Mesut Ozil's assists at Arsenal make a compelling case for player of the year
November 9, 2015 8:23:11 AM PST
By Tom Adams

Jamie Vardy is not the only player on a historic run of form in the Premier League. The Leicester City striker needs a goal in his next match against Newcastle on November 21 to equal Ruud van Nistelrooy's record of scoring in 10 consecutive games, but Arsenal's Mesut Ozil has pulled clear in his own particular discipline.

In Sunday's 1-1 North London derby draw against Tottenham, Ozil created an assist for the sixth Premier League game in succession -- no player has done so before. It was an important one, too. With Arsenal 1-0 down at home to their local rivals just days after a humiliation in their 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Ozil prevented this from becoming Arsenal's week from hell.

Ozil had looked as tired as the rest of his teammates at points in the match but the momentum of his domestic form carried him through as he created seven chances and, crucially, found space on the right wing to cut back onto his left foot and find Kieran Gibbs at the back post with a laser-guided, curling, dipping cross. Gibbs did the rest, poking the ball past Hugo Lloris after 77 minutes.

It was a moment to confirm that no player in England can match Ozil when it comes to creating goals. He now has 10 assists in 2015-16; Manchester City's David Silva is his nearest challenger with six. And in a season when big-name strikers such as Sergio Aguero are not troubling the top scorers' table, there is a growing argument that Ozil is currently the Premier League's best player.

Back in August, this writer argued that Ozil needed to add goals to his game to elevate him to a level where winning the PFA Player of the Year might be within his grasp. Arsene Wenger made a similar argument, setting 10 goals as a target for the season. Ozil hasn't made much of a dent in that, with two strikes so far this season in all competitions, but his extraordinary success in setting up teammates is so compelling that he may not need the added validation that goals bring.

With an average of an assist every 2.46 games, Ozil is the most prolific player in the history of the Premier League; Eric Cantona is second with an assist every 2.79 games. Yet assists are generally undervalued. The cult of Cantona was not been constructed around his ability to find a teammate in space in the box.

Logically, assists are harder to procure than goals -- not every goal has an assist, and even the easiest chances created need someone else to do their job and stick the ball away. Equally, that part of the equation isn't always a formality as Olivier Giroud's travails against Tottenham showed on Sunday. The Frenchman wasted some expert deliveries from Ozil with some terrible finishing which left him punching the Emirates turf in frustration.

As Per Mertesacker acknowledged of Ozil's performance: "It could have been more assists after today. He gave a lot of good set-pieces and we had a couple of great chances. If we continue to play like that and fight like that, he can have an enormous impact on our season."

The numbers support the proposal that assists are harder to collect than goals. The Premier League record for assists in one season is 20 (11 fewer than the goals record in a 38-game season) and is held by Thierry Henry, who reached that benchmark in 2002-03. Another former Wenger protege, Cesc Fabregas, went close last season with 18 but a poor second half of the campaign at Chelsea cost him.

Ozil is comfortably on course to eclipse the Arsenal great and establish a new record -- more assists than Henry, more assists than Fabregas, more assists than Dennis Bergkamp ever managed.

Mesut Ozil has 10 assists this season. The Man United team collectively have 9, Chelsea 8. In fact half Prem teams can't better Ozil. #afc

— Dale Johnson (@dalejohnsonESPN) November 9, 2015

Recently, there was even a statistic floating around that Ozil now has the most assists of all time, surpassing Juan Roman Riquelme's tally of 181. This is transparent nonsense as assists have not been recorded historically. Pele and Garrincha probably had quite a few as, presumably, did Stanley Matthews.

But as the master of a tricky art, Ozil's achievements in this very particular field do not need to be exaggerated and inflated. It is enough that he is currently the best assister in England, the most prolific by frequency in Premier League history and possibly the Player of the Year in waiting, even without the goals.

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