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Monday 16 September 2013

Mezut "the Umlaut" Özil Simply Oozes Class

With barely a chance to catch our breath, after the long trek back from Sunderland, before heading off, hopefully to the warmer climes of the Côte d'Azur, I thought I'd better get Sunday's missive posted out ASAP.

Here's hoping we Gooners get as genial a welcome in the "vieux port" of Marseille, as we did from the Mackems on Saturday. Although sadly, unlike the North East, I very doubt one can get away with buying a round in the South of France for under a tenner.

Come on you Reds


Having intuitively set up Olivier Giroud with one of his first few touches, after only the briefest of introductions to his new team mates upon his return from International duty and then playing such a considerable role, in what could and really should’ve been a first half hat-trick from Walcott, without barely breaking sweat, our £42 million Umlaut must’ve been thinking that this Premiership malarkey is an absolute doddle as he strolled off at the break on Saturday.

Yet we were laughing as we exited the Stadium of Light, about the eye-opener Mezut Özil must’ve received in the second-half, as he found himself being kicked up in the air, with the Gunners seriously under the cosh after Sunderland came out like a different side, determined to impose themselves on this match, having largely been spectators of our passing masterclass in the first 45.

Never mind that, from our perfect point of view, high up in the gods behind that goal, the Black Cats equalizer resulted from what looked like a blatant dive. Kos should’ve never gifted Johnson with an opportunity to finagle a spot-kick. The Mackems' winger was going away from goal when Laurent impetuously went to ground and presented an outstretched leg for Johnson to dive over.

But the Gunners afforded Sunderland more than enough chances to pepper our goal second-half, including ref Atkinson’s subsequent incompetent failure to play the advantage, that if it wasn’t for a combination of good fortune and the home side’s profligate finishing (with a little help from Ramsey’s two sublime goals), the Wearsiders might well have come away with something from this encounter.

Walcott must’ve been mightily relieved, as it would’ve felt like an absolute travesty, if we’d ended up dropping points because this match should’ve been done & dusted by the break, if only Theo hadn’t failed so miserably to put Sunderland to the sword. Mercifully the Gunners two moments of genuine second-half class ensured that with Ramsey’s aid, the German's debut turned out triumphant.

A round trip of 560 miles, our furthest Premiership outing has never previously proved a favourite and I could’ve found plenty of cause not to make this long schlep on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. There were times during the second-half when I envisaged my sister’s voice ringing in my ears on a miserable journey home, with her suggesting that my old man must’ve had a word in the Almighty’s shell-like up above, to ensure my sacrilegious behavior was duly punished.

But the beautiful game is my only religion nowadays and with the prospect of Özil’s first appearance in an Arsenal shirt suddenly making this match such a hot ticket, there was absolutely way I was going to miss this potentially marvelous reaffirmation of my Gooner faith. Not since Bergkamp’s debut can I recall looking forward to a match in such eager anticipation. In contrast to the likes of Rooney, our German superstar might not hare about the pitch like a bulldog on heat, but much like the Dutch master, Özil positively oozes class with his economy of movement and the seemingly nonchalant ease with which he’s capable of producing the killer pass.

With the Mackems seemingly little more familiar than we were with so many participants in a virtually entire new first XI, we shared a mutual air of stepping into the unknown with our genial hosts, as we headed out of the boozer before the game.  But with Chelsea providing the cherry on top, by dropping points at Goodison while we journeyed back down South, it was an amusing coincidence to find ourselves breathing the rarefied air astride the Premiership summit, in a week when we’ve begun to hear media whispers, from those questioning whether Özil could provide a sufficiently significant contribution, to restore the Gunners to our rightful place amongst the title contenders.

Nevertheless, as I’m constantly reminding my Spurs mates, it’s where you end up in May that counts and while I savoured our all too rare rendition of  the “top of the league” chant as loudly as the next Gooner, I know full well that our tenuous position atop the pile only comes courtesy of the decidedly tepid form of the other three teams to date.

You could hear a pin drop, as a couple of thousand Gooners collectively held our breath, when Giroud hit the deck holding his knee late on. With Cazorla joining the ever more worrying ranks of our first team’s walking wounded for an estimated 4 weeks (but where the Arsenal medical team’s habitual ineptitude means we’ll probably get Santi back just in time for the January transfer window, with Arsène able to contend that the Spaniard’s return is the equivalent of a new signing!), the media won’t let us forget our lack of squad depth. Unless le Prof has a revolutionary 1-8-1 fallback formation, every incident on the pitch is stressful, knowing that all of our new-found optimism could be snuffed out in the blink of an eye, by injuries or suspensions in positions where we are devoid of viable cover.

So I’m not about to tempt fate, by prematurely announcing “we’ve got our Arsenal are back” but as we head for warmer climes on the Côte d’Azur this week, considering it’s been a while, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for a momentary quiver of “just maybe” excitement.

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