Arsenal supporters will cherish memories of watching Mesut Ozil at his brilliant best but he departs having not featured at all since March; German leaves complex legacy after eight years of ups and downs;
It was September 2013 and in the wake of a 1-0 win over Tottenham at the Emirates Stadium, the Frenchman was asked by Sky Sports’ Patrick Davison about Arsenal’s plans for the final days of the transfer window. “Maybe we’ll have a good surprise for you,” he said.
Arsenal’s summer recruitment at that point amounted to two free transfers. One to re-sign Mathieu Flamini from AC Milan, the other to bring in Yaya Sanogo, a promising but injury-prone striker from Auxerre. Supporters were underwhelmed and agitated.
They wanted more and 48 hours later they got it, Wenger’s “good surprise” materialising in the form of a sensational £42.5m deal for Real Madrid’s Mesut Ozil. It ranked as the third most expensive signing in British football history and nearly trebled Arsenal’s record outlay in the transfer market.
Ozil arrived at the Emirates Stadium as one of the game’s most exciting creative talents. A lavishly gifted playmaker who had lit up the 2010 World Cup with Germany and whose assists at Real Madrid – of which there were plenty – had made him Cristiano Ronaldo’s favourite team-mate.
It took just 11 minutes of his debut, a 3-1 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, for Ozil to register his first for Arsenal, expertly controlling a long pass from Kieran Gibbs then squaring the ball for Olivier Giroud to finish.
Ozil has always had different sides to him. Good and bad. Jaw-dropping and head-scratching. But few players can match his technical brilliance. Few can even see the game in the way he does, let alone do the things he does with the ball at his feet.
His first two years in north London yielded back-to-back FA Cups either side of a World Cup triumph with Germany. But on an individual level, it was only in his third that it truly clicked for him at Arsenal. His 2015/16 season was an intoxicating display of craft and creativity.
Over the course of that campaign, Ozil had a direct hand in 28 goals in 45 appearances. He provided 19 assists in the Premier League, one short of Thierry Henry’s record, and created 146 chances, a staggering total which remains the highest in a single season since Opta started taking records almost two decades ago.
Arsenal were top of the Premier League on New Year’s Day thanks to a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in which Ozil scored one goal and set up the other – “he has become a completely sensational football player,” said Wenger afterwards – but ultimately they fell short in the title race, allowing Leicester to win the crown by a 10-point margin.
It felt like a missed opportunity. And while Ozil was named Arsenal’s Player of the Year at the end of it, he never hit those heights again, his output steadily declining from one season to the next, the moments of inspiration becoming more infrequent as the scrutiny of his body language and application became more intense.
The year 2018 encapsulated the ups and downs of his Arsenal career, starting with him signing a new contract worth an eye-watering £350,000 per week and ending with him unceremoniously losing his place in the side.