Not only the biggest money signing in Arsenal’s history but the most expensive foreign signing ever to come into the English Premier League, Mesut Ozil had to live up to some lofty expectations in his debut for Arsenal against Sunderland.
By all accounts, he met those expectations—and then some.
Ozil was simply a class above both sets of players. He was never rushed looking to move forward in attack, never played the wrong option in midfield, and he gave Arsenal an attacking threat they haven't had in recent times. Perhaps more than anything, he gave Arsenal the belief and self-motivation that they could be as good as the hyperbole around them suggested.
The statistics show just how dominant Ozil was against the Black Cats.
Completing 70 of his 79 attempted passes, Ozil was every bit of the dynamic passer he was supposed to be. He created three goal-scoring chances (including an assist), and was thoroughly active across the entire attacking half for the Gunners (shown through Squawka's Individual Heat Map).
Yet the stark reality following the match was that for all Ozil's creativity and all Arsenal's subsequent attacking flair, the Gunners should have scored more goals.
They should have had at least three goals in the first half alone.
Blame cannot rest solely on one man, but many will point to Theo Walcott as one of the key reasons why Arsenal didn't take a commanding lead into the half-time interval. Had they not produced another goal in the second half, many would have blamed him for dropped points.
In the space of 15 minutes, Walcott found himself with two incredibly clear goal-scoring opportunities provided to him by the magical feet of the German.
Twice he broke clear on goal, but twice he hit Keiren Westwood.
Throw in his wayward header after he was picked out superbly by Jack Wilshere and his nonchalant effort right on the half-time whistle and it was, in reality, a very poor performance by the England international. While the Gunners walked away from the Stadium of the Light with all three points, questions must be asked as to whether Walcott's wayward efforts will be a long-term problem. And if so, what are the consequences?
The most important is obviously to do with Ozil.
His incredible 91 goal-scoring chances created last year attest to the fact that Ozil is one of the best playmakers in world football. His three key passes against Sunderland showed that he can have a similar impact in the English Premier League.
However, such an impact can only be had if the players around him—that of Walcott, Olivier Giroud and co.—step up in the way that Real Madrid's stars did.
Giroud played his part in finishing his chance. Walcott did not.
Earlier in the week, I posed a question in an article I wrote for Squawka—asking just how good Walcott could be this season outside of Ozil.
Last year, Ronaldo scored a staggering 34 La Liga goals from a possible 181 goalscoring chances, giving him a conversion rate of 18%. By comparison, Walcott’s conversion rate was higher (22%) and had he been given the 181 goalscoring chances that Ronaldo had, in theory anyway, Walcott could have scored upwards of 40 goals last year. That’s obviously just an extrapolation, but the point remains the same.
Walcott showed last season netting 14 goals and 10 assists in 32 games that he has the potential to be a prolific attacker in Arsenal's system this season. In theory anyway, that proficiency stands to dramatically increase with Ozil in the team.
That much was shown to be true in the chances that fell his way.
If his finishing was up to scratch against Sunderland, we could very well have been talking about an Ozil-inspired Walcott hat-trick and the excitement of watching them both play together this season. Instead, we're discussing the need for Walcott to improve.
Granted, Walcott needs to be given some credit today.
His finishing was woeful, but his movement off the ball—to put himself in a position to get the passes from Ozil—was very encouraging for Arsenal fans.
His run for the second key chance to fall his way was vintage Walcott.
Pace, power, a driving run and the ability to get in behind defenders.
It was unfortunate that a strong finish didn't accompany the run, otherwise we would have been talking about just how deadly their combination can be this year.
The key, then, for Walcott is not to simply improve but to evolve. The talent and skills are clearly there (something he showed last season), but without regularity and consistency, he will always hold himself back from truly reaping the rewards that he should do.
An active Walcott has the potential to score several goals.
A consistent Walcott has the potential to become an elite EPL player.
There was little doubt, watching Ozil and the Englishman combine, that the two have the potential to develop a unique combination. Similar in a way to the combination he had with Cristiano Ronaldo, Ozil, with his defense-splitting skills and Walcott, with his pace and excellent acceleration, could well be the Gunners' best attacking duo this season. No offense intended for Giroud. it's simply the role of Ozil and the potential success he could have with Walcott.
But only if Theo continues to improve and learn from Ozil.
He must evolve and understand his new role alongside the German international. He must evolve with his consistency and regularity in front of goal.
If he does that? Well, the results could be devastating.
In a very, very good way.
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