By 90Min
November 07, 2017

It is not groundbreaking to say that football is a fickle, fickle game. However, rarely does the sport reach such levels of capriciousness than when it focusses on Mesut Özil. 

From game to game the opinion around him swings from one extreme to another. It's already happened this year. After the Watford loss he was one of the most reviled players around, the next week he was the catalyst in a quasi-statement away win at Everton - nailing the coffin of a certain Dutchman on the opposition's touchline. 

Such disparate narratives have continuously shrouded Özil in each season he's played in England. While his cause is not aided by his participation in an Arsenal side perpetually teetering on the edge of 'crisis', (not necessarily conducive with his laissez-faire attitude) the question remains: which version is the true reflection of his quality? I vouch for the latter.


After some promising performances for Werder Bremen in his early years as a professional, Özil burst onto the scene as a global talent at the 2010 World Cup. At the tender age of 21, he was entrusted by manager Joachim Löw with a surprisingly free ranging role in midfield, and in a team totally geared towards the counter attack, he duly delivered. 

At the centre of all his success, was the system in which he was able to flourish in: this out and out counter attacking style. Özil's decision making on the break at such a young age was remarkable, and his skill in stretching teams with this ability was a sight to behold.


When Florentino Perez brought him to the Spanish capital, recently hired coach Jose Mourinho immediately set about creating a similar environment for the German. The team was set up with Özil's nebulous role at the forefront of the manager's thinking, with him and Cristiano Ronaldo the figureheads for the side's counter attacking threat.

And it worked, with Özil accruing 10 goals and an astonishing 29 assists in his first season with the club. This level of performance rarely dissipated during his time at Real, never dropping below 24 assists in each of his three seasons with the Galacticos

While there have been fleeting moments when the World Cup winner has been able to showcase himself in England, such as the recent 5-2 victory against Everton, they have been far too infrequent. So, why has his level of success at Madrid never materialised at Arsenal?

The naysayers will maintain their claim that his style of play simply isn't complicit with english football, because he won't get stuck in, he's weak in the tackle and he doesn't sacrifice himself for the team. Regardless, these qualities aren't a prerequisite for success in England, and aren't traits all his positional rivals possess.

It's not like Arsène Wenger payed a then club record fee of £42.3m to sign him for these particular talents. Which leads to the question, what did he buy him for? If Özil's attributes lend himself perfectly to stretching teams on the break, why did Wenger attempt to ingratiate him into a team infamous for too much possession and not enough penetration.

Clive Rose/GettyImages

Last week, going into Arsenal's game with Man City, the stats showed that Özil had matched (and occasionally bettered) the nominal PFA Player of the Year in waiting, Kevin De Bruyne, in several key areas of the game this season. Even with 273 minutes less game time, he had still created the same amount of chances (30, which was then a league-leading total) as the Belgian, and had a higher pass accuracy and shot conversion rate.

Despite this, he was strikingly short in the two compartments that matter the most, goals and assists. Herein lies the probem, yet also the solution. Put plainly, it can be attributed to two main factors; the team he plays for and the system it plays with. It may seem pandering, but it is also the crux of why he is unable to retain the influence he had for previous clubs, and he continues to have with his national team.

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It is no surprise, when you consider the juxtaposition between his records for Germany and Arsenal, that in 86 appearances for the DFB he has 22 goals and 39 assists, and yet in almost double the appearances for the Gunners (169) he has managed to score just 11 more times (33) and collected 59 assists.

Thus, the previous comparison with De Bruyne seems apt; he has has the total confidence of his manager, and has been able to thrive in a team filled with supreme talent, and a system that embraces his unique skill. While the two possess different qualities, and are at different points in there careers, there is no doubt Özil could have a similarly strong impact if the roles were reversed.

For whatever reason, Arsenal never trusted him enough to build an appropriate squad and style of play around him, and practically hung him out to dry in forcing him to combat the Premier League in such differing conditions to those he was used to.

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There is a reason that, notwithstanding considerable competition, since Germany's inauguration of their Player of the Year award in 2010, Özil has won it five times. With ample quality around him, and the resulting space provided by such players, he is a different player.

Rumours of a possible reunion with Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford have been met with derision from some corners. Critics have generally cited his lack of work ethic as an obstruction to working with his former boss, so famed for his defensive approach and his desire for mercurial talents to conform.

And yet, Mourinho undoubtedly knows how to get the best out of Özil's extensive qualities. If such a move does come to fruition, and indeed he is able to excel in such an environment, it will be one of the darker marks (amongst a barrage) against Arsène Wenger's time at Arsenal that he was unable to utilise sufficiently a player with such an abundance of talent.

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