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How Should Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal Tenure be Remembered?

Mesut Özil has likely played his last game for Arsenal.

Off the back of the news that Mesut Özil has been left out of the Arsenal Europa League squad, I believed it to be an apt time to reflect on his career in north London. The divisive German, once one of the world’s greatest footballers, can certainly look back on the majority of his time in England with pride.

From the very first moment he stepped on to an English football pitch in an Arsenal shirt, fans of north London’s finest club knew Özil was special. A fair few think he still is in spite of the fact he registered just three goal contributions last year. That speaks volumes about just how good our No 10 was in his hay-day.

It would be impossible to review his time at Arsenal without thinking about the day he signed. Utter elation throughout the Arsenal fanbase. We smashed our transfer record in order to bring to the club in a deal worth up to £42.5 million.

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However, it wasn’t just the fact that we broke a transfer record of a mere £15m that led to such elation in north London on the night of September 2nd, 2013. It was the fact we signed Mesut Özil. The man was and still is a footballing superstar.

For the majority of his time with us, he has proved this on the pitch. His debut assist at the Stadium of Light was a sign of things to come. Since then, he has notched 55 league assists and won three FA Cups. His level of performance during a spectacular 2015/16 Premier League season, where he fell just one short of breaking Thierry Henry’s assist record, was simply outrageous. I don’t think I’ll ever forget just how good he was that year.

Nonetheless, since that campaign, the German has slowly, but vividly declined. The man who has grown synonymous with the word ‘assist’ has become a little less creative with each passing year. As such, over the course of the last two Premier League seasons, he only delivered four assists from 42 appearances.

One might then suggest that this shouldn’t be the Özil we remember. I can understand this point of view. Nevertheless, the cynic in me would say that such a notion is suggesting we should forget the last four years of his time at the club. This is representative of half of his Arsenal career. At the age of 35, Dennis Bergkamp registered 12 assists over the course of the 2004/05 Premier League season. At the age of 31, Özil is nowhere to be seen.

Arsenal fans wearing the No11 shirt of new signing Arsenal’s German midfielder Mesut Ozil (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Of course, there are mitigating factors involved. Bergkamp didn’t have a board trying to force him out of the club and his every touch wasn’t scrutinised due to an astronomically high wage. However, while Özil’s decline may have been accelerated by this, statistics suggest it had already started prior to his now-infamous 2018 contract renewal.

In consequence, I don’t think it’ll be possible for us as fans to look back on his time at our club without thinking of the bitter end. For far too long he has been underperforming. Of course, his omission from our Europa League squad – and seemingly inevitable omission from the Premier League squad – just sums up a very, very messy situation.

Having said that, it’s fitting that in what seems to have been his last competitive match in an Arsenal shirt, in front of a packed Emirates Stadium watching Arsenal vs West Ham prior to lockdown, that the German recorded an assist.

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Putting all the off-the-pitch baggage to one side, on a footballing level, Özil should be remembered as one of the greatest playmakers to have worn an Arsenal shirt.

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