Arsenal: The looming offensive renaissance with Mesut Özil

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's first goal with Alexandre Lacazette during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on April 21, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's first goal with Alexandre Lacazette during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on April 21, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) /

The renaissance of Mesut Özi as a star starts against Newcastle in Arsenal’s opener; how the team coalesces with one another will be crucial in this.

Nearly every footballing publication over the last two or three years has proclaimed that something’s wrong with Mesut Özil. To the point that Özil’s time in North London should be over all together. That his salary was too demanding on Arsenal‘s payroll constraints was only a secondary consideration to the opinion that his time as a dominant maestro of men on the pitch was no longer.

After the reign of Arsène Wenger, Unai Emery’s first season saw that narrative morph. Now, Özil was not a physical or enthusiastic enough player for the team’s new direction.

I wrote months ago that Mesut Özil was staying at Arsenal because his skill, vision and creativity would be key in the club’s rebirth; that he now has his greatest attacking arsenal during his time at the club confirms this. An offensive renaissance featuring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pépé explains why Mesut Özil was always indispensable to the club’s future.

The Gunners recently acquired Nicolas Pépé from Ligue 1 outfit Lille for a club record £72m. That it is also a world record fee for an African talent speaks to the level of skill and expectation that awaits him in London.

Mesut Özil will sit behind the talents of Auba, Laca and Pépé; maestro of the attacking third like during his time at Real Madrid. The speed and force of these three will protect Mesut from much of the pressing and aggression he’s suffered from without such potent safety valves in previous campaigns.

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With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left, Alexandre Lacazette through the centre and Nicolas Pépé on the right wing, Arsenal could well have the fastest front three in European football. Should Mesut Özil gain a proper mastery of these tools at his disposal in a 4-3-1-2, 3-4-4, 3-4-1-2 or simple 4-3-3 shape, his statistics and production may once again match both his legendary status and current pay grade.

Mesut Özil will need help from behind and beside him as well, just as his front three will depend on him for balls and opportunities. Such a renaissance of offense requires an entire team’s ascension, not simply two or three of its members.

If the supporting midfield and defense cannot play a better, more disciplined campaign, the advanced offensive ability of these four horsemen alone will not sustain an Arsenal season as successful as it should be.

The loan for Dani Ceballos offsets the painful loss of Aaron Ramsey to Juventus for free this same summer; moving for him permanently after a solid campaign could set this club up for years with solid play up the middle. The continued evolution of Matteo Guendouzi, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Lucas Torreira will be paramount to the total team progress as well. Protecting Özil so that he may operate with freedom and expression is a key to the game when he is playing.

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Kieran Tierney’s (alleged) imminent acquisition would be of great significance in shoring up this back line, but he is not the lone potentiality. Hector Bellerin’s return from last season’s knee injury will provide a young, athletic and intelligent right-back where it was lacking at times last season.

William Saliba’s signing was fantastic, but in the year the Gunners have without his services, Sokratis needs help. Even if Laurent Koscielny should stay, the return of Rob Holding from knee injury will play a bigger part in this season alongside lone returnee and Fulham’s player of the campaign, Calum Chambers.

Although unproven at Arsenal, I would personally rather watch Calum Chambers grow and learn on the pitch than have to see Shkodran Mustafi huff and puff around. Every time he’s out of position or responsible for a crucial goal given away is an opportunity a younger player could’ve had to improve from those very same mistakes and errors. Mustafi does not get better from these errors and so a transfer would suit all involved parties.

Mesut Özil certainly struggled at times over the past few seasons under former skipper Arsène Wenger and current boss Unai Emery. It could also be seen and understood that the proverbial cupboard has been close to bare during that time as well.

But then there were the acquisitions of Alexandre Lacazette in July of 2017, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang only six months later, with Nicolas Pépé the plans coup de grâce. These ambitious acquisitions showcase a bold and thoughtful blueprint for an offensive renaissance.

While many may not have always been thrilled with the level of production or assumed effort that Mesut Özil has provided the team during that three year stretch, they seemed to have been realistic the entire while. Özil wasn’t going to be faulted for a team without the proper weapons; the team would need to garner him some before real judgement could be passed.

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This campaign has no excuses left for the mercurial midfielder; if Mesut Özil is the player I and many others believe him to be, his renaissance will be apparent. A defensive addition would shore that feeling up further but regardless, the tools now exist for Özil to slash and cut through any opposition to this offensive prerogative. This ability is why he remains in North London, and it’s little surprise after the renovations that he’ll have another go at proving his value once.