LONDON (Reuters) - It has often been said of Mesut Ozil that since his arrival at Arsenal from Real Madrid in September 2013 the German goes missing in big games.
Pundits, fans and commentators have regularly bemoaned his impact in crunch clashes in the Premier League or knockout ties in Europe, questioning his commitment and work rate.
But no such criticism could be levelled at him during a man-of-the-match performance in Saturday’s 2-0 win over arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.
Ozil created the opening goal for Shkodran Mustafi with a beautifully lofted free kick, yet that contribution was secondary to a hard-working, dedicated and ultimately outstanding all-round effort in every area of the pitch.
Going forward he menaced Tottenham by persistently finding pockets of space from which to feed Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette, while simultaneously combining brilliantly with Hector Bellerin and Aaron Ramsey to put fear into Tottenham’s left flank.
By full time, Ozil had moved on to 34 chances created this season and 45 assists since making his Arsenal debut – both more than any other Premier League player.
Yet it was his defensive work that really caught the eye, regularly tracking back to put pressure on Ben Davies and Christian Eriksen on the Tottenham left and offer cover to Bellerin and Laurent Koscielny in the Arsenal defence.
Former Manchester United defender turned television pundit Gary Neville has been one of Ozil’s harshest critics in recent years but even by halftime he was gushing at the German’s display.
“He has set himself a standard today, in terms of how he has played, in terms of how he has worked,” Neville said on Sky Sports. “He has been fantastic so far this afternoon.”
Arsenal legend Thierry Henry went even further. ”Ozil has been amazing,” he said.
“Off the ball he has been helping the back three, and then five seconds later he is there putting (Hugo) Lloris under pressure. But that has to be every single game. Not just against Tottenham, but that has to be all the time.”
That is a big “but”. Will Ozil produce the same level of commitment when Manchester United visit on Dec. 2 and when Chelsea follow on Jan. 3, or will his contribution wane? Time will tell.
The only certainty is that his current contract is still set to expire in the summer and clubs throughout Europe have fresh incentive to pursue his signature on the back of Saturday’s rousing display.
Reporting by Mark Westby; Editing by Rex Gowar