To read Part One of this article, click here.
Mesut Özil: An Arsenal Career of Two Halves
The Second Half
In our time of plague (or at least pandemic), it can be easy to forget what life was like at the start of 2020, let alone at the start of 2018, when Arsenal faced the potential loss of their two best players, Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, who were both approaching the end of their contracts at exactly the same time. Perhaps it was the fact that Wenger knew Sanchez was going to join Manchester United, the same club that had signed Robin van Persie six years earlier and with the same utterly demoralising effect on Arsenal fans, that made him desperate to retain Özil. In fact, he was so desperate that he offered Özil a contract that in years to come may be regarded as the most ridiculous contract ever offered to any player, let alone an Arsenal player.
The headline figure, of course, was the £350,000 a week that Özil would earn under the terms of the new contract, which seemed steep at the time and now seems absolutely baffling. Nevertheless, in his desperation not to lose his two best players simultaneously, Wenger sanctioned an offer that even he must have come to regret. Within six months, he had left Arsenal after failing to qualify for the Champions League for the second season in succession. And almost as soon as he had gone, the second Özil contract, which the German had gleefully signed (and nobody can blame him for that), came to be regarded as Wenger’s final and worst act of folly at The Emirates.
The Same Failure Under Three Different Managers
In our increasingly data-driven days, there are many statistics that could be trotted out to show the decline in Özil’s performance during the second half of his Arsenal career in comparison with that during the first half. Certainly, the goals (which were never plentiful) and the assists (which were reasonably plentiful, at least for his first few seasons at The Emirates) dried up. But perhaps the single most damning statistic is that Özil failed to convince three successive managers at Arsenal – Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg (who was, admittedly, only ever a temporary manager) and above all Mikel Arteta – that he deserved a permanent place in the team. Özil was in and out of the team under Emery, Ljungberg barely picked him during his short time in charge and finally, after trying to remotivate him when he first took charge of the club, Arteta finally decided that there was no place at all for Özil in his vision for rebuilding Arsenal.
Initially, that decision by Arteta was completely vindicated, as he led Arsenal to yet another FA Cup win (the club’s record 14th in total) within six months of taking charge of the club. Since then, however, and particularly this season in the Premier League, Arteta’s understandable emphasis on re-establishing the defensive security of the team has led to a contraction in its attacking ability. In short, Arsenal in recent matches, particularly at home, have looked like a side crying out for the creativity of Mesut Özil. Even so, the fact that there has been little or no clamour among Arsenal fans on social media or elsewhere for Özil’s return says it all.
And the Same is True of Germany
Much the same can be said of Germany, Özil’s “old” international team. This week, Die Mannschaft arguably completed their long, slow slide downwards from the glory of Brazil 2014 when they lost 6-0 to Spain in a Nations League fixture. Nevertheless, just as in North London, in Germany there are very few fans or commentators calling for Özil’s return to the side, even if he was prepared to reconsider his retirement from the national team after Germany’s failure to qualify from the group stage of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and his subsequent falling-out with the side’s management and supporters.
In effect, Özil has burnt his bridges at both club and international level. Neither Mikel Arteta nor Joachim Löw seem prepared to even attempt to effect a reconciliation with him. Thus, the player who a decade ago showed that he was bound for success at both club and international level, which he then achieved with Real Madrid, Arsenal and Germany, now looks set to move to a relative backwater in the world game, such as Turkey (where his family hail from) or China. That is a footballing tragedy for a player whose gifts have never really been in question. It is only his attitude and professionalism since he effectively won the lottery by signing a second contract with Arsenal that have both been highly questionable.
The End is Surely Nigh for Mesut Özil
Ultimately, therefore, Mesut Özil seems set to leave Arsenal in the near future, either in January (in the unlikely event that any club is prepared to pay Arsenal a transfer fee for him) or more likely in the summer, when he can leave for free. He will leave behind truly mixed memories among Arsenal fans. Some will remember the occasional flashes of brilliance that illuminated the first half of his career with the club, which undeniably helped the Gunners to become a trophy-winning outfit again. But it is probable that many more will remember the lousy second half of his Arsenal career when one of the most talented players on the planet seemed to down tools and ended up destroying his once golden reputation.