For an outsider looking in, it’s easy to forget the drastic impact Mesut Özil had on an Arsenal squad and a fanbase which had never been so divided.
Wenger in, or Wenger out, Özil provided peace amongst the fans and provided the gold dust missing since Robin van Persie’s departure.
Magic Mesut Özil
The past year has shed a dark cloud over his seven-year spell at the Emirates, but for most of his time in England, Özil was majestic, magnificent, and magical. The epitome of a creative No.10, a position almost non-existent right now, the German caressed the ball with such aesthetic pleasure that even rival fans would stand up and applaud.
The way he graced the football pitch on a matchday made it seem as if it was a Tuesday morning training session, rather than a high stakes Premier League tie.
Some view his playstyle as lazy, or arrogant, but those who appreciate the art of football saw Mesut Özil as a delight to watch.
The solo goal against Ludogorets. The way he kicked the ball against the ground to chip the goalkeeper—his almost inhumane vision and accuracy of a pass. Just a few examples of the pure class he displayed on countless occasions to Arsenal fans’ delight.
Not many ooze class like Özil and not many would leave Real Madrid to join Arsenal at just 24-years-old, but the German did. His move from the Bernabeu to the Emirates sent shockwaves around the footballing world, and he most certainly lived up to the hype.
Joining the Arsene Wenger-led side off the back of three seasons in which he was La Liga’s top assister, Özil hit the ground running in England. A symbolic figure of what Arsenal’s move away from Highbury to the Emirates was intended to result in; his aura of success lit up the Gunners’ side.
His Arsenal career brought four FA Cup triumphs, the latest he wasn’t involved in. However, there is an overall feeling of ‘what could’ve been’ left in the atmosphere.
The 2015/16 season epitomised this more than most. Despite finishing second, the league was there for the taking; most of the big boys were uncharacteristically lacklustre, and Leicester managed the impossible. The Foxes won the title with 81 points; a tally beaten by the league winners every season since.
Özil, nonetheless, can’t be held responsible one bit. Every player has their prime, a peak where everything they touch turns to gold, where they can’t be stopped. 2015/16 was that year for Ozil.
Six goals and 19 assists in the league with an xG + xA per 90 tally of 0.75. Özil turned on the style, delivering chances on a plate to Olivier Giroud and company. It was a crime he didn’t beat Thierry Henry’s record of most assists in a single Premier League campaign (20).
That year, he produced a ridiculous 4.3 key passes per 90, just 0.1 off Kevin de Bruyne’s 4.4 per 90 last campaign. Özil and was the creative hub of a free-flowing, buoyant Arsenal side.
Often criticised for his languid style that doesn’t lend itself to the high-energy nature of the modern game, Özil surprisingly always ranked highly in Arsenal’s running statistics, and his pros far outweigh his cons.
Arguably only de Bruyne came close to Özil’s vision and timing of pass in England, and the records that the German has broken are incredible.
In November 2015, he became the first player to grab an assist in seven Premier League games in a row. He holds the record for the most Premier League assists in a calendar year (20), the most chances created in a season (146), the most chances created in a single game (12), and he’s the highest-scoring and highest assisting German in English top-flight history (33 goals and 54 assists). In short, Özil was a wizard at work.
His relationship with Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez, in particular, was telepathic. Such telepathy waned as his stay in London came to a close, and in his final Arsenal days, Özil declined into someone who only produced brilliant, but rare moments of genius. These moments were on display every week during his prime years at the Emirates, and it is those consistent flashes of brilliance that moulded him into the Arsenal great we see today.
A figure like no other in Arsenal’s recent history, Özil was a fan favourite from day one, and his flair and technical brilliance brought a much-needed freshness to the Premier League; for that, we say thank you.
Words by Cameron Smith – @_CameronSmith10
Graphics by Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_/credit: Getty Images