The extravagance has become essential. The luxury player no longer feels a lightweight. The stylist has acquired so much substance that he could soon have a statistical superiority over every other player in Premier League history.
Because, when Gabriel headed in Mesut Ozil’s corner against Bournemouth, the German registered his 16th assist of the season. He only requires another four to equal Thierry Henry’s divisional best of 20. An unassuming, often unobtrusive figure is taking a sledgehammer to the record books.
Henry is the Arsenal nonpareil, the gliding goalscorer who had the selflessness to set up others. At this stage of the 2002/03 campaign, however, he had created just five goals. The fact he scored so many still sets him apart from every other player in Arsene Wenger’s reign, but it is notable now that the Frenchman feels comfortable bracketing his biggest buy with his best players.
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Wenger likened Ozil to Dennis Bergkamp after Monday’s 2-0 victory over Bournemouth. If it could seem a case of hyperbole, he rarely makes such comparisons. It was only at the tail end of Robin van Persie’s Arsenal career, when he was consistently outstanding, that he spoke of the striker in the same breath as his fellow Dutchman.
Now Ozil, the man who was seen as Wenger’s £42.4 million (Dh230m) folly, has achieved a place in the Frenchman’s personal pantheon alongside Bergkamp.
“They really are comparable,” the Arsenal manager said. “He has become a complete sensational football player. I am very, very happy with his performances. He is one of the best in Europe certainly. In his position, he is sensational.”
That position, as a No 10, confers a responsibility to score. Ozil does infrequently – his strike against Bournemouth was just his fifth of the season – but, as his goals have included ones against Manchester United and Bayern Munich, the accusation that he rarely influences key games is redundant. These days he influences them all, invariably by creating.
His last 12 league games have yielded three goals and a barely credible 13 assists. The manner of them is revealing. There are the elegant defence-splitters like the ball Joel Campbell received against Sunderland. There are the ruthlessly incisive, forward balls such as the one Olivier Giroud converted against Manchester City last week. There are the examples of altruism, such as the decision to square the ball for Aaron Ramsey against Aston Villa when he was in a position where most others would have shot and which seemed to suggest he has 360-degree vision.
Then there are the comparatively mundane moments, the set-pieces that facilitate record-breaking runs. This is where a purist appears more pragmatic. Gabriel finished from Ozil’s corner earlier this week.
The German has always roamed from flank to flank, languid body language concealing his capacity to cover ground. What he is doing more is crossing with a winger’s accuracy, often in open play.
Think of Giroud’s headed goal against Everton in October. Ozil bent the ball into the box.
“It is a joy to play with him,” Giroud told L’Equipe. “You know you are going to get at least one chance per game.” The French target man is a particular beneficiary, with six of his goals created directly by Ozil.
Yet he is fashioning so many chances that there appear enough for everyone. Ozil used to be the aesthete’s choice. Now he is mastering the numbers game, giving him an added appeal to the less imaginative. “He got a lot of criticism because he wasn’t efficient enough,” Giroud added. That charge is no longer applicable.
The measure of Ozil’s dominance is apparent in the figures. He has created 79 chances created, more than 50 per cent better than the next best in the division. His 16 assists are twice as many as anyone else has mustered. Carry on at the same, astonishing rate, and he will end the season with 32. A player who decorates games is helping to decide more than ever before.
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