After almost 8 years in North London, Mesut Özil has parted ways with Arsenal to join Turkish side Fenerbahce. 8 years of loyalty, dedication, passion, and beautiful football have ended in the ugliest fashion. Though perhaps a divisive character, Özil’s Arsenal impact was undeniable.
It all started in 2013, when then-manager Arsene Wenger signed the German from Spanish giants Real Madrid for a fee of £42.5m, smashing the club record at the time. At just 24 years old, Özil had already won countless trophies including a La Liga title, one Copa del Rey, one Spanish Super Cup and a German Cup.
The signing was a massive statement made by a club in a trophy drought. Arsenal hadn’t won a major trophy since 2005, and signing Özil proved their ambition and desire to get back to the top of English football. It delivered a signal of intent from Wenger, who was under pressure from a selection of fans since the demise from their glory days.
In the season of 2013/14, the year that Mesut Özil joined Arsenal, they won the FA Cup for the first time in 9 years, and he played a big part in their road to Wembley, recording one goal and 2 assists in his 5 appearances along the way.
Then, in the very next season, the Gunners won the trophy once again. Özil was consistent and matched his statistics in the competition with 3 vital goal contributions to help his side. To produce back-to-back victories in the FA Cup was a massive feat for a team stripped of silverware for such a long time, and the German’s influence was indisputable.
The FA Cup belonged to Arsenal again in 2017, with Özil featuring in his third final for the Gunners. This one came against fierce rivals Chelsea, and the German was unlucky not to bag himself a goal with as the ball ricocheted off the post, though still threaded a neat 3 key passes in the 90.
Despite only featuring once for the North London side during their 19/20 FA Cup campaign, he still earned himself and his team a fourth trophy in 6 years, making him the most decorated Arsenal player of the Emirates era.
Throughout his tenure in the English capital, Mesut Özil has produced impressive numbers. In all competitions, he played a total of 254 games for Arsenal, amassing 44 goals and 77 assists. This gives him an average of a goal/assist every 0.48 games. To add, he created an insane 737 chances within these games: 2.9 chances created per game.
His standout season was unquestionably 2015/16, when Arsenal missed out on the Premier League title to underdogs Leicester City. Özil racked up a ridiculous 16 assists by December, giving him a glorious chance to break the all-time assist record of 20 in a season, set by Arsenal legend Thierry Henry.
Holding this statistic would have helped solidify his status as both a Premier League and an Arsenal legend, but teammate Olivier Giroud lacked efficiency in-front of goal for the remainder of the campaign. This was a big let down, especially following his prolific 10 goal start to the season, and sabotaged Özil’s chances of shattering the impressive record.
Nevertheless, 19 assists in a Premier League season is nothing to be laughed at. With greater luck on his side, this would have massively helped his team in a title-winning campaign, and his legacy would be perceived very differently. Ending his tenure without a league title to his name has no-doubt tainted this legacy, despite his most valiant efforts.
Mesut Özil is the perfect modern-day example of players whose statistics paint an unfinished picture. He is an artist on the pitch who makes the game look unbelievably easy. Here are some of his most memorable games in red and white:
Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland (2016/17)
At first glance, this performance may appear like another day at the office for Özil, who assisted Alexis Sanchez for his first of the game. When you dive into his deeper stats, it becomes clear that this was an extraordinary performance.
A mind-blowing 12 key passes (the Premier League record), 2 big chances created, 7/8 ground duels won, 9/15 accurate crosses, 3/5 accurate long balls, 2/2 successful dribble attempts, and he was only dispossessed once in the entire 90 minutes.
Arsenal 2-0 Bournemouth (2015/16)
This was another standout performance from Özil in front of his fans, and the German recorded a goal and an assist to show for his efforts. He had an insane 95% pass completion, 4 big chances created, 9 key passes, 2/3 accurate long balls, 6/11 accurate crosses and 2 tackles, all in just 84 touches of the ball.
Özil pulled the strings this game; he dictated the play from start to finish and helped Arsenal cruise to a comfortable victory.
Arsenal 2-0 Bayern Munich (2015/16)
You thought he couldn’t produce against the biggest teams? Think again. He scored in the 94th minute to solidify a massive win for Arsenal against a team that got the better of them in every match-up.
Mesut Özil produced 3 key passes and a big chance created, alongside 100% cross and long ball accuracy, and 100% dribble success. Big performance.
Arsenal 6-0 Ludogorets Razgrad (2016/17)
Though the brilliant and memorable solo strike came in the reverse fixture in Bulgaria, this was a Champions League performance of the highest quality. 4 out of Arsenal’s 6 goals featured direct Özil contributions, with an assist and a hat-trick to his name (coming from his 3 shots on target in the 90)
This was another big performance from the German, as he led his side to yet another big victory. When Mesut Özil is at his very best, Arsenal were an absolute joy to watch. There were many other games that I could have included, but these 4 are that instantly spring to mind.
A victim of his own ability
A constant criticism that has haunted Özil throughout his spell in England is his inconsistency. Rivals, and even some Arsenal fans, don’t feel that he ‘shows up’ as often as he should, and that his career is massively lifted by a handful of good performances. For me, this is ludicrous.
Mesut Özil at his best is where football meets art. He is one of the greatest playmakers we have ever seen, perhaps the greatest of this entire generation. We all know that he is completely unplayable on his day, so what about the others days?
It is rare for him to have a totally ‘bad’ game. Maybe he doesn’t get an assist but, 9 times out of 10, he has threaded a handful of key passes and created chances for his teammates. Once he has created a goal-scoring opportunity, he has zero say in whether it results in an assist, it all comes down to the player in-front of goal. This I think is overlooked by a lot of people when they judge Özil’s career longevity.
Furthermore, pre-assists are also indicative of a fine player, and Özil has these in abundance. This is where he has played a pass to a player, who then in-turn provides an assist for a goal. Though not officially counted towards statistics, pre-assists help to demonstrate a player’s playmaking ability, one’s ability to progress the ball up the pitch, and one’s eye for a pass. Although he won’t always directly contribute, he has consistently performed at a level which some players would be envious of.
To add, another criticism of the German has been his work-rate and his body language. Many call him ‘lazy’, ‘unbothered’, and ‘disinterested’, despite him proving many times that this wasn’t the case. Özil commented on this, saying “Some people like me, some people don’t. Some people look at my body language and think I don’t care. But that’s me. I won’t change my body language or my style of play drastically anymore.”
In the Premier League in 2016/17, he covered the 2nd most distance in an Arsenal shirt, behind only Nacho Monreal, with 329.3km. Furthermore, Özil completed the 4th most sprints over the course of the campaign, amassing 1759, with only Monreal, Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin completing more.
He featured at the very beginning of 2020 under Mikel Arteta, and put on a brilliant display at home to rivals Manchester United. In this game, he covered 7.2 miles. Against Newcastle in 2019, he covered the 2nd most ground for Arsenal, 6.67 miles, and achieved a top speed of 20.6 miles per hour, bettered only by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a slight lead of 20.8mph.
In 2018/19, Özil ran an average of 6.88 miles per 90 minutes, with 14.47 sprints and 6.69 recoveries. These running stats are pretty impressive for such a lazy, disinterested player.
Over the Emirates era, Arsenal have had some magnificent players, including Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Alexis Sanchez to name a few. All of these 4 names left the Gunners to join direct rivals, whether it was Manchester United, Manchester City, or a later move to London rivals Chelsea. Özil stayed.
He had all the opportunities a player could need to be tempted elsewhere, but his heart remained in North London. He spent the entirety of his prime years with Arsenal when he could’ve been winning titles and challenging for Champions Leagues.
Only now has he left, after 8 dutiful years at the club, because he simply isn’t playing football anymore and that needs to change. Whether he was frozen out of the club following his condemnation of China in their situation with Uyghur Muslims or for another reason, rotting on the bench could only go on for so long.
This entire situation has left some seeing him as anything but an Arsenal legend, but those who appreciate the players who make the beautiful game beautiful still have the upmost respect for him and his Premier League tenure.
Mesut Özil leaves as Arsenal’s most decorated player of the Emirates era. He leaves with the legacy of one of the greatest playmakers football has ever seen and as the signing that brought success back to the club; he leaves as an Arsenal legend.