The Mercuriality of Mesut Özil

Transfer Deadline Day has long since become one of the most notable days in the football calendar. For many, it has usurped certain cup finals, such as the importance of the final day of the transfer window.

Though they dread it, Arsenal fans seem to have a good relationship with Deadline Day, as it has proved to be a day that has signalled in Arsenal signing some extremely good players over the years. Deadline Day in 2011 heralded the signing of Mikel Arteta, Arsenal’s current head-coach and Per Mertesacker, the current Head of the Academy and the January window has seen Arsenal bring in mouth-watering prospects such as Andrey Arshavin and more recently, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Mesut Özil signs for Arsenal

However, for most Arsenal fans, it’s the Deadline Day of the 2nd of September 2013 that will live longest in the collective memory. 

Up to that point, Arsenal had only signed two players on free transfers. Mathieu Flamini returned to the club and he was swiftly joined by youth prospect Yaya Sanogo. Neither signing was particularly exciting for Arsenal fans, who were forced to watch on in envy all window as Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United all flexed their financial muscles. 

Arsène Wenger and the board of directors were greeted on the opening day of the Premier League season, a 1-3 home loss to Aston Villa, with chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” and signs encouraging the club to spend some money on new players.

It was obvious that Arsenal needed to invest and they needed a signing that would change morale around. Enter Mesut Özil.

Ask just about any Arsenal fan you know and ask them what they were doing on Deadline Day of 2013, and pretty much all of them will tell you that they were sat in front of the TV, eyes glued to the screens as Arsenal smashed their transfer record and announced the signing of Mesut Özil from Real Madrid, for a then record-fee of £42.5m. 

Arsène Wenger presents Özil to the press

Arsenal had not seen a deal like it since they unveiled Sol Campbell as a free transfer from Tottenham Hotspur, some twelve years previously. 

Fans gathered outside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, celebrating as if the club had just won the league title. The club’s shop was inundated with requests for Özil’s shirt and Twitter users everywhere began adding an umlaut to all the O’s in their Tweets. 

Özil’s first press conference was a matter of huge importance, for one thing, Arsenal never sit new players in front of the press and haven’t done since the aforementioned Sol Campbell, but this was a special transfer, possibly the most special transfer the club had made in decades. 

The logic behind Arsenal fan’s excitement over the signing was not unjustified. Arsenal had spent years watching their best players leave for better opportunities elsewhere, players that would have likely led Arsenal to glory, plied their trades at other clubs and the promised land of trophies and silverware were slipping further and further away with each passing season. 

Arsenal fans had already had to endure the humiliation of Liverpool publicly rejecting their offer of £40m + £1 for Liverpool striker Luis Suárez, which had turned the club into a laughing-stock. But quite apart from that, Özil represented a new calibre of player that Arsenal were targeting. 

For the seven years post-Highbury, Arsenal had looked to recruit a certain profile of player. These invariably tended to be youngsters, plucked from relative obscurity and then promptly sold for a huge profit. Arsenal fans had long learned not to grow too attached to one player as they likely wouldn’t be around long enough.

Cristiano Ronaldo was reportedly furious at Real Madrid’s decision to sell Özil

Özil was different. Özil was the finished article and was a player in his prime years, at the peak of his powers, leaving a top European club for a handsome transfer fee and willing to play at Arsenal, despite the club’s lack of recent successes. 

Özil spoke candidly about his decision to join Arsenal and how manager Arsène Wenger influenced his decision, speaking to the playmaker in fluent German to convince him that Arsenal was the place for him. After signing, Özil said: “At the weekend, I was certain I would stay at Real Madrid but afterwards I realised I did not have the faith from the coach or the bosses. I am a player who needs this faith and that is what I have felt from Arsenal, which is why I have joined.”

The pressure on Özil was there from the start. Being Arsenal’s record transfer and coming from a team like Real Madrid meant that everyone’s eyes were on him all the time. If Cristiano Ronaldo is publicly unhappy with you being transferred to another team, you can bet that the world will be watching you with bated breath. 

Özil’s debut came in a 1-3 away win over Sunderland, and grabbed an assist in the eleventh minute, setting up Olivier Giroud. The German number ten’s presence in the team seemed to bring out some of Arsenal’s best work. Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey began to step into form very quickly and it wasn’t before long that Özil opened his Arsenal account with a classy, nonchalant finish at home to Napoli in the UEFA Champions League. 

Özil in action against Stoke City

His first scrap with controversy at Arsenal came just three-and-a-half months after joining, after an onfield altercation with fellow teammate Per Mertesacker after refusing to thank the travelling Arsenal supporters in the team’s 6-3 defeat at Manchester City. Özil endured yet more humiliation after having his penalty kick saved by fellow countrymen Manuel Neuer in Arsenal’s 0-2 loss at home to Bayern Munich in February. 

Despite these two incidents, the season ended well for both Arsenal and Özil as Arsenal finally ended a nine-year wait for silverware as the team narrowly edged out Hull City in the 2014 FA Cup Final. Özil had played a huge part in the process of getting to the final as well, having scored in the Quarter-Finals against Everton.

Özil ended his first season in English football with seven goals and fourteen assists in all competitions. Though Özil’s season with Arsenal had finished with silverware and good returns in terms of numbers, Arsenal fans became acquainted with a sight that would become all too familiar, which was Özil’s tendency to drift in and out of games, indeed, this habit drew the ire of some of his teammates, in the aforementioned game against Bayern Munich, teammate Mathieu Flamini was seen telling Özil to get more involved and to stop playing on the periphery of the game.

Özil is a confidence player, the man himself has said so many times and even said so when joining Arsenal. When his confidence is high, there are few in the world like him, but when it’s low, it can often feel as though the team is a man down.

Özil celebrates winning the World Cup with Germany

The summer after signing for Arsenal saw Özil lift the World Cup with Germany. He had finished the qualifying campaign as Germany’s top scorer and started all seven of Germany’s games, even scoring the decisive winner against Algeria and was part of the team that famously humiliated Brazil 7-1. Özil’s performances were so good, that UEFA president Michel Platini even asked for Özil’s shirt as a souvenir. 

The following season was a slightly more profitable season for Arsenal, after finishing fourth in the previous season, the team managed to finish third the following year and had even looked like contenders for the title at one point, before the grimly inevitable mid-winter collapse. 

Arsenal’s superb form had mainly been down to summer signing Alexis Sánchez, who had joined the club from Barcelona for £31.7m in the summer. Though Sánchez and Özil did not click immediately, they soon formed a formidable duo, Özil’s craftsmanship with Sánchez’s quick feet and determination caused lots of problems for Premier League defences, culminating in a superb move in the FA Cup semi-final against Reading, in which Özil drifted to the edge of the penalty area, looked up and lofted a beautiful, inch-perfect ball into Sánchez’s feet, who took a touch and slotted the ball into the back of the net. 

Özil was part of the team that defended the FA Cup crown and even scored earlier in the competition as well and finished his second season in English football with his second trophy (third if you include the Community Shield) and with five goals and nine assists in all competitions. 

Özil celebrates Arsenal\s defence of the FA Cup with Per Mertesacker

The same critics still seemed to dog Özil though. Though his brilliance was undeniable, there was a very palpable sense that Özil was picking and choosing when to turn up and when not to. Arsène Wenger’s open fondness of Özil meant that he was essentially undroppable at various points, regardless of his form. 

Özil’s addition had meant that Arsenal had had to drop Santi Cazorla into a more deep role. Though Cazorla took to the role very quickly and formed a formidable duo of his own with Francis Coquelin, it seemed as though Wenger may be preventing a more productive attacking Arsenal side, by insisting that Özil play.

However, the following season, the 2015/16 season, Özil seemed to quiet down all his critics. Though Arsenal failed to retain the FA Cup or win any other silverware, aside from the Community Shield, Özil was comfortably one of the best players in the Premier League and ended the season with a mouth-watering eight goals and twenty assists in all competitions. Özil registered nineteen Premier League assists, just one short of Thierry Henry’s record of twenty in a single season.

It was a shame that Arsenal’s attack was not as effective as it otherwise could have been, or Özil may still have gone on to break the record. 

Özil finished the 15/16 season with 19 assists in the Premier League

Arsenal had been tracking a striker all summer and had had bids knocked back for Özil’s former teammates Karim Benzema at Real Madrid and Gonzalo Higuaín, meaning Arsenal had to rely heavily on Sánchez’s brilliance, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud.

Though Giroud’s season was not a total disaster, seeing him net twenty-four goals in all competitions, sixteen of which came in the league, the Frenchmen also endured a baffling fifteen games without a goal, a drought which undoubtedly cost Özil the assist record and played a huge part as Arsenal finished second in the fantasy finish of Leicester City’s title win.

The 2016/17 season was considerably less impressive in terms of individual performances and his returns for the season were more in line with what Arsenal fans had come to expect. The season before, Özil had been unplayable, now he was back to picking and choosing. His performances became more and more mercurial and his form was erratic, to say the least. Nevertheless, Özil was still an important part of Arsenal’s FA Cup win over Chelsea (even hitting the post in the final). Though twelve goals was a significant improvement on his previous season’s returns, his assist tally dropped to fourteen in all competitions, though this was all forgotten about as Arsène Wenger’s side dropped out of the top four for the first time in his tenure and into the Europa League. 

Arsène Wenger and Özil celebrate their third FA Cup together

The summer brought a new kind of media interest in Özil. When he signed for Arsenal, he had signed a five-year contract with the club, which was due to expire at the end of the forthcoming season, so too was Alexis Sánchez’s four-year deal. 

This put Arsenal in an all-too-familiar situation. 

Arsenal had previously lost Robin van Persie to Manchester United as a direct result of failing to tie the Dutchman to a new contract and, to spare their blushes, had been forced to sell him to Manchester United for the then princely sum of £25m. 

Arsenal needed to avoid a similar situation this time around with Özil and Sánchez and with both players aware of the leverage they had over the club and the club’s desperation to sign both to new deals, it gave the two an incentive to up their demands a fair bit.

Based on form, it would appear that it was a no-brainer to keep Sánchez at the club and let Özil leave, either for free at the end of his deal or sooner for money. This was easier said than done after Sánchez’s vocality of wanting to leave play Champions League football and a failed bid from Manchester City at the eleventh hour, meant that Arsenal were stuck with both players entering the final twelve months of their respective contracts.

Arsenal’s first season outside of the Champions League in Özil’s tenure

Under UEFA rulings, players in the final six months of their deals are free to negotiate terms with foreign clubs, something Arsenal scampered to stop. Arsenal had been close to agreeing a deal with Sánchez and his agent Fernando Felicevich, however, after Arsenal were resoundly beaten by Bayern Munich in the Champions League the previous season, Sánchez rejected the offer and decided to move on.

Özil however, was quiet about the whole thing until the summer, when he released a statement condemning former Arsenal legends who had questioned his commitment to the team. 

It was an odd moment. On the one hand, it felt a little cheap to kick Özil while he was down and unsporting to question the commitment of a World Cup winner who had also played an integral part of the team’s more recent successes. 

On the other, Özil’s performances had been somewhat below par for a while now and it felt that Arsenal may have been looking a gift-horse in the mouth with being able to shift Özil onto a team more willing to accommodate his erratic form.

The other problem with both Sánchez and Özil’s demands was that Arsenal were unlikely to be able to afford both of them. While Arsène Wenger was publicly confident that both would extend their stays at the club, Arsenal had just signed Sead Kolašinac on a free transfer (with a somewhat hefty signing on fee) and Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon, who surpassed Özil as the team’s record signing, both of which ate up a large chunk of Arsenal’s budget, which was already depleted as a direct result of no Champions League commitments and the notably smaller sum earned from playing in the Europa League. 

As January rolled around, Arsenal were set with making a decision. Sánchez or Özil? 

Arsenal had to choose between Özil and Alexis Sánchez

On paper, Sánchez made the most sense. Sánchez was integral to the team’s attack, he was the focal point and he was scoring goals left, right and centre and was tactically versatile enough to play in multiple positions. The other was the fact that he was a tenacious player, unwilling to accept second place and unwilling to accept his teammates slipping below form.

But the Chilean’s personality clashed horribly with his teammates and several incidents likely influenced the eventual decision. The season before, Sánchez had been sent home from training after clashing with captain Laurent Koscielny and had been involved in numerous on-field arguments with Aaron Ramsey. It was noticeable that in Sánchez’s last game for the club, in which he scored two superb goals, he was alone in his goal celebrations. 

Özil was a more quiet and reserved member of the team, less vocal and lacking the killer instinct that Sánchez possessed. Despite his below-par performances in the eyes of fans, the team was noticeably flat without Özil’s influence and his guiding hand. 

Arsenal had to make their choices right and was transpired is possibly the most important window in the club’s history thus far.

Arsenal made the controversial decision to swap Sánchez with Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Manchester United. This was already an unpopular decision after the aforementioned van Persie incident, but Arsenal had little-to-no choice and ended up with a player that was more suited to them, than Sánchez was to Manchester United, with Wenger himself privately musing as to why the Chilean had chosen United over Manchester City and former coach Pep Guardiola. 

Arsenal also sold fan favourites Francis Coquelin, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud to fund the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund. The Gabon striker was signed the day after Arsenal announced that Özil had signed a new three-year contract at the club.

Özil signs his new contract with Arsenal, flanked by his agent, Dr. Erkut Sögüt

Özil signing a new deal was wonderful news for Arsenal fans. Until they saw the wage packet. Özil and his agent Dr. Erkut Sögüt had engineered an eye-watering £350,000-a-week contract. The news of Özil signing was divided now. 

On the one hand, Arsenal were spared the blushes of losing yet another important player in an embarrassing contract fiasco a la van Persie or Bacary Sagna, but on the other, it looked suspiciously as though Arsenal had crippled themselves with a huge wage that was surely impossible to ever shift if the contract didn’t pay off. 

Were Özil’s form to drop and Arsenal decided to move on from the German playmaker, it would be nigh impossible to do so.

The season of off-field drama was yet to end though as Arsène Wenger called it a day after twenty-two years of service. This was huge news for Arsenal fans, but for Özil it was a huge blow.

Wenger had long been a vocal supporter of Özil. Wenger was renowned for defending his players in public; when the press turned on Özil, Wenger was there, front and centre, defending the German from hostile journalists and had stuck by Özil through periods of ill-form and had become an almost father-figure to Özil as he had to so many other players in his enviable career.

In fact, for Özil’s debut, Wenger ensured that Özil’s family was well looked after by his wife, Annie Brosterhous and were well entertained. It’s the kind of personal touch that only a man like Wenger could have ever provided and for Özil, to lose such an ardent supporter was a major blow. However, the German was injured for Wenger’s final home game, though he was on the field as the Frenchman gave a fond farewell to the stadium he helped build.

Özil’s relationship with new head-coach Unai Emery was fractured

Arsenal’s search for a new head-coach began and after a few names had been thrown around, Arsenal eventually landed on Unai Emery, the former manager of Paris Saint Germain to succeed Wenger. 

Emery was a new entity for Arsenal, not least as it was the club’s first new manager in nearly twenty-two years, but also because his methods were vastly different. Players were expected to work twice as hard and everything was more detailed than it had been under Wenger.

Arsène Wenger’s model had been based on Johan Cruyff’s Total Football model and was based around players expressing their talents in a less rigid structure, that gave autonomy to attacking football, whereas Emery’s was on pragmatism and structure.

Neither were better or worse than the other, but one suited Özil and one didn’t and it didn’t take long for Emery to realise which one didn’t suit Özil.

Emery began to take issue with Özil, noticeably for his performances in away fixtures and his performances in training. While Wenger was renowned for having many players in his tenure who would ghost through training, only to turn into total monsters on game day, Emery was not so forgiving, regardless of status or wage packet.

Özil’s performances in training dipped and Emery, looking to make an example of what he expected at the club, promptly dropped Özil from the team. 

Özil makes a rare apperance under Unai Emery

The decision was, in the eyes of many, vindicated. Özil’s form had been up and down throughout his time at Arsenal, but it was clear that Emery was taking the steps that Wenger had perhaps been too scared to enact. The problems began to arise when Arsenal’s creativity began to noticeably plummet. 

With Aaron Ramsey’s contract situation relegating him to the bench and Özil being sidelined, the team lacked a strong creative figure and Arsenal ended up filtering most, if not all attacks through Sead Kolašinac, which was not enough and resulted in a predictability about Arsenal that was only staved off by the excellent form of Aubameyang and Lacazette. 

The message regarding Özil was initially clear but soon turned muddled. One minute, Emery had exiled the German playmaker, the next, he was back in the team, front and centre. 

There were still flashes of Özil’s brilliance, his performance at home to Leicester City, was perhaps one of the best he had ever produced in an Arsenal shirt, grabbing the team’s first goal and an assist, while wearing the captain’s armband. 

With that performance, it looked like Emery had the Özil he wanted and that the Arsenal fans had got their Arsenal back. 

This, however, turned out to be something of a false dawn. Özil was substituted in the following match against Crystal Palace, which prompted an angry reaction, one that Emery was none too impressed with. 

Though Arsenal were experiencing an impressive twenty-two game unbeaten run at this point, the results could hardly be considered convincing and, soon enough, Arsenal’s luck began to catch up with them, culminating in a 3-2 away loss to Southampton.

Denis Suárez, who was rumoured to be brought in to phase Özil out of the side

As the January window started, Emery tried desperately to bring in Denis Suárez, a move that looked suspiciously like he was trying to phase Özil out even further, by bringing in a player he was more familiar with and one who was considered to be more tactically versatile.

The move did not play out as Emery had hoped. Suárez joined Arsenal with a long-dormant injury problem that went unnoticed by the medical staff, and eventually caught up with the Spaniard and eventually ruled him out of the remainder of the season, sending Emery back to square one and now with no obvious alternative to playing Özil.

Özil’s exile over the 18/19 season was one that had backfired on all concerned. Emery’s Arsenal side suffered a huge drop in creativity, wasting the talents of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette and showed Arsenal fans that dropping Özil came at a price.

Nevertheless, Arsenal stilled qualified for the Europa League final against Chelsea in Baku, Azerbaijan, giving Özil his fifth cup final in six years, a truly remarkable feat. 

Arsenal were emphatically beaten in Baku, a defeat that was muddled with its own problems off the field owing to Emery’s preparation beforehand, with a muddling performance insulted further when Özil was replaced in the 77th minute for Joe Willock, an Academy prospect who had almost no experience and who had not yet been officially promoted.

Özil’s expression after being substituted in the Europa League final said it all

Turkish broadcasters were able to lipread Özil’s more choice thoughts about the decision from the sub’s bench, his frustration with his and the team’s performance had been usurped by his head-coach’s baffling decision to replace him with a player who was unlikely to make much of a difference. Indeed, Willock’s lack of experience saw him missing a guilt-edged chance in the dying embers of the match, though him converting would have been unlikely to have changed the outcome of the match too much. 

It was a sorry end to the season for all involved and Özil had found himself in the middle of a media firestorm that he was not responsible for.

All things considered, Özil had not helped himself either. 

It has long been joked about by Arsenal fans that Özil does not operate his own social media channels, given an İlkay Gündoğan tweet that was clearly intended for Özil or Stephan Lichtsteiner’s #YaGunnersYa, an obvious reference to Özil’s hashtag being used. His social media team went into overdrive, sharing cryptic messages clearly directed towards Emery, the media and the club, which included sharing a Dennis Bergkamp quote on his Instagram after being dropped once again. 

It was perhaps not the most adult way of dealing with the situation and was clearly a ploy on Özil’s part to get himself back into the team by publicly pressuring the manager and the club.

The alarming side of the social media campaign was that Özil and his team’s growing confidence that they would be able to outlast Emery himself before long. This was a risky strategy, Özil only had two years remaining on his current deal at the end of the season and Emery had signed an initial two-year deal, bringing their respective tenures at Arsenal to a close at the same time.

Özil returned to the Arsenal team in pre-season

For Emery’s second season, Özil found himself more in favour in pre-season, as he was selected for most games, including a game against his former team Real Madrid, however, disaster struck.

Security footage was released of Özil, his wife Amine Gülşe and teammate Sead Kolašinac being attacked with a knife by men on motorbikes. Kolašinac heroically fought the assailants off before the pursuers gave chase. Özil and Kolašinac were spoken to by the club and were admirably given time off to recover, meaning both would miss the start of the league season. Whether or not Emery intended to use Özil, it was not useful to have two players missing from his team and the mental state involved with such a horrific ordeal would likely affect the mentality of both players.

Emery’s tenure didn’t last much longer and was marred by other onfield and off-field disturbances, notably surrounding Granit Xhaka and was soon dismissed by the club. It seemed that Özil and his team had been right to back themselves and their silence during Emery’s departure was deafening, not even a cursory “Thanks for everything, boss”.

Though Freddie Ljungberg and Per Mertesacker were only in charge briefly, Özil found himself once again clashing with a new manager. Arsenal were resoundingly beaten at home to Manchester City and Özil was substituted after another below-par performance. In response, Özil took his gloves off and kicked them in the air. 

It was likely a reaction to his own performance rather than Ljungberg’s decision, but Ljungberg was not happy with Özil’s insubordination and reminded the number ten of his duties before dropping him from the squad. 

Özil’s furious reaction to being subbed against Manchester City drew the ire of Freddie Ljungberg

For the most part, Özil seemed to agree with the Arsenal legend, but it was not a good sign and seemed to suggest that there may be more to Özil’s exile from the squad under Emery than met the eye.

Eventually, Arsenal appointed Mikel Arteta as head-coach, Özil’s former teammate of four years and one that he had shared an impressive connection with and it was no surprise that Özil was restored to the starting lineup almost immediately and featured in nearly every game. 

The difference was night and day. 

Soon, we started to see a new Özil, not quite hitting the strides he had in his early days as an Arsenal player, but more willing to drop back, one who was able to appropriately release his teammates and was clearly someone that Nicolas Pépé benefitted from having in the side more often.

However, football came to a resounding halt along with the rest of the world amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the Premier League was suspended until further notice and Özil found himself once again sidelined, this time with the rest of his teammates. 

Lockdown brought a new change to Özil’s life. Having been married in the summer, Özil and his wife welcomed a baby girl into the world, which took up most of Özil’s time over lockdown. 

Upon football’s resumption, Arteta explained away Özil’s absence as being down to his aforementioned fatherhood, which had meant that Özil had been unable to make as many training sessions and had been, understandably, absent from a few team meetings.

However, after two notable instances in which Özil did not even take to the field of play, despite being on the bench, it became clear that there was more afoot and the same treatment that had greeted him under Emery was once again beckoned under Arteta and Özil played no further part in his team’s games for the rest of the season and was tellingly not present for the team’s 2-1 win over Chelsea in the FA Cup final.

Mesut Özil and Mikel Arteta

Özil now enters his final season with the club and what is sure to be his last one. If Özil were to lower his wage demands significantly, there is a chance he could extend further, but given how things have gone for both the club and Özil himself in the wake of Arsène Wenger’s departure, it seems unlikely that he will be at the Emirates Stadium beyond 2021. Before, Özil and his team had masterfully played the game of outlasting Unai Emery, now it seems impossible that the German outlasts Mikel Arteta unless an implosion of truly biblical proportions were to happen.

Arsenal are currently in the middle of the summer transfer window, a window that has already seen them bring in Willian from Chelsea on a free transfer, with the indication being that Arteta would like to convert the former-Chelsea winger into a number ten, the position that Özil already plays in and it would appear that it is up to Özil if he can challenge Willian for it. 

Quite what has kept Özil from the pitch under Arteta is anybody’s guess, but subtle clues over the years have suggested that Özil was subject to a different kind of treatment under Arsène Wenger. The German was afforded an extra day off here, allowed to miss a game there and now it seems that he is playing for a coach that will not stand for it. 

There are of course other sides to Özil’s character that can cause controversy as well.

Following Germany’s elimination from the 2016 World Cup, Özil officially retired from international football and was quick to release a statement condemning the German Football Federation and the German media, accusing both of disrespect and racism, citing that he was considered “German when we win, but Turkish when we lose”. It was a brutal and devastating claim for one of Germany’s favourite sons to make and one that earned Özil a lot of sympathy from the football world. 

Özil recieved both criticism and praise for speaking out against the treatment against of Uyghurs in China

Özil is also a devout Muslim and recites the Quran before matches. Özil takes his faith seriously, he has observed fasting (to an extent, as a professional athlete, Özil cannot partake completely) and has even performed the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca, in fact, Özil even received a round of applause after he kissed a loaf of bread that was thrown at him during a match against Atlético Madrid and expressed his gratitude, something that is very sacred in Islam.

It was therefore not totally unexpected to see Özil condemn the treatment of Uyghurs in China and spoke out against Muslim countries that did not condemn the Xinjiang re-education camps. It was, however, unexpected to see Arsenal distance themselves from Özil’s comments. Despite Arsenal’s distancing, Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) refused to broadcast Arsenal’s Premier League match against Manchester City.

Özil has been vocal about the club choosing to distance themselves from his comments and has expressed anger that the club has chosen to align themselves with more vogue political discussions, but not those that affect him and have perhaps received less media attention.

Despite Özil’s philanthropy and faith, he has not been without critics off the field either. In 2018, Özil and Manchester City midfielder İlkay Gündoğan were pictured alongside Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the dictatorial President of Turkey, who’s ideals seem to run concurrently with Özil’s own world view and while Özil explained the photograph as merely respecting his homeland’s highest office, he was noticeably silent about Erdoğan’s presence at his wedding.

Özil has faced criticism of his friendship with dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Another area that has attracted controversy for Özil, was his declining to take a pay cut during the coronavirus outbreak. Arsenal made the uncomfortable decision to ask players to take a 12.5% cut in order to help with running costs, a cut that would be reduced to 7% or lower depending on the club’s European prospects. Özil was notable as being one of only three players to refuse the pay cut. 

Özil’s reasons were not unjustified. The German wanted to know more about there the money would be going and what it would be used for, information hat the club was not forthcoming about. Özil was happy to take a higher cut if needed to help, but since the club refused to give more information, Özil refused. Arsenal told players that there would be no redundancies as a result of the cut, a promise that was swiftly broken when the club announced fifty-five redundancies across the club after the FA Cup final.

It’s safe to say that neither Arsenal nor Özil will be particularly unhappy to see the long-running soap opera of his time at the club come to an end. It will be interesting to see what kind of farewell he is given in his final game at the Emirates Stadium and if he will be bidding a fond farewell in the same way that Aaron Ramsey was on his final day at the club, but either way, Özil enters his final year at Arsenal as a talented, mercurial, controversial and inconsistent master who heralded a new dawn at the Emirates Stadium. Whatever happens in his final year, Arsenal fans will hope that Özil can produce moments that had them so giddy over his signing on that fateful day in 2013 and hope that the German can produce the performances that had made Cristiano Ronaldo so angry to see him leave Real Madrid in the first place.

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