The Champions League season may barely have begun, yet there is extra excitement, a greater intensity and ambition, when the lights of European competition are switched on.
Goals are not everything, but the way they are scored — and made — define the great players.
On Tuesday it was Mesut Özil’s turn to score with a breathtaking volley and to set up another goal with a dexterous touch early in Arsenal’s 2-0 home victory over Napoli.
Goallllllll! Shouted Arsenal fans over Lagos. The name Ozil rented the air all over. Arsenal fans have not been seen to be this happy for as many games as Arsenal have played in the recent past. Last season, most of the fans had their heart wrecked. It only took the courageous ones to openly argue for or against their darling team.
Many vowed that Wenger had lost touch with modern football and consequently called for his replacement. The new season appears to have taken off on a clean slate and fans attribute the club’s turnaround to the new man, Ozil.
The game against Napoli was a perfect example to what Ozil could bring to party. It was pure class.What was more enlightening was the way that Özil prompted and orchestrated Arsenal to such extent that the London team utterly perplexed a Napoli side that is undefeated so far in Italy this season.
Napoli had beaten Borussia Dortmund in the first round of Champions League games, yet Napoli was blown away inside 15 minutes. Özil, the German-Turk who cost €50 million, or $68 million, was both the architect and executioner.
In the eighth minute, after Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey had slipped in behind the Neapolitan defense on the right, Özil finished off their excellent approach by scoring from 18 yards, on the very edge of the penalty box.
Scoring makes it sound so simple, and to Özil it clearly was. He anticipated Ramsey’s cut back, glided into free space and then seemed to just caress the ball, cushion it with his instep, guiding it with disguised swerve beyond the reach of goalie Pepe Reina.
No fist-pumping gesture from Özil. No leap of joy.
Nothing but a modest smile, and a back-to-business resumption of play. Seven minutes later, he was integral again, this time the instigator of a goal. His acceleration over five yards burned off a Napoli defender, and his pass rolled off the outside of his foot like snow falling off a leaf.
Giroud was there, reading the pass, tapping the ball across the goal line from three yards.
Of course, the coaches will say Napoli’s defense was culpable. Of course, Giroud said afterward that Özil makes it easy to play, easy to move and find the spaces because the German has this vision, this selflessness, to help others express themselves.
But it is clear that Giroud, in his second season as an Arsenal striker, is finding his feet now.
“I have more confidence now,” said the big Frenchman. “I am settling in the team, in my new English life. But Mesut? He’s really unbelievable.”
Indeed, he is. A month in a new environment, he is facing a new language, a new culture, a different pace to the team’s pattern, with different faces and talents all around. And he, with six assists and now a special goal, is already the fulcrum of an Arsenal side that has won 10 straight games, home and away, in all competitions.
One player, our fathers and their fathers always said, does not make a team.
Agreed. But, when Arsène Wenger first started to manage Arsenal, he found a Dutch playmaker, Dennis Bergkamp, to illuminate the style he wanted the team to perform. Seventeen years later and still the coach, Wenger has Özil.