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Grading Mesut Ozil's Debut Performance for Arsenal

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Grading Mesut Ozil's Debut Performance for Arsenal
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Arsenal fans had been hotly anticipating Mesut Ozil's debut from the moment his arrival was confirmed on transfer deadline day.

An international break, which is always aggravating to some degree, was positively excruciating for Arsenal fans, as they counted the days until the new jewel in the crown would finally be unveiled on the pitch.

Before the Gunners traveled to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland Saturday, there was uncertainty about how Ozil would fare against such stereotypical English opposition. The pace and physicality of the game are quite unlike what he experienced in Spain.

Then, of course, there was the minor issue of the fact that he had barely practiced with his new teammates prior to the match and therefore could not have the slightest familiarity with those whose movements and tendencies are so critical to the attack.

However, it was clear from the kickoff that Ozil's sheer quality would make him one of the stars of the show.

A few sultry touches in the opening minutes provided a preview of what was to come. It did not take long for Ozil to have a very significant impact on the match.

Kieran Gibbs gently lofted a ball over the top of Sunderland's defense in an attempt to manufacture a counterattack, but Ozil still had a lot of work to do.

With a piece of technical skill that few other players can manage, he stretched his leg to deftly ease the ball to the ground before accelerating to nearly full pace and slipping in Olivier Giroud with a curling through ball from the left wing.

It provided the perfect platform for Giroud to continue his outstanding scoring record to start the season, and the Frenchman is indebted to the new arrival for giving him such a perfect goalscoring opportunity.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Ozil continued to flex his creative muscle, though with varying degrees of success.

Only four minutes after the assist, he beautifully played in Theo Walcott amid a crowd of Sunderland players with a perfectly weighted pass that allowed the Englishman to fully utilize his pace.

Walcott eventually smashed the ball into the chest of Kieren Westwood, but his was one of several chances that kept the Black Cats on the back foot throughout the first half.

When he wasn't engineering opportunities for his teammates, Ozil was about as involved as he possibly could have been in his fluid role as a drifting left-winger, greasing the attacking engine and generally keeping play moving forward.

However, Ozil dealt with some of the same issues that Santi Cazorla often does when forced to play on the left wing. He was marginalized for significant periods of the game—partly due to his positioning and partly because of Sunderland's relentless pressing.

Just as they did when Cazorla debuted against them during the first game of last season, the Black Cats made a concerted effort to surround and harry Ozil whenever he so much as approached the penalty area.

When afforded any measure of freedom on the sort of counterattack that produced Giroud's goal, he was quite effective, but he understandably found it difficult to break down a very organized and aggressive defense.

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Ozil was reportedly feeling ill before the match, according to the Daily Mail, and that could very well explain some of the protracted anonymity. When he was substituted for Thomas Vermaelen in the 80th minute, he received a deserved standing ovation from the traveling Arsenal fans.

In its totality, Ozil's debut performance contained essentially all that one would reasonably expect from a foreign player of his skill: obvious technical proficiency, a couple moments of wonderful skill and some initial struggles with a very different style of play from that which he is used to.

Arsenal fans can anticipate immediate and exponential improvement, as Ozil's ability will allow him to rapidly settle into and thrive in his new league with a team that suits him perfectly. He's starting from quite a solid foundation, though.

 

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