5 Things That Will Surprise Mesut Ozil on His Arsenal Debut
Nine years after his first game in England, the Frenchman told Sport.co.uk that his introduction to the league was a rude awakening.
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.
So Özil, as outstanding as he is, will likely face a tough test in his first Premier League game. Let's look at what he might experience.
The Coarseness of the Crowd
The infamous era of thuggery and lawlessness that disgraced English football decades ago has largely passed, and Özil has obviously played in front of some large and acrimonious crowds during his time with Real Madrid and the German national team.
Still, though, can anyone truly know what it's like to play in the northeast corner of England until one has actually done so?
The old saying about foreign players being tested on a cold night in Stoke does not quite apply here (Accuweather.com predicts a sunny day with a high of 59 degrees Fahrenheit), but stepping in front of a very gritty crowd at the Stadium of Light is a unique experience.
The Coarseness of the Pitch
Dedicated Arsenal fans with good memories might recall when Per Mertesacker ripped a few ligaments in his ankle at the Stadium of Light in 2012, ruling him out for the entirety of the Gunners' run-in.
Correlation does not imply causation, of course, but the fact that Sunderland's pitch appeared to have been repeatedly prodded with a pitchfork before the match certainly did not make Mertesacker's injury any less likely.
Never in Özil's career has he played on such ratty pitches.
Sunderland's grounds crew might attempt to clean up their playing surface more than usual, but there is a definite incentive to maintain its raggedness before Arsenal come in so that the Gunners'—and Özil's—intricate passing game can be disrupted.
Özil does know his two German teammates quite well. However, one is injured and the other will not be interacting with him much from his spot as the more receded centre-back.
Largely due to the international break, Özil will not have had the opportunity to practice with his teammates for more than a couple of sessions. Therefore, he will not be able to rely on any sort of knowledge of their tendencies and footballing peccadillos.
Hopefully, this unfamiliarity will be nullified by Özil's raw talent and certain basic qualities that every footballer is taught. Regardless, he will have to learn from his teammates.
La Liga can now legitimately challenge the Premier League's presumptive title as the best league in the world, and the Bundesliga is very democratic.
However, neither is as completely strong as the Premier League.
In no other league would a side that is at best thoroughly mediocre play with the pace that Sunderland do. Amongst teams of Sunderland's stature, the players in Spain and Germany simply do not play at the same speed as those in England.
Wenger will obviously tell Özil this, but he simply might not be able to anticipate the specific sort of challenges that a deceptively quick and aggressive midfield will cause.
This is what truly differentiates the Premier League from all other leagues, and it's why so many players find it so difficult to transition from playing abroad to playing in England.
When Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud made their competitive Arsenal debuts against Sunderland in the opening game of last season (the Gunners have a knack for introducing their foreign acquisitions against the Black Cats, apparently), all struggled to cope with very rough challenges.
Özil will learn to cope with physicality and grittiness, but he could certainly be forgiven for underestimating the degree to which he will be challenged in his first game in the Premier League.
If Sunderland are smart, they will ratchet up the intensity when the slightly wispy German is on the ball.
He better learn quickly, though, because he will play Stoke next weekend.