Mesut Özil hasn’t signed a new contract for Arsenal. The only extension after a frustrating transfer window is the year of uncertainty now surrounding his future. If history is any indication, the last thing the club needs is that—the two biggest pieces of their puzzle, Özil and Alexis Sanchez, both with adding an air of uncertainty.
In the feigning weeks and months of the most recent Premier League season, Arsenal showed their potential. Using a new three-at-the-back system which he hadn’t employed since the mid-1990s, Arsène Wenger seemingly reinvented himself—or if ‘reinvented’ is a bit much, he at the very least proved to the Wenger Out Brigade that change is in his repertoire.
Of course it was a case of ‘too little, too late’, but, oh, what a run. The club jumped back into contention with Liverpool and Manchester City for the top four, having sweated through their final games. And one player out of many who seemed to benefit from the renewed sense of purpose was Mesut Özil.
Not completely sold on the change, Özil was forced into a wider position, which came with some changes. Of course, he was expected to be the creative force he has been throughout his career, but playing out wide he is more confined to what he was used to in the middle of the pitch. But as the weeks passed and he, and the club, grew in confidence, it seemed such a natural position for him.
Keeping the German International was always going to be important for Wenger in the twilight of his managerial career.
A New Mesut Özil Contract Was Imperative
More than Christian Eriksen (1071), Eden Hazard (1092), Paul Pogba (1213), and David Silva (1168), Mesut Özil (1227) completed the most number of passes in opponent’s half last season. He also had a success rate of 85.62%. To say he is crucial as to how Arsenal approach the opponent’s goal can’t be overstated.
While he has gone through periods of sub-standard play—at least by his standards—his quality is unquestionable.
In 33 matches last year for his club, he scored eight goals and added nine assists, meaning he was directly involved in 17 goals in total. Compare that to the 2015-16 season where he nabbed six goals and 19 assists, flirting with the Premier League assist record and being involved in 25 goals.
Based on this alone, he was less productive than the year before, but so was almost everyone at the club. It is important to see the player for what he is, and Özil is a creative playmaker with quality which is very hard to find. His off-the-ball play is imperative in the system Arsène Wenger employs.
Experience speaks volumes
Having a youthful, energetic squad is a great thing—just look at what Tottenham have done with a largely young squad. But having experienced players who have achieved at the highest level is invaluable. Not only has Özil played at the highest at club level, adding Real Madrid to his background, but playing for a juggernaut German squad is worth its weight in gold. He has played with some of the world’s best players, and that is something you can’t buy—well, not cheaply.
After a 4-0 drubbing against Liverpool, pundits took their shots at the club. Actually, let’s call it an assault. But worse, some of the harshest critics were the most outspoken, the most defamatory. Ian Wright, an Arsenal legend, was almost speechless after the loss before he used his podium in the media to cast stones. And it was Özil who came to his club’s defence just when fans were crying for a leader.
This is a statement
Thierry Henry, Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie—all players who left during the height of their careers. Perhaps Henry left more on the downswing, and Van Persie proved to have only one really quality season at Manchester United. Samir Nasri left and never really reached his potential as he might have with Wenger directing him. Nonetheless, losing them was psychologically significant.
Henry leaving was a real blow to the club. Losing perhaps the greatest Arsenal player, and perhaps the best player in the Premier League era, to Barcelona certainly set Arsenal in a league below the Spanish side. And the fact that it came only seasons removed from “The Invincibles” hurt a lot. Van Persie held the club ransom for much of his last season, as did Nasri. Both went to clubs for deeper pockets—which Arsenal definitely didn’t have—and for Van Persie, he went to arguably the world’s biggest club in Manchester United.
Being able to keep a player of world class potential is significant, which is why it was a big statement from the club to hold on to its star playmaker. Not only does this send a message to supporters that the club is willing to hold onto its talent, but also to potential targets who may start to see Arsenal as a more permanent landing spot and not a stepping stone to clearer, warmer waters.
Make no mistake—Mesut Özil signing a new contract would have been a very strong step forward for the club.
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