It was the summer of 2013 and the Sky Sports cameras were outside the Arsenal training ground, surrounded by a crowd of Arsenal fans.
There were cheers, songs, smiles and joy as it was announced that on deadline day the Gunners had completed the signing of world-class attacking midfielder Mesut Özil from Real Madrid for a then club-record fee of around £42.5 million.
The first two seasons went reasonably well too. Özil was the centre-piece, the star man. They won the FA Cup in his first season at the club and secured Champions League football. He was joined by Alexis Sanchez the following year and they retained the FA Cup. In his third season the club failed to win silverware but it was arguably his best season at the club. Özil hit 19 assists in the Premier League, just one off the record, and won Arsenal Player of the Year. Özil won a third FA Cup title the following year but Arsenal failed to qualify for the Champions League by finishing 5th and Arsene Wenger left the club. This was the beginning of the end.
Since Wenger’s departure, Ozil has failed to command a regular place in the side under both Unai Emery and now Mikel Arteta. While he always starts out as part of the managers plans and team, he seems to slowly fade out as poor performances and a lack of worth ethic take over.
Now under Arteta, the team are playing exceptionally well. They’re scoring goals, solid defensively and have a style that has been implemented under the manager that the players and fans have bought into. Ozil isn’t apart of it.
Fans have grown tired of the German World Cup winner, the club’s highest paid player. His ability has always been obvious but when you don’t apply that regularly in a match situation then you may as well not have it. Ozil has entered the final 12 months of his contract and it would be a huge surprise if he remained at the club beyond this season.
But why wait until then? It’s evident that he won’t play much this season, with Mikel Arteta omitting him from the match-day squad for their Carabao Cup tie against Leicester in midweek where he rested most of the first-team. Following that game, Arteta said it would be “very difficult” for Ozil to work his way back into the team.
With less than two weeks of the transfer window remaining, there is still time for Özil to make a move away from the Emirates. He has long been linked with moves to the Turkish league with Fenerbahce often interested, while a move to the MLS couldn’t be ruled out either. The issue is that he earns over £300,000 per-week and he seems unwilling to take less than what he is owed to move on from North London.
If Arsenal want to move him on, they’d likely need to either pay off his contract or at least pay part of his wages to supplement whatever another club can afford to give him. But Özil has shown no desire whatsoever to leave and play regularly elsewhere. When asked, he says he’s ready to play for Arsenal and will continue to fight for his place in the side.
That ship has sailed though. Özil and Arsenal must now decide if the player will have another year off from playing while being paid an extraordinary amount or whether they will work to get him out of the club so he’s not their problem anymore.
Regardless of what does happen, it’s a true shame that one of this generations greatest playmakers has dwindled in this way. He’s still only 31 and has been missing for the best part of three years from the top level.
In an ideal world, Özil leaves and gets back to somewhere near his best for a year just so we can see it again. What’s most likely to happen though, is Özil stays for a year of nothingness and then disappears into the wilderness of lower-level football somewhere and people forget what a genius he once was.