Sunderland vs. Arsenal: The Mesut Ozil Era Begins in Style

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2013

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger shakes hands with Mesut Oezil of Arsenal as he is substituted during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Arsenal at the Stadium of Light on September 14, 2013 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It’s fair to say that Mesut Ozil lived up to the hype.

Going into Saturday's 3-1 victory, the German international had been hyped up as an assist machine. In the past five years, he has created an incredible 72 goals. No player in Europe can match that tally.

Arsenal fans were understandably excited about the prospect of seeing their record signing in action, but a bout of sickness that caused Ozil to miss training Friday, according to the Daily Mail, cast serious doubt over his participation against Sunderland.

However, an untimely ankle problem for Santi Cazorla took the decision over whether or not to start Ozil out of Arsene Wenger’s hands. When the German awoke feeling well again, his place in the team was confirmed.

He didn’t take long to make an impact. With just 11 minutes played, Ozil showed exquisite technique to control a long ball from Kieran Gibbs. He then used his customary combination of vision and precision to identify and pick out Olivier Giroud at the near post for the goal.

If Theo Walcott had brought his shooting boots to Sunderland, Ozil could have finished the first half with a couple more assists.

However, it wasn’t just his incisive passing that stood out. Ozil started the match as a pure No. 10, but demonstrated versatility and intelligence to frequently interchange positions with Jack Wilshere on the left wing.

It’s clear that the German won’t be bullied.

Any player arriving from La Liga faces questions about their ability to cope with the Premier League’s physicality, but watching Ozil in action it quickly became clear that he is an athlete as well as an aesthete. At nearly 5’10", he stood above Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini as the tallest Arsenal midfielder and showed good upper body strength to deal with a buffering from a rugged Sunderland side. 

At half-time, Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio introduced Craig Gardner with specific instructions to tame Ozil. Within six minutes of coming on, Gardner had been booked for a clumsy foul on the German. However, Ozil did not allow the intimidation to inhibit him.

Ozil eventually departed after 80 minutes to a standing ovation from the travelling Arsenal faithful. Based on today’s evidence, it’s easy to imagine he may receive many more over the coming months. 

Ozil wasn’t the only summer signing making his first start.

After impressing as a substitute against Tottenham, Mathieu Flamini played 90 minutes as a holding midfielder. His tigerish display was key to helping Arsenal maintain their grip over the midfield, especially after Sunderland’s second-half rally. 

Alongside him, Ramsey was arguably the game’s outstanding player. The Welshman’s brace took his tally for the season to five. It’s already his highest-scoring season in an Arsenal shirt. 

It wasn’t all positive for Arsenal. Laurent Koscielny needlessly conceded a penalty with an untimely lunge at Adam Johnson, and Giroud’s late knee injury provided a chilling reminder of the squad’s frailties.

However, today will surely be remembered for the birth of the Ozil era. Typically of the cultured German, it began in some style.