Mesut Ozil turned the grand old age of 31 on Tuesday but could this be his last birthday as an Arsenal player?
Since making his career debut for FC Schalke in 2006, the former Germany international has been a playmaking revelation, with only Dimitri Payet (1084) creating more chances than his 1070 across Europe’s top five leagues during that time.
Within that time frame, Ozil has 130 assists in 373 league games, 52 of which have come in the red and white of Arsenal. Only Dimitri Payet has managed more.
But despite these incredible numbers, Ozil has consistently come in for criticism. Whether it’s controversy surrounding his place in the Germany squad or question marks regarding an apparent lack of commitment or application, his time in north London has been a constant struggle to prove himself in the eyes of pundits and supporters.
How is Emery adapting his Ozil-less Arsenal squad?
The idea that Ozil might leave Arsenal isn’t exactly new. Over the previous four seasons, his number of Premier League starts has progressively dropped from 35 in 2015/16, to 32, 24 and 20 thereafter.
This season, his situation has only got worse. Despite being voted into Unai Emery’s five-man leadership group, Ozil has been given just 71 minutes of Premier League action in just one start so far – Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford – while his only other minutes have come during the Gunners’ 5-0 League Cup win over Nottingham Forest in September.
Arsenal chief Raul Sanllehi tried his best not to criticise Ozil’s work ethic when recently speaking about the midfielder and insisted there is “no barrier” between the player and Emery.
However, he did concede that the Spaniard picks players who “work hard” in training and rewards their effort.
“Unai has had many good players in other teams also, and he has always followed the same policy,” he said.
“That is to try not to make any distinctions, play the ones who work hard in training and reward the effort with playing time.
“There is nothing against Mesut on the contrary and I hope we get to see him much more in the next games because his qualities are without question. But he needs to contribute 24/7 and that’s what Unai expects from him.
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“It’s not that he’s not working so well, but there are others who are deserving more playing time, but Unai can’t treat him differently than any other player.
“You may have read that Unai has put a barrier up, but nothing at all like this has happened.”
Is this a veiled dig at Ozil? Understanding what is really meant by a footballer or executive’s words in an interview can be quite the minefield but it’s certainly clear here that something is amiss.
In Ozil’s absence this season, loan star Dani Ceballos initially impressed, providing two assists in the Premier League against Burnley. However, since then, the Spain international has done little of note and, depending on which outlet you read, may or may not want to make that loan from Real Madrid permanent. Even if he doesn’t, Emery has blooded 20-year-olds Joe Willock and Matteo Guendouzi in the midfield positions. There is a clear preference shown by Emery to field young, mobile players as his main creative hub. Unfortunately for Ozil, he just doesn’t tick those boxes.
Where could Ozil go next?
But fortunately for Ozil, his stock hasn’t fallen so low that he would be left without options upon leaving Arsenal. His skills as a ball-player and penetrative passer are certainly not in question and there are a number of clubs around the globe in need of his assets right now.
His potential post-Arsenal destinations could include:
- Inter or AC Milan: Serie A is renowned for providing longevity to ageing stars with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery and Fabio Quagliarella all still performing at a high level there. Both Milan giants have been linked with a move for Ozil, who may prefer to join former teammate Alexis Sanchez at Inter.
- Fenerbahce or Galatasaray: Ozil may have turned out for Germany but he’s never attempted to hide his love for Turkey and in the Super Lig, they don’t come any bigger than Fenerbahce or Galatasaray. Ozil reportedly sees this as a “dream move” and it might well happen in January.
- MLS: Expansion and young South American talent might be the order of the day in MLS, but there is still room for an experienced big name stateside. It has long been rumoured that DC United are pushing to make Ozil their Wayne Rooney replacement, once the ex-England international moves to Derby County in January, and although wages could be a stumbling block, the 31-year-old’s playmaking talents could thrive in the USA.
- A return to Germany: This is arguably the most romantic choice potentially available to Ozil. The midfielder started his career at Schalke before moving to Werder Bremen and earning his big breakthrough transfer to Real Madrid. Werder Bremen and Schalke rank seventh and tenth, respectively, in the Bundesliga in terms of key passes this season and a playmaker of Ozil’s calibre would certainly help them kick on toward the upper echelons of the German top flight. Both are currently among the favourites to make a move for him.
Whether or not Emery is simply rewarding the likes of Willock for their impressive progression, giving Ozil a break from the limelight or phasing him out of the squad altogether is yet unclear.
However, one thing is certain: 71 minutes of league football this season is nowhere near enough for a player of his experience and standing in the game. Come January, Ozil and Arsenal both have a massive decision to make regarding his future.
Still, for now, happy birthday, Mesut.