It has finally been announced by the club that Mesut has left us for Fenerbahce. I am feeling both a sense of relief and sadness, and I am pretty sure not to be the only one.
What to say about Mesut Ozil that has not already been said? We know the stats (a fabulous 0.46 goal/assist per game during his time at Arsenal) and we know what he was capable of. I think if I had to describe Ozil in a few words it would be: magician, autonomous, and in search of beauty. The latter and the former put him close to the Gunner after which this weblog is named; the middle description may have been his undoing but it also made Mesut who he was. Ozil seemed always a bit loose from the group, like the team was 10 + 1. For a long time I did not see that as a negative at all: Mesut was looking for ways to serve the team with his forward passes and through-balls, to give impetus to our attacking play and for this he needed freedom, space and autonomy. Wenger was very happy with this and so were we the fans.
There is no doubt in my mind that Ozil helped Arsenal significantly with emerging from the era of club-austerity, post the move to the Emirates, and to put us back on the PL and European map. We had missed the brilliance of Bergkamp and then Fabregas and badly needed a new magician. Mesut made us play at a different level from then onwards and, significantly, his signing enabled us to attract other near superstars and superstars too: Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka, Lacazette, Aubameyang, Pepe and maybe also young-super promising talents such as Martinelli. Big signings for an ambitious club like Arsenal are often meant to be statements of intent and I cannot think of a bigger statement than bringing Ozil to the home of football back in 2014.
As long as he was producing goals and assists nobody ever complained about Mesut’s perceived lack of work rate. Ozil delivered and many fans felt that if he were surrounded by better players he would even do better. In fact, the trio of Ozil, Sanchez and Giroud may never have looked as the best of friends but they actually all made each other better, more effective footballers. Giroud did the hold up play and made space for others whilst also scoring a shed load of goals; Ozil found him with ease, and; Sanchez was there to profit from the services of both of them. If we had had a better deep-midfield and defence in those Ozil/Sanchez/Giroud years we may well have won the league at least once. Once the trio was broken up none of them came anywhere near their previous performance levels, and I think Ozil suffered most from this separation.
Mesut will always be one of the most elegant footballers we have ever had. His vision and ability to produce magnificent through-balls, balls over the top, crosses and set-pieces made him a joy to watch. His first touch was sublime and he could pass the ball with the measurements of a top snooker player. Wenger and Ozil were on the same wavelength and highly loyal to each other. In fact, the relationship was so strong that when Cesc, the prodigal son, wanted to return back to THOF, Arsene kept the door closed and told Fabregas that he had a new son. Ozil fully met Arsene’s quest for beautiful footie on the pitch and for a long time it felt that he was the one player around which the Frenchman was going to build another all-conquering team.
So what when wrong?
I blame Klopp and Guardiola, and to some extent Mourinho. The latter had already shown, when he first joined Chelsea from Porto, what a ‘machine-like team’ can achieve. Luckily, his football was rightly regarded as hard on the eye and he had to change his approach, especially when he returned to the UK for a second stint. But then came Klopp and Guardiola and they had their teams play a very disciplined, hard working football that was both successful AND (regarded as) beautiful to watch. Both teams have raised the level of football enormously and Wenger’s approach built around the genius of Ozil simply fell behind. Something had to change.
Ozil ran as much as anybody on the pitch but these were his runs and not necessarily what was required in terms of team tactics/discipline. The independent, autonomous nr10 had to become an integral part of the machine. Arsene had to adjust his team and he needed a more disciplined approach, but he just could not get it right anymore.
And then came Emery and he wanted Ozil to play a more disciplined and energetic game, but without Sanchez and Giroud, who had left when Wenger was still in charge, he became much less successful. The magic had gone and the relationship between Ozil and Emery got worse.
The Spaniard was sacked and new-man Arteta tried hard to reestablish Mesut in the team. Initially, it looked like Mikel was able to get Ozil back to something like his best and fully on board with his plans…. then something went wrong and I rather don’t want to speculate on what that could have been. Arteta decided that Mesut did not fit into his plans anymore and I think that the main reason for this was a footballing one. Arsenal needed to move on and play a different kind of football and we are now starting to see what this could look like. Ozil could still have added value to our team but if your most prominent player does not fully buy in, or is not really able to play the required style of football and associated instructions to the highest order, then it is time to go separate ways.
It is a sad end to a nowadays long period of an Arsenal career. Mesut has said all the right things and left us in a classy way. All parties will feel a sense of a relief and both the player and club can now move on. I wish him all the best and that he can rekindle his career in his second homeland.
Danke Vielmals, Mesut, for the beauty, the gasps, the new ‘era’ and your contributions to the three FA Cup wins!