Can Ozil stamp his authority on Arsenal's midfield this year?
German enigma must be more influential in number ten role as Theo Walcott risks becoming a marginalised bench warmer
Arsenal kick-started their season on Sunday as they beat Crystal Palace, courtesy of a Olivier Giroud scissor kick and an own goal from Damien Delaney. But the star of the show for the Gunners was German enigma Mesut Ozil, who produced a man-of-the-match performance and was hailed by manager Arsene Wenger afterwards.
He may have been marked out of the game by 16-year-old Reece Oxford of West Ham on the opening weekend of the season, but he was much more influential against Palace.
"It's a pleasure to watch the quality of his passing and the intelligence of his passing," said Wenger. "He was absolutely magnificent. He works harder than many people think he does. He's not spectacular in his defending, but he wants to do the job and help the team."
The Arsenal manager also praised Ozil's work off the ball but said he would like to see his German midfielder score more goals. He did, however, earn an assist as he teed up Giroud for the opening goal of the match with a clever cross which was acrobatically converted by the Frenchman.
The "haters" should take note of Ozil's contribution for Giroud's goal, says Metro. It was a "magic moment" from the German, but it was't as impressive as the control he showed after 50 minutes, when he expertly cushioned a high ball by the touchline and then bamboozled Pape Souare with a sublime back heel.
But Ozil needs to produce more than just glimpses of brilliance, notes The Guardian. "Ozil’s ability to transcend any match for little spells is the greatest of treats. Consistency must become his friend," writes David Hytner of The Guardian.
But his contribution was consistent against Palace. Having been handed the Arsenal number ten role (ahead of many rivals) he was "alert and hugely influential", says the Daily Mail.
Ozil is like a dye, says Jonathan Liew of the Daily Telegraph, "seeping into the cracks, filling the gaps, making them his own". He drifts, moves, teases and toys with the oppostion, adds Liew, but he is equally useful in defence. His "spatial awareness is insane, and his ability to spot gaps before they even occur is equally handy at both ends of the pitch", he explains.
"You watch the number of times Arsenal counter-attack from defensive set-pieces this season. Ozil will be at the centre of most of those moves, mark my words."
It may not augur well for Theo Walcott, who hankers after the kind of central role now entrusted to Ozil. The England man failed to make an appearance at Selhurst Park after being overlooked in favour of Alexis Sanchez on the wing, even though the Chilean has not taken part in pre-season training after being allowed extra time off over the summer.
As Wenger's midfield hierarchy begins to take shape, with Ozil, Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey fighting it out for the creative positions and the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain waiting on the bench, not to mention Jack Wilshere making occasional appearances from the treatment room, Walcott is in danger of becoming marginalised.