By London correspondent Tony Hughes
Arsenal’s renaissance is genuine and Mesut Ozil is finally looking the player Arsene Wenger signed
ARSENAL ARE BODA FINE TITLE CONTENDERS NEXT SEASON
With Chelsea bathing in the warm glow of a richly deserved title triumph, talk has understandably turned as to whether Jose Mourinho can build a dynasty in his second Chelsea spell.
Who can stop the Portugese maestro? Manchester City are stymied by Financial Fair Play and an ageing squad, Manchester United are still in transition and Liverpool lack marquee players.
It is Arsenal, the team Mourinho loves to hate, who have emerged as Chelsea’s closest contenders. Monday night’s spatchcocking of Hull effectively guaranteed them an 18th consecutive season of Champions League football and, with a match in hand on the two Manchester clubs, they should go a few steps further by finishing second in the Premier League for the first time in a decade.
The evidence is growing by the week that Arsene Wenger is building something special.
Since losing to Southampton on New Year’s Day, Arsenal have taken 37 league points out of a possible 42 and cakewalked to the FA Cup final.
The Champions League defeat to Monaco was a reminder of old frailties but, otherwise, the progress has been virtually uninterrupted.
The biggest change is how better they are defending as a team, with the flair players following the lead of Francis Coquelin, who is bringing an intensity and energy to the defensive screening role not seen at Arsenal since Gilberto Silva was in his pomp.
Arsenal need to replicate their form of the second half of this season over a whole campaign but the signs are that the 2014-15 version is the real deal.
WILSHERE HAS RETURNED IN EXCELLENT FETTLE
Watching Jack Wilshere launch attacks, accelerate with the ball at his feet and fizz with energy, it was hard to believe his 24-minute cameo against Hull was his first senior match in five months.
The latest in a series of debilitating ankle injuries had robbed the 23-year-old of more than half a season of football but it has certainly not diminished his powers.
Brought on midway through the second half in place of Aaron Ramsey with his team 3-1 up, Wilshere looked like he had never been away.
He slotted into one of the three attacking midfield roles behind the centre-forward and immediately looked in tune with the pace of the game and his own team’s passing rhythms.
It was hugely encouraging for Arsenal, England and all those who want to see a hugely talented young midfielder fulfil his promise.
Arsenal’s excellent results in recent months mean Wenger has had the luxury of not having to rush the 23-year-old back into action.
The manager appears to have learned the lessons of the past. Wilshere has been able to regain his fitness and strength away from the spotlight of first-team football.
He looks in excellent fettle.
OZIL IS FINALLY LOOKING A £40MILLION PLAYER
It has been a rocky road for Mesut Ozil since becoming Arsenal’s record signing two summers ago.
Derided as lazy, frail and an unnecessary luxury, his struggle to adapt to the unique rhythms of the Premier League extended to 18 months.
Finally, the German playmaker is beginning to look like a £40million player who Mourinho once lauded as the best No10 in the world.
He may not grab matches by the scruff of the neck in the manner of, say, his club colleague Alexis Sanchez but Ozil’s vision, touch and poise is starting to have an effect week in, week out.
With Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey proving ever-eager runners on the flanks in recent weeks, Ozil has been able to use his understanding of space and angles to find them with pin-point passes.
Much to the delight of Arsenal fans, Ozil is also starting to put his foot in. Against Hull, he pressed his opponents into errors, nicking the ball off them and launching rapid counter-attacks.
Ozil now knows what is required to thrive in the world’s most competitive league and looks ready to do what is needed.