Few teams in professional sports put their fan bases through more trials and tribulations than the Gunners of North London — more commonly referred to as Arsenal.
Just when you think they are poised for a title run, they break your heart. Year after year, approaching a level of consistency comparable to the force of gravity.
Let’s go back to 2015-2016, a season that saw the ultimate Cinderella story in sports come true — crazier than a Browns Super Bowl.
Leicester City began the season at ~5,000-1 to win the league title. As the season wore on, the big boys of the Premiere League — United, City, Liverpool, Spurs, etc. — continued to falter while Leicester soared. Arsenal meanwhile looked poised for an unimpeded run at the title. As promising as Leicester looked, all thought this would be the year that Arsenal would finally break through and end a League title drought that dated back to 2003-2004. The only legitimate hurdle was Leicester, essentially the David to Arsenal’s Goliath.
What transpired was a classic collapse by the North London choke artists, who wound up falling 10 points shy of Leicester for the Premiere League title. All credit to Vardy & Co. for a remarkable season, but that season was Arsenal’s to lose. And in typical fashion, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
While blame can be assigned to many factors, one thing, among others, has been proven true, with little room for debate — Mesut Ozil embodies the good, bad, and the ugly of Gunners football.
The prized transfer acquisition from 2013 has treated the Gunners faithful to some truly magical football — stay with me, I’m British for the duration of this piece. His ability to delight, with his vision and creativity on the pitch can, at times, take your breath away.
He can also cause even the most casual fan to launch their remote across the room in a fit of rage.
Ozil’s bouts with inconsistency serve as a microcosm of what has plagued Arsenal for so long — at times, majestic and beautiful, poetry in motion. Other times, painful and just plain lousy.
What separates the two outcomes remains unclear. What compels a team or players form to fluctuate so drastically when all variables essentially remain constant?
There’s the opposition for one and in Ozil’s case, he’s made a habit of disappearing when his team needed him most. With his contract set to expire at the end of this season, can Arsenal really justify paying the hefty price tag needed to retain the services of somebody who routinely vanishes in big moments?
Alexis Sanchez is on his way out, like it or not. Coming to terms with losing both Sanchez and Ozil while potentially getting nothing in return for either is gut-wrenching and downright inexcusable.
Which brings me to January’s transfer window…
While I won’t start speculating who Arsenal may or may not target several months from now, I can tell you two moves they need to commit to: Cutting ties with Alexis Sanchez (essentially done) and their once-upon-a-time saviour, Mesut Ozil.
Only eight games into the Premiere League schedule, Arsenal already has losses to Stoke City and Watford. On the heels of a disastrous 2016-2017 campaign that saw them miss out on the Champions League, their ability to attract top talent might prove difficult until they return to Europe’s heavyweight tournament. Nonetheless, finishing in the top-4 is still achievable without Ozil (and Sanchez).
Arsenal has plenty of depth in midfield and while few of their internal options have the pedigree of Mesut Ozil, Arsene Wenger could do far worse than looking within the organization for a replacement, especially in the short-term.
One intriguing option is Jack Wilshere who continues to work his way back from injury — an all too common exercise for the young Brit.
Aaron Ramsay is another option. The return of Spanish wizard Santi Cazorla would be a perfect replacement but that seems nothing more than a pipe dream at this point.
Xhaka is more suited for a holding defensive role, much like the other midfielders on the roster (i.e. Coquelin, Elneny).
Regardless of what route Wenger opts to take, Arsenal will be better off leaving Ozil in the rearview mirror. His effort and production simply does not reflect what the Gunners need, and frankly, what their fans deserve. Too often, he appears disinterested and void of anything you’d call reasonable effort. His cameos of brilliance outweighed by recurring disappointment.
Arsenal’s fate is not entirely tied to their polarizing midfielder, but he is a main cog in a machine that continually underperforms. Understanding and accepting that should see Wenger approach the January transfer window with a clear mandate: Get some sort of return for the player he spent £42.5m on back in 2013.
If Mesut Ozil remains a member of Arsenal come February 1, 2018, questions will continue to mount about Wenger’s long-term vision for the club.
And Wenger himself may not stick around long enough to see that vision put into practice.
Tick tock…tick tock.