5 Arsenal Players of Recent Times Who Were Better for Country Than Club
As we head into the international break, most Arsenal players will doubtless be grateful to get away from their troubled club side and turn out for their country. With the Gunners in dire form, international football will represent some welcome respite.
For some Arsenal players of recent times, it was ever thus. In this piece, we identify the five players who seemed liberated by playing for their country, producing better displays than they were able to muster for the Gunners.
The players are ranked according to the size of the disparity between their club and country performances (i.e. No. 5 was marginally better at international level than for Arsenal, whereas No. 1 was a different player in his country's shirt).
5. Mesut Ozil
Mesut Ozil's Arsenal career appears to be in danger of ending with a whimper. After an excellent first half of the season, a combination of illness, injury and poor form has seen his impact decline dramatically over the course of the campaign.
Ozil is a sensation for Germany, though. In five out of the last six years, he has been voted as the international team's Player of the Year. He is also, of course, a World Cup winner, having played a crucial role in the triumph of 2014. In their victory over Argentina in the final, Ozil was outstanding.
However, 2014 is not the only tournament in which he has shone. Back in 2010, he recorded a tournament-high three assists as Germany finished in third place. His performance against England was particularly memorable, as he played a key role in demolishing Fabio Capello's side. Whenever he pulls on the international shirt, he tends to impress.
Ozil has largely been a vital cog in the Arsenal machine—in 2015/16, he was particularly good, recording more assists than any other Premier League player. However, he has struggled to exert the same consistent influence he provides for Germany. Perhaps the tempo of international football is better suited to his graceful gifts.
4. Andrei Arshavin
Andrei Arshavin became a global star off the back of his performances at Euro 2008. Speaking during the tournament, then-Russia boss Guus Hiddink praised his key player, per the Telegraph:
He knows how to fight and be brave in his play. He runs into the zones where the defenders feel they can run there but can't tackle him. That's what nature gave him. He has a real mental strength too. He is supposed to be a difficult player to coach but it's not the case - he's a natural worker.
Hiddink's assessment was spot on: Arshavin combined guile and graft. His dribbling was effortless, but his game was underpinned by a solid work rate—there was a beautiful balance of imagination and industry. He looked, quite frankly, the complete footballer.
When he turned up at Arsenal six months later, expectations were sky high. Initially Arshavin impressed—his four-goal haul at Anfield a particular highlight. However, before long a corrosive laziness began to creep into his play. Hiddink had dismissed the idea that Arshavin was a "difficult player to coach," but Arsene Wenger would probably disagree with the Dutchman on that front.
In the end, Arshavin was released from his Arsenal contract without any fee. His dazzling displays at international level simply served as another frustration about this unfulfilled talent.
3. Aaron Ramsey
Although Gareth Bale inevitably makes more headlines, Aaron Ramsey has been integral to Welsh football's recent resurgence.
He has frequently worn the captain's armband while representing his country, and his performances reflect that authoritative status. He's an all-action midfield hero, tearing around the field winning tackles and charging up to support the attack whenever possible.
That was never more evident than at Euro 2016. Ramsey was one of the tournament's outstanding midfielders, and had he not been suspended for the semi-final against Portugal, perhaps he would have been able to propel Wales into a dream final with France.
Off the back of the summer tournament, it was widely anticipated that Ramsey would assume a starring role in the Arsenal midfield. However, he has struggled to establish himself in the first team this season. Injuries have played their part, as has his inability to form a cohesive partnership with any of Wenger's other midfield options.
There are signs that Ramsey might be developing an understanding with Granit Xhaka and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a new-look Arsenal midfield. That three-man system is more akin to what Ramsey plays in for Wales—perhaps the new formation can help him bring his international form to his club side.
2. Lukas Podolski
Lukas Podolski will bid farewell to the Germany international side during their friendly fixture against England on Wednesday.
The forward is moving to Japan at the end of the season, and although he effectively retired from international football earlier this season, he is being honoured with a one-off final appearance. Remarkably, the England game will be his 130th cap.
It's been an incredibly successful stint. He was named the best young player at the 2006 World Cup and made the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2008. In 2014, he and Arsenal team-mates Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Shkodran Mustafi tasted World Cup glory. Along the way, his trademark hammer of a left foot smashed home 48 goals in 129 appearances.
However, he never quite fitted in at Arsenal. Ostensibly bought to help replace Robin van Persie, Podolski struggled to carve a niche for himself in Wenger's side. His inability to play as a No. 9 proved problematic—he had neither the hold-up play to function through the middle nor the defensive nous to survive on the flanks.
Podolski had no such problems at international level, and he remained a key part of Germany coach Joachim Low's plans right up until Euro 2016—some time after he was discarded by Wenger.
1. Nicklas Bendtner
Twenty-nine goals from 72 caps is a creditable record for any international player—especially one playing for Denmark, who are hardly a giant of the European scene.
However, while he has largely been a reliable figure for his country, Nicklas Bendtner became nothing short of a joke at Arsenal.
Although his career started promisingly, he failed to capitalise on his natural gifts. Bendtner often appeared lazy and guilty of overestimating his own ability. He could not back up his confidence on the field and eventually was released on a free transfer.
Since leaving Arsenal, Bendtner's club career has fallen even further away from his international achievements. He was recently allowed to leave Nottingham Forest and join Rosenborg BK, where he will hope to repair his damaged reputation.
Of late, he has even struggled to make the Denmark squad. If he can find some form in the Norwegian league, he's likely to be recalled before long—when it comes to international football, Bendtner has always appeared curiously competent.