Pay cuts, China and Gunnersaurus: Ozil's journey from Arsenal hero to £18m outcast

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Mesut Ozil Arsenal GFX
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The Gunners' highest paid star has questioned the club's loyalty after he was left out of Mikel Arteta's 25-man Premier League squad

Who would have thought when Mesut Ozil arrived at Arsenal amid such fanfare in 2013, that it would all end like this?

Arsenal’s highest paid star and longest serving player, publicly calling the club’s loyalty into question having been axed from Mikel Arteta’s 25-man Premier League squad.

“Upon signing my new contract in 2018, I pledged my loyalty and allegiance to the club that I love,” said Ozil, in a statement published across his social media channels on Wednesday. “It saddens me that this has not been reciprocated.

“As I have just found out, loyalty is hard to come by nowadays.”

A relationship that had seemed perfect for so long, is now in the midst of a very public and ugly divorce.

So how has it come to this? Why has a World Cup winner who still has eight months left of the £350,000 ($460,000)-a-week contract he signed in January 2018 been frozen out of the club he has called home for the past seven years?

Well, the last line of the statement he released ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League clash at Rapid Vienna on Thursday certainly hinted at what he and many of his fans believe is the issue.

“I can promise you that this hard decision won't change anything in my mindset,” said Ozil. “I will continue to train as best as I can and wherever possible use my voice against inhumanity and for justice.”

That sentence clearly suggests that Ozil feels the comments he made about China's treatment of Uighur Muslims have played a major part in his treatment in recent months.

The German made his comments in December, taking to Instagram to speak out about the treatment of the Uighur population in the north-western region of Xinjiang, where over a million people have reportedly been held in detention camps over recent years.

His criticisms caused a huge storm, with China’s state broadcaster CCTV removing Arsenal’s subsequent Premier League game against Manchester City from its broadcast schedule.

Arsenal’s response was swift, with the club distancing themselves from the player’s comments as they attempted to limit the damage in a country where it has several business interests, including a chain of restaurants.

A statement released by the club on Chinese social media site Weibo read: “Regarding the comments made by Mesut Ozil on social media, Arsenal must make a clear statement.

“The content published is Ozil's personal opinion. As a football club, Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”

Mesut Ozil Arsenal

That reaction was met with disappointment from many, including Ozil himself, as he would later admit during an interview with The Athletic .

“I have given a lot to Arsenal, on and off the pitch, so the reaction was disappointing,” he said. “They said they don't get involved in politics but this isn't politics and they have got involved in other issues.

“In America, we saw George Floyd killed and the world spoke up to say Black Lives Matter, and that is correct. We are all equal and it's a good thing that people fight against injustice.

“But I wish people would have done the same for the Muslims because Arsenal have many Muslim players and fans as well, and it is important for the world to say that Muslim Lives Matter.”

The main issue for using this as the sole reason for Ozil’s banishment from the first-team picture at Arsenal is that he made his comments in mid-December, before Arteta had even been appointed.

He went on to make 13 more starts for the Gunners in all competitions in the three months that followed before the coronavirus-enforced lockdown in March, including starts in all 11 of the league games Arteta took charge of.

The fact is the relationship between Ozil and Arsenal has been deteriorating for a while now, and it is not just one single event that has got us to this point.

Ozil’s refusal to take a pay cut during lockdown did not go down well. Arteta was heavily involved in the discussions which led to the majority of his squad agreeing to what was then a 12.5 per cent cut.

The fact that the club’s highest earner did not agree to the proposal while the majority of his team-mates did was not well received, and it is striking that he has not played a game since, although Arteta insists that the situations are not linked.

"It is nothing related to any behaviour or, like I read, the pay cuts," said the Arsenal boss on Wednesday.  "It’s not true. It’s my decision, if someone has to blame me.

"What I can say from my side is that it is just a football decision. My conscience is very calm because I have been really fair with him."

While the off-field controversies surrounding Ozil have grabbed the headlines, it must be noted that the playmaker’s contribution on the pitch had fallen dramatically before he found himself being left at home on a match day.

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Ozil has mustered just four assists and six goals in his last 42 appearances in the Premier League, and though last season he still topped the charts at Arsenal in terms of chances created, his average of one chance per 72 minutes was comfortably the worst since he arrived at the club.

For a player of Ozil’s quality that is not good enough, and it also has to be said that the 3-4-3 formation that Arteta has settled on since the return from lockdown in June is not set up for a player who has long been viewed as a classic No.10.

But that is not to say that Ozil is not good enough to warrant a place in Arsenal’s matchday squad, because clearly that is not the case. 

There is no doubt that the German - despite now being 32 - still has plenty to offer, especially to a side which is struggling to create chances to such an extent that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has only been able to muster six shots so far this season.

That is why Arsenal’s long-held stance that Ozil’s continued ommision is down to football reasons doesn’t really stack up either.

“We are talking of course about performance,” said technical director Edu, last month when asked about Ozil’s continued absence. “Players with performance in training, the game, they are going to have opportunities because Mikel already showed that. It is for everyone.

“We know how important everybody is. I know how important and big the player is when you mention Mesut but in the end we are talking about performance here.”

Ozil is far from the best trainer and it is an open secret around Arsenal that his performances at London Colney on a daily basis are hardly the most energetic.

It is something that infuriated former boss Unai Emery, who - just like Arteta - cut the playmaker from his squad several times during his 18-month tenure in charge.

But the top players are not always the best trainers and it is tough to argue that the likes of Joe Willock or Mohamed Eleny will give you more of a chance of winning a game at present than Ozil, despite everything that has gone on.

The fact is that many things have happened to get us to a stage where Arsenal are willing not to play Ozil in a single game this season while paying him £18 million ($23.7m) in the process.

Mesut Ozil Arsenal

And the situation has now become so fractured that it descended into a PR war which is not good for the club or the player. Everything that happens now does so with suspicion.

Ozil’s offer to pay the wages of Jerry Quy, who had played the role of Arsenal mascot Gunnersaurus for the past 27 years, was a case in point.

It emerged last month that Quy had been made redundant and Ozil swiftly stepped in with his very public offer that was published on all his social media channels.

A fine gesture yes, but equally one that Ozil and his team would have known would infuriate the Arsenal hierarchy and cause the club untold amounts of embarrassment and bad publicity just a day after they had spent £45m ($58m) to sign Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid.

“Mesut Ozil has made Arsenal look absolutely stupid,” blasted former Gunners star Paul Merson. Something, which perhaps, was the idea in the first place.

Ozil now has eight months left on his contract at Arsenal and stands to be paid around £13m ($17m) before he eventually leaves at the end June next year. Between now and February he has no chance of playing senior football given he has been left out of the squads for both the Premier League and Europa League.

This is a story that will now die down for a couple of months until the January transfer window comes around. Arsenal would like nothing more than to move the German on in the new year, but Ozil has always maintained he will see out his deal - and who could blame him given the money he is getting?

He could have left this summer amid serious interest from clubs in the Middle East but opted to stay, and that will more than likely be the outcome when the window opens once again at the start of 2021.

There are many things to take from the Ozil saga, but the overriding feeling now is one of regret. It is such a shame to see a player who has won four FA Cups during his time in England and has lit up the Emirates at times with his performances go out like this.

In the statement he released on Wednesday Ozil said he would "keep fighting" to ensure his eighth season at Arsenal did not "end like this". 

But barring a remarkable turnaround, there is no way back for Ozil. The line has been drawn and Arsenal have moved on.

And in eight months time, it will finally be time for the mercurial German to do so as well.

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