Magic Mesut and that away day at Chelsea that changed the course of his career

Mesut Ozil was unveiled this week as Arsenal’s player of the season – as chosen by fans – a choice that only a fool would disagree with.

The 27-year-old finished ahead of both Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin, who took second and third respectively, after a quite brilliant campaign that saw him notch up eight goals and 20 assists.

His passing accuracy was in excess of 85 per cent and he laid on 171 chances for his team mates.

Had a few more of those chances been converted, we may have been talking about the Premier League’s player of the season, and not merely Arsenal’s standout performer.

As it happens, I’m flabbergasted he wasn’t afforded a place in the league’s ‘team of the season’ – but it was an XI chosen by his fellow professionals, the majority of whom, to use a technical term, are melts.

For me, Mesut started down this road after he suffered a fairly serious knee injury in an abject defeat at Chelsea, in the 2014/15 campaign. At that point, he was being dismissed by pundits as overrated and lightweight, accused of ‘nicking a living’ and branded a luxury player.

There can be no doubt that the storm of criticism levelled at him would have hurt the German international. He came to the club as a player of world renown and it is fair to say that he didn’t have things as easy for him as he did in Spain. For one thing, he had none of the protection afforded him by La Liga referees.

In light of all that, Mesut made a conscious effort to bulk up and toughen up in the three months he was on the sidelines, adapting to the demands of the Premier League.

His improvement was marked when at last he returned to the side and he enjoyed an excellent second half to the 2014/15 season.

But he didn’t stop there – he carried that form on into this season and has continued to produce some quite remarkable football. In fact, he has probably produced some of the best football of his career.

It is testament to his hunger to succeed, and his intelligence, that he recognised his short-comings, worked hard to address them, and came back a better player for it. All that was lacking from those three months out was a Rocky Balboa-style training montage, offset with cries of ‘Adrian!

With those same wretched, cynically short-sighted pundits now gushing with praise for the World Cup winner, let’s hope he continues to feel the motivation to prove his detractors wrong, and doesn’t slip back into a comfort zone where he allows games to pass him by when things don’t go his way.

With the right support in terms of new playing personnel, Mesut could shine again in 2016/17.

Olivier Giroud

Finally, allow me a word on Olivier Giroud who came in for a great deal of criticism this season and, it’s fair to say, wasn’t at the front of the queue for any awards.

It’s remarkable how the power of perception can really shape how we view the success or, indeed, failure of a player.

In 2015/16, Giroud scored more goals than in any other season in an Arsenal shirt (24) and he also managed six assists. That cumulative tally means he was involved in more goals than Mesut Ozil – who scored eight and assisted 20.

That also put him above Alexis Sanchez, who scored 17 and assisted nine.

What matters, however, is not Olivier’s final tally – it’s the perception of his performances across the season. Both Mesut and Alexis experienced quieter periods in their seasons – just as they enjoyed purple patches in which everything went their way.

The quieter periods for both Mesut and Alexis, however, did not come at periods of the season where the pressure was quite so high, or where the glare of scrutiny was quite so intense.

Olivier went missing in February and March, of that there can be no denial, and that coincided with Arsenal’s exit from the title race, the FA Cup and the Champions League. As such, he became synonymous with that failure and shouldered a disproportionate amount of blame for it.

Consider also the reaction of players to their respective dips in form. When Alexis was scraping along the bottom, his effort levels never dipped, he was always in search of a goal, trying to make things happen, chasing back for the team.

When the assists and goals weren’t stacking up for Mesut, he continued to lay on chances aplenty for team mates, with only the finishing touch missing.

When Olivier’s form dipped – he was abject. His head went down, he became petulant and he started to miss chances an Arsenal striker should not be missing. That problem with attitude didn’t  sit well with fans, and created the perception that he was feckless and uncaring.

With all things considered, Giroud had a pretty good return on investment across the course of the season, only a real cynic would deny that. But, if you ask 100 fans to look back on the Frenchman’s season, the majority will remember it as a poor one.

And that, in my opinion, is purely down to the power of perception. Hopefully, in the fullness of time, fans will look back on his time at Arsenal in a more considered light, and not in the reflected, stench-ridden glare of our manure-scented underachievement.

 

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