Arsenal should have won more with Mesut Ozil.
I had the pleasure of watching Mesut Ozil in the flesh back in 2009 when he stood out in a Germany squad stuffed full of immense talent, a group that breezed past England 4-0 in the Under-21 European Championship final. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he would play for The Arsenal.
Just 20 years old at the time, he dismantled Stuart Pearce‘s side with alarming ease, making the crushing embarrassment of the defeat in Malmö easier to swallow off the back of his virtuosity.
Four years on and that famous image of him holding the red and white shirt aloft will live long in the memory. Ending a sequence of selling our best players by bringing in one of the best was set to signal a new era of prosperity in north London. It took 257 days.
A nine-year wait for silverware was banished in the FA Cup final. Ozil contributed three goal involvements en route to the final, stats in absolute value that don’t scratch the surface of his influence. With Ozil in the side, Arsenal were a more attractive outfit. A better team.
Moments of unbridled joy followed. As a youngster growing up and watching your beloved side fronted by the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, the closest Arsenal had come to having players of that calibre came during the Ozil’s prime.
Some of the football witnessed at the Emirates Stadium was majestic. Goals of the highest order, patterns of play as mesmerising as the next. When Alexis Sanchez entered the fold, the partnership of him and Ozil harked back to the glory days of years gone by.
Why didn’t Arsenal win more?
Scooping a second successive FA Cup title in 2015, the lack of investment in outfield personnel that summer leaves a scar still sore.
He would go on to score six goals and produce 19 assists in the Premier League. Arsenal would finish ten points behind Leicester. With those two in the side, Arsene Wenger’s men should have won the league. A summer of regret. Enjoying his best football for the club, Ozil should have ended that season with silverware even if the team’s form dropping coincided with his.
Much of his time with the club feels like opportunities missed. The incandescence of the Danny Welbeck header against the Foxes. The humbling against Manchester City in the 2018 Carabao Cup final. So many more.
As we near the end of an era, fondness overtakes indifference. There were moments of disillusionment with Ozil. Times it felt like his heart wasn’t in it. The same can be said for many.
The latter years taint the legacy left behind of a once footballing icon. A player who so many either aspired to be or yearned to play alongside. From a supporters’ perspective, one felt lucky to have been there to witness him glide across the turf at the peak of his powers.
Seeing his career unfold in the parameters of 280 characters and not with the ball at his feet, the viewpoints of many were blurred by hypothetical assumptions of his personal desires.
His final involvement at the club would come on March 7, 2020, where he set up Alexandre Lacazette for the game-winning goal. A romantic end for a player aptly referred to as the ‘assist king’, but not a fitting send off.
It’s sad to see it come to this. Ozil should have been the heart of a truly successful Arsenal team. However, as the months dwindled on, the toxicity of the situation – from all sides – makes for a welcome end.
The reset button has been in need of activating for years at Arsenal. Ozil leaving will be seen as the catalyst for restructuring. Debates will simmer away regarding his lack of involvement this season, whether he could indeed have made a difference. Those questions will remain unanswered. Perhaps for the better.
There has always been a certain mystery with Ozil; a divisiveness that sparked tribalistic responses from both his staunch critics and beloved supporters. Not knowing how the final months could have played out are perhaps most fitting of all. Each side has their stance, with no definitive answer to satisfy either way.
But this isn’t about opinions either side of the divide. This is about the moments that will be cherished. That goal against Ludogorets; ending the trophy drought; matching Thierry Henry’s assist record; the flicks; the goals; donning the captain’s armband; belting out his song in a spellbound Emirates Stadium.
Ozil of recent times won’t be sorely missed. Not from my side. The Ozil of old, however, who still exists in some capacity, won’t ever be forgotten. A quite magnificent footballer, and a pleasure to watch.