10 September 2013

Fàbregas: Özil will "kill" Prem defenses

Slow, slow day ahead of today's round of World Cup qualifiers. Here in the U.S. we have a visit from Mexico, fresh off their stunning home-loss to Honduras, and we'll be without Michael Bradley (injury) and Jozy Altidore (suspension), so it could be a barn-burner—
Mexico needs to win to stay alive, we're first in the group but are missing key players, and the rivalry itself is intense enough when there's little to nothing at stake. However, that's little more than window-dressing at the moment. All I'm really hoping is that our lads come through without any injuries. There are quite a few of them who will play (click  here to see the full list at Arsenal.com), and as long as everyone emerges hale and hearty, I'm happy. This break in the action has given us plenty of time to ponder our fortunes, which have taken a dramatic turn for the better, of course, and the signing of Özil. A lot has already been said about it, and Cesc Fàbregas put in his two cents the other day:
He is going to enjoy the Premier League an awful lot. It is a league with more space [than La Liga] and Özil is a player that, given time and space, he will kill you. As we have already seen from his time at Real Madrid, his final ball is brilliant.
Having played against Özil over the last two seasons and for Arsenal for the preceding eight, of course, Fàbregas is well-qualified to attest to Özil's abilities and how they'll translate to playing in the Prem. The prospect of him slicing defenses open, eviscerating them with that killer final ball, should make opposing defenses tremble. We've already gone for ten goals in five matches without his service, and, after a bedding-in period, we should start to see some glorious football. Just as exciting as the final product will be the method behind it; Özil may have been on of Florentino Perez's famous (or infamous) "galácticos", but he plays Arsenal's style of football. He highlights the difference between merely purchasing players and managing them and because his skills mesh so well with Arsenal's style, it's no stretch of the imagination to suggest that a manager like Arsène might actually unlock a player whose creativity might have been constricted somewhat while playing under Mourinho. More directly, playing for Arsène means that Özil will be playing in a system tailored to his skills and mindset, not to mention his stated desire for "transparency, trust, and respect"—qualities that Mourinho might have to look up in a dictionary.

As good as Özil's passing might be, he's not passing to Ronaldo anymore. How well will Giroud fare? For a quick frame of reference, my nine-year old son's only goal this season has come because a cross bounced off him and in. If that's all Giroud manages, this still might be good for a dozen goals in and of itself. A more likely scenario sees Giroud and Özil forging a more-lethal partnership as Giroud learns to anticipate Özil's through-balls and crosses—and it's not only Giroud who stands to benefit; surely, Walcott, Cazorla, and Podolski will see delicious passses to latch onto and put on frame. While the finishing will still be up to them, of course, the delivery from Özil will faciliate that finishing a great deal

For a quick comparison of how Özil compares to other passers in the Prem, look to whoscored's graphic on Frank Lampard, which identifies Leighton Baines as the player with the most key passes since 2009 with 344. In that time (again, according to whoscored.com), he's therefore averaged 2.35 key passes per game. By comparison, Özil has averaged 3.025 key passes per game, a rather-large contrast, made all the more stark when we see that Özil's total would be 417 key passes since 2009—67 more than Baines and 128 more than Silva's second-place total of 289. Özil will still have to adjust to some of the more rough-and-tumble aspects of Prem League play, but if he can replicate his success at Arsenal—and all of the signs suggest he will—Fàbregas's assessment may actually underestimate Özil's impact on opposition defenses.

Sunderland, whom Arsenal faces this coming Saturday, have already conceded seven goals in four matches, including, most recently, three against newly-promoted Crystal Palace. There could be a similar orgy of goals for the Gunners should Özil feature on Saturday, and this would only be the beginning.