of his international retirement left Özil feeling isolated due to his cultural background, and left his desire for the game as a whole in question.
Özil is a complex character. A player with exceptional technical ability, he has deservedly graced the biggest stages in the world and succeeded. However, he is a high-maintenance individual who understands his value to the team, and will only produce if he believes he has the full support of his manager, his team and the fans. There are fine margins to consider when assessing Özil, and many managers have failed to find the right balance.
Now that Özil only has a few seasons left at the highest level, and he may have finally found the perfect manager to nurture and maximise his talent. Arteta has been a student of the game for several years, and his coaching education under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City will have taught him some valuable lessons in dealing with the very best players and the most temperamental characters.
Arteta will know that his job is not to primarily teach, train or educate Özil, but to show a belief in him that his predecessor failed miserably to achieve. Özil has been let down by his club and his country in recent years, and has become a scapegoat for his lack of application when he was being challenged to prove himself in an environment that he struggled to accept.
There is no denying that Arteta has an appreciation for Özil's value in his team, and he will understand that his success could largely depend on getting the best out of his versatile and creative star. However, pleasing Özil cannot come at the expense of others, and dealing with this situation will be an early challenge for Arteta in his new career, and it will say a lot about his potential to succeed as a manager at this level of the game.
Celebration and future success
Despite scoring his first goal of the season on Sunday, there was reservedness to Özil's celebration, but the satisfying nature of his smile was an unforced natural reaction to the closure of a difficult period for him in the team. Arteta embraced the scoreline more than the goalscorer, but would have understood the importance of the goal to Özil moving forward for the rest of the campaign.
Özil may never lift the UEFA Champions League or Premier League trophy, and his World Cup win will forever be personally tarnished through the discrimination and disrespect he claims brought his international career to an end. However, under Arteta, he can find solace and redemption in the familiar surroundings of Arsenal. To a character like Özil, that will mean more than any title ever could.Published 18 Feb 2020, 01:04 IST