“As a player you have to be happy to give everything on the pitch.”
This single statement from Mesut Ozil is all you need to understand the psyche behind his immense but temperamental talent.
At his best, the playmaker is regarded as one of the most creative footballers of the modern era, an expert at unlocking stubborn defences with superior vision and elegant execution.
But that version of the German has faded from memory.
Unai Emery was unable to coax the best out of Ozil and instead fixated on his work-rate or lack thereof. Having deemed the midfielder’s physicality insufficient for the Premier League, he regularly omitted him from the starting XI and, at times, the matchday squad altogether.
The Spaniard’s dismissal at the end of November though paved the way for the appointment of Mikel Arteta who has handed Ozil a new lease of life and with the odd flash of brilliance since, Arsenal fans are starting to remember again.
“Of course, I had a difficult time under Unai. I didn’t play. Right now, I’m happy, I’m playing. My goal is to help the team,” Ozil said after Arsenal’s training session at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex in Dubai.
Ozil has started all but one game since Arteta took over yet says there was no discussion with his former team-mate about his role in the team. Things seemed to naturally fall into place.
“We didn’t speak to each other [one-on-one] but I know him. We played together under [Arsene] Wenger so since he arrived here, everyone knew what he wanted and my goal is just to give everything on the pitch to help the team. The coach sees that.”
When asked if he’s enjoying his football again, Ozil doesn’t miss a beat, responding with a definitive: “Yes.”
With the Premier League enjoying a winter break, the Gunners are in the midst of a warm-weather training camp in the United Arab Emirates.
It’s a chance for the team to work on the finer aspects of their play and expedite their progress under the new regime.
“We are here as a group. We will continue our work and learn each other better,” Ozil said.
“We can give more focus to the tactical stuff and we are processing our way and we really enjoy it because the weather is much better than London. So it’s easier to work.”
Just three wins in Arteta’s first nine games at the helm though has confirmed that Arsenal will have to spend some time on the mend.
“We know it has been a hard season for us but we want to win games again and take the points to maybe be in the top four at the end of the season,” Ozil admits.
“Our goal is to be in the Champions League. This year, we had difficult times but I think we’re in a good way.”
There is definite progress being made under Arteta, Arsenal fans will attest to that. And they can be reassured by what Ozil has to say on the technical side of things.
“Everyone knows now which positions they have to play in. We know how we have to attack or how to react if the opposition is applying a lot of pressure.
“Everyone knows tactically we’re improving. It’s only been two months since Mikel arrived but we improved a lot, especially tactically.”
From a personal point of view, Ozil refuses to look past his current contract. A lucrative £350,000-a-week deal only expires at the end of next season for the World Cup winner.
“After this season I have one more year. After that, I don’t know what will happen because I can’t see the future. What I can do is give everything for the team and myself to be successful and let’s see what happens.”
Looking forward, Ozil only anticipates progress under the new regime even while accepting that they’re still in a struggle.
“Of course, now it’s hard times for us. Right now it’s not all going well.
“We have to believe in ourselves and in the team and do what the coach wants. We’re in a good place. If you see us work on the pitch today, everyone enjoys, everyone is happy.”
Ozil projects a determination among the squad to compete at the top of the table again and the general theme of Arteta’s early career at Arsenal appears to be a ‘happy’ one.
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