Monday, December 11, 2023

A career of two halves: Mesut Ozil set for Fenerbahce move


The only story this morning is the news reported by David Ornstein yesterday that Arsenal and Mesut Ozil have reached an agreement over the early termination of his contract. He now looks set to join Fenerbahce this month, and it can only be seen as a good thing.

Good for the club because this has been a significant issue for some time. When you don’t have a £350,000 a week player in your squad, questions never stop. Even if there’s nothing else to say, his presence, his stature, his star profile and all the rest continue to make it an ongoing issue.

It’s good for a footballer who will now get a chance to play. Maybe we’ll never get the true story of what happened, and I suspect there might well be NDAs and the like attached to this deal. Bottom line though, it’s now heading towards 12 months for a professional player not to have played a single minute of competitive football, and that’s no good for him.

It’s a shame it ended up like this, with so much acrimony and frustration, because it’s easy to remember the excitement and joy his signing brought us. A year before the so-called financial shackles were set to come off, we paid a club record fee for a world class player and what’s not to like about that? Part of that excitement was the thought we could replicate that kind of transfer deal, and the addition of Alexis Sanchez was another reason to feel genuinely optimistic about our direction of travel.

Then, for whatever reason, the summer of 2015 happened, and for me that’s a red-letter transfer window in our history. I don’t know if Arsene Wenger properly explained it in his book because I couldn’t finish it – I so dearly wish he’d employed the services of a proper writer like Amy or Philippe to do the book with him – but that the only arrival was Petr Cech was the football equivalent of driving into a brick wall. It’s especially painful when you think about what happened in that season, but I guess there’s no changing it now. The fact is though, we had the chance to build on the top class arrivals of Ozil and Sanchez, and didn’t.

I think there are some parallels between Ozil’s time at Arsenal, and Wenger’s. An era of two halves – much like the manager’s – which you can break up into pre-contract renewal and post, quite easily. One far more successful than the other.

In total Ozil made 254 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 44 goals and creating 77 assists.

Before the contract renewal on January 31st 2018

Appearances – 183 : Goals – 37 : Assists – 64

After the contract renewal on January 31st 2018

Appearances – 71 : Goals – 7 : Assists – 13

I think it’s also too easy to say it was just the contract. At the time, given that we’d made a complete mess of the Alexis situation, I was happy he stayed. The idea of Ozil providing service for a striker like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was a tantalising one, and I’m not sure anyone would have envisaged a situation where, in all this time, he’d provide just a single assist to one of the best strikers in Europe. Hindsight is easy, and there’s no question his wages and sharp decline became a big problem, but at the time I don’t remember there being any great objection to the deal.

The very obvious issue was the departure of Wenger. Everything we know about Ozil, everything we’ve learned about him down the years, is that he is the classic arm around the shoulder player. For better or worse, he needs what he needs, Wenger gave him it – and that preferential treatment stopped after he went. You can argue that it’s flaw of subsequent managers that they didn’t do the same, but it’s just not as easy as that.

When you come in and you want to impose your authority on a new squad, you have to treat everybody equally. Emery tried, it didn’t work, he folded, he brought Ozil back, he undermined himself, he lost his job (and I’m not suggesting it was Ozil’s fault, there was clearly a lot more to it than that).

I can understand why fans of the player, and those who wish the team had more creativity, have been critical of Mikel Arteta for discarding Ozil the way he did. What I’d say is this, Arteta didn’t fold, and it’s now not a case of the player seeing off another manager. I also cannot believe for one second that a former teammate, someone who knows first hand what Ozil can bring to the team when he’s in the mood, would deny himself that for no good reason. Like I said, I think there’s a lot we don’t know about what’s gone on. Maybe we’ll never know, maybe we’ll only get one version of it, but when it comes right down to it, the incredible decline of a player with so much talent is not something I’ve witnessed before – not to this extent anyway.

On his day he was a glorious footballer. He could do things that few others could, and there were moments and performances that should live long in the memory of all Arsenal fans. It’s too easy to let the ever-increasing cloud of the last couple of seasons obscure what came before. Yet there’s no question it stopped working, and it’s a shame there’s been such a public and ignominious end to his time at the club, and I don’t think Ozil himself, or at least ‘Brand Ozil’, has been entirely innocent when it comes to some of that.

Nevertheless, good luck to him. Hopefully he can have a good time in Turkey, rekindle his passion for the game, produce on the pitch and enjoy the final years of his career.  In some ways, it’s quite fitting that basically his last touch of a football for the team was an assist, it’s just a bit sad there were so few in the final stages. And hopefully Arsenal can now move on, source a replacement (not like for like, but someone to address our creative midfield issues), and make progress as we rebuild for a new era.

Till tomorrow.

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