Let me tell you a story about my first game with Arsenal. It was away to Sunderland and Arsene Wenger said to me, "I’m going to put you on the bench and you’ll be able to see how they play football in England."
I can tell you that after 20-25 minutes I wanted to return to France because I could tell how difficult it was going to be here. That’s how it all started for me.
It was his way of saying, "look if you want to succeed in English football it’s going to be very, very hard."
This Saturday, Arsenal face Sunderland again, with another shiny new foreigner in their ranks: German international Mesut Ozil. With Tomas Rosicky nursing a thigh injury, Ozil may not be afforded the luxury of a start on the bench. The former Real Madrid man may find himself thrown into the fray from the first minute.
Pires and Ozil have more in common than just their first opponent.
Speaking to Sky Sports about Pires in August 2007, Arsene Wenger said that the Frenchman greased the wheels of the entire Arsenal team:
Robert Pires is the oil in our engine. We are so much more fluent when he is on the pitch.
He brings vision, a great workrate and a special passing ability to find anyone on the pitch.
He can run with the ball and he is very generous. He likes to please his team-mates with his passes.
Wenger could just as easily have been talking about Ozil. The German is a playmaker in the truest sense: He is a confirmed creator of goals. According to Opta stats, no player in Europe has fashioned more goalscoring opportunities in the last five years.
Wenger will be hoping that Ozil can help oil the current Arsenal team into a more slick outfit. In 2013, Arsenal have developed into an efficient and resilient side, capable of grinding out creditable results. However, their pragmatism has cost them some of their celebrated style. Ozil, like Pires before him, can make Arsenal beautiful.
Ozil can learn from Pires' eventual adaptation and success. It took time, but Pires developed into a mesmerising Footballer of the Year. In July 2008, Pires was voted as Arsenal's sixth best player of all time. Ozil should aspire to emulate his French predecessor.
Reflecting on that first taste of Premier League action at Sunderland, Pires himself said:
That day at Sunderland was a real shock for me the way the sides got stuck into each other, but he had confidence in me, picked me and I adapted to the style of play. There was no question that I had the best years of my career here at Arsenal.
If Ozil can improve upon his Real Madrid performances and reach the zenith of his career at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal will be content with every penny they've spent to acquire the German star.