An Øde to Özil
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There has been a lot written about Mesut Özil’s time at Arsenal recently. Some positive, some negative. Most tend to follow the storyline of unfulfilled potential and use words like ‘decline’ and ‘demise’ to describe his eight years at the club.
Events over the past 18 months have quite rightly cast a shadow on his stay at the club. The situation has divided a fanbase straight down the middle, and blame can be laid at both his feet and the club’s. No one knows exactly what has happened, and I doubt we ever will. The situation as a whole is a stain of the club’s history. To be Arsenal is to do things “the right way” – on and off the pitch. It’s more than a football club and the Özil situation is representative of how the club has lost its way in recent years. However, focusing too much on the present could lead to a distortion of the past and warp impressions of just how good he was, and what his signing did for the club.
We’ll all have our memories of the exact moment the Özil transfer was confirmed: sitting in a university box room watching Sky Sports News on a laptop and not believing that Arsenal had signed a genuine world class player, about to enter his peak years, from Real Madrid. Jaw firmly on the floor and endorphins through the roof. This just didn’t happen at Arsenal. We famously made stars, not bought them. Wenger had a history of taking younger players and moulding them into superstars: your Anelkas, your Henrys, Vieiras et al. Our previous forays into superstardom could hardly have been deemed a success, Galactico Julio ‘The Beast’ Baptista springs to mind.
The sense of excitement from his transfer alone is not something we’ve witnessed from Arsenal’s transfer business before or since. I’m searching for a comparable Premier League transfer in the past decade that could invoke a similar reaction across any fanbase – Pogba to United? Probably; Fabregas to Chelsea? Maybe; RVP to United? Regretfully. City signing player after player throughout their Abu Dhabi tenure has been colossal, but almost monotonous. What sets Özil’s transfer apart is that it is expected of the other clubs. The out of the blue shock. A proper statement. A marquee signing.
Over the next two years after he joined the club he went on to win the FA Cup twice, ending Arsenal’s near decade-long wait for a trophy; the World Cup; the Germany Player of the Year award twice, he’ll end with five in total; and the FA Community Shield – this one counted.
What could’ve been
One of the issues that has come from this deal is that Özil never elevated the team to league title success. But to lay the blame at his feet is unfair. Cast your minds back to 1995 and Arsenal signed one of the greatest playmakers ever to play the game – Dennis Bergkamp. His impact wasn’t truly complete until 1997/98 double winning campaign, by that time the club had added Anelka and Vieira, followed by Overmars and Pettit. Understandably a different time when it came to football transfers, but the point remains that this type of player thrives of quality around them.
The year Leicester won the title. Or the year Sp*rs came third in a two-horse race. Whatever you remember it as it’s the year the club’s lack of direction and ambition cost Arsenal a league title and Özil a place in the history books. He finished the season as Arsenal’s Player of the Year, Germany’s Player of the Year, the only Arsenal player to be shortlisted for the PFA Player of the Year, and created a Premier League record number of chances since Opta records began – 146. With a heavy dose of hindsight, if Arsenal had invested in some quality competition up front to share the burden with an out of form Oliver Giroud and perpetually injured Alexis Sanchez, Özil’s legacy would appear somewhat different.
146 – Mesut Özil's total of 146 chances created in 2015-16 is still the most recorded by a player in a single Premier League season since Opta began collection of this metric in 1996. Distinguished.@Orbinho analyses Özil's Arsenal career following his departure from the club.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 18, 2021
Football moves fast. Just seven days ago it was confirmed that Özil made his dream move to his boyhood club. Three days later Arsenal announced Ødegaard – a left-footed playmaker with the reputation for finding space where there seemingly is none and an eye for a pass. His brief cameo against United yesterday didn’t give us much to go on but if he can offer a fraction of the creative output our former German Galactico did in his early Arsenal career it’ll surely solidify a European place.
However much football tactics change over time Arsenal’s recent transfer business goes to show that there is always a place for someone to break the lines and occupy the half-space. The one player who is the creative hub of the team. To orchestrate the rhythm of the game. To create art.
We focus a lot on what Özil didn’t give us in his latter years, as well as what the club gave him. But we seem to ignore what he gave us. Not just assists, moments of magic and memories that’ll live on forever. He gave us his prime years. That’s not something that should be ignored. He can never get those back and we should be thankful that we got to see them in full flow.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]