If Mesut Ozil thought his first season in the English Premier League was a challenge, he should expect his second year as an Arsenal player to be even tougher.
Manager Arsene Wenger's decision to reject the chance to re-sign Cesc Fabregas increases the pressure on Ozil to live up to the £42.5 million price tag he merited last summer.
While Wenger is correct to ignore the lure of bringing Fabregas back, it means Ozil has the burden of being Arsenal's chief creative influence. His presence is, after all, a primary reason why Wenger has shunned Fabregas, as Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph has pointed out:
Ozil often seemed to struggle with the burden of his importance to Arsenal during an uneven debut season in North London. The ex-Real Madrid schemer produced moments of brilliance, but they were often punctuated with meek displays.
Admittedly, Ozil's failings last season are nothing new in his career. Few can dispute that he is a classy playmaker at his best, capable of exploiting mere hints of gaps in a defence.
But equally, there can't be many who could argue he doesn't disappear in games, sauntering sluggishly across the pitch, rather than showing an eagerness to exert control.
Perhaps it's only fair to contend that many of Ozil's early struggles at Arsenal can be attributed to this being his first experience of the EPL pace. England's top flight is notoriously fraught and physical, not exactly the characteristics ever associated with Ozil.
In fairness, once he returned from injury to start Arsenal's final five games, Ozil's impact was immediate and positive. He was superb in the 3-0 away demolition of Hull City on April 20, and contributed a goal and an assist in the 3-0 win over Newcastle United eight days later.
Arsenal were a more fluid, confident team going forward with Ozil back in the ranks. But while the late flourish was welcome, another mid-season lull could be catastrophic for Arsenal in 2014/15.
Wilson's tweet offers a key hint why. If, as Wilson and BBC Sport reporter David Ornstein contend, Wenger wants a more defensive-minded midfielder, that will put additional pressure on Ozil to produce his best more often.
Many fans and pundits would view the Gunners ideal midfield three as Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and a natural defensive midfield anchor. That combination certainly suggests a positive balance of physical power, energy and technical quality.
But it also leaves Ozil as the primary source of creativity. That's not to dismiss Ramsey's own ability to provide chances for others, but the dynamic Welshman's other contributions are at least equally important.
In fact, Ramsey's scoring potential and his forward-breaking runs from deep are arguably more significant to this Arsenal team than anything else he does.
Ramsey will be the talisman who links Arsenal's play together from defence, through midfield and up to the forward line. But Ozil was signed to be the quarterback who consistently plays runners behind a defence in the final third.
That player has always been the one Wenger builds his team around and channels play through. He did it with Fabregas and Dennis Bergkamp before him.
Now Ozil must assume that mantle. Of course, he perhaps won't have to carry the creative burden alone, especially if Santi Cazorla continues on the left flank.
But if Wenger recruits a wide player and a central striker, which many feel he should, Cazorla's status as a starter will be threatened. Arsenal have been linked with wingers such as Real Sociedad star Antoine Griezmann, per Daily Mail writer Sami Mokbel, as well as FC Barcelona's Pedro and Alexis Sanchez, according to Daily Mail reporter John Drayton.
The Gunners have also been credited with interest in strikers ranging from France speedster Loic Remy, per Daily Mirror reporter John Cross, to Italy's troubled powerhouse Mario Balotelli, according to Telegraph writer Matt Law.
Not many Arsenal fans would complain about duel reinforcements for the team's forward line. But the new-look attack would rely heavily on Ozil for supply.
In theory, there's nothing wrong with that reliance. That's what Arsenal paid their money for last summer. However, a team is rarely consistently successful when its fate is so slavishly tied to one player.
Perhaps the bigger problem is the context Ozil is entering his second season within. Not only has he been subjected to a strong degree of criticism for some mediocre performances in an Arsenal shirt, the German has found himself a target for fan wrath at the international level.
He was jeered by home support during a 2-2 draw against Cameroon, per Goal.com reporter Chris Davie. That followed similar abuse from Germany supporters in a 1-0 win over Chile back in March, per Sky Sports.
Ozil is entering the 2014 FIFA World Cup under intense pressure and scrutiny. Arsenal fans must be among the keenest observers of his performances in Brazil.
His displays will be a barometer for how Ozil is dealing with the backlash, and how he intends to begin his second year in the EPL. Wenger has gambled that he got his major investment right last summer.
If he has guessed right, Arsenal fans will soon forget the sting of closing the door on Fabregas. If not, Wenger and Arsenal's fortunes could be doomed.
With that much at stake, Wenger's refusal to buy back Fabregas has to be seen as a clear message to Ozil: There'll be no more excuses or transition period, Ozil is Arsenal's main man.
Now he has to start acting like it.
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