Arsène Wenger has predicted that Mesut Özil will be a contender for the Player of the Year award next season as he prepares to welcome back the midfielder for Arsenal's Premier League visit to Hull City on Sunday.
Özil has not played since he tore his hamstring in the Champions League second leg at Bayern Munich on 11 March and the club-record signing's first season in English football has been marked by highs and lows. Wenger, though, is convinced that the German will be both mentally and physically stronger for the experience and ready to show greater consistency over his second season.
"Mesut had a period where he was tired because he was not used to playing through the [English] season," Wenger said. "Before he got injured, he had a period where he was a bit jaded. But he is a fantastic player and I would put him on the list to be player of the season next season.
"The first season is the season in which you adapt and then you know what will happen and you go into it. I believe he will know better his partners, he will know better the league and the potential is absolutely fantastic. The improvement will be in goals, assists and his presence in the game."
Özil signed from Real Madrid on the final day of the summer transfer window and Wenger noted that, as such, he was denied "real preparation" with Arsenal in pre-season. There has also been no little culture shock, which has gone beyond English football's lack of a winter break.
"Mesut said in Spain that when Real Madrid are 2-0 up, what struck him was that teams give up," Wenger said. "They know that they will lose the game. And he said that what is the most difficult for him here is that at 2-0, the teams fight like mad to come back. He feels that is the main difference, that you have to fight until the last second of the game."
It has proved a sapping campaign for Özil but Wenger believes that he can contribute over the final four league fixtures to help Arsenal to a 17th consecutive Champions League qualification and, beyond that, in the FA Cup final against this weekend's opponents Hull on 17 May. Arsenal have lacked pace of late and, in matches away from the Emirates Stadium, they have struggled for goals, scoring only four in the last seven. Özil, Wenger feels, can make a difference.
"He is a quick player and agile," said the manager. "He can get out of tight situations.Sometimes, these players get you out of tight situations and open up something interesting behind that and when they are not there, you don't get out of the situation and you lose the ball.
"It is just good to have him back. He is one of our main players offensively. We are a team who is used to scoring goals and, recently away from home, we haven't scored so much, so it's important we get our offensive potential back."
Wenger, who has Mathieu Flamini back from suspension but Kieran Gibbs still out and Nacho Monreal doubtful, believes that progress has been made this season, despite the various low points.
"I think we have moved forward a lot, considering what happened to us with the number of injuries we had in a crucial period of the season," Wenger said. "We were 17 or 18 times top of the league, and that did not happen last year. We are in the FA Cup final; we went out only against Bayern Munich in the Champions League with 10 men [in the first leg] and we came out of a very difficult Champions League group. I believe that we have shown some real potential and promise for the future."
For now though, Wenger's focus is on securing a spot in next season's Champions League, and he says Arsenal cannot afford to be complacent despite Everton's unexpected home defeat by Crystal Palace on Wednesday. "There is a lot of work to do for us," said Wenger, whose side lie a point ahead of Everton with four matches to play."I think mentally we are in a better shape than a week ago, because we had two important wins, and that of course puts us in a better condition on the confidence front."