With his contract set to expire at the end of the season, it has been rumoured for months that Mesut Özil will be leaving Arsenal in the near future.
The club most regularly linked with snapping up the former Real Madrid and Schalke creator is Manchester United, managed by José Mourinho, who oversaw arguably the best spell of Özil’s career during their three years together at the Bernabéu.
The Mirror claims, rather than wait to sign him for fee in the summer, United are so desperate to boost their attacking options that they will make a move for the 29-year-old German during the January transfer window, while Italian champions Juventus are credited with a rival interest.
While it remains unlikely that Arsenal will be coaxed into parting ways with Özil mid-season, faced with a battle for a top-four Premier League finish and the small matter of the Europa League knockout rounds to contend with, such a transfer cannot be completely ruled out – the Gunners, if the money is right, may opt to cash in on their No.11 rather than allow him to walk away for free in a few months.
Despite having to contend with more than his fair share of critics throughout his time in England, Özil is a playmaker of the highest order and would be an asset to any prospective buyer if utilised correctly.
Starting out at Schalke as a teenager, Özil joined Werder Bremen in 2008 and progressed to become regarded as the brightest prospect in a golden generation of German talent.
At the the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the then-21-year-old was the creative pulse of a vibrant young Germany side, starring alongside fellow prodigies such as Thomas Müller, Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira.
Die Mannschaft reached the semi-finals and impressed to the point where they instantly became many people’s tip for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, given four years to further develop.
His exploits in South Africa made Özil one of the hottest properties in game, snapped up, alongside Khedira, by Real Madrid shortly after.
In Madrid, despite arriving during the height of Barcelona‘s dominance under Pep Guardiola, Özil became part of La Liga’s most potent attack on the way to ending Barça’s monopolisation of the domestic title in 2011/12.
In three seasons with the Los Blancos, he scored 28 times and registered an incredible 81 assists, before joining Arsenal in a club-record £42million deal in 2013.
A year later, Germany fulfilled what was prophesied of them by winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with Özil once again a key figure.
Now, with his time at Arsenal set to expire, the former Werder star will likely leave an indifferent legacy at the Emirates. He should, however, be remembered by Gunners fans as a player who consistently produced the goods creatively, despite Arsène Wenger’s side falling short of expectations during his time with the club.
What are Özil’s main strengths?
Arguably the best pure No.10 in the world, Özil’s strengths lie in his ability to carve open even the sternest of defences.
The Arsenal star is second only to Chelsea‘s former Gunner Cesc Fàbregas when it comes to key passes per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season (of players with five or more appearances.)
He is also the leading non-Manchester City player when it comes to expected assists (xA), the metric which places a value on the quality of each chance created based on historical shot data, with only Kevin De Bruyne (7.72), Leroy Sané (6.6), and David Silva (6.46) able to better Özil’s 6.26.
And while ten Premier League players can top his assists return of five, the nature of assists means the statistic is just as dependant on the shooting player finishing clinically as it is on the creative player conjuring a good chance. The fact only the City trio have a better xA return shows the general quality of chances Özil creates is higher than those ahead of him in the assists chart.
The simple fact is: Özil is able to execute the kind of intricate passes most players don’t even see. Technically, he is almost flawless and can even chip in with vital goals, hitting double figures (12) last season.
What are Özil’s main weaknesses?
The weaknesses that pervade Özil’s game, to his detriment, are the same as they have been throughout his career: a lack of consistent application to his side’s cause and a questionable defensive contribution.
Part of this issue may well be one of perception, with Özil often cutting a disinterested figure, especially when Arsenal struggle, even though his performance statistics tend to remain pretty consistent in the areas he’d be expected to stand out.
Even when deemed out of form, the 29-year-old remain’s a creative presence, producing solid numbers in areas such as key passes and xA.
Defensively, there has been many an occasion when television analysts have produced footage of the German ambling back as the opposition counter, failing to plug gaps and fall back as expected.
He did, however, show application in this area during his time under Mourinho in Spain, when he was almost invariably withdrawn around the 70-minute mark, having produced a workmanlike display without the ball. It remains to be seen whether this aspect of his game can be tapped into once again.
How much would Özil cost?
This depends entirely on how desperate or patient any potential suitor is. Come the end of the season, Özil will be a free agent, able to be acquired for no transfer fee whatsoever. Indeed, he is already free to negotiate a summer move abroad if he so wishes.
However, if an interested party decide they cannot wait that long, then Arsenal must be convinced that it is in their interests to sell now, thus losing one of their best players six months ahead of schedule.
In order for that to appeal to the Gunners, a hefty transfer fee will need to be offered. Reports suggest that figure could be around £35million, a sum that may prove both miserly to Arsenal and an unnecessary expense in the minds of the purse-holders at the buying club.
Why Man United should sign Özil
To anyone who has watched them regularly, however, it is apparent that Mourinho’s men often struggle to break down sides who sit in a deep defensive block, aiming to frustrate by limiting space in and around the penalty area.
United have scored four goals in eight different games this season, but they haven’t done so since their 4-2 win away to Watford in late-November, with six of their four-goal hauls coming before the end of September.
This perhaps suggests that United’s is an attack in need of freshening up. Henrikh Mkhiyaryan is way off the pace and could, according to reports, soon be sold; Juan Mata is a fine player with a similar skillset to Özil, but it’s hard to deny the German is a class above the ex-Chelsea man, as either an No.10 or playing on the right flank.
Having thrived together at Real Madrid, reuniting at Old Trafford could be in the best interests of both Özil and Mourinho.