Whilst Arsenal fans had hoped the club would sign a star striker this summer, their failure to loan Demba Ba from Chelsea on deadline day must not overshadow the sensational signing of midfielder Mesut Ozil.
Arsenal relied last term on only one recognized centre-forward in Olivier Giroud and it looks as though they will replicate that reliance on him as their lone frontman once again this season.
Whilst the addition of 20-year-old French youngster Yaya Sanogo and the fact they’ve retained the services of Nicklas Bendtner, it’s clear that manager Arsene Wenger will be needing the elder French striker to carry the burden of goals, predominantly.
However, the signing of yet another attacking midfielder will absorb some of the pressure on Giroud’s shoulders – Mesut Ozil arrives to join an already capable and talented midfield that has the likes of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta.
Both Cazorla and Rosicky are comfortable deployed out wide where, ordinarily and when fit, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski operate.
Injury to Ozil’s Germany teammate Podolski along with youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will mean either Cazorla or Rosicky will likely be moved wide left with Ozil slotting in to the central attacking midfield role with Wilshere and either Ramsey or a fully-fit Arteta behind him.
What does this have to do with strikers, I hear you ask? Well, the potential for Walcott to move centrally will be higher with Ozil’s arrival, given the Englishman’s best attribute is running really fast into space – Walcott when he featured through the middle last term was not found often enough with that perfect pass, that final ball that dissected the defence to put him through.
He’s never going to be the target man Giroud is, he can’t hold up the ball, but Walcott’s strengths as a potential striker are his pace and his finishing. With a player of Ozil’s creativity, vision and skill, Walcott will be found much easier and, as he demonstrated last term, he only needs a clear sight of goal to test the keeper.
Meanwhile, the potential for Ozil to draw opposition players towards him in a similar fashion to Cazorla and Wilshere means that more space will be created for Walcott if he’s required to play as a striker.
I anticipate that, as teams see the capabilities of Ozil and the damage he can do to the score line, they’ll start to mark him tighter and hunt him in packs which means they will have less man-power to devote to ensuring Walcott and Cazorla have a quiet game.
Arsenal have goals all over the team even without Giroud – Aaron Ramsey’s recent form is certainly something to take into account as well as the fact that, as much as Arsenal and the fans get depressed at the mention of Nicklas Bendtner, he isn’t a bad striker when he puts his mind to it.
Sanogo is something of an unknown quantity as yet but I suspect he will in some way repay the manager’s faith in him and when Podolski returns from injury, he’s arguably the most capable and efficient finisher in the squad, not to mention the fact that he and Ozil function effectively together for Germany.
Arsenal did not sign a striker but they should not be underestimated for that reason – I think the most crucial element of Ozil’s signing will be that he will find and create space for himself and others which, as we saw with Cazorla’s massive contribution last term, the majority of goals come down to space and time.
The potential for the Gunners to completely stretch the play even without Giroud is going to be a big factor, in my estimation – Walcott stretches teams wherever he’s played, as does Cazorla, and Ozil’s addition will really take it’s toll on defences as they try to cope with Arsenal in and around the final third.
Mesut Ozil, more so than any other player in Europe, has the capability to put that final ball through accurately for Walcott, Podolski, Sanogo and even Bendtner to finish. I remember a few years ago when Arsenal put Andrei Arshavin on his own up front and he did remarkably well. Why? Because Cesc Fabregas was feeding him with final passes that effectively made it harder for him to miss than to score.
In Ozil, Arsenal have a player that is actually more creative than the departed captain – with his kind of talent and intelligence to see a pass and make it perfect for the frontman, it wouldn’t even matter if Wenger played Kieran Gibbs up front because of the sheer number of clear-cut chances Ozil can create behind him.
With Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere pulling the strings behind, even surely Harry Redknapp's nan could score 20 goals a season.
image: © jansolo09