It began with a smile and a cocked eyebrow from Arsene Wenger.
It was September 2013 and within the wake of a 1-0 win over Tottenham on the Emirates Stadium, the Frenchman was requested by Sky Sports’ Patrick Davison about Arsenal’s plans for the ultimate days of the switch window. “Maybe we’ll have a good surprise for you,” he mentioned.
Arsenal’s summer season recruitment at that time amounted to 2 free transfers. One to re-sign Mathieu Flamini from AC Milan, the opposite to usher in Yaya Sanogo, a promising however injury-prone striker from Auxerre. Supporters have been underwhelmed and agitated.
They wished extra and 48 hours later they obtained it, Wenger’s “good surprise” materialising within the type of a sensational £42.5m deal for Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil. It ranked because the third most costly signing in British soccer historical past and practically trebled Arsenal’s report outlay within the switch market.
Ozil arrived on the Emirates Stadium as one of the sport’s most fun inventive skills. A lavishly gifted playmaker who had lit up the 2010 World Cup with Germany and whose assists at Real Madrid – of which there have been a lot – had made him Cristiano Ronaldo’s favorite team-mate.
It took simply 11 minutes of his debut, a 3-1 win over Sunderland on the Stadium of Light, for Ozil to register his first for Arsenal, expertly controlling an extended cross from Kieran Gibbs then squaring the ball for Olivier Giroud to complete.
“We will all have to check if he has fake boots,” mentioned Sunderland supervisor Paolo Di Canio afterwards. “They were like a glove.”
There can be many extra moments prefer it within the years forward.
Ozil has at all times had completely different sides to him. Good and dangerous. Jaw-dropping and head-scratching. But few gamers can match his technical brilliance. Few may even see the sport in the best way he does, not to mention do the issues he does with the ball at his toes.
His first two years in north London yielded back-to-back FA Cups both facet of a World Cup triumph with Germany. But on a person stage, it was solely in his third that it really clicked for him at Arsenal. His 2015/16 season was an intoxicating show of craft and creativity.
Over the course of that marketing campaign, Ozil had a direct hand in 28 objectives in 45 appearances. He supplied 19 assists within the Premier League, one quick of Thierry Henry’s report, and created 146 probabilities, a staggering complete which stays the very best in a single season since Opta began taking information nearly twenty years in the past.
Arsenal have been high of the Premier League on New Year’s Day due to a 2-0 win over Bournemouth during which Ozil scored one aim and arrange the opposite – “he has become a completely sensational football player,” mentioned Wenger afterwards – however in the end they fell quick within the title race, permitting Leicester to win the crown by a 10-point margin.
It felt like a missed alternative. And whereas Ozil was named Arsenal’s Player of the Year on the finish of it, he by no means hit these heights once more, his output steadily declining from one season to the subsequent, the moments of inspiration turning into extra rare because the scrutiny of his physique language and software grew to become extra intense.
The yr 2018 encapsulated the ups and downs of his Arsenal profession, beginning with him signing a brand new contract price an eye-watering £350,000 per week, and ending with him unceremoniously shedding his place within the facet.
In between, Ozil misplaced Wenger, his most ardent supporter at Arsenal, and introduced his worldwide retirement following a tumultuous World Cup marketing campaign with Germany.
That worldwide retirement was framed as a positive for Arsenal. A choice that might enable Ozil to focus completely on his membership. But Wenger’s verdict turned out to be extra correct.
“A small bit of motivation disappears when you know that you don’t have to be ready for a World Cup, a European Championship,” mentioned the departed supervisor. “He loses a bit if he does not play at an international level.”
Unai Emery definitely felt motivation was a difficulty.
He spoke about “provoking friction” with Ozil as a way to get extra out of him in an interview with Sky Sports in January 2019. But these efforts have been unsuccessful, culminating in Ozil’s omission from the facet only a few months into his tenure.
Emery finally reinstated him, such was his desperation for outcomes, but it surely was the same story beneath the Spaniard’s interim substitute Freddie Ljungberg, who dropped Ozil after a present of petulance throughout a 3-0 loss to Manchester City, and of course beneath Mikel Arteta, who final included Ozil in his beginning line-up in March.
Ozil, seemingly unwilling to stick to Arteta’s “non-negotiables” and unable to duplicate his inventive output of previous seasons, was left to fade into the background, an costly drain on sources at a time when the membership desperately wanted them.
It is a testomony to his contribution in higher occasions, nonetheless, that even now, after three fraught years during which he has featured sporadically, he nonetheless sits second amongst Premier League gamers for probabilities created since his debut in 2013. Christian Eriksen ranks above him, however solely by advantage of enjoying 42 video games extra.
“What Mesut has done at the football club is unquestionable and that will stay,” mentioned Arteta this week. “It doesn’t matter if he plays two more games, 10 more games or none. What he has done is there for the records, for the history of the club. Nobody can discuss that.”
Arteta insists he gave Ozil each probability to win again his place within the facet earlier than leaving him out of his Premier League and Europa League squads, the implication being that he didn’t take them.
But Ozil will not be solely responsible for the way issues turned out.
It will not be his fault, after all, that Arsenal didn’t strengthen the facet round him sufficiently within the last years of Wenger’s reign. Or that Wenger’s successors have been unable to assemble attacking programs to maximise his skills. Or, certainly, that the emphasis in trendy soccer switched so quickly from the technical to the bodily.
But it’s telling, after all the pieces, that the overriding feeling amongst supporters on the information of his departure is one of reduction moderately than disappointment. Few may have predicted such an consequence on that heady night time in September 2013 when his transfer to Arsenal was confirmed. But practically a decade on, Ozil leaves a conflicted and complex legacy.