An honest evaluation of Mesut Ozil
By Allan Riley
Mesut Ozil divides opinion. For some, he's one of, if not the best, Arsenal player of the Emirates Era. For others, he's an over the hill luxury player, a remnant from a bygone footballing era.
When the German arrived from Real Madrid on Deadline Day in 2013, Arsenal fans were ecstatic. Here was a world-class player with 107 goal contributions in 159 games for Los Blancos. He made Euro 2012’s team of the tournament and could hold his own in Jose Mourinho’s side. The best playmaker in world football perhaps.
Ozil flourished in his first few seasons in England. Following an opening campaign where he adapted to the nation's brutish physicality, the German produced 4 excellent seasons where he demonstrated why Arsenal broke their transfer record to secure him. This 4 year spell included managing 19 assists in the 15/16 season as the Gunners finished 2nd to Leicester City. However, in the last two years he’s been on a considerable decline, culminating in just four assists across the last two campaigns. He has recently been omitted from Mikel Arteta’s Europa League squad, with an omission from the Premier League squad looking likely.
It’s undeniable that Ozil has been on a continuous decline for the past few years. The line in the sand is arguably when he penned a new three-year, £350,000 a week in early 2018. Since then, his form nosedived and he was ostracised by both Unai Emery and Arteta.
There are numerous reasons for Ozil’s decline. While his decline in influence and performances has been evident, his footballing ability is unquestionable; Ozil is a player with immaculate vision and spatial awareness superior to most playmakers in the league. However, football has evolved, Ozil’s influence on games waned and he became less and less effective. It’s this decline that has made Arsenal fans want the club to offload the German, certainly not providing value for his extortionate contract.
The thirty-one year old’s tenure at Arsenal, at least when it comes to playing time, has become more and more like he’s existing in a black hole, as Amy Lawrence puts it. Why is this? Currently, Ozil doesn’t fit into Arteta’s 3-4-3 system, not suiting a wide forward role, with several players ahead of him in the pecking order in these areas.
Despite a formation change possibly being imminent with the arrival of Thomas Partey, it is more than likely Ozil won’t feature in Arteta’s plans. The German wasn't putting in good performances in a 4-2-3-1 before the lockdown, so a return to that shape appears unlikely. However, the fact he was playing shows Arteta did like him, and possibly suggests the reasons for his omission goes beyond footballing reasons.
Arteta and Edu seem keen on building a club around character. They want, as Edu said, not just good players, but good people. Players need to be selfless, driven and determined to succeed. They have to be willing to die for the cause and put their team-mates ahead of themselves. The club wants players that exemplify Arteta’s non-negotiables; that’s part of the reason why Thomas Partey was drafted in- because he passes the character test Edu mentioned. While he has shown that he is a very good person, Ozil doesn’t really fit the ideas mentioned above. It’s not that he has an ego that Arteta is keen to avoid; a trait of many world-class players.
His languid style of play hasn’t won everyone over during his time in England. The Premier League has always been more physical compared to its foreign counterparts; and some people will always value a midfielder with a yellow card or two in them over a conductor in midfield. Ozil is a player that doesn’t fit into the cornerstones Arteta and Edu have implemented. He’s an individual, and wouldn’t fit into the new, unified Arsenal. On top of this, he was one of the few Arsenal players to reject a 12.5% pay cut during the Coronavirus break, despite being on obscene wages.
Then there’s the China issue. Ozil gave an interview to The Athletic during the lockdown on many topics, including the Chinese government’s oppression of Uighur Muslims. Ozil, a Muslim himself, took the debate surrounding himself to another level following this interview. However, he felt that it was an important issue to talk about, this genocide was something getting very little coverage in the media.
Following this interview, Ozil has not featured for Arsenal. That’s seemingly not a coincidence. As a result, many have slammed the club for not supporting and in some cases, ostracising one of their own. Arsenal showed support for the recent Black Lives Matter movement, which makes the decision to not stand by Ozil strange. There is an obvious conflict of interests at play. China is one of the Premier League’s biggest revenue streams, so Arsenal would be desperate to appease the Chinese market.
The predicament of Mesut Ozil is a strange one. He is a player with all the ability in the world, but cannot get a look in at Arsenal currently. Despite this, most fans have accepted that he has declined in quality over recent years. However, they also feel that he has been treated disrespectfully by the club.
Ozil is undeniably a world-class player, but four assists in two Premier League seasons speaks for itself. He is a fantastic human being with a great social conscience who feels the need to do good in the world, as shown by the German offering to pay club mascot Gunnersaurus’ wages after he was made redundant, as well as helping poor and needy people across the world.
Despite this, there is something at play that everyone, aside from the major parties involved, is unaware of. His condemnation for the Chinese government has definitely rubbed some of the club’s higher-ups the wrong way, but that seemingly isn’t the reason he’s getting no playing time. Mikel Arteta is simply not the type of manager to let the board influence his team selections.
What is much more likely is that Ozil simply doesn’t fit what Arteta and Edu want in an Arsenal player. The German doesn’t work particularly hard and is seemingly more about himself than the team on the pitch. This means we will most likely never see him in an Arsenal shirt again, with a cull from the Premier League squad imminent.
Whatever the case is, the impact Mesut Ozil has had for Arsenal during his time at the club is undeniable and he will go down as one of the best players of the Emirates Era so far. Until all the facts are made public, it is impossible to make a judgement. One thing is certain, though. Mesut Ozil’s time at Arsenal shouldn’t have ended the way it seemingly has done.