Admit it. When Dani Ceballos and Mesut Ozil were weaving their magic around Newcastle in a second-half demolition of a disciplined defence you could not help but dream that, even if only for a matter of months, it felt like Santi Cazorla was back.
Even those who don’t support Arsenal could not help but admire Cazorla, his infectious enthusiasm coupled with a peerless eye for a pass and ability to make decisive contributions in the final third.
Right at the front of Cazorla’s lengthy queue of admirers would have been Ozil, the German enjoying his best form for Arsenal with the Spaniard playing in a deep role in behind him. To be at his best the former Real Madrid playmaker has always needed quick ball coming to him from deep, allowing him to drive forward on the counter and pick his man from the runners ahead of him at just the right moment.
Arsenal’s best football of the 2010s came at times like these: the 3-0 demolition of Chelsea in September 2016, the 20 minute triple salvo against Manchester United 11 months earlier.
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The Ozil that was on such form in those games has been seen all too rarely in the post-Arsene Wenger era: partly down to his own waning powers, partly his inconsistent selection and partly those players who are serving him. Granit Xhaka can do something approximating that job but he is far more one-footed than Cazorla or Ceballos and his long passing tends to cut out the middle man anyway.
Play Xhaka and Ceballos together and there is more than enough service to sate Ozil.
Against Newcastle there was flashes of this. But after so long with so little service Ozil was evidently relishing what came his way.
Take the following spell in in the 42nd minute, which it should be noted began with Ozil and Ceballos diligently tracking runners to the edge of their own penalty boss. If Mikel Arteta is going to give his No.10 a platform to express his creative skills the Ozil is going to have to work for it.
From that deep position Ozil is able to a rare sally forth from Newcastle that has left space in their midfield. A quick pass to Xhaka and he is away, spotting that most precious of commodities: space. From there he is able to do his damage.
Granit Xhaka finds Mesut Ozil the space he craves
(Image: Sky Sports/Wyscout)
Ahead of him are runners, explosive ones at that. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has hurtled back to cover in defence (the club captain’s diligence at the back is worth remarking on at this juncture.
Since Arteta’s appointment he has average 8.94 defensive actions per 90, prior to that the tally was 5.15) but ahead of Ozil are Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe and Eddie Nketiah.
Mesut Ozil leads the counter
(Image: Sky Sports/Wyscout)
Newcastle have enough defenders back, five, that they ought to be able to repel Arsenal and indeed the move…