Class amid the carnage - Mesut Ozil's sparkling Anfield return

After five weeks on the outside looking in, Mesut Ozil felt the love of the Arsenal faithful. His team-mates could do with some of the same.

Published : Oct 31, 2019 12:54 IST

File Photo: Arsenal manager Unai Emery was happy with Mesut Ozil's performance against Liverpool in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.
File Photo: Arsenal manager Unai Emery was happy with Mesut Ozil's performance against Liverpool in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.

File Photo: Arsenal manager Unai Emery was happy with Mesut Ozil's performance against Liverpool in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.

Mesut Ozil's nonchalant backheel flick from the byline for Ainsley Maitland-Niles was legitimately the most efficient way to let his team-mate put Arsenal 4-2 up.

His nonchalant lean on the advertising hoarding as a gaggle of Gunners fans leapt towards him in celebration was simply the best thing he could possibly have done.

After five weeks on the outside looking in, a playmaker of rare talent was back on the field enjoying himself. It was wonderful to see.

Wednesday's riotously berserk 5-5 EFL Cup draw preceding a penalty shoot-out defeat to Liverpool was Ozil's third appearance of the season in all competitions and a first since a 5-0 win at Nottingham Forest in the previous round.

Since then, there's been an error-strewn draw at Manchester United, a comfortable win and breathless comeback in the Europa League, an unconvincing victory over Bournemouth, a troubling defeat at Sheffield United and then Sunday's 2-2 draw at home to Crystal Palace – a 2-0 lead surrendered in a pit of mutual seething featuring Granit Xhaka and the Emirates Stadium faithful.

What Ozil has made of that from his vantage point in the stands is anyone's guess, although the clanging Shkodran Mustafi own goal that gave Liverpool an early lead probably wasn't a complete surprise.


Ozil simply went about his business of smooth, effortless playmaking, cajoling Arsenal on to the front foot in a contest where ample changes made to each side meant entertainment leapt into the void left by any semblance of solid team structure.

The former Germany international looked to have the slowest pulse inside Anfield when he knocked a pass to the byline for Maitland-Niles and then recycled possession to Bukayo Saka for Lucas Torreira's equaliser. Coolness, calmness and an Arsenal goal crafted intelligently from open play. Remember those?

He played a part in Gabriel Martinelli's first before a seventh goal in as many Gunners outings for the 18-year-old came after a move where Ozil's reverse lay-off qualified as both a trick and a delectable treat this Halloween week.

"We've got Ozil! Mesut Ozil! I just don't think you understand," the Arsenal fans in the Anfield Road End boomed. Perhaps it was a song directed towards their head coach. Unai, you're allowed to pick this guy, you know.

James Milner reduced the arrears from the penalty spot and Arsenal re-established its two-goal lead, only for it to vanish into the crisp Merseyside night. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain slammed home a violent long-range effort home against his former club and Emiliano Martinez pushed a firm hit from Divock Origi into his net.


Even when Arsenal is inspired by sparkling individual displays, it remains as robust as a hollowed-out pumpkin. When Liverpool is much-changed and disjoined, this Jurgen Klopp-inspired collective will still pull things out of the fire.

READ| EFL Cup: Ceballos miss hands Liverpool 5-4 win in shoot-out

That is the respective lot of these clubs right now and one set by mis-management and shrewd management over a number of years. Joe Willock remarkably scoring the best goal of the 10, Origi's last equaliser and Liverpool's eventual penalty shootout triumph all exist in that context.

Nevertheless, this Wednesday evening offered a reminder that the best football Arsenal – or any team for that matter – produce tends to come a safe distance away from hatred and bile.

This is a squad increasingly split into midweek cup heroes and weekend Premier League villains. The fact Ozil has been in both camps fairly recently underlines the folly of that distinction.

We know that over the past 16 months Ozil has retired from international football citing "racism and disrespect" and been the victim of an attempted carjacking. It is hard to contemplate the toll such events must take on a person. On a human level, it felt satisfying to see him soak up Wednesday's adoration from the travelling supporters.

Xhaka and Mustafi's on-field errors do not come with similar mitigation. But it is tempting to wonder whether sections of an Arsenal fanbase taken on a ride of risible ticket prices and false dawns since moving to their current home are misdirecting their anger.

Ozil's satisfaction on the hoarding showed a little love and kindness can always make more meaningful noise than the latest hot take.

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