Attention turns to the visit to South Wales at the weekend with Arsène promising to rotate his squad in the coming weeks with the visit to Napoli preceding games against the two teams deemed most likely to challenge for the title this season. It is an uncomfortable parallel with the corresponding back-to-back fixtures yielding a solitary yet well-deserved point at Eastlands. In a season which is continually measured by which test is next, perhaps these will give the best informal benchmark against the consistent improvement since the start of 2013. That is some way off by now and any number of wheels can have come off anyone’s wagon by the time the Arsenal’s pre-Christmas encounter with Chelsea kicks off. In the meantime, the players can roll their sleeves up and look ahead to Cardiff.
In the aftermath of the win over Marseilles, Mathieu Flamini took time out from re-tailoring his suit to observe that there was no change in the philosophy at the club in his time away. Indeed, we still create lots of chances and contrive to miss them…
Mesut Özil is being held as chief culprit by some on the grounds of his abysmal penalty. Reports since suggest that the German regularly takes penalties in that style which means that Tuesday must have been a genuine one-off in its execution or else the Arsenal goalkeepers are not trying hard enough in the shoot-outs which round off the training sessions. Either way, does it really matter? It was poor and most players culpable in those circumstances change their style; Henry and Pires’ debacle ensured that they reverted to taking a spot kick properly. It was a surprise that Giroud did not take it but perhaps the team recognised the German was feeling down on his luck and tried to help by offering the opportunity of a goal. It didn’t work, these things happen, especially as it did not impact on the outcome.
It led to unfounded criticism of his play since joining. The underlying problem is not Özil’s performances but the expectations placed upon him by supporters. Personally, I was not expecting anything more than a very good player to improve the team. He has done that. Perhaps more goals were anticipated but he has averaged a goal every five games in his career before joining the club, matching that thus far at Arsenal. Half-a-dozen assists to me is a decent return for a player settling in a new club in a new league in a new country, all with a far more physical style than he would have been accustomed to. The barest of statistics suggest that Özil has done well which then brings about subjective assessment. You can see the influence he has on play, runs and passes to create space for others; you can see the players responding to that.
I wonder if the root is an unrealistic expectation of consistency which a £40m-plus transfer fee brings. Sparkling performances are expected all the time and personally, it struck me that the German has been below par since the international break. The same interruption to the season during which he was suffering from a virus; has that still got a lingering effect? Equally, you have to put it into perspective. Performances may have dipped below his levels set during his first match but he has still made significant contributions. Players are not beyond criticism just because of fees but to be questioning whether he was worth the money is simply ludicrous.
Mesut is the member of our team who helps us to create more chances and makes the opposition more vulnerable. We’re all delighted with him because he is always a threat and he has created more opportunities for Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere.
Because he moves so well between the lines it’s always difficult to defend against him. When the centre-back comes out with him, there’s always space for others to go in to. I think we will see even more from him soon. Even after he missed that penalty he never gave up. He looked for a moment as though his head was going down but at half-time we all said we didn’t care about the miss, just carry on.
Mertesacker can empathise with Özil. Held culpable for collective failures, as he settled into English life his performances grew in stature and his presence was a key platform up which last season and this was built. Now, there is general dismay with his absence. New contract talks appear to be progressing well and it seems that he will be at the club for some time yet.
With that in mind, you would think some perspective would be applied to Özil’s form but sanity is in short supply in football.