There is no denying that Mesut Özil has gained some weight and he is proud of it too. His added pounds are not a result of laziness though, more to the contrary: Diligence and discipline was the key. Prior to his weight, Özil also gained a new attitude.
The midfielder was out of action with a knee injury for 91 days between October 2014 and January 2015. The injury came as a shock, but looking back now – Özil knows that this setback also had a silver lining. The World Champion used the break to take care of the one thing that had previously been neglected: Özil.
This was the case at all his clubs, both in Bremen and Schalke: Özil was there to make others shine. Nothing changed when he joined Real Madrid. Özil's key task was to put other players in the limelight, as he fed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria and Karim Benzema with passes. The same applies in London with Arsenal: "I don't need to score goals in order to be happy," he said. "I'm happy when I assist goals." His main concern had always been to figure out what passes his team mates required and what's best for the team, not necessarily for himself.
In that regard, his involuntary time out from the game marked a turning point. When Özil was unable to help his team, he took care of something which he had previously neglected: He started to look for ways to improve himself personally. Özil used the time to think - about himself, his talent and his options. But also about his deficits. The self-reflection made Özil understand, that he had been blinded by his own talent, as so many other players have been before him. His qualities on the pitch are undisputed, but there was a sense that he didn’t take good enough care of them at times. Things are different now. "It's true, I have to work even harder now in order to reach my goals," explained the midfielder.
For months now, Özil has translated his words into action. "I'm the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave. I'm training as hard and ambitiously as I have never done before in my life. I gained a kilo in muscle mass, as I go the gym daily now." The cliché is true: Premier League football is more intense and physical than in Spain or Germany. Özil responded to this and it has paid off. "My body feels more stable and I feel fresher. You definitely need that over here in England."
The results speak for themselves: Since returning to Arsene Wenger's team on January 11th, he has made twelve appearances in the starting XI. This time also saw Arsenal produced seven consecutive victories, climbing the league from seventh to third. Özil's two assists in the 2-1 FA Cup semi-final victory against Reading were vital as Arsenal aim to defend their title. It was the highlight from a number of quality performances by Özil in April and at the end he was crowned Player of the Month ahead of Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) and Eden Hazard (Chelsea).
Özil is back, there’s no doubt about it. And he still has plenty of goals in the upcoming weeks, as Arsenal are looking for a strong run-in to the season. Champions League qualification and the FA Cup title are the clear aims. Arsenal take on Aston Villa in the FA Cup final on May 30th. Özil told DFB.de: "We are proud to be back in the final. And once you have reached a final, you also want to lift the trophy after the match. But Villa are certainly thinking the same and they showed what they are capable of with their victory against Liverpool in the semi-final."
Before the big game though, Arsenal will still look to secure a Champions League ticket for next season. Preferably without having to play a play-off to get there. With 70 points to their name, they are currently just two points ahead of Manchester United in fourth.
Sunday’s match therefore resembles another final for Özil and Arsenal, as they take on Man Utd at Old Trafford (17:00 CEST). "Playing against Man Utd in the Premier League is always special. We will look to put on a brave performace, as we did back in March in the FA Cup encounter. If we do that, we have all chances to secure a direct Champions League qualifying spot."