LONDON: It’s all about the first minutes for Mesut Ozil. Against Bayern in the Champions League two weeks ago he missed a penalty and vanished from the game. On Saturday he scored the opening goal – his first goal of the year – and followed up with an all-pitch performance which was different class.
Asenal duly beat Everton 4:1 to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup and shrug off, temporarily at least, the prospect of elimination from the Champions League by Bayern and from the Premier title race by Chelsea and Manchester City.
Özil rarely launches himself into wild celebration at the final whistle – indeed, he has been ticked off in the past by Per Mertesacker for slouching off the pitch – but this time he was a man transformed. As he and his team-mates celebrated he even threw his shirt into the crowd.
That was a sweat-stained shirt because Ozil, not notable in his debut season for supporting his defenders, had done just that this time around. Suddenly Ozil was not only about a fragile creative skill but about sheer committed, selfless, hard work.
Manager Arsene Wenger said: “Of course it was important for him and the way he took his chance for the goal showed it. Sometimes you want him to take more chances himself when he is always looking to make the good pass.
“I hope that will encourage him. What I like is that physically he looks regenerated and had more power in his runs. I also liked that he did a lot of ‘dirty work.’ He tracked back in the first half on the Everton counter-attacks. When he behaves like that of course we have a better chance to win the game.”
Less happy were Arsenal’s three other Germans. Mertesacker was caught badly out of place when Romelu Lukaku scored Everton’s early equaliser while substitutes Lukas Podolski and Serge Gnabry did not come off the bench.
Last season Arsenal went to Munich facing Champions League elimination and salvaged a little pride by winning the second leg as a consolation. Victory over Everton provided renewed hope that, at the least, they will make Bayern work hard to maintain command of the tie.
Wenger said: “The win was important to put us in good mind on the psychological front. The statistics are against us but let’s ensure that the performance goes for us.”
Arsenal will miss Jack Wilshere who will be out for six weeks after suffering a foot injury playing for England against Denmark in midweek.