Mesut Ozil doesn't like to watch football in his spare time. "I want to switch off completely," he tells ESPN over a drink (still water) at his favourite Turkish restaurant in North London. But during a six-week injury layoff, there was no football for him to switch off from, so the 25-year-old found himself switching on the TV after all.
It wasn't a happy experience, for two reasons. In his absence, Arsenal were knocked off the top of the Premier League table and suffered the collapse that many experts had been predicting for months. Secondly, Ozil, who had never been out during a season for such a long time before, found that watching his team play without him incredibly uncomfortable. "You want to play, you want to help your team," he says, his voice tailing off.
Fortunately for the Germany international and the Gunners, his return to full fitness has coincided with a strong finish in the league and a chance to win the FA Cup against Hull City on Saturday. Ozil is keenly aware of the importance of silverware for the club, especially after its nine-year drought. "Of course, it's been many years since the last trophy," he says, "but now we have the opportunity to win the cup. It's crucial, especially for the fans."
Ozil talks of being "proud" of playing for Arsenal, who will be involved for the Champions League next season for the 17th consecutive time. But in order to make it "a very good season," Arsenal need to lift the FA Cup on Saturday, he insists. Those outside pressures don't factor into Ozil's mindset.
- Arsene Wenger insists he could handle Arsenal going through footballing hell with an FA Cup final defeat by Hull. The Arsenal manager has been claimed to be on the verge of a dramatic departure from the club if his team fail to finally end their trophy drought on Saturday, but the Frenchman has branded the suggestions ridiculous.
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"Believe me, I want to win every single game, even in training," he says. "If I don't win, I stop smiling. I can't stand not winning. In my view, you don't play well if you don't train well, with full concentration and effort." Playing for Real Madrid -- who had to win every single game in every competition -- wasn't any different from playing for Arsenal in that respect, he says.
But the football itself is different.
"In La Liga, the opposition generally stop trying when you're 2-0 or 3-0 up," he says. "But in the Premier League, you might be 4-0 or 6-0 up in the 85th minute, and the fans of the other team are still singing, and suddenly this guy bursts through and you have to run after him. It's incredibly intense. You don't get these end-to-end games elsewhere."
The lack of a winter break - he was used to having time off in Germany and Spain - didn't help either, he admits. "I much prefer playing many games than training, I will never complain about that. But two games per week take a lot out of you, and your body gets tired, eventually. I suffered a hamstring injury for the first time in my career." Might that enforced break work in Arsenal's favour, and in Germany's as far as the World Cup is concerned? A (relatively) rested Ozil could well make the difference for either side after coming in for some over-the-top criticism in the spring.
"In six months in the British capital, Ozil has managed to become the key player for his club," wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung ahead of the second leg against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. "That's Arsenal's fortune, and that's Arsenal's problem too." The Germany playmaker looked low on energy and confidence at the time, and he was booed by the home fans in the national team's friendly with Chile. Perhaps he needed some time in front of the television?
"It was hard to be out this long, but for the body, having a break was maybe not that bad," he says. Now he's ready to go again, ready to deliver Arsenal from almost a decade in the trophy-less wilderness. His crisp passing and sense of rhythm should cause plenty of problems for Steve Bruce's side at Wembley, but Ozil expects tough resistance from Hull on Saturday.
"It'll be a hard-fought game, they will fight all the way, it'll be a hard game," he predicts. "But we want to win it at all cost, and I'm convinced that we can do it. We want to thank our fans for their support and win it for them. They deserve it."
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian, among other outlets, and is author of Englischer Fussball.
This article first appeared on ESPNFC.com