Bremen - After losing 4-1 at home to Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 14, SV Werder Bremen rebounded in style at the weekend, dispatching troubled 1899 Hoffenheim on their own turf by the same scoreline to edge back into the top half of the table.
As those results exemplify, consistency has not exactly been Bremen's strong suit so far this season. One player who has been plagued longer-term with the same problem however was the star of the show at the Rhein-Neckar Arena - Marko Arnautovic, whose classy triple strike sealed the points for Thomas Schaaf's Green-Whites.
After the contest, the 23-year-old Austrian international admitted he was "over the moon" about bagging his first hat-trick in the Bundesliga. Asked then if the performance amounted to a "definitive breakthrough" for him in the German top flight, the striker responded: "I don't really go in for giving myself a pat on the back. I'll leave that up to other people to decide. I just hope things continue in the same vein."
The question was fairly apposite nonetheless. Arnautovic arrived at Bremen from FC Twente ahead of the 2010/11 season with a reputation as one of his country's most gifted and wayward prospects in equal measure. Indeed, it was with Twente in the Dutch league that he took his professional bow after moving back and forth between a succession of clubs in his home city of Vienna at youth level, top outfits FK Austria and SK Rapid included. His coaches at each of the latter, while attesting to his undoubted ability, had branded Arnautovic a "stubborn free spirit, not a team player" and "behaviourally challenged" to boot.
Be that as it may, the young forward made enough of an impression in the Eredivisie to land up at Inter Milan in 2009/10, on an admittedly none-too-successful one-season loan deal. Then Bremen came calling and, not long turned 21, Arnautovic started out on his third foreign jaunt. He soon got off the mark in the Bundesliga with a couple of goals in a home victory over 1. FC Köln and subsequently hit the net against former employers FC Twente in the UEFA Champions League.
That proved to be something of a false dawn, however. With Werder, then as now, struggling to find the consistency needed to battle it out for a place in Europe, and the player himself further hampered by an abductor muscle injury, it ended up being an anti-climactic first season for him all-round. The one that followed was scarcely an improvement - just six goals in 19 league appearances as Bremen faded badly and even spent the latter part of the season flirting with relegation.
Bond with Schaaf
Now, though, things appear to be very much on the up. Arnautovic has started all but one of the Green-Whites' league matches to date and if his score count was undoubtedly on the low side (two goals) prior to Sunday's game at Hoffenheim, the fact that he has chipped in with four assists and carved out 62 scoring opportunities pays testimony to a player with a fairly developed team spirit after all.
The well-travelled young frontman looks to be finally blossoming under Thomas Schaaf, for whom he had a special celebratory dance in store after firing Werder 3-1 up in Sinsheim. The coach took it in with a quiet chuckle and noted afterwards: "We're happy for Marko, we want to see him scoring these kind of goals." For his part, Arnautovic was quick to pass on the credit to his teammates - above all Kevin De Bruyne, who told him to "try and chip the ball in" at the free kick from which he scored third goal and who provided the "sensational pass" for his first to put the visitors 2-0 up.
Snow laughing matter
All-in-all, it was the performance of a palpably more mature Arnautovic, on and off the park. And the player touted by compatriot and former Bremen favourite Andreas Herzog as, at least potentially "the best (Austrian) player to take to the pitch in the last 30 years" also demonstrated a dry sense of humour when asked if the light snowfall at the start had been to his advantage, as an Austrian: "No. I like looking at snow, but I can't ski. That didn't make any difference to my performance."