Since Mesut Ozil arrived at the Emirates Stadium his every balletic step has been accompanied, almost unanimously, with a golden glow of appreciation.
Similar to the coolest kid in the school turning up at your house party, European football’s creator-in-chief has been gawped at since his arrival in north London.
Given such euphoria you could be forgiven for thinking that Arsene Wenger had acquired a one-man Wunder-talent capable of beating opponents singlehanded. Instead, £42.5m has bought an alternative definition of creativity.
Although the 24-year-old’s contribution has helped edge the Gunners to the Premier League peak, it has been the German’s seemingly effortless ability to harmonise with team-mates, rather than any moments of stepover-adorned, game changing which have been the standout feature.
International week regularly highlights the necessity of developing future generations of young players with that most elusive of footballing ingredients: creativity.
Ozil’s own personal take on the artistic pursuit is minimalist. His is a definition based on sacrifice to harmony, a willingness to create for others and a clinical awareness of how to inflict damage on the opposition through intricate and incisive combination with others.
Admittedly, Arsenal’s fluency fluctuated during Sunday’s 1-1 draw against West Brom at The Hawthorns, but there were signs of the developing understanding of space, time and movement shared by the Gunners’ attacking midfield trio of Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey. From this source came Arsene Wenger’s side’s best moments.
Deployed in advanced positions ahead of the visitors’ anchored midfield duo of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini, the trio regularly interchanged positions to avert the attentions of West Brom’s defensive midfield screen of Youssouf Mulumbu and Claudio Yacob.
Missing Theo Walcott’s threat in wide areas, the Gunners’ creative types congregated in central areas to exchange in one-touch combinations to prise open the narrowest of corridors in Steve Clarke’s regimented defensive lines.
To prise your way through, rather than around massed ranks of opposition, requires the ball to be manouvered with expert sensitivity. Passes must be of calculated accuracy and player movements continually adjusted according to the movement and positions of others in order to create new avenues for the ball to be rolled through.
The method proved most productive when the scheming of Ozil et al combined with the contrasting, yet complimentary, talents of Olivier Giroud. The imposing centre forward provides a secure outlet for Wenger’s midfield conductors to bounce the ball off allowing a swirl of scampering yellow shirts to receive the ball back in more advanced areas to slide delicate passes into the spaces between defenders or shoot at goal.
It was from such combination play – Giroud linking with substitute Tomas Rosicky – which invited Wilshere to step forward and drive a low shot, courtesy of a deflection, past Boaz Myhill in the Baggies’ goal, cancelling out Yacob’s first-half opener and giving Arsenal a share of the points.
The Arsenal way stresses the importance of the collective, the adherence to a game-plan in which you combine the skills and abilities of others to build a goal rather than hopefully put the ball at risk with uncertain passes, risky crosses or erratic shooting. To commit to such an idea requires selflessness, discipline and a commitment to an overarching philosophy. In Wenger’s vision of the game you don’t try to play on your own.
Such an assessment may, to some, may seem to be the opposite of creativity. However, what is the definition of this elusive idea: a moment of individual brilliance or the grand design of a harmonised system of footballing co-operation?
The coolest kid at the party has made his choice.
Peter Glynn is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine.
Peter is a journalist and has been with The Football Association for six years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.