German wizard lights way for Arsène Wenger’s new Arsenal adventure


Arsenal's Mesut Özil celebrates with Olivier Giroud, right, and Aaron Ramsey against Napoli. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Rueters
Arsenal’s Mesut Özil celebrates with Olivier Giroud, right, and Aaron Ramsey against Napoli. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Rueters

Mesut Özil has Emirates purring and gives rise to thoughts that Arsenal are on to something good after the fallow years

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Happy anniversary, then, Arsène. Exactly 17 years on from Arsène Wenger‘s first day at work his latest Arsenal team of homegrowns, old familiars and high-grade fresh blood produced a performance of compelling energy and incision against a disappointing Napoli, killing off the match in controlled and even – whisper it – magisterial style in a bravura opening 20 minutes.

Top of the Premier League, top of the Champions League Group F and with Mesut Özil an irresistible poster boy for the renewed ambitions of late-stage Wengerism. In snapshot it would be hard to construct a more bullish anatomy of good health.

Optimism about Arsenal’s current trajectory rests on taking a year-zero approach to the winning of trophies as Wenger enters his troisième âge at the club. The early wonder years are long gone. The fiscal burden has finally shifted. For the last eight years Arsenal’s manager has operated as a brilliantly restrained austerity chancellor. With a new contract likely to be in the offing before long Wenger has a chance to show that he can still cut it as a leader in more cautiously bounteous times.

Here Arsenal were exceptional in the first half. With Olivier Giroud playing in front of a fluid five-man midfield, they were simply too slick for Napoli. Aaron Ramsey continued his midfield gallop and Özil, expertly clinical in his first home Champions League fixture, scarcely seeming to exert himself while effectively deciding the match and looking a cut above every other attacking player on the pitch.

Not that this should come as any real surprise. Behind the distractions of the mini-crisis of trophy-less consolidation, Arsenal have been one of the form teams in Europe over the last six months, winning 17, losing one and drawing three of their last 21 matches but then it has often been hard to gauge their true level in recent years. A great deal has been written about Wenger’s anniversary this week, albeit much of it has been a little too closely caught up in the shrill dissatisfactions of the fallow years, a period that coincides not just with Arsenal’s own financial retrenchment, but with the rise of irresistible forces elsewhere.

The figures are stark: Arsenal are almost £20m in the black on transfer spending since moving to the Emirates, while over the same period Manchester City have spent £640m and Chelsea £880m. Figures like this are easily dismissed in a business where the bottom line is never really the bottom line but they are still remarkable. If Napoli carried to London a sense of elite-level cult appeal then Wenger is, from one angle, an unrelentingly hipsterish figure in his own right, perhaps even the ultimate football purist: utterly uncompromising in his methods and continuing within hair-shirt financial limits to fashion beautiful teams from base clay.

In many ways these Champions League nights at the Emirates are the definitive Wenger-ball experience, with the stadium full under its brilliant steel canopy and the latest crop of soft-shoed cosmopolitans given licence to zip the ball around under those brilliant white lights, an epitome of frictionless modern European football.

Arsenal even started the night with a seductively Wenger-ish opening goal after eight minutes. Aaron Ramsey’s run outside Giroud invited the Frenchman to play him in behind Camilo Zúñiga, and from Ramsey’s cross Özil finished with a deliciously precise caress to the corner. It was a fitting tribute, the kind of goal that might have been designed to come leaping up out of a giant Wenger cake wheeled in front of the home dugout.

The second goal seven minutes later was equally slick, Miguel Britos’s poor clearance punished instantly as Özil skipped to the goalline and played in Giroud for a stylishly-enacted tap-in.

Some Arsenal supporters may have felt a little uneasy about their deadline day signing, which in a certain light could even look a bit like the football equivalent of a lottery winner rushing out and buying a helicopter. Yes, Arsène. Another slinky attacking midfielder but where, exactly, are we going to park him? And yet Özil is perhaps the perfect Wenger signing right now, not just an indication of renewed financial strength but a sign that Wenger himself will not be compromising any time soon, that he will simply keep hammering away at his strengths rather than clouding with pragmatism the style in which he wants his team to play.

Here Özil was positioned mainly on the left, from where he was a controlled, decisive influence in those opening minutes. In the middle Mathieu Flamini continued to provide not so much muscle as a barking sense of order, an understated calming influence in Arsenal’s bright start.

Not that they were ever in any danger. Özil continued to move with wonderful agility and speed, seeming at times to take three perfect little steps where his opponent takes one.

The introduction of Jack Wilshere on the left added a little gloss to a routine last half-hour as the crowd stirred itself now and then to sing that there is only one Arsène Wenger. After 17 years and counting of concerted and unyielding Wenger-ism it is less a boast and more a simple statement of fact.

Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola
Babatunde Akinsola is aNaija247news' Southwest editor. He's based in Lagos and writes on the Yoruba Nation political issues, news and investigative reports

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