Mesut Ozil Is Growing into Dennis Bergkamp Role at Arsenal

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistMay 12, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 04:  Mesut Ozil (R) of Arsenal controls the ball ahead of Youssuf Mulumbu (L) of West Bromwich Albion during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium on May 4, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

As Mesut Ozil's mixed first at Arsenal draws to a close, his role in the team is becoming more obvious. The club's record signing is more Dennis Bergkamp than Cesc Fabregas.

Emulating the former is a tall order for any player. After all, Bergkamp is the most important signing in team history. He was vital in helping Arsenal put manager Arsene Wenger's vision and philosophy of creative, passing football into action.

If the sensitive souls out there will forgive a reference from another sport, Bergkamp was the quarterback of Wenger's greatest teams. Or if you prefer, the attacking brain of Arsenal.

He hovered in the No. 10 position in which many modern players seem to believe they belong. But Bergkamp was always more second striker than advanced midfielder.

Ozil is in the same mold, a player who comes alive in the halfway position between midfield and attack.

Ozil is more Bergkamp than Fabregas.
Ozil is more Bergkamp than Fabregas.TOM HEVEZI/Associated Press

Since his return from injury, in Arsenal's 3-0 away win over Hull City on April 20, Ozil has made this Bergkamp-like role his own. He has been the player hovering in the space between midfield and attack, available to thread passes between the defensive lines, able to dictate the way Arsenal break.

Speaking after the win over Hull, Wenger lauded Ozil's knack for playing the decisive pass, via "Yes, he always has the timing of the pass, the incisiveness of passing makes you always turn quickly from defence to offense. That is of course very important."

As the fulcrum of Arsenal's ability to counter, Ozil's return has coincided with nine goals in four matches—all wins. Of course, the cerebral schemer has been buoyed by the return of dynamic, forward-breaking midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

Ramsey's ability to pull markers out of position with late, advancing runs is creating even more space for Ozil. As Wenger noted in more comments after the Hull game, this combination makes Arsenal more vibrant and threatening going forward: "He's a threat. We looked like we had problems to score goals away from home recently. Him and Ozil give us a cutting edge in the final third that makes us look more dangerous to score."

Ozil is becoming the player Arsenal gear their forward passing toward, relying on the Germany international's exceptional eye for a defence-splitting ball.

In Arsenal's latest win, a 2-0 triumph away to Norwich City, Ozil played a key role in the second goal. He ghosted into a position just behind the forward line, received the ball in space and waited patiently for full-back Kieran Gibbs to stride into a gap on the left.

Ozil then threaded a pass into Gibbs' path, whose ball across the box was scuffed by Lukas Podolski before being scrambled in by right-back Carl Jenkinson.

The goal was made possible by Ozil's talent for hovering unmarked in the positions where Bergkamp once reigned supreme. Two of Arsenal's three goals at Hull were created the same way.

In another 3-0 win, this one at home over Newcastle United on April 28, Ozil went from vital link player to direct provider. He chipped a subtle cross onto the head of centre-forward Olivier Giroud for Arsenal's third.

Bergkamp dominated the attacking third for Arsenal. Ozil is starting to do the same.
Bergkamp dominated the attacking third for Arsenal. Ozil is starting to do the same.David Cannon/Getty Images

Ozil had already netted his team's second, his seventh goal of the season, per Adding a few more successful strikes is the next step in Ozil's progression toward emulating Bergkamp, although that will take a very special Arsenal career from the ex-Real Madrid man.

The classy Dutchman was rarely prolific, aside from the 1997/98 season, but he often chipped with a clutch of vital finishes.

If Ozil can bump his goal tally up to the 10-15 mark next season, Wenger's prediction that he will be a contender for Player of the Year, per David Hytner of The Guardian, will be a reality.

While Fabregas was tasked with linking every area of the Arsenal team together, Bergkamp was required to help end attacking moves with a flourish.

This Arsenal team is now designed around Ozil's ability to produce Bergkamp-like impact.