A tale of two playmakers
Oezil is in the form of his life, Alli must rediscover his mojo
A picture of Mesut Oezil has been making the rounds on social media since Arsenal beat Ludogorets Razgrad 3-2 away in the Champions League in midweek.
The hosts' goalkeeper, Milan Borjan, was behind the German playmaker.
Two Ludogorets defenders, positioned between him and the goal but hopelessly sprawled on the turf just outside the six-yard box, could only watch as Oezil has the ball glued to his feet.
The image captured the split second just before Oezil tucked in the late wonder strike that clinched Arsenal's victory.
His seven touches, which began when he received the ball in the opponents' half and ended after he clipped the ball over the goalkeeper and dummied two defenders, showcased the class that no amount of training could hone.
The German, 28, is in the form of his life and that spells trouble for a Tottenham Hotspur side who are winless in six matches ahead of tonight's North London Derby at the Emirates Stadium.
Since moving from Madrid to London in 2013, Oezil has been one of Arsenal's most influential players.
Last season was his most productive yet, yielding six goals and a league-high 19 assists.
This term, he has three goals and one assist to his name in the league but, in the Champions League, he has been outstanding with four goals and two assists in four games.
Oezil has been one of the Gunners' best performers as the team charged into second place in the Premier League (before last night's games), and secured a knockout spot in the Champions League with two games to spare.
His repertoire is wide-ranging, with his teammates counting on him to split open defences with his through-passes, throw defences into disarray with his mazy runs, and carve out gilt-edged scoring chances with his rare ability to read the game quicker than others.
The German's consistency in excelling in the No. 10 role is something Spurs' own midfield magician Dele Alli must try to emulate.
Alli's career skyrocketed after making his Premier League debut for Spurs as a 19-year-old last season.
By the end of the campaign, during which he scored 10 goals and set up nine, he was the PFA Young Player of the Year and an England regular.
His rapid rise struck a chord with Spurs fans desperate for a new hero, and his integral role in Spurs' unexpected EPL title tilt last term seemed to confirm their belief that they have something as special as Oezil.
It is why they have hijacked a football chant often sung by Arsenal fans in honour of Oezil, and changed its lyrics to celebrate their love for their young hero.
To the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart, it goes: "... he only cost 5 mil, he's better than Oezil, we've got Dele Alli!"
Alli has admitted that he sings it in his car sometimes.
The music in his football, however, has gone out of sync this season.
Fresh from signing a new contract and with it an inevitable big pay rise, Alli has struggled to replicate last term's sharp displays despite his three Premiership goals.
His dynamic movement has been replaced by ponderous runs.
His crisp passing is wayward, and often, he is slowing down the play in the final third of the field rather than posing a threat.
He was atrocious when Spurs were beaten 1-0 by Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League in midweek.
The confidence that he had in abundance seems to have disappeared.
His manager Mauricio Pochettino was quick to remind everyone that this is "only his second season in the Premier League".
"Many things happened last season and sometimes he needs to breathe a little bit," said the Argentinian.
Some put his mediocre performances down to the absence of the injured Harry Kane, whose link play often brings the best out of him.
Alli will be relieved that Spurs' top striker is in the squad that travel to the Emirates Stadium tonight.
But it is easy to forget that he is still only 20 and time is on his side.
His battle with Oezil tonight will tell us more about what he is made of.
Five talking points
1) Will Kane start?
Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed Harry Kane will be on the bench at the very least tonight, after the 23-year-old recovered from an ankle ligament injury.
The big question is whether Kane will start, given that the striker has not played competitively in seven weeks.
Tottenham certainly need their talisman back. They have not scored from open play in five games and Kane has an excellent record against Arsenal, having scored four times in the last three league fixtures.
2) Sanchez or Giroud?
Arsene Wenger also has a selection dilemma up front.
It is hard to argue with the prowess of Alexis Sanchez, who has eight goals in all competitions, but Wenger could pick Olivier Giroud to lead the line, and deploy Sanchez in attacking midfield.
Giroud has made a strong case for inclusion after scoring three times in his last two games.
3) Is Walcott worth the risk?
Theo Walcott's hamstring strain came just as the winger looked to be finding some rhythm, after an impressive start to the season that has yielded eight goals in 12 appearances.
Walcott has missed Arsenal's last three games, but Wenger suggested the forward may be ready for a return tonight, against the side he has scored four times in his last nine games.
4) Invincible Tottenham?
Spurs are enduring a dip after drawing three consecutive games, but they remain the only unbeaten team in the EPL.
Their attack has been misfiring and they have struggled to create chances in recent weeks, but there is no doubt Tottenham's defence remains the meanest in the division.
How Arsenal would love to be the first to beat their rivals this season.
5) Top four or title contenders?
Arsenal have shown the steel that were lacking previously, while Spurs have been vulnerable whenever key players are ruled out.
Tonight's game could be a gauge of who are title contenders and who are just jostling for Champions League qualification.
- PA Sport.