It was March 2020, and Mesut Ozil had made his final assist as an Arsenal player.
A deftly-made touch found Lacazette and thanks to the VAR, Arsenal defeated West Ham at the Emirates. Then COVID-19 happened.
For many of the Gunners faithful, it was quite unseen and unimaginable to see a player of Ozil’s quality phased out in that manner. What went on behind the scenes, Arsenal fans and the world of football will know someday…
Some angles found his refusal to take a paycut as good reasons, while others felt his public maligning of the team over Uighur Muslims was the unsaid fact. In all of it, Arsenal bore the brunt and Mikel Arteta took the headshot.
Ozil, although sometimes languid and careless of a strolling opposition player, is a fantastic midfielder on his day. He sees what many don’t and his numbers are impressive enough for greatness, bar his last two seasons at Arsenal.
At Arsenal, the German was often a subject of debate between sections of the fanbase. While many saw the beauty in his moments of gloss, others gnawed over his lack of presence in the biggest moments. He is, however, one man whose quality is surreal. In Arteta’s squad, nobody had near what Ozil could muster, and the moment the manager took that decision to phase him out without replacement, the team was always going to suffer.
F.A Cup and Community Shield successes against some of the biggest teams in England must have painted an excellent picture of the situation for Arteta. He thought too much of what he saw daily in training.
As Arsenal started the season like a house on fire, defeating Fulham and seeing Willian star, the former Arsenal captain must have patted himself on the back. The weeks that followed proved him wrong.
The Gunners snowballed from chaos into destruction and a section of the fanbase called for Arteta’s dismissal. Ozil used that opportunity to latch onto the team’s flailing fortunes to remind them of what they were missing. Comparisons of the stats of current players and Ozil never stopped rearing a head.
Daniel Ceballos, Joe Willock, Willian; Arteta hardly cracked the creative channel of the team as Arsenal lacked bite and fell uncontrollably. Amid all these, £72m club record signing, Nicolas Pepe frustrated the fanbase with his lacklustre displays. A bulk of the team’s creative spark fell on Bukayo Saka’s little shoulders and no one would blame the youngster for the part he has played.
It took some uncanny thinking to give Emile Smith-Rowe an opportunity and the young midfielder took it with both hands. Arsenal soon got creative and the Ozil jibes reduced. The mojo seems over again, and a fresh spark is needed. Enter Martin Ødegaard.
Ødegaard is a special talent and one who has the potential, ability and will to make a difference for Arsenal. While he’s yet to make a real difference yet, he has shown early signs of being a potential creative outlet for the team.
The thinking that went into his signing should have been present at the beginning of the season, and Arsenal could have consolidated on the team’s defensive improvements.
Arsenal’s failure to replace Ozil, as much as Pierre Aubameyang’s surprising dip in form sit top of the factors that have pegged Arsenal behind this season.
Sometimes, it takes just a little to have enough and Arsenal and Arteta brought the little too late.