I have long held the view that the litmus test of a person’s understanding of football is their appreciation of Mesut Ozil. It’s the gold standard of tests, if you don’t rate him, you’re an idiot. There is no option B, no mitigation and I accept no arguments otherwise.
So how has he become “lost” and what is lost?
Has he lost his ability to play, his desire to perform or his physical prowess? No, none of these. He has been lost to Arsenal, and the football world, because he has been stopped from playing by Arsenal football club. We will look at the theories why later, but whatever your opinion, he has not lost himself.
For a decade Ozil has been one of the best players in the world, and the best player Arsenal have had in that decade. More than that he is one of the best players in the history of Arsenal F C, exactly where on the list of all time greats is open to debate, but he’s in the debate, like it or not.
In the period where Germany were the best team in the world, and with the best crop of players they had ever had, he was German player of the year in 5 out of 6 seasons. The very definition of top end world class.
I think his Arsenal career should be looked at in two separate and distinct sections, under Arsene Wenger and post Arsene Wenger.
When Wenger left Arsenal, Ozil had a better G/A per PL game record (0.54) than: Pires, Ljungberg, Reyes, Cesc, Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, Hazard, Eriksen, Nasri, Silva, Santi, Ramsey, Coutinho, Arshavin, Pogba and so on. That, despite his last 18 months being blighted by a chronic back problem and (as Arsene told it) “a big problem with his immune system”. It should also be remembered that despite these physical problems Arsene had to insist that he didn’t play games, while Ozil was insisting he wanted to help and would play.
Now, his G/A contribution has dropped off dramatically under both Emery and Arteta, but we must ask why – not assume that it’s because he has forgotten how to play. The systems and positions he has been required to play have been unsuited to his skill set and he’s been playing in areas of the pitch where goals and assists should not be expected. However, his underlying stats have not diminished, his passing stats are the same and the idea that he has physically dropped off are exposed as lies when you look at the facts. Here is an example of him under Arteta in a deeper lying position, you will note that only one player ran farther and only Aubameyang can run slightly faster:
Ozil is not just an elite playmaker, but he is an elite athlete. Darren Burgess, former Head of Elite Performance said:
“Mesut is much-maligned physically. But there were many games where his running numbers — and I’m talking high-speed numbers, not just distance but high-speed numbers — were among the elite in the competition. So he’s certainly capable of doing it.”
Wherever he plays on the pitch he brings a technical security that is levels above his team mates. He does the job asked of him even when it doesn’t best suit him. He is the very essence of a team player, perhaps the most unselfish and generous player ever to have played the game. The notion that he doesn’t suit the style of play the manager wants is ridiculous, he might be better suited in a different system, but in any system he is still levels above any player in our squad.
So why is he not playing or even registered to play? What madness can explain this stupid situation? People have different opinions and theories, including the idiots who say it’s for “football reasons”, so let me explain my thinking.
I believe it started with the departure of Ivan and Arsene. They had given Ozil a contract worth allegedly £350k per week. The new regime likely felt that this money could be better used elsewhere given the changing nature of the game we were trying to play under Emery. Not unreasonable and new managers do like to get their own players in that suit their style and Raul did like to wheel and deal. Ozil leaving would give the manager and Raul the opportunity to reshape the team. However, Mesut made it clear he didn’t want to leave and instead of accepting, and honouring the agreed contract, they tried to make him unhappy enough that he would choose to leave. He and Ramsey were excluded from the team and briefings against both of them started seeping out. Of course eventually the football got that bad that they both had to be brought back in. But the scene had been set, the powers that be wanted him gone.
Then in December 2019, Ozil spoke out strongly on Instagram against China’s treatment of the Uighur population in the north-western region of Xinjiang, where over a million people have reportedly been held in detention camps over recent years. The club quickly distanced itself from these comments and Ozil was critical of the club for doing so. The club was losing access to the huge merchandising market in China and crucially the PL itself was at risk of losing TV income, and now have a vested interest in Ozil being shut up. It should be noted that China had flexed their muscles against the NBA in the October and the NBA buckled. Another financial reason for Ozil to be pushed out.
It appears that with the arrival of Mikel Arteta, Ozil’s fortunes had changed. Arteta, having played with Ozil would have known what he brings and despite the board wanting Ozil gone, he was in a position to pick him. Which he did. In fact, before Covid hit, Ozil was one of only two players to start every PL game under Arteta. Yes he was playing deeper, but he was playing well and Arteta was full of praise for his contribution and attitude. “His attitude has been incredible.” But during the lock down something dramatically changed.
In my opinion what happened was that Ozil hurt Arteta’s feelings and dented his ego. The club asked all the players to take a 15% pay cut due to Covid and 15 of them said no. At this point Arteta stepped in and asked that the pay cut be accepted. All bar 3 of them agreed to the cut, Ozil was one of the 3. Mesut wanted more information about what the money would be used for, who would benefit and were jobs going to be secure. He indicated he would take the reduction, and more, if jobs were secured. He wasn’t given these assurances and subsequent events proved him right to want them, as 55 long-standing employees were made redundant and then our much beloved mascot. It should be noted that Ozil gives very generously to charities all over the world, is committed to ongoing help and has been paying for free meals for hundreds of school kids since March, long before Rashford spoke up.
Now I believe Arteta got the hump, Ozil didn’t bend the knee when he asked him to take the reduction and he demands obedience on all things. At this point the stars aligned for Josh and the board, Arteta could be convinced to shut Ozil out in the hope he would leave in the summer. But Mesut dug his heels in and refused to be pushed out. I believe the club and Arteta should have accepted that and played Ozil in his final year. That they didn’t, and now can’t, has to be the biggest act of self harm any club has ever done. The football is crap and we desperately need Ozil. It’s a mess and it’s a mess of Arteta’s and the club’s doing.
It’s more than a mess actually, it’s a disgrace.
P.S. If you want to make a small difference, sign the petition at the end of this tweet and reply. Oh, and stay safe.