Mesut Ozil has told kicker that Arsenal are still in the Premier League title race and praised Arsene Wenger for giving him the “freedom on the pitch” he needs to be at his best.
Despite Arsenal sitting eight points behind league leaders Chelsea and facing a tough Champions League round-of-16 tie against Bayern Munich in February, Ozil, 28, said the club “can really achieve something this year.”
Asked if Arsenal are already out of the title race, Ozil said: “Definitely not, the past has shown it. We led the league around a year ago, and more than a few thought we’d now go on and win the title. Chelsea are in that role now. We need to get on a roll, and you are nearing the top soon enough. I am convinced that we can still achieve our goal to be at the very top at the end.”
Ozil also said Arsenal’s summer signings have made the whole squad stronger, with “hungrier” players coming off the bench.
“We’ve got more potential with our new signings like Granit Xhaka or Shkodran Mustafi,” he said. “And we have a better team spirit. In the past few years, there were always those players who felt aggrieved for being benched. Now those subbed in are hungrier. Everyone feels that we can really achieve something this year.”
Ozil, who told kicker on Sunday that his own Arsenal future depends in part on whether Wenger stays at the club, also credited the Frenchman with his strong form this season.
He has netted nine goals for the campaign to go with six assists, which he attributed to playing in a free role as a No. 10 for the Gunners.
“Many expected me to make more shots and score more goals,” Ozil said. “And it worked out better than in the past years. I have not become more egoistic, but my running paths are a bit different. I don’t collect balls from that deep, but instead wait a bit further up the field.
“I might have five minutes without any ball contact, but more chances in front of the goal. The most important thing for me: I need to have freedom on the pitch. That’s what I need. And the coach grants me that freedom, that’s why I am on a roll.”
Some pundits questioned whether Ozil has too much freedom after back-to-back losses against Everton and Manchester City in December, when the playmaker’s defensive work ethic was heavily criticised.
The Germany international, however, said such criticism only makes him stronger.
“The people always expect me to play well,” he said. “If I show one bad match after 10 good matches, there’s criticism straight away. If I were to believe everything which is written about me, I’d be crazy by now. But through my experience and my confidence I can cope with criticism, it only makes me stronger.”
Ozil also said that Bayern should be considered favourites against Arsenal in the Champions League but added that the German champions “are not unbeatable, especially not this year.”
And he reiterated his desire to take over the No. 10 shirt from Jack Wilshere, who is spending the season on loan at Bournemouth.
“I would love to wear the No. 10. I always wanted it, the club has known it from day one,” he said. “When I came here in 2013, Jack Wilshere had the No. 10. The club said I’d get the number once it’s free. Since Wilshere’s departure last summer, the number’s free, but I have yet to get it.”