Mesut Ozil made his debut for Arsenal on Saturday afternoon, and he lived up to all the hype as he inspired the Londoners to a 3-1 win at the Stadium of Light.
Having been urged to ‘spend some f*****g money’ following the opening day loss to Aston Villa last month, Arsene Wenger did just that when he smashed the Gunners club record transfer by paying Real Madrid £42.5million for Ozil. The arrival of the German international was greeted with much joy by the Emirates Stadium faithful, who believe this could mark the dawn of a new era.
It is no secret that Arsenal have failed to add to their honours list since they relocated from their old Highbury Stadium, with the FA Cup final win over Manchester United in 2005 being their last success. But the signing of the German international indicates that they remain ambitious to compete at the highest level, with a top-four finish no longer considered adequate.
Ozil, whose sale was met with bemusement amongst his former team-mates at the Bernabeu, was in danger of missing his own party when he fell to illness on Thursday. However, he made the trip to Sunderland and having recovered sufficiently, he took his place in Wenger’s starting XI. Yet the French coach admitted after the game that had Santi Cazorla not been absent, then his record signing would have had to have settled for a place on the bench.
“If Santi Cazorla had been fit, he would have certainly been on the bench due to the fact he was sick,” said the Gunners coach. “I would not have taken the gamble. There was not much choice. Mesut Ozil was like the team. He had an outstanding first half. He dropped physically in the second half. He was sick on Thursday night. I decided only to play him this morning. He had a stomach bug. He didn’t feel well. His first half was outstanding.”
His outstanding first half included a first assist for his new club after just 11 minutes, when he expertly collected a long ball from Kieran Gibbs to lay the ball on a plate for Olivier Giroud to fire home. He went on to tee up Theo Walcott on two other occasions, yet the England international was enduring one of those frustrating afternoons when he should have scored a hat-trick but instead ended up drawing a blank. Unlike Aaron Ramsey, who continued his fine early season form with a brace after Craig Gardner had levelled from the penalty spot on 48 minutes.
This result puts Arsenal on top of the Premier League after four matches, having overcome that opening day home defeat to Aston Villa. Yet despite the brilliance of Ozil, they were perhaps a tad fortunate on Wearside as, when trailing 2-1, the home side scored through Jozy Altidore only for referee Martin Atkinson to pull the ball back for a free-kick after Bacary Sagna had fouled the American. The official had tried to play the advantage but his decision was anything but, and to compound a bad day for the Black Cats, manager Paolo di Canio was later sent to the stands after protesting at the length of time it took Giroud to leave the field when substituted.
“I said you have to tell them to do it quicker,” said the Italian. “He said, ‘If you keep going, I will send you off, I’ll send you to the stands.’ I said, ‘If you want to complete a perfect job today, send me off.’ He said, ‘Go off’. I am sure he is a good man. A good professional. He made a mistake. That decided the outcome of the game. It is important they accept it. He made a mistake. It is clear. I don’t think there is anyone who can disagree. It can happen to anyone.”