Mesut Ozil, one of the all-time greats …
Throughout the summer we heard calls for a marquee signing, and a suggestion that Arsenal under Wenger could not only not compete at the high end of the transfer market but actively didn’t want to do so. Some fans suggested that was because Wenger and the Board were trying to fleece the loyal supporters in order to feather their own nests, whilst others maintained that the reason was a dithering out of touchness with the realities of modern life. It seemed fashionable at the time for the media to portray The Arsenal as a once great club whose stubbornness and old-world values would confine them to forever play second fiddle to the truly great and lavishly funded new-era mega clubs. The views of some fans were even less charitable.
And then came Özil, and for a while everything changed. He was the greatest midfielder in the world, Madrid were mad to sell him, The Arsenal were back, he was the signing of the summer. All these sentiments and more were expressed with varying degrees of sincerity and politeness on TV and in the papers while the Twitter world was awash with pride and envy. All through the Autumn a newly confident Arsenal eased the ball about the park, with Özil’s orchestrations seeing an inexorable rise to the top of the table and Champions League qualification. The memories glow and linger: the ball plucked from mid-air and delivered on a plate to Giroud; the first time drive and assist to destroy Napoli; the brace against Norwich; the telepathic combination with Ramsey before passing the ball into the Tigers net, and always, always vision and grace, even when juggling gum. The Arsenal had found their man, and although clearly not genuine title contenders, they were at least able to provide a different narrative for the press and compelling evidence that despite the inexplicable stumblings of the heavyweights, the Premier League was the best in the world.
And all of this was fine for the vested interests (so ably served by their punditry puppets) in October and November, because although top of the league, Arsenal could not win the title. They needed a striker (despite Giroud’s top form), their defence was still vulnerable (but it took an example several seasons’ old to illustrate this), there was no back up to Giroud (but step forward Lord Bendtner), Wenger doesn’t do tactics (oh really?), December’s run of fixtures would see them slip (almost but not quite, and if it hadn’t been for schedules and prehistoric refereeing, then not at all). So here we are, on January the whatever, and still The Arsenal are one point clear at top, having played everybody at least once, just like all the other clubs. And does this make everyone happy? Are the League Bosses pleased? Are the TV companies delighted? Are all the Arsenal fans ecstatic? Strangely – indeed bizarrely – it would seem very much not.
So now cue the most insidious whispers of all: Özil is not the player everyone thought he was. He is lazy. He goes missing. He was only good because of Ronaldo. He doesn’t tackle back. He isn’t really cut out for the hardest league in the world. He is another Arsenal pretty boy. He wasn’t worth the money, because he isn’t a match winner. And do you know what, people who have played and watched football all their lives (and some who have played at the very highest level) choose to believe these vile slanders. And because they pass on these ideas, so to do all the young Twitter warriors, and, no doubt in time, so will some of the supporters, who will inexplicably start to doubt and to jeer and possibly to create an atmosphere where one of the greatest players of all time loses confidence and decides that playing for The Arsenal isn’t such the great idea it seemed back in October. And that will be job done for those who can’t bear the thought that success might be honestly earned and planned for, for those whose snouts are firmly in the oil-fueled slush bucket, for those who for their own strange reasons want to see a change of managerial regime at The Emirates. It is called misinformation and as Orwell predicted, whole sections of the media are devoted to saying the opposite of the truth. I leave you to guess at the reasons for this.
But these lies can and must be resisted. Believe me, Özil is one of the all-time greats. He does something that very few can do, for he takes the opposition out of the game. Good players look as if they are everywhere and create the impression that their side are playing 12 against 11. Great players make it seem like 11 against 10, for their vision reduces defences as surely as if a red card has been issued. Özil is a space maker and a game changer. He makes good team mates into great ones: great ones into legends. He is unique, and he is ours. Bother to look at him properly and you will see what Arsene saw, but what Jose only glimpsed. Savour every moment, shout his name out loud, defend him against the doubters and above all be proud. He is very, very special, and if you can’t see that you either don’t know your football or you have sold your soul.
And perhaps most importantly, my daughter Katy, all 10 years old of her, wanted an Özil away kit for Christmas more than anything – and I seriously wouldn’t recommend getting on the wrong side of her….
Tim can be found on Twitter @foreverheady .