EPL

Mesut Ozil leaves Arsenal: How an ideal relationship ended in a necessary divorce

By Sports Desk January 24, 2021

Mesut Ozil and Arsenal have officially gone their separate ways after seven and a half years together. 

What was once a seemingly ideal football marriage has come to an end. Long since removed from the pedestal where he was once placed by Arsenal fans, Ozil has cut short his stay with the Gunners.

Having coveted him for so long, Fenerbahce have got their man. The 32-year-old heads to Turkey, aiming to kick-start a career that had not so much stagnated of late but come to a complete standstill.

Left out of Arsenal's squads for domestic and European duties this season, his most telling contribution in the final months of his career at the club was seemingly offering to cover the wages of mascot Gunnersaurus.

The union had become broken to the point of no return in the closing stages, but there were plenty of good times before the inevitable break-up.

FALLING HEAD OVER HEELS

Ozil arrived at Arsenal in September 2013. The Gunners did not just break their transfer record to sign him from Real Madrid, they shattered it by paying around £42.5million.

"This is an exciting day for all of us. We have signed a world-class player who is one of Europe's brightest young talents," said Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive at the time, when the deal was announced.

Gazidis was right: Ozil was 24, a Germany international and someone who had played regularly during three seasons in LaLiga. His departure from Madrid was not popular with players and fans alike in the Spanish capital, but a necessary consequence of a spending spree that included bringing in Gareth Bale from Tottenham.

Arsenal's big-name recruit did not take long to make an impact, setting up a goal for Olivier Giroud 11 minutes into his Premier League debut away at Sunderland. It would be the first of many laid on for the Frenchman, who benefited more than any other team-mate from the playmaker's abilities.

Ozil's eye for a pass and talent for producing subtle moments of skill saw him quickly enchant the club's fanbase. How could they possibly do anything but fall for him?

His opening year in England saw him score five goals and contribute nine assists in 26 league appearances. He won the FA Cup, helping Arsene Wenger's side rally from an early 2-0 deficit to defeat Hull City 3-2 in the Wembley final. Two months later, he was lifting the World Cup in South Africa.


THE GOLDEN YEARS

Ozil's second season included a lengthy spell on the sidelines, restricting him to 22 outings in the Premier League. He did help them retain the FA Cup though, this time with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Aston Villa.

However, the Gunners saw the best of him in the two years that followed. In 2015-16, he laid on 19 assists – one shy of Thierry Henry's record – and created 146 chances, the latter number the most by any player in the competition for a single season since 2003-04. He was also the subject of seemingly thousands of Twitter memes, too.

Arsenal ended up second in the final table, 10 points behind surprise champions Leicester City. The glass half-full type pointed to it being their best finish in 11 years, while the less optimistic sort strongly suggested it was more a missed opportunity.

The following season was Ozil's best in terms of Premier League goals – eight in 33 games – but another possible title challenge faded after the turn of the year, leading to a finish outside the top four. There was yet another FA Cup success to at least ease the pressure on Wenger, but their streak of participating in the Champions League was over.

Then, in February 2018, came Ozil's new contract. "I signed dat thing," he tweeted at the time, having committed through to 2021. Wenger was with him in the picture, though nobody knew at the time that the manager was coming towards the end of his tenure.

A lucrative deal handed out to ward off potential suitors and tie down one of the club's leading names appeared a necessity at the time but would quickly become a millstone around the player's neck. The reported weekly salary was referenced so often in the media it should have been added to his name by deed poll.

In terms of his future output, Ozil managed a mere six goals and five assists in 48 league games after the moment he put pen to paper for three more years.


DRIFTING APART AND THE INEVITABLE SPLIT

Relations became strained as Ozil shifted from eye-catching centrepiece to expensive luxury. The focus had switched from how much he produced on the ball to what he didn't do without it. The phasing-out process began during the Unai Emery reign, then led to him being completely ostracised by former team-mate Mikel Arteta.

Yet it is easy to forget that he did start in the Spaniard's first game in charge, away at Bournemouth. "To be fair, his attitude in training since the day that I walked in the building has been incredible," Arteta told reporters after the 1-1 draw on Boxing Day in 2019.

Still, six months later, when the Premier League returned following the coronavirus-enforced break, Arteta's tune had changed somewhat. After completely omitting Ozil from the squad to face Manchester City in June in the first game back, Arteta said: "I'm going to put him on the pitch when I think he can give his best.”

There were two more fixtures when Ozil made the bench, only to be an unused substitute on both occasions. The 2019-20 season saw him play 18 times in the league and he managed a solitary goal and two assists. His final outing for the club came on March 3, 2020 – a 1-0 home victory over West Ham.

Across his Arsenal career, Ozil provided 54 assists. Only Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (75) and David Silva (62), plus Tottenham's Christian Eriksen (62), contributed more assists for their teams since Ozil's arrival in England. When it comes to chances created, only Eriksen (571) beats Ozil's total of 558 – and the Dane played over 40 games more.

And yet, as the divorce is confirmed, there is a sense of relief for all involved that it is all over. It was fun, for a while, but the time is right to move on.

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