How Arsenal Can Get the Best Out of Mesut Ozil
Arsenal signing Mesut Ozil is quite like being handed the keys to a Ferrari after learning how to drive.
Once the initial jubilation subsides, one must actually grapple with the task of handling the immensely powerful behemoth, careful to avoid succumbing to an intoxicating adrenaline rush that could result in the vehicle becoming wrapped around a tree.
Arsenal, awash in cash after years of excruciating frugality that were intimately connected to the reduction of massive debts, is the "nouveau-riche" kid that needs to exercise reasonable caution.
The club has never been in this position before. Arguably, Dennis Bergkamp's arrival 18 years ago produced a similar sort of awe among supporters, but the Dutchman's signing was not such a massive shattering of the norm as Ozil's.
When a player whose immense quality and stature dwarfs that of almost everyone else in the squad he is joining, there is a real risk that he will be counted on to dominate opponents from the outset. Moreover, those already in the team might be improperly moved around to make space for the new titan in their midst.
Arsene Wenger's task is to avoid this. Specifically, he must determine how to both make Mesut Ozil the focal point of Arsenal's attack and avoid marginalizing the other stellar players that have been thriving in his system.
Fortunately, he already has something of a test case in his team.
When Santi Cazorla arrived from Malaga last year, he was greeted by fanfare and foaming mouths across Arsenal's fanbase. Here was a player who could at last compensate for Cesc Fabregas' departure and provide the Gunners with the spontaneous creative spark that had been so obviously missing from midfield.
Initially, it appeared that Cazorla was, in fact, monopolizing the attack with his darting runs, hairpin twists and eye for a killer pass. And few fans complained.
But other teams eventually began to figure out that constantly crowding him off the ball could marginalize Arsenal's best asset. Just as during the Fabregas era, Wenger needed to devise a way to produce greater equity within his midfield and attack.
Eventually, a balance was struck between Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Tomas Rosicky. The former was shifted between the left wing and attacking midfield, while the other two were able to alternately contribute their particular skills.
Ozil's situation is remarkably analogous that of Cazorla—even down to the positions in which they both thrive.
Wenger will principally need to determine how to fit the German and the Spaniard into one team that allows each the freedom to fully express their creative talent and eye for goal—in other words, the reasons why they were brought to the club in the first place.
Ozil absolutely deserves to be Arsenal's pre-eminent attacking force. He should therefore play as a central attacking midfielder, where he has the most freedom to roam about the pitch in search of areas where his nous might be needed.
Like Cazorla, he can also play on either wing. The left, in particular, suits the Spaniard quite well, as it allows him to drift inside and operate as a "trequartista." Both are better off in the center of the pitch, but since only one man can play there per game, Ozil should push Cazorla; the latter has already proved himself there.
Ôzil's massive transfer fee indicates that his signing was predominantly motivated by his tremendous quality, and not the simple depth that an extra body provides.
Both, however, can work in concert to alleviate the fatigue and staidness within the midfield and attack that became a problem as last season was grinding to a close.
Assuming that everyone (except Abou Diaby, of course) is fully fit, Arsene Wenger can rotate several excellent players throughout various positions. Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Cazorla, Rosicky and Özil can all effectively operate in a multitude of roles.
This interchangeability should, if handled correctly, ensure that each player is not overworked at any point during the arduous season, avoiding the injuries that so often result from such exertion (and have crippled the team in the past).
Few active managers in the world, if any, are better qualified to handle the exotic sports car that has plopped into Arsene Wenger's driveway. If he can learn how to drive a stick shift, Arsenal should finally be able to blast past their rivals this season.
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