In an emotional post on Twitter, former Arsenal man and World Cup winner Mesut Özil announced his retirement from professional football today at the age of 34, bringing to a close the decorated career of one of the modern game’s most exciting - and divisive - players.
Despite an ignominious end to his time at Arsenal, few players are as synonymous with the Emirates era quite like Özil, and few created as electrifying moments as the German international. From the first match he stepped foot onto the pitch for the Gunners, his class was apparent. At his peak, he was among the best, if not the best playmaker in the world, and his performances at Arsenal coincided with a new era of success for the North London club, winning four FA Cups during his time with the Gunners.
When Arsene Wenger coaxed him away from Real Madrid in the summer of 2013, it was a coup of universal proportions. A title winner with the La Liga giants, Özil’s deadline day signing was one of the two most surprising signings in modern Arsenal history, alongside the shock Sol Campbell announcement press conference in 2001. Signing with the Gunners in the final hour of deadline day, the news was a bolt out of the blue that rocked the collective Arsenal fanbase.
After all…We’ve got Mesut Özil.
Few players have ever glided across the pitch in an Arsenal kit quite like the German international. In his first five seasons at the club, he elevated the squad with his deceptively casual style of play. His knack for picking out passes and creating chances out of seemingly nothing were, in a word, magical. His magic was at its most potent during the 2015/16 season, when he set the Premier League single-season record for chances created and nearly broke the assist record.
Although he was often criticized of being “lazy,” his contributions to the side made the Gunners attack one of the most dangerous in the league, especially his telepathic partnership with attacker Alexis Sanchez. The dynamic duo terrorized teams across the Premier League and led to the kind of plays that took your breath away. In an instant, he would transform from languid and nonchalant to silky and elusive to immeasurably accurate, feeding the Chilean goal scorer yet another perfect pass.
The end of his tenure at Arsenal was unceremonious and disappointing, and while we could ruminate on it at length, I’d rather we didn’t. We aren’t here to mourn the end of his time and what could have or should have been. Instead, we are here to celebrate those moments - the ones that made us all stop in disbelief at the unassuming genius of Mesut Özil.
For me, the most defining moment of Özil’s time at Arsenal was the stoppage time free kick against Leicester that helped the Gunners reach the top of the PL table at Christmas in the 15/16 season for the first time in ages. His looping free kick into the six yard box found the head of Danny Welbeck and sent every Arsenal fan into a state of euphoria that has not been matched until, well, this season. It wasn’t as magical as some of the other moments, but it couldn’t have been anyone else sending that ball in - only Mesut.
Here is to many happy years of retirement for Mesut Özil. I hope that, one day soon, he will be able to revisit the Emirates and that fans will be able to celebrate him for the player that we all loved to watch. Happy trails, old friend, and thanks for the memories.
Ya Gunners, Ya.