What a difference a week makes.
Just seven days ago, Mesut Özil was at the centre of a heated debate following his decision to retire from the German national football team. There were critics, supporters, and those who were simply too stunned to formulate an opinion.
But at the National Stadium in Singapore last night, all the 29-year-old received was pure love and affection.
Özil, who captained Arsenal, won the hearts of the 50,308-strong crowd (a majority of whom were Arsenal fans) as he put in an inspired display to help the Gunners defeat Paris Saint Germain 5-1 in their second International Champions Cup (ICC) match.
Özil, who did not feature in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid on Thursday, gave the North London side the lead and was at the centre of all their attacking moves, before Alexandre Lacazette, Rob Holding and Eddie Nketiah came off the bench in the second half to seal a convincing win.
“We want to give him and our players the best position they feel most comfortable in on the pitch,” said Arsenal head coach Unai Emery of Özil, who was substituted to a rapturous applause in the 64th minute, at the post-match conference.
“He started today at No.10 with Matteo (Guendouzi) and Mohamed (Elneny) behind him.”
“When we do have the ball, we can press with the striker and a No 10 almost like a 4-4-2 in a press.”
“But it depends because Mesut can also play on the right and go inside, driving in to open up space for the right back.”
When asked whether Özil could be handed the captain’s armband for the upcoming season, Emery replied that he is one of those who “can take responsibility like a captain.”
“However, let’s not forget (Laurent) Koscielny because he is continuing like a captain with us,” the Spaniard added. “(Petr) Cech and Aaron (Ramsey) played as captains in friendly matches too.”
“I am giving you the players, but I am not close (to choosing one yet).”
Despite naming a starting-11 full of younger players, PSG started strongly, deploying a high-pressing game which constantly kept the opposition backline on their toes.
There were some hairy moments for the Arsenal defence, but none more so than in the ninth minute when PSG winger Azzedine Toufiqui curled his shot narrowly wide of goal.
The English side almost scored in the 11th minute when Shkodran Mustafi headed Özil’s corner wide of the left-hand post.
Arsenal eventually took the lead two minutes later when midfielder Mkhitaryan released Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang through on goal, before the Gabonese striker unselfishly teed-up an unmarked Özil to slam the ball in from close range.
A deafening roar echoed throughout the stadium the moment the ball hit the back of the net, and it’s fair to say that this was Özil’s finest moment after a taxing and draining summer thus far.
Arsenal nearly doubled their advantage in the 23rd minute after a superb counter-attacking move. It all started when Mkhitaryan and Ozil exchanged passes, before the latter released Aubameyang down the left flank with a lovely backheel.
Aubameyang then picked out Alex Iwobi in the penalty area, but the Nigerian winger saw his low shot palmed away Gianluigi Buffon in the PSG goal.
Buffon was called into action once again five minutes later when he denied Aubameyang from point-blank range.
The Italian goalkeeper made it a hat-trick of saves just before the break when he dived low to keep out Mkhitaryan’s goal-bound effort.
PSG started the second half with renewed vigour and nearly levelled the scores when Christopher Nkunku’s free-kick was tipped over the bar by Arsenal custodian Emiliano Martinez, who replaced Bernd Leno at the break.
PSG did eventually get their equaliser on the hour mark when Nkunku sent Martinez the wrong from the penalty spot after Sead Kolasinac recklessly hacked down Timothy Weah in the penalty area.
Emery reacted by making a flurry of substitutes as Sokratis, Mustafi, Mkhitaryan, Özil and Aubameyang gave way to Holding, Calum Chambers, Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson and Nketiah.
Smith Rowe, who scored against Atletico two days earlier, celebrated his 18th birthday in style as he delivered an inch-perfect cross for Lacazette to flick in at the near post in the 67th minute.
Lacazette added another goal to his tally 240 seconds later when he nodded in Holding’s flick-on from a corner.
Holding got in on the act in the 86th minute when his looping header from the edge of the penalty area somehow flew into the top left-hand corner.
The icing on the cake was added deep into injury time when Nketiah finished off a counter-attacking move after being fed by Nelson.
“It was a good start in the first half, and then we were way too open in the centre and conceded a transition goal,” explained PSG head coach Thomas Tuchel at the post-match conference.
“We lost confidence and made too many easy mistakes.”
“Perhaps the approach was a bit too optimistic – we wanted to control the game and have the confidence to control the game.”
“It was my approach today and I take this on my shoulders because the guys were trying very, very well.”
Arsenal’s starring lineup: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Elneny, Guendouzi, Ozil (c), Iwobi, Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang
PSG’s starring lineup: Buffon, Georgen, Rimane, Mbesoh, Nsoki, Rabiot (c), Diarra, Bernede, Toufiqui, Weah and Nkunku
Paris Saint-Germain will face Atletico Madrid on Monday in the final ICC Singapore match at the National Stadium.
Photos by Nigel Noah Chan of the DANAMIC Team.