On September 2nd 2013, Arsenal announced the signing of Mesut Özil from Real Madrid for a club record fee of £42.5m. At the time, many believed that the 24-year old German international could take the club to the next level and that our trophyless drought would be a thing of the past. Although the latter is true, things haven’t quite gone to plan from a collective standpoint. We may have won three FA Cups within the space of four seasons, but managing to sustain a title challenge for the entirety of a season has been too much for us. While this cannot solely be down to Özil’s contribution, many have made a habit of blaming him for the club’s failures due to his languid body language and lucrative wage. Although I believe that many Arsenal fans are overly critical of his time in London, things have spiraled out of control for the German since the appointment of Unai Emery, following Arsène Wenger’s departure last summer. A mix of injuries, illnesses, a lack of faith in the manager and a dip in form have raised many a question mark about the future of our number ten. Throughout this article, I will give my thoughts on what would be best for all involved, and give my conclusion as to what I believe should happen.
From The Manager’s Perspective.
It’s pretty clear that Mesut Özil isn’t exactly the ideal footballer for Unai Emery’s system. Under Wenger, we used to hold the majority of the possession in almost all of our games, and were more often than not the protagonists. This system was tailor made for Özil and allowed him to dictate games with ease alongside the likes of Santi Cazorla. However, since the appointment of the Spaniard, our style of play has changed drastically. Arsène used to treat football as an art form, believing that his side could out-football most, if not all, sides. His successor opts for a safer approach. He is often criticised for being overly-negative in games, for example: starting seven defensive-minded players at home to Huddersfield. There are pros and cons to both setups, and the correct approach is undeniably somewhere in between. However, it has become evident that the new system does not get the best out of Mesut Özil. The success is now built around working hard and taking your chances, rather than individual moments of magic. This limits the influence that Özil can have on games. He’s a creative player, and his job is to create chances for his teammates. Up until last season, he led the league in terms of assists, chances created and key passes since his arrival in England, but his creative numbers have dipped significantly over the past 12 months. His heatmaps also indicate that he plays a much deeper role nowadays, due to the regimented system compared to his previous free-roaming role. According to reports, Emery has made it clear to the board that Mesut is not in his plans, and that he would like him to be sold. Although I believe that the system does hinder his performances, I somewhat understand Unai’s perspective. It is much easier to change an individual than readjust the entire system, and the roles of each of the players in it. If selling Özil meant that we could recruit players who would suit Emery’s preferences, we would almost definitely see a positive effect on the pitch.
From The Player’s Perspective.
Mesut Özil has faced many problems over the past 18 months. You can point to his wage all you like, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is human. He signed a new deal when we needed him, despite interest from Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain. He then faced a recurring injury, but demanded that he played in the Europa League semi-final vs Atlético Madrid, as he was determined to give Arsène Wenger the sendoff he deserved. However, because he was seen playing in those games, but not making the squad for games such as Burnley/Southampton, fans began to give him stick for faking injuries/illnesses. Following this, he was scapegoated by many German fans and media publications, as well as facing discrimination from many angles whilst representing his country in Russia at the World Cup. Very few of his long-term international teammates stood up for him, and many undermined his comments because they didn’t understand the issue that he was raising. When all this was over, he returned to Arsenal and struggled to adapt to Emery’s system right away, as was the case with many players. After the summer he had faced, he needed an arm round his shoulder, but was met by discontent from fans because of the team’s results vs Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Whilst there have been some flashes of brilliance, Özil’s first full season under Unai has been a disappointment for all involved. I believe that he is a fantastic footballer, who has been much better for our club than many give him credit for, but that a change of scenery would probably benefit him. He isn’t trusted fully by the manager, he faces criticism over not justifying his wage and is consistently hounded by the English media. The system doesn’t play to his strengths. It highlights his shortcomings and hides his ability. He turns 31 in October, and I think that a change of clubs could benefit him hugely, and allow him to settle down with his newly wedded wife, Amine Gülse. Recent rumours have suggested that Arsène Wenger might be returning to management soon, so maybe a reunion with one of his favourite men in football could be just what he needs to rejuvenate his career.
From The Club’s Perspective.
From a financial standpoint, the club is a mess right now. Whilst Özil is far from the only player on an over-inflated wage, his will obviously be focused on as he is our highest earner by quite some distance. It doesn’t make sense to be playing a player £350,000 per week if he isn’t trusted in away games. It doesn’t make sense to pay a player £350,000 per week to play in a system which limits their ability. It doesn’t make sense to pay a player £350,000 per week to play in 50% of our fixtures when we have numerous key areas which need to be addressed in terms of signings. From the club’s point of view, it makes sense to move on Mesut Özil this summer. We have a limited budget due to missing out on Champions League qualification, and need to sign at least four players in order to compete for a place in the top four next season. Mesut’s wage eats up a monumental chunk of our wages and, as much as I hate to say it, his performances haven’t warranted that since Unai has been appointed, apart from one of two exceptions. As much as I love Özil, I think that the club would benefit from selling him, and others, in order to sign a fresh batch of players. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolašinac, Mo Elneny and Carl Jenkinson should all follow suit, in my opinion. Our current project has failed, so it’s time to start to rebuild as we look forward to the future.
Let me first clarify that I don’t believe that Mesut Özil is ‘finished’, as many have labeled him. Admittedly, he has declined, as do most players at his age, but the system doesn’t help his case. Nonetheless, it’s quite clear that the system isn’t going to change just so that we can accommodate a player who is going to be 31 in October. Mesut Özil is my favourite footballer of all time. He could have gone anywhere when Madrid let him go, but he chose us. Then, after Alexis Sánchez departed for Manchester United, he extended his deal when we were all crying out for him to do so. His job is to create, and he’s done it in abundance whilst at the club. He reached 50 Premier League assists in record time. He holds the record for the most chances created in a PL season, PL game and FA Cup game. He also led virtually all creative statistics until a year or so ago. During his time here, people have often preferred to look at what he doesn’t do, rather than focusing on the many positives that he added to the team. He has been misunderstood and overly-criticised by many. Nonetheless, his level of performance has decreased since his contract renewal, and the current situation is benefiting no one. It pains me to say it, but I think we should part ways this summer.