Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger heralded Mesut Ozil after the German playmaker rose from his sickbed to inspire his team to victory over Premier League title rivals Manchester City.
Ozil teed up first-half goals for Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud at the Emirates Stadium on Monday as Arsenal secured a 2-1 win that left them four points above City and two points below leaders Leicester City.
Ozil, 27, now has 15 assists for the campaign — just three fewer than Cesc Fabregas’s league-leading tally from last season — and Wenger revealed afterwards that he had spent most of the previous week in bed.
“He had a chest infection for the week and he was in bed, basically,” Wenger said.
“He had only one training session yesterday. So for a guy who could not prepare well, he has done extremely well physically.”
Despite Ozil’s role in the build-up, Walcott’s goal was primarily his own work, the England forward cutting inside his man from the left and curling a glorious right-foot shot inside the right-hand post from 20 yards.
But the assist for Giroud’s goal, in first-half stoppage time, was vintage Ozil, the former Real Madrid man sliding a pass into the path of the Arsenal centre-forward, who drilled a low shot between Joe Hart’s legs.
“At the end of the day you need one guy who gives the ball to the one who scores the goal,” Wenger told his post-game press conference.
“In our team, most of the time, Ozil is this player. The guys who make you win. And he is that.”
Wenger also revealed that striker Alexis Sanchez has sustained a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury that is likely to keep him out of action for three weeks.
City threatened to snatch an improbable point when Yaya Toure languidly stroked a left-foot shot into Petr Cech’s top-right corner with eight minutes to play, but by then the damage had already been done.
With captain Vincent Kompany still absent due to a calf injury, City looked vulnerable at centre-back, where Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi once again toiled.
– ‘Ready to fight’ -City have kept one clean sheet in the nine league games Kompany has missed, compared to seven in the eight games he has played, and manager Manuel Pellegrini admitted that his side are “conceding too many goals”.
There was also tacit acknowledgement that City, who have already lost five times this season, will struggle to mount a sustained title challenge without Kompany in their ranks.
“We hope that Vincent will return back soon,” Pellegrini said.
“So with Vincent returning to the team, with David (Silva) and Sergio (Aguero) playing normally every week, I suppose we are going to continue being an important team in the fight for the title.”
Confirmation that Pep Guardiola is to leave Bayern Munich has only heightened speculation that Pellegrini’s days at the Etihad Stadium are numbered, but he said that he had no trouble dealing with the rumours.
“No, it’s no difficult,” he said. “It’s very easy. You must be concentrated and focused on your work.
“I understand that we must improve, especially in the games that we are playing away. But we’ll continue being involved in all the competitions. They’re important points, but not decisive points.”
While Wenger was wary of declaring his team title favourites, he acknowledged that victory over City will galvanise conviction that Arsenal can end their 12-year wait for the Premier League title.
“It’s too early to say to win the league, but it strengthens our belief that we have our word to say,” he said.
“You realise that you earn your right to win these games. For us it’s important we realise that. We have to be ready to fight like that in every single game.
“What’s interesting in my side is there’s a real life in the team, a real togetherness and great solidarity. So let’s take care of that.”