Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has hailed Mesut Ozil as the “complete athlete” and praised the German’s newfound leadership qualities.
The outstanding form shown by Ozil has been the catalyst to the Gunners’ climb to the top of the Premier League table heading into 2016 as they go in search of a first title in 12 years.
The 27-year-old club-record signing has been immaculate in recent weeks and has already notched up 16 assists in the league this season.
The latest came in Monday’s 2-0 win over Bournemouth, with Ozil then adding the second goal himself after neat interplay with Olivier Giroud.
With the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla sidelined, and Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey only just back from injury, Ozil has shouldered a lot of the creative responsibilities for the Gunners and Wenger feels the former Real Madrid man has developed as a result.
“When he was injured for a long period, he worked very hard physically,” he said of Ozil.
“He is a complete athlete. I also believe he has grown in stature and takes responsibilities, leadership in the team and on that front he has improved tremendously and looks determined to lead the team compared to when he arrived.
“I think he plays in a position that suits him well. He plays in a style of football that suits him well.
“This season he was not stopped by injuries and I believe he arrives at an age, 27, that you think ’it’s time for me to really be efficient in every single game, and I want to enjoy every single game’.”
Arsenal host struggling Newcastle tomorrow looking to hold on to top spot, which they occupy only on goal difference as surprise package Leicester continue to breathe down their neck.
Having made four alterations from the 4-0 St Stephens’ Day defeat at Southampton for the visit of Bournemouth, Wenger admits he is likely to make more changes against Steve McClaren’s men.
While Ozil is almost certain to start, Gabriel is another who will be hoping to keep his place having been drafted into the centre of defence as a replacement for Laurent Koscielny on Monday.
The Brazilian moved to the Emirates Stadium from Villarreal last January but the game against the Cherries was just his 14th Premier League appearance.
Wenger has backed the 25-year-old to push for a regular place having also opened his goalscoring account for Arsenal in the win.
“Yes, he is ready,” Wenger replied when asked if Gabriel could stay in the side.
“I played him in a few games since the start of the season. I play him in training with Koscielny, with Mertesacker, we have three central defenders that will be needed, but how I rotate them I haven’t decided yet. I trust him completely.”
Wenger says he is willing to give Jack Wilshere extra opportunity to prove his fitness as he is a “special talent”.
The Arsenal man has started just 10 Premier League since March 2014 as a host of injuries have kept the 23-year-old sidelined.
He has yet to feature this campaign after suffering a broken leg in the final days of pre-season.
Wilshere’s comeback was pencilled in for the new year but the end of February is the new target.
But Wenger will not give up on the precocious talents of a player who has already picked up 28 England caps.
“I am an optimistic,” he said.
“I always think: ‘Okay it’s true he hasn’t played many games in recent years’. I hope that will stop because he is young and I hope I’m right. He is a special case because he is a special talent and comes out of the club.”
Meanwhile Newcastle head coach Steve McClaren has hinted the club could be in the market for a striker.
The Magpies added £14.5m Serbia hitman Aleksandar Mitrovic to their attack during the summer, with injury having deprived McClaren of Papiss Cisse and Emmanuel Riviere for long periods in the first half of the campaign.
QPR’s Charlie Austin was among the men the club courted to no avail with his £15m price-tag way beyond what they would have been prepared to pay, but with goals having been at a premium to date, they need to do something to either increase firepower.
McClaren has been reticent when quizzed on the subject but asked if he could understand the desperation of fans to know the club’s plans, he replied: “Absolutely. Absolutely. I think I’ve said enough to say that we do need more goals and that we’re working behind the scenes to address that.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved