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Mesut Ozil may have already played his last game for Arsenal, but his influence has still been felt on the training ground in recent months, according to young defender Daniel Ballard.
The former Real Madrid superstar featured prominently in the opening weeks of Mikel Arteta’s tenure, but hasn’t played a competitive game for the Gunners since March.
Ozil was omitted from both Arsenal’s European and domestic squads for ‘footballing reasons’ according to Arteta who insists he has given the club’s highest earner more than enough opportunities to prove he merits being included in his long-term plans.
The former Germany international also clashed with Arteta’s predecessor, Unai Emery, who cited Ozil’s lack of intensity in training as a reason for regularly dropping him throughout his turbulent reign.
Ballard, a 21-year-old defender, insists Ozil is a model professional and his unrivalled technical ability helps improves those around him.
He told Goal: ‘I always say Ozil is the best I’ve ever seen live or trained with. It’s like he sees everything in slow motion. The way he moves and flows with the ball is so natural.
‘You can’t predict what he is going to do and you can’t switch off for one second or leave half a metre gap by being a bit lazy because he will pass the ball straight through it.
‘Some of his touches and weight off pass, I’ve just never seen it before.’
In the absence of Ozil, Bukayo Saka’s influence has grown exponentially over the course of the last 12 months. The 19-year-old, already a full England international, was named Arsenal’s player of the month for December following the influential role he played in three successive victories against Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom, but his progress has been of no surprise to Ballard.
He added: ‘If Bukayo didn’t go right the way to the top, then there was no hope for any of us. He was an U16 playing in our U18s and he was consistently the best player. If there was one person who you knew would go and score you a goal or produce a bit of magic, it would be him.
‘Even in the U23s, I remember that a lot of our hopes we’re put on him, or mine were anyway. He was the one person who I knew would score or win us the game.
‘So, I’m just glad to see the club recognised that special talent because he’s such a nice, humble person. You want him to do really well because he’s such a nice guy and he works really hard. Everyone who knows him is extremely pleased for him.’