The crowd grew late into the night around the Emirates Stadium, the Sky Sports reporter and van, were mobbed by Arsenal fans as the news filtered in. In the fag hours of deadline day in September 2013, Arsenal shocked the footballing world as they announced the signing of Mesut Ozil. Signing a player of that stature and ability was met by disbelief by the Arsenal faithful and signalled a watershed moment for the club. After years of being crippled by the weight of the Emirates Stadium move, Arsenal could finally challenge again. It was believed to be the end of the Gervinho, Park Chu-Young and Andre Santos era and Arsenal could finally compete financially with the petrodollars of Chelsea and Man City. Mesut Ozil was arguably the first world-class player in his prime that Arsenal managed to sign for the best part of a decade. It was the first sign of real ambition from the American owners, as Arsenal smashed their transfer record fee to sign the German from Real Madrid, for 42.5 million pounds.
And in the opening few seasons, Ozil did not disappoint. Despite the English media’s bias against him due to his laid-back nature, football purists would agree that Ozil was elite for the majority of the time he spent in North London. He graced the Premier League with his silky passing, subtle flicks and extraordinary vision. He created 156 chances (the most in a season since records began) and racked up 19 PL assists in 2015/16 as Arsenal finished 2nd in the league and managed a further 18 goals and assists the season after. But seven and a half years since that fateful night in September, Ozil is now a shadow of his former self. He departs North London through the back gate without even a semblance of a goodbye or a send-off. Ozil’s last appearance for the Gunners came all the way back in March 2020 and he has been left out of Mikel Arteta’s side ever since. Both parties have now agreed to terminate his contract 6 months before it was set to expire, leaving Ozil free to join his boyhood club Fenerbache in Turkey.
The waning of Ozil’s powers mirrors Arsenals decline as a footballing powerhouse in England. Ozil joined Arsenal when they were comfortably one of the top 4 teams in the country, and despite recent FA Cup success, he leaves with the club finishing 8th, 5th and 6th in his last 3 seasons. In the pomp of Arsene Wenger’s reign, Arsenal were known as a team that were modelled behind Guardiola’s Barcelona with a plethora of creative midfielders at their disposal. From Cesc Fabregas to Tomas Rosicky to Santi Cazorla, Arsenal was known for their diminutive creative midfielders with technical quality. However, in recent years there has been a mass exodus of those type of players at the club. In the last 3 years, Arsenal has lost Cazorla, Wilshere, Ramsey, Sanchez, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. And finally, their last and perhaps greatest creator, Mesut Ozil, has been frozen out and is set to leave. Arsenal have had their creative heart ripped out over the past few seasons and the effects of this surgery are visible in their performances this season. Arsenal have struggled to create chances and have only scored 23 goals in 19 games and rank 12th amongst PL teams this season for shot-creating actions (18.53 Per 90).
But where does this leave Mesut Ozil? Is he just another victim of an evolving game where the number 10 is now nothing more than a luxury? Playmakers like Phillippe Coutinho and James Rodriguez have been forced out of clubs while the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Thomas Muller have been made to evolve. The emergence of a counter-pressing system and the popularity of the 4-3-3 has rendered Number 10’s redundant, and maybe Ozil was just too slow to pick up on the trends, and the game has left him behind.
So, after all the assist records, dainty flicks and trademark bounce shots, Ozil’s Arsenal and England career ends with this bad divorce. The two partners unwilling to speak to each other and make amends, and the requirement of a hefty settlement offer to end the marriage. At his best, he could leave a stadium mesmerized with his vision and passing, seeing things mere mortals couldn’t even begin to dream about. But too often he would be a liability on the pitch, incapable of lifting the team by himself. Ozil will leave England as a villain, with the tales of his wizardry leaning towards the mythical. His legacy might be tarnished and he may be remembered as the 350k a week man who stole a living. But when he signed for Arsenal in 2013, he offered the hope of a new dawn. And as this misunderstood genius leaves North London, you can remember the moments of magic, but in the end, you are left wishing it could have been something more.
[Image Credit: Mesut Ozil]