Mesut Özil set Arsenal Twitter alight yesterday afternoon, when, in an interview with Kicker, he claimed that only a lack of clarity with Arsène Wenger's future at Arsenal was preventing him from signing a new contract. Indeed, what is often forgotten by Arsenal fans was just how important Wenger personally was to Özil moving to Arsenal in 2013. Wenger originally held interest in Özil in 2010, before the German moved to Real Madrid, and once Özil was on the outside looking in with Madrid bringing in Gareth Bale, Wenger made sure that Özil would again feel the love and trust of a club and manager. As Özil makes very clear in the interview with Kicker, though, those feelings are very important, as is Wenger’s tactics: “The most important thing for me is: I must be free on the pitch. That’s what I need. The coach gives me this freedom and hence it’s going so well.”
Furthermore, Wenger is one of the few coaches at elite clubs who would give a player like Özil the freedom he craves—and those who might also give Özil that freedom, especially in the attacking third, are locked in at other clubs: Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund. Indeed, Özil need only look at a previous wearer of Arsenal’s #11 shirt to see the danger of signing away your prime years at a club because of a manager, only to see the manager replaced by someone inferior, with Robin van Persie never recovering from the year David Moyes managed Manchester United. For Özil to demand clarity that Wenger will not leave the club in a year for someone like Eddie Howe—a promising coach but without a track record of managing elite players at elite clubs—is not surprising. These are, after all, the years when he has the best chance to influence a club winning a major trophy.
For many Arsenal fans, that’s where the anger over Özil’s position comes in. Perhaps rightly, many Arsenal fans feel that Wenger can no longer deliver a major trophy. Yet Özil also sees improvements being made, improvements that we as fans can’t necessarily take into stock. This includes players like Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka joining the club, but also because Özil retains Arsène Wenger’s faith and trust. For Özil, “it’s never been about money. It is about fun, about trust,” and Wenger is the manager who can provide that. It would not be surprising if Alexis Sánchez feels the same way.