The German has gone from the Gunners’ creator-in-chief to the world’s best-paid spectator
The first time Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup, it was in the same midfield as Mesut Ozil. If they are in relatively close proximity again and if Arsenal secure a record 14th FA Cup on Saturday, it will only be if the German is granted a place on the bench.
Even that feels unlikely. Ozil has not made Arsenal’s matchday 20 for any of their last nine games. It is 21 weeks since he last featured, in March’s 1-0 win over West Ham, a time in which, as Ozil was an anomaly who did not take a pay-cut to help Arsenal cope in a pandemic, he has been paid £7.35 million (Dh35m). The remainder of his contract is worth a further £16.8 million.
No wonder, then, that his agent, Erkut Sogut, said: “Ninety per cent, he will leave Arsenal in 2021.” But not before. Ozil, the superstar signing who was supposed to represent the end of austerity at Arsenal, may catapult them back into it.
Unused, unwanted, unmoveable, he represents the biggest drain on a budget that will decline further if they are not in Europe next season and the greatest indictment of a club that lost its way. The great economist Arsene Wenger’s legacy was supposed to be different, the reward for years of balancing the books better. Rather than restoring Arsenal to title contention, Ozil has been a bit-part player as they have registered their lowest league finish in a quarter century.
If Arsenal have years to rue former chief executive Ivan Gazidis’ supposed coup of extending Ozil’s deal in 2018, it may now be the worst contract in football.
That title has been shared between former sidekicks but while Manchester United paid Alexis Sanchez still more and got still less in return, but they are in a better position to afford such waste.
Ozil at least finished last season with five league goals. This season brought a solitary one, while his two assists meant he had the combined tally of goalkeepers Alisson and Aaron Ramsdale.
If he was supposed to provide the supply line to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Arsenal forward with whom he had the best on-field relationship will spearhead Chelsea’s attack: Olivier Giroud. They combined for nine goals in 2015/16 when Ozil almost broke Thierry Henry’s Premier League assist record.
If he has never scored enough goals – in club football, anyway – he used to compensate by creating. Yet while some of the debate about his body language has been tiresome, a season when he has been dropped by three managers and has not completed 90 minutes away from home since December raises fundamental issues about his attitude.
Arsenal have not helped. There was no system that suited all of Ozil, Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe; nor was there in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s time. Now Arteta has overseen a shift in thinking. His Arsenal have been at their best as counter-attackers. They do not deploy a No 10.
They are less of a possession team. And yet last week Arteta, ignoring the Ozil-shaped elephant in the room, spoke about Arsenal’s lack of a creative force and how it is out of keeping with their recent past. “You go back to [Santi] Cazorla, to [Tomas] Rosicky, to [Andriy] Arshavin when he played there, to [Aaron] Ramsey when he played there, to Mkhitaryan when he came in. Even Jack Wilshere used to play in those pockets all the time,” he reflected.
So did Ozil. Now they want a playmaker who is not him. Now the only remaining starter in their FA Cup final wins in 2014, 2015 and 2017 is an expensive afterthought, settling for 11 more months as the world’s best-paid spectator.