A popular song for Arsenal supporters concerns the 2013 transfer deal that featured Tottenham selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and Mesut Ozil passing in the opposite direction to north London.
The problem for Tottenham, of course, is that Ozil did not sign for them, but Arsenal, and at half the money they got for Bale.
Tottenham’s inability to make the most of their €100m Bale cash is the source of much amusement to the Arsenal faithful and the fact it freed Ozil to leave is a bonus. ‘You sold Bale, we signed Mesut Ozil,’ goes the refrain.
An amusing dig at their rivals maybe, but one that rang a bit hollow at first.
For all his flashes of brilliance, Arsenal’s club-record €50m signing was inconsistent at best and not a player to take control of a game or drag his team-mates back into a match.
That seems to be changing, however. He is stronger than he has ever been and has adjusted to the physical demands of playing in England. He even shows a work-rate to match his undoubted world-class skills and passing ability.
It culminated in a tireless, goalscoring display in Arsenal’s unexpected victory over Bayern Munich, a result which kept their Champions League hopes just about alive.
What a difference to his first season at the club when he missed an early penalty in the last-16 home leg against Bayern and visibly wilted, both physically and mentally, bringing his team-mates down with him.
Arsenal lost and he then damaged a hamstring in the return match as they went out with a draw.
Ozil’s confidence seemed to further unravel as he did not score a goal for three months, although he earned a place in Arsenal’s FA Cup winning side and surpassed that by starting in every one of Germany’s World Cup matches that summer. He receives similar criticism at home, but he has the full support of national manager Joachim Low and has convinced Arsene Wenger as well as most of the Arsenal followers.
Driving into the penalty area three minutes into injury time of an exhausting match to score against the Bayern team that has coveted him since he was a teenager left him glowing.
He said afterwards: “I’m really satisfied. I can see the team and the manager give me their trust. I feel at ease and I’m having fun.”
Ozil is used to topping the assist charts and covers more ground than one would imagine, often leading the distance-ran tables too. Maybe it is his lack of tackling that draws criticism, but Arsenal did not sign him as a ball winner, more of a match winner.
It is no coincidence the development of his own confidence and fulfilment is being matched by a resurgence in belief among all of Wenger’s promising squad.
After losing their opening Champions League matches at Dynamo Zagreb and home to Olympiacos, they seemed doomed for an early European exit, but now they have hope of going through with matches still to come in Munich, at home to Zagreb and away in Athens.
Ozil, like his team-mates, was chasing shadows for much of the night as Pep Guardiola’s side tried to pass them to death with more than 70% possession, although Petr Cech had to make only two telling saves.
And it was perhaps sweeter for the 27-year-old midfielder, who Bayern wanted to sign before he joined Madrid in 2010 and have been back in for again before and since his move to Arsenal.
He added: “We concentrated from the first to last minute and believed in ourselves. We knew we made massive mistakes in our first two games and this was our last chance. Bayern controlled much of the game and we have played a lot of matches. We have heavy legs but we just wanted to win. We showed heart and the fans supported us superbly.
“When you look at the whole team you can see we have a lot of potential. We have to believe in ourselves. We’ve beaten one of the strongest teams in the world and can be very proud of ourselves.”
‘It’s the hope what kills you’ is a phrase many sports fans can relate to. And the flip side to Arsenal’s victory, which will leave them weary and without the injured Aaron Ramsey for Saturday’s visit of Everton, is they still need to win their three remaining group matches to guarantee progression.
They are statistically more likely to finish third and end up in the Europa League, playing on ‘Spursdays’ and Sundays for the rest of the season. That will damage their title hopes and give the other half of north London something to sing about too.
For now, however, their season is very much alive on every front and Ozil is happy to be in the heat of the fight.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved