I’ve wanted to write this article ever since we started The Rondo but there was always something else – a resurgence, a pay dispute, an attempt to take on the Chinese government, an alliance with a dinosaur. And so, I decided to wait for the inevitable end. Here we are with Özil on his way to Fenerbahçe and now, as Morrisey once sung, I know it’s over.
For most Arsenal fans, it is a rather bittersweet departure. The frenzy we descended into, the envy we created on the Deadline Day that led to his signing felt momentous. A huge, headline-grabbing player that then coincided with trophy success that hadn’t been seen in ten years. Who would have thought it would end like this?
I have been in the Emirates crowd of a match day and heard the purr of the stadium as he pulled the strings, just moments before the sound of abuse at the sight of his head down or his shoulders shrugged.
We are used to these kinds of endings. Wenger was like it too; a man who brought success but stayed too long, who divided fans. And who is a more divisive figure in football at the moment than someone like Özil? The number ten role is currently going through a bit of an identity crisis in football, with the best one in the Premier League being recently played as a false nine. Do we have room for these luxury players in our industrious, seemingly more press-orientated teams? Take a look at James Rodriguez of Everton. His initial signing revitalized the side and played a crucial role in a superb start to the season. Yet, it wasn’t long before there appeared question marks over his ability to press, to track back, his engine.
Is it wrong, maybe even naïve of me, to suggest that these two things can co-exist? That a player can be a delight to watch – threading balls and toying with defenders – and still frustrate you with their seeming lack of drive? This is what makes Özil such a debated figure. I have been in the Emirates crowd of a match day and heard the purr of the stadium as he pulled the strings, just moments before the sound of abuse at the sight of his head down or his shoulders shrugged. I have been there when he truly has turned up: a dominant and impressive North London Derby in 2017 was the sort of performance Arsenal fans begged to see – skilled on the ball, rugged off of it. He ran the game that day (and on many others), winning man of the match. But I’ve also been there when we haven’t played well, and the fans have got on his back. Ultimately, Özil is a limited player and was often criticized for not doing things that were simply not part of his game. It was never Özil’s game to go charging around the pitch, barging people off the ball and throwing himself into challenges. When the rest of the team lacked, Özil would often pay the price.
However, it has become increasingly clear over the past few months that the issues with Özil are off the pitch. With Arsenal performing poorly in the final third and creating very little in the way of chances, it seemed obvious that Özil was the man to fix these problems. But there were rumours that the club were unhappy with his public condemnation of China’s treatment of Uyghurs in so-called ‘Re-Education camps’; the club responded with a statement that it has ‘always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics’. Then there was a pay debacle, in which Özil refused to take a cut (supposedly meant to protect jobs within the club), despite Arteta’s personal pleas. Arguably, it was these incidents that may have contributed towards his omission from both Arsenal’s Premier and Europa League squads.
This does all beg the question though of who exactly was in the wrong when, months later, Arsenal and the Premier League are at the forefront of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign whilst making over fifty members of staff redundant. These double standards don’t reflect too well on Arsenal.
But whatever the situation, whoever is in the wrong, and whatever has been said and done behind the scenes, it is clear to see that the partnership between Arsenal and Mesut Özil has run its course. Rightly or wrongly, this once heralded figure in North London has been snuck out of the backdoor of the January transfer window with a terminated contract. And so, what does Özil’s legacy look like at Arsenal? It is hard to tell in the immediate aftermath. This Madrid Galáctico, a symbolic jewel to bring the riches back to Arsenal, never quite showed us a sparkling future. But he leaves behind him memories. Memories of a majestic playmaker whose vision and ability will live forever in countless YouTube compilations. And just maybe there is more to come.
Has anyone got a good stream for the Turkish Super League?