'Silent killer' Oezil can slay Arsenal's rivals, says Neil Humphreys
King of assists can help Gunners take down title contenders
(Theo Walcott 33, Olivier Giroud 45+1)
MAN CITY 1
(Yaya Toure 82)
Last year's World Cup was special because the right team won.
The English Premier League threatens to be the same with one of Germany's key players.
In the knock-out stages in Brazil, Mesut Oezil lived up to his promise and steered the Teutonic titans towards the Promised Land.
With an uncanny sleight of hand, the magician can repeat the trick for Arsenal.
Only he's not a magician. As he demonstrated against Manchester City yesterday morning (Singapore time), he's both more and less than a showman in a penguin suit waving a magic wand.
He slays, rather than showboats. He's a silent killer, easing his way from one target to the next, moving through victims with the cold efficiency of Tom Cruise's assassin in Collateral.
With an economy of effort, he left the collateral damage in the City dressing room. Dazed and confused, the hapless Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi were ripped apart by a fleeting menace.
Unfairly, Oezil's unimposing physical presence and running style do not naturally draw the spotlight.
Eden Hazard slaloms, David Silva pirouettes and Alexis Sanchez bulldozes towards banner headlines and prime time highlights packages.
Oezil kills them softly. Rather than play to the crowd, he plays for the men around them.
His "blink and you'll miss it" routines confound opponents, but also the casual observer. He's a quiet character actor, not a scenery-chewing drama queen.
Make no mistake though. There hasn't been a better performer in the EPL this season. With Silva and Hazard labouring in disjointed sides, Oezil's only rival in the creative dynamo category is Riyad Mahrez.
Leicester City's revelation has form on his side, but not the track record or the teammates. Oezil has both a superior pedigree and the personnel around him.
When he's in this kind of mischievous mood, the title really is his for the taking.
The Tom Cruise assassin analogy is an apt one because Oezil's career has been built on quiet dominance in decisive moments.
Against France, Brazil and Argentina, other Germans occupied centre stage as they edged closer to World Cup glory, but Oezil's gentle omnipotence knitted Joachim Loew's delicate fabric together.
Arsene Wenger bought the 27-year-old to perform a similar role and, finally, he's learnt his lines.
Oezil has always functioned in those tiny pockets of space between defensive lines or between fullbacks and touchlines, but he initially struggled with the dizzying speed of the English game.
La Liga's more sedate pace beyond the buzzing cauldrons of the Bernabeu and the Nou Camp allowed the German to pick pockets like a Dickensian street urchin, but he took longer to adapt in a Gunners jersey.
Oezil wasn't always helped either by Arsenal's stubborn insistence on walking the ball into the net, via some neat Gunners interplay, a turn and a dribble and a bow and a curtsey to the crowd.
But Wenger has sped up the transitional phase, leaving his most naturally gifted creator with no choice but to keep up.
Oezil's pass to Theo Walcott for Arsenal's opener was quick and the explosive finish from the Englishman even quicker.
It's also worth noting Oezil's second "assist" in the same goal. Had he not ducked faster than a soldier exposed to enemy fire, the goal-bound strike would have found his head rather than the far post.
The recalibrated Oezil has worked on his reflexes.
Mangala could not live with him. In truth, Mangala might have struggled to dispossess a training cone, such was the nature of a truly torrid performance, but City's defence could not contain, or even find, Arsenal's elusive shadow.
The Gunners' second goal marked his second assist. Oezil's slipped pass to Olivier Giroud appeared deceptively simple only because consistency is king.
He has mastered those feather-light passes along the side or through the middle of retreating back fours in the EPL. When Oezil is granted the time and space to spin and deliver, Arsenal usually score.
He always found space in the past. Now he's learnt to work within the strict time constraints of English football.
If his fitness prevails over the intense, freezing festive period, expect him to add to his 15 league assists, which discreetly combine quality with the obvious quantity.
With his pair against City, Oezil now has assists against every club currently in the top six. He hits when it matters against who it matters, the definitive silent killer.
As it stands, Gerard Deulofeu is a distant second (with Leicester's Riyad Mahrez) on the assists list, with seven for Everton.
Oezil is literally in a league of his own.
If he maintains his captivating form, Arsenal will be able to say the same at the end of the season.
Wenger on oezil...
In football, you need one guy who gives the ball to the one who scores the goal. In our team, most of the time, Oezil is this player. The guy who sees makes you win, and he is that. Wenger on oezil... Oezil is much more mature now, much more keen to take responsibility. He’s developed his physical attributes and commitment. You can see his desire to win. He plays to win the game. His talent is exceptional and he realises he can help us in every single game.
EPL ASSIStS CHART
- Mesut Oezil (Arsenal)
- Gerard Deulofeu (Everton)
- Riyad Mahrez (Leicester)
- Marc Albrighton (Leicester)
- Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
- David Silva (Man City)
- Ross Barkley (Everton)
- Kevin de Bruyne (Man City)