Arsenal's £42.5m record signing has got the lot – spatial awareness, a superb first touch, and he is a great team player
Arsenal's teamsheet for Tuesday night's 2-0 victory over Napoli was somewhat confusing. In fielding five midfielders who prefer playing centrally, there was a danger they would be too predictable – packing the centre of the pitch without any penetration, as they did so frequently in what can (slightly uncharitably) be termed the Alex Hleb era.
However, Özil's presence in a central role solved this problem. Aaron Ramsey or Tomas Rosicky moved inside, but Özil was happy to make the reverse run; he scored the first goal from the left and created the second from the right. Arsenal were fluid but their movement was integrated: this wasn't individuals acting alone but instead something more cohesive.
Özil recorded his first Arsenal assist after only 10 minutes of his debut at Sunderland, slipping in Olivier Giroud for a neat left-foot finish. But it wasn't the pass that made the goal, it was his first touch – instantly controlling a long Kieran Gibbs chip with a casual reach of his boot. In El Clásico against Barcelona last year, Özil produced one of the most magnificent first touches you'll see – receiving a classic 60-yard Xabi Alonso diagonal ball by letting the ball drop over his head, and controlling it by flicking his left foot out behind him, bringing it down with the outside of his boot.
Typically, the central attacking playmaker is a side's most talented individual, but problems can arise from using a superstar as the major creative hub – if that player is too individualistic, he instantly undermines his role in the team. Özil is the opposite: he's obviously a team player, happy to make decoy runs to allow others space to shoot – particularly obvious alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid – or slipping a pass to a team-mate in a better goalscoring position. "I'm the sort of player who likes to create goals," Özil said after joining Arsenal. "My team-mates know me as a player who is not selfish."
Two seasons ago, Thomas Vermaelen headed in from a set piece at Wigan. It had been 179 corners since Arsenal had scored from a corner (a number that would have better suited an Ian Wright goal), underlining how poor they were in these situations. Things improved last season, perhaps owing to the impact of the former near-post flick-on specialist Steve Bould as Arsène Wenger's assistant manager; but Özil's set-piece delivery has made Arsenal even more threatening. Unlike when Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie used to take corners, Özil's crosses are not robbing Arsenal of a dangerous penalty-box man either. All three goals against Stoke came from his left-footed deliveries.
The cliché insists English crowds love hard-working, energetic players who chase every ball, but there's also a profound love for slower, thoughtful footballers. Languid has become one of the most common adjectives to describe talented attackers – Dimitar Berbatov is celebrated because he plays as if he doesn't give a toss.
. Özil is another – he glides across the pitch as if uninterested, yet always positions himself superbly. His opener on Tuesday was essentially a powerful, swerving drive from the edge of the box, yet Özil barely broke stride to meet Ramsey's pass, and arrowed the ball into the corner with a subtle sidefoot rather than a proper swipe. he German has that knack of making the sublime look entirely easy.