Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ozil eases Arsenal back into the groove after Southampton horror-show

Two games in three days was always going to be a challenge for most of the clubs in the Premier League, however Arsenal’s task felt that bit more challenging following the woeful performance and subsequent 4-0 defeat at Southampton on Boxing Day. The following game with Bournemouth was, in the end, a regulation 2-0 win, but the Gunners were jittery early in the game and were in need of some inspiration to get Boxing Day beating out of their system.
As with the rest of the season, that inspiration was provided by the masterful Mesut Ozil. I’m sure fans of other clubs are fed up of how much Arsenal supporters have gone on about Ozil this season, but it’s only because he keeps delivering superb performances and numerous assists. Given that he’d played the full 90 minutes at St Mary’s less than 48 hours previously, it was a remarkably energetic performance from Ozil, especially as someone who is often criticised for his languid style. He offered himself to receive the ball around the pitch, orchestrated attacking moves brilliantly and even tracked back to make a few tackles.
But for some profligate finishing by those around him, Ozil would have picked up more than the one assist he claimed in the game, taking his total up to 16 in the league this season, just four short of Thierry Henry’s Premier League record for an entire season. In the first half, Ozil’s delivery from corners was excellent, with Bournemouth struggling to cope with his accurate crosses into the box. Gabriel, rotated into the side in place of Laurent Koscielny, and Per Mertesacker were getting clear runs to attack the ball, and that paid dividends in the first half when Gabriel was able to plant a free header into the top corner to give the Gunners the lead. 
The goal topped off an excellent personal performance from the Brazilian, who offered a timely reminder of his qualities so soon after the diabolical defensive performance from the team at Southampton.
Gabriel almost grabbed a second goal soon after as he flicked a header towards goal from another Ozil corner, but after his header came back off the post, the ball was diverted wide as it hit a surprised Per Mertesacker. Arsenal had plenty of other chances to add a second goal before the break as Ozil created opportunities for Theo Walcott.
When the score was still 1-0, Arsenal were always going to be a bit edgy. The second goal was needed to kill the game off and settle the nerves of those in the team and in the stands. A tense ending was the last thing needed as the team tired from the short turn around between matches. Once again, it was Ozil who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and made the difference.
The only surprise was that Ozil didn’t provide the assist for the second Arsenal goal, however he was heavily involved in the sumptuous build-up play before applying the finishing touch himself. Ozil exchanged passes with Aaron Ramsey before advancing towards the penalty area. With a plethora of Bournemouth players around him, Ozil played a one-two with Olivier Giroud to be able to stride into the penalty area and then stroke the ball under the goalkeeper. Giroud has been on the receiving end of Ozil’s assists recently, so returnedthe favour with a delightful flick back into the German’s path to put him through on goal.
The goal calmed everyone down and freed Arsenal up to express themselves a bit more. Ozil was instrumental in further chances for Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud, but two goals were enough in the end, despite plenty of endeavour from Bournemouth on their first visit to the Emirates.
The win moved Arsenal to the Premier League’s summit ahead of the new year, and was a reminder that the dreadful performance against Southampton was out of the ordinary and isn’t the norm. The Gunners remain in a great position to seriously challenge for the title, but to do that, Mesut Ozil needs to remain fit and firing. He has developed the ability to not just silently and subtly influence matches, but completely dominate games. Bar injury, he is a Premier League record holder-in waiting.
One man who did achieve a Premier League record on Monday was Petr Cech. The goalkeeper notched up his 170th clean sheet, the most in England’s top division in the Premier League era. It’s been noticeable in recent interviews he’s given to various media outlets that Cech is not just round of the record itself, but that it that the clean sheets have contributed to trophies for his team. He’ll know as well as anyone that more are needed this season to push Arsenal towards the title. His incredible relentless hunger for success and for protecting his goal means that his record is set to grow, and it’s fantastic that it will be to Arsenal’s benefit.
With Cech and Ozil in the side, and the Southampton defeat quickly out of the system, Arsenal go into 2016 with plenty of optimism.