Can you put a price tag on self-belief?
Arsenal can, and they have. It wasn’t cheap, either - £42 million, to be precise.
I had grown a little tired after all these years of listening to football supporters demand that their club sign a ‘big name’. The reason for this being that ‘names’ do not win matches. Performances do.
I stand by that, too. After all, ‘name’ players only become such ‘names’ because of their performances. It doesn’t work the other way around.
Or at least, that was until Mesut Ozil arrived in London with the summer transfer window’s clock frantically ticking and Gooners worldwide biting their nails until they were chewing on nothing but finger.
And that’s not to say the Germany international is all ‘name’ and no performance, either. Indeed, his mesmerising two-goal star turn in the 4-1 thumping of Norwich served as the perfect exclamation mark for the assist machine’s first two months at his new club since leaving Real Madrid.
He became a household name by entering superlative performances since day one as a professional – if anyone knows that to be the case, it’s the England supporters who watched him inspire a 4-0 European U21 Championship rout of the Young Lions as Germany clinched the 2009 title.
But while his performances have no doubt enhanced Arsenal’s gradually-diminishing title hopes, it’s hard to deny that his mere presence at the club – even the nature of his capture – are as big a part of Arsenal’s return to their old swagger as anything the 25-year-old contributes on the pitch.
Their performance in picking apart the Canaries in a manner Sylvester the cat only wishes he could pull off brought back memories of the late 1990s and early 2000s when Arsene Wenger was responsible for the most attractive brand of football around, and top footballers wanted to work for him, not get away from him.
Remember those days? It’s easy to forget, in fairness, after eight years without a trophy and a worrying spate of major exits which, quite frankly, were not properly replaced.
All the while, Wenger stubbornly maintained that he was making the right decisions for the good of the club. Nobody believed him.
And that was the problem with the team, circa 2007-2013: nobody believed him. Not even his own players.
Those memories of Wenger’s Arsenal in their prime may be fading, but alongside the fluent passages of attacking football, the surly midfield enforcement of Patrick Vieira and the moments of genius from Thierry Henry, one memory remains prominent – especially to those non-Arsenal fans who had to put up with their gloating Gooner friends on a daily basis.
That version of Arsenal was an unbelievably narcissistic one, almost to the point of gag-reflex.
It sounds like a harsh thing to say, but that degree of self-involved arrogance, like it or not, was a vital part of the Londoners’ very best seasons.
Really, self-confidence is integral to every successful sporting figure or team. If you don’t believe in yourself, how are you supposed to beat the very best? And in Wenger’s first decade as Arsenal boss, few teams had a higher opinion of themselves than his.
Slowly, that has changed since 2005. And it’s not like the squad became weak overnight. They always have been a classy collection of footballers led by a world-class composer of the beautiful game, and likely will remain so for some years to come.
It began with those near-misses. The 2006 Champions League final. The strange feeling of consistently finishing as also-rans in the league. Persistent failures in cup finals – even to the likes of Birmingham.
The big-hitters started to leave the club. Their motives were reasonable enough to begin with. But then it descended into a straight-up case of rats fleeing the Titanic, all because of ‘ambition’.
Maybe they were right. Had Wenger really lost his touch? Was footballing evolution passing the Gunners by?
Well, no. Clearly not. But he was wrong about one thing, when he claimed that Arsenal didn’t need to follow the lead of the Chelsea and Manchester City by hitting the high-end of the transfer market to hang with the big boys.
Because when he finally loosened those legendarily-tight purse-strings and preyed on Real inexplicably taking Ozil’s ability for granted, he proved a point to the existing Gunners players who were either meekly accepting their new position in the pecking order or upping sticks for a more ‘can-do’ club.
In a way, the Frenchman was at his bargain-hunting best when he signed Ozil. If Gareth Bale can sell for around £80million, so should the German. By taking advantage of a strange situation at Real, he nonetheless got himself a bargain. Even at that price.
When the ink on the contract dried, it was as if Ozil brought Arsenal’s old pomp through the doors at the Emirates with him.
They’re not top of the Premier League because of Ozil. They’re top because the Ozil signing made them believe in themselves, as the old double-winners and invincibles – who themselves had their fair share of weak links and complacent performances – always did.
No team-mate of Mesut’s exemplifies this fillip more than Aaron Ramsey, whose Arsenal career before this season pretty much summed up the team’s recent struggles at the top.
And no one moment of Saturday’s match did so more than Jack Wilshere’s stunning goal – a visually-arousing throwback to how Wenger’s boys owned the pitch back in the day.
When the transfer window sealed last month and Arsenal’s ‘in’ column consisted of Ozil, loan goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano, unproven forward Yaya Sanogo and an old favourite in Mathieu Flamini who had been chewed up and spat out by Milan, there remained some critics among the Ozil-inspired euphoria.
“Arsenal already have good playmakers,” many said. “What they need are better defenders, more heart in midfield and a killer instinct in the final third.”
And you know what? I agreed with them at first. But that was until it turned out that the defence, the heart and the finishes were there, after all. It just took that one, big, £42million show of faith to wake up a sleeping giant.
Liam Happe | Follow on Twitter