Ozil unlocks rugged Burnley

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil was frequently buffeted by a physical Burnley team yesterday. But he produced two moments of brilliance to set up his side's first and third goals as the Gunners rallied from two straight losses.
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil was frequently buffeted by a physical Burnley team yesterday. But he produced two moments of brilliance to set up his side's first and third goals as the Gunners rallied from two straight losses.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Arsenal playmaker marks first start since Nov 11 with 2 assists in scrappy 3-1 win

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LONDON • It was difficult to ignore the return of Mesut Ozil.

Arsenal's supposed marquee player was back, given his first start since Nov 11 after a back problem and a high-profile omission for "tactical reasons" against Tottenham in the League Cup on Wednesday.

The forward responded in style when he set up two goals in the 3-1 Premier League home win over Burnley yesterday, even if he was peripheral for long spells.

"Very good response. He played like we needed today," Gunners manager Unai Emery said at his post-match conference.

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"His skills, his commitment was very good. He helped us. I said we needed Mesut Ozil."

Given the captain's armband by Emery, Ozil was frequently buffeted by a strong and physical Burnley team and largely unable to impose his passing rhythms.

But he popped up early with a glorious pass that set up the first of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's two goals and late on with an assist for Alex Iwobi.

It was a strangely disjointed game, even after Aubameyang put Arsenal in charge with his second at the beginning of the second half. The Gabon striker now has 12 goals in the Premier League and 14 in all competitions this season.

Despite trailing by two goals, Burnley, without an away win since September, made life difficult for Arsenal.

The game was niggly, with the always angry Ashley Barnes, who scored the away side's goal, central to much of it.

He had a tussle with Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, the pair tussling on the ground in the first half after they chased a loose ball into touch; Barnes was rather harshly booked.

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But the Burnley striker gets his edge from playing on the edge while his team's physicality, in general, was a problem for their hosts.

"They are an aggressive team, that is clear in their game plan," Emery added.

"They are more physical than us, that is normal. But we need to adapt... We won today not because we played well but because every player had a very big commitment.

"We knew Burnley are an organised team and were going to push us... I think we controlled the match like we wanted."

The game was tense at 2-1 when the board went up to show five minutes of stoppage time.

Enter Ozil. He drove into the area and caught a break when his pass was deflected into the path of Iwobi, who made no mistake.

Henry Winter, The Times of London's chief football writer, tweeted in praise: "That's what Mesut Ozil can do, tease a ball through tight spaces. Such a gifted footballer with vision and technique... the talent is undeniable."

Following a 22-match unbeaten run, Arsenal had lost last Sunday at Southampton and again to Spurs in midweek. From their perspective, this was more like it.

For Burnley manager Sean Dyche, whose team are struggling in the relegation zone, it was just a bad day at the office.

"It wasn't a 3-1 game, I think all would agree with that. We conceded soft goals," he said on the BBC's Match of the Day.

"When you come here, you do need decisions and so many went against us. We've got to turn good performances into good results."

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 23, 2018, with the headline 'Ozil unlocks rugged Burnley'. Print Edition | Subscribe