Arsenal’s creative fulcrum Mesut Özil has opened up about his stalled contract talks with the Gunners. The German World Cup winner has emphasised the importance of manager Arsène Wenger staying at the club beyond the current season in his signing on the dotted lines.
Özil joined Arsenal from Real Madrid in a club record transfer in the summer of 2013. The 28-year-old has 18 months remaining on his current contract, and negotiations over a new deal have hit a roadblock over terms and wages.
However, in an interview with German magazine Kicker, Özil has expressed his desire to sign a new contract and reiterated his commitment to the club.
“I am very, very happy at Arsenal and have let the club know that I would be ready to sign a new contract. The fans want that I stay and now it is just down to the club,” said Özil.
One sticking point, though, could be the matter of Wenger’s 20-year spell at the club coming to an end.
The Frenchman has been at the north London outfit since 1996, and his current contract runs until the end of June this year. That might put Özil off renewing terms as the playmaker sees Wenger as the key driver in his decision-making.
He added: “The club knows that I am here most of all because of Arsène Wenger. He is the one who signed me and he is the one whose trust I have. The club also knows that I want to be clear what the manager is going to [in the future].”
Özil has nine goals and seven assists to his name this season, across all competitions. He, along with Alexis Sánchez, is seen as a key member of the current Arsenal side. The former Real Madrid star is apparently dissatisfied with the lack of progress at his club, given they have come up short in the title race every year since 2003.
In October last year, Wenger stressed the need for Arsenal to win the league to keep the likes of Özil at the club, saying money isn’t the only issue. “It’s not just money. Arsenal can win titles, of course. But that’s what we have to show. We are in a league where Man City, Man United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, everybody, fights and you cannot guarantee that to anybody.”
In Özil’s time at the club, the Gunners have won two FA Cups. But, shortcomings in the more prestigious Premier League and Champions League have firmly put Arsenal a rung or two below the absolute elite clubs of the continent.
Özil, who won the World Cup with Germany in 2014, is currently regarded as one of the top 25 players in world football and should be competing for and winning trophies regularly. With Arsenal, that doesn’t seem to be the case considering the level of competition in the Premier League and on the continent.
Despite winning two FA Cups in three seasons, there is a pervading sense of unhappiness among the Arsenal faithful regarding Wenger. A fraction of the club’s supporters has also let their frustrations be known over the club’s lack of elite level spending and repeated failures in the league as well as Europe in no uncertain terms.
The club have consistently qualified for the Champions League knockout stages during Wenger’s time, but it is their inability to take the next, forward step that infuriates. It is also quite clear that those fans who demand a managerial change wouldn’t mind Wenger leaving the club at the end of 2016/17.
All of that bring us to the Özil issue. Keeping the German is seen as a priority for the club, but that could also mean Wenger staying at Arsenal beyond his current deal, which might turn out to be counter-productive for the Gunners.
There is no doubt about Arsenal’s improvement as a club since they last won the league title. However, the clubs competing with Arsenal have also improved and their number has increased over the years. A decade ago, the Premier League’s big four was the talk of the English top flight. Now, that group of four has morphed into a group of six, where each club seemingly has equal resources with the advent of mega money broadcasting deals in the Premier League.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 12, 2016
A kind of stagnation has set in at Arsenal over the years, and whether Wenger is the man to take the club to the next level is unclear at best. Özil’s departure could signal the re-emergence of Arsenal as a selling club, a tag which they have shed over the past few years.
But, keeping Özil with Wenger at the helm is also something of a cul-de-sac: a resetting of the cycle of near misses and mid-season failings.
Özil’s signing of a new deal will be a welcome boost for Arsenal, but at what cost? Wenger isn’t having an easy ride in his pursuit for titles anytime soon, and another failure to win the title this season at Arsenal might just be the last straw for the player.
Wenger might have subtly put his point across of walking away from Arsenal when he talked up the clichéd no-individual-is-better-than-the-club last month: “What is important is always to take care of the values of the club, and the identity of the club, and not to depend too much on one or two players.”
That might be Wenger playing down the importance of Özil which, in light of the player’s recent comments, seems fair. The 67-year-old has been in the game long enough to not be swayed by the whims of a star player or two. Furthermore, he has earned the right to leave the club on his own terms.
Özil could still stay at Arsenal without Wenger, but that is unlikely considering his words to Kicker. Conversely, he could depart with Wenger and fetch his club pretty money as well as set them on a new road. Or, he and Wenger could both sign new deals and stay on for a few more years. In any case, those uncertainties, which seem intertwined, are holding the club’s fans hostage. Even Sánchez’s stay at the club could hinge on Wenger’s future.
From Liam Brady to Dennis Bergkamp, among others, in the past, Arsenal have always treasured players of the craft and class of Özil. This time round, though, keeping Özil might not have the desired effect for a club desperately screaming for a push of the refresh button.
The Gunners are better off without Özil, if him staying at Arsenal means a few more years for Wenger, who seems to repeat the same tricks season in, season out.