Mesut Ozil signing on deadline day is the Arsenal fans’ equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down. Everyone remembers where they were, and of the hope they felt for the future. It was a feeling of community and togetherness that was supposed to signal the end of a cold, austere era. The idea that actually, things might be changing for the better.
All because of an awkward German Galactico, telling a press conference, “I am a Gunner,” in English so broken that it could have shared a treatment room with Jack Wilshere.
Perhaps Ozil not being able to recreate that particular day is the reason that his eight-year Premier League stint feels a little hollow - but you can’t deny that he was bloody good at his best. Never before had a playmaker delivered assists with the prolificacy of an ice-cold striker - yet the German-made his selflessness feel like laying down a challenge to other No.10s.
And for the machine-like efficiency of his output, he was still beautiful to watch. Refined, pure and childlike in his movement; an otherworldly ability on the ball. So often, he’s been labelled as a throwback as if it were a bad thing. When Ozil flicked the switch, it was like falling in love with football all over again. At the height of his powers, he set up 19 assists in a season for a dismally unbalanced Arsenal attack. As pundits went on about his inconsistency, the numbers suggested otherwise. It was impossible not to talk about him.
In a way, it still is. Ozil has gone from being a deer-like presence on the field to the elephant on the training ground. Arsenal losses are punctuated by the void of his creativity. Emile Smith Rowe’s burgeoning role in Mikel Arteta’s plans is shaped by the German’s ghost.
Depending on who you ask, Mesut Ozil is a pantomime villain lurking in the shadows of progression or Simba in exile, waiting for a revolution in his kingdom.
It’s desperately sad. All that talent, that game-changing gold dust, stuck in a locker in London Colney. Really, though, it’s difficult to know what else Ozil could have done differently.
Nobody’s perfect but it’s how you react that matters. Ozil buckled down after losing confidence in his first season, instead of seeking a move like fellow Real Madrid export, Angel Di Maria, for example. The German bulked up to cope with stronger defences, adapted his game and had to win his place back in Wenger’s side.
He dismissed links with Bayern Munich immediately in the 2014/15 season - his comments, “Mia San Arsenal” still adorn the Emirates on a banner - and his first two seasons brought two FA Cups. Ability and loyalty are the two biggest components for club legends, aren’t they?
And yet to suggest Ozil is in the leagues of the Bergkamps, Henrys, even the Alan Smiths or Liam Bradys, is ridiculous to some Arsenal fans.
Ozil delivered unprecedented levels of creativity. He was truly world-class at his peak. He spoke routinely of his love for Arsenal and London, made subtle digs at Tottenham - it’s a rite of passage - and when Wenger was faced with losing both Ozil and Alexis Sanchez for nothing, he pledged his loyalty. Yet for some, he can’t lay a glove on the true legends.
Perhaps we judge Mesut Ozil harshly. The cliche is that he's a unicorn who drifted in and out of games; sulky and silky, only bothering to turn up when it suited him. The shrug, the sigh. His MO was simply to make others look good, rather than carry the team: he was an introvert expected to lead and in that respect, he failed.
Maybe it was simply a recipe for disaster to pile such pressure onto a player designed to assist others, when Arsenal as a whole has been so dysfunctional for a decade. Maybe Arsenal fans wanted too much from him. And maybe signing an elite playmaker was never a good idea when there were more pressing deficiencies. There's no denying though that when Arsenal were good, so was Ozil.
Whenever Ozil leaves north London, it will be not as a legend but a liability, in the end. An outcast ousted to raise capital, like selling your record collection on eBay to buy something more useful. Perhaps Arsenal were always destined to find themselves in this situation, with such a specific and expensive footballer. You can’t help but feel sorry for the whole debacle, though. And you can’t help but feel it wasn’t all his doing.
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