Newspaper article International New York Times

After 2 Years, Ozil Gets His Due

Newspaper article International New York Times

After 2 Years, Ozil Gets His Due

Article excerpt

Mesut Ozil has emerged as a playmaker whose ability to pry open opposing defenses may give Arsenal its best chance in years of winning the Premier League.

England is the last place on earth professionals would want to play if they wished to spend Christmastime with their family. Instead, they are asked to give up their holiday celebrations to fight for precious points on the field.

No Arsenal fans will be complaining after their club beat Manchester City, 2-1, on Monday night in a stadium packed with 60,000 spectators. It was a contest that many believe will prove pivotal to who wins the Premier League title, and both clubs will be back on the road for Saturday's full schedule of games up and down the country.

This is a charitable time as far as Arsenal is concerned. It has a tradition of every player donating one day's pay to children's causes, each year raising about $330,000.

Since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Arsenal's Mesut Ozil has quietly paid for surgeries for children with cleft palates in remote parts of Brazil and Africa. It seems the perfect fit for Ozil, who played for Germany in the World Cup. He is a quiet man who finds his voice when it serves a good purpose.

For many Arsenal fans, it has taken two full years since the manager Arsene Wenger acquired Ozil from Real Madrid for $63 million to appreciate what he really brings to the team.

His worth is growing on them. Monday's game at the Emirates was cautious and cagey until Ozil opened up City's defense with two deft, almost sleight-of-foot passes along the ground. It still required spectacular finishes by Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud to convert those passes into goals, but the Arsenal crowd now appreciates that it has a playmaker whose stealth is intrinsic to Arsenal having its best chance in a decade of challenging for the Premier League title.

If they are honest, the Gunners' supporters might admit to mistaking stealth for laziness in Ozil. They listened too much to pundits on television. They shook their heads and complained about Wenger wasting their money. And now, they are realizing they may have been wrong all along.

Week after week, in an Arsenal team that is finding greater unity -- or "solidarity" as Wenger calls it -- Ozil is the one who cuts open the opponent like someone using a can opener. Twice on Monday, Manchester City lost track of Ozil in similar positions on the left side of the penalty area.

Big mistake. Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny -- another player whose eye for a pass is underrated -- guided the ball from the halfway line to the feet of Ozil, who spotted Walcott's movement ahead of him.

Walcott, who has come back after a career-threatening Achilles' tendon injury to gradually regain his confidence, turned and struck a blistering shot from 26 yards that rose into the far corner of City's goal. …

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