Over the past week, Arsenal fans worldwide have payed tribute to Mesut Özil, the mercurial German who awoke a creative passion in so many of our hearts. Outbound to Fenerbahçe of the Turkish Süper Lig, the German has been pictured arriving in Istanbul for his medical, leaving us, as fans, to ponder the only thing he leaves us: his legacy.
Like so many others, I have a personal connection to Mesut Özil. My first ever Arsenal jersey, the 2013/14 yellow-and-blue away kit from our last year with Nike, bears his name on the back. I have no shame in admitting that I supported the German national team in the 2014 World Cup, even when they played my native United States, because they had Özil, and that was all I needed to hear.
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In the wake of his long-awaited exit, a number of questions have made the rounds on social media. Who will take the No. 10 on the back of their shirt? What will we do with the £18.2m freed up by his annual wages? Who can bring more creativity to the squad? And the question that’s caused the most division among Arsenal fans is this: Is Mesut Ozil an Arsenal legend?
There are a couple of ways to address this question, but they all come up with the same answer. Looking at his overall tenure, he spent two of his eight years at Arsenal warming the bench most games, and another two years before that routinely doing his best Harry Houdini impression at the No. 10 position. That’s not particularly legendary.
His 2015-16 campaign was the highlight of his career in England, managing six goals and 19 assists, and his eight goals and nine assists the next year certainly weren’t a bad haul, but as soon as we handed him the keys to castle, to the tune of £350k per week, and the mantle of chief creator, he stopped existing. To be a legend, you have to step up, and he shrunk away.
He won four FA Cups and four Community Shields in those same years, but when it came to the important competitions, those we signed him to help us win – the Champions League, Europa League, and oh, a little competition called the Premier League – he came up with nothing. Again, when it really mattered, he disappeared.
So no, Özil cannot be called an Arsenal legend.
He was at his best in Madrid with Real, and his lasting legacy will be the fact that he constantly left Arsenal fans wanting more. Fans will always love him, and hate me for saying this, but I will face that hatred with love. Because even as he will move forward in the blue and yellow of Fenerbahçe, I’ll never stop loving what he can do on the field. He’s a fantastic player, and I wish him all the best.