Mesut Ozil can breathe new life into Arsenal

By: Amy Lawrence

Occasionally transfers have a ripple effect. The deal represents considerably more than the movement of a player from one club to another, and the crazy maths of the sums involved. In welcoming Mesut Ozil, a genuine global A-lister, Arsenal have made their most significant foray into the transfer market since they bought Dennis Bergkamp.

Back in 1995, Bergkamp walked into the marble halls and changed everything. At his official unveiling, the club chose the Stone Roses' This Is The One as accompaniment, and a chord was struck. 

Bergkamp was an extremely un-Arsenal-esque transfer at the time. The previous spate of arrivals included Glenn Helder, John Hartson and Chris Kiwomya. Not exactly earth shattering. Bergkamp had found himself a little out of sorts at Internazionale but he was a jewel, a world name, nonetheless. The £7.5m fee obliterated Arsenal's transfer record at the time.

The Dutchman not only transformed Arsenal in terms of style, it paved the way for the more aesthetic football that Arsène Wenger would develop when he became the club's manager a year later. By choosing them he also shattered perceptions. Arsenal were able to radically upgrade their image – from being a traditional and moderately successful English club to having European clout, regular Champions League status and global appeal. As David Dein said at the time, Bergkamp was "the first brick in the wall" of that transformation.

Potentially, Ozil can be that zeitgeist signing for the post-Highbury generation. Since moving to the Emirates the perception of Arsenal as a selling club has accelerated with each departure of a stellar talent. In 2006 Ashley Cole moved to Chelsea. Thierry Henry left for Barcelona a year later. Cesc Fábregas took the same journey in 2011. Robin van Persie's controversial switch to Manchester United in 2012 knocked another nail into the coffin that seemed to represent Arsenal's ambition.

Up until deadline day, this summer's shenanigans had not exactly added to Arsenal's reputation as a destination of choice for the highest-calibre players. The indecision over Gonzalo Higuaín, the botched attempt to land Luis Suárez, and the shambolic negotiations for Yohan Cabaye hardly gave the impression that this was a club with a plan. It was as if they sent their transfer man, Dick Law, out into the big wide world with their own specially made banana-skin shoes.

And now this. Ozil, a playmaker of considerable refinement for Real Madrid and Germany, brings both excitement and status to Arsenal. The size of the fee is also a game-changer for the club. They have taken their previous transfer record (£15m for Andrey Arshavin) and wellied it out of the ballpark.

Of course, to really make the most of this statement signing it was crucial to get other pieces of the jigsaw. This proved problematic, with struggles to add to Ozil and a backup goalkeeper on loan, Emiliano Viviano, on deadline day. 

Arsenal have had all summer to address other squad positions that need strengthening, and having aimed all summer for another centre forward to share Olivier Giroud's load, the difficulty agreeing terms with Chelsea over Demba Ba, or having a ready alternative, looks like an absurdly risky oversight.

They welcome a player who was highly enough regarded at the Bernabéu that not so long ago Jorge Valdano reckoned he would be the player to "define the next decade at Real Madrid". Xabi Alonso described him as "the kind of player you don't find these days". José Mourinho called him "unique". So what changed? The purchase of Bale and Isco, which together with Cristiano Ronaldo, leaves only bit-part cameos for the rest of their creative attacking cadre.

Arsenal are gaining a player who blends creativity with efficiency. Some 94 assists for club and country in the past three years is a remarkable statistic. It is telling that the Real fans took the opportunity to make their feelings felt at the Gareth Bale unveiling to chant "Don't sell Ozil".

This is quite the coup for Wenger. The Arsenal manager has been a long-distance admirer for years. He watched Ozil in Germany's youth teams, although even an amateur judge who saw the way he orchestrated their Under-21 European final triumph over England in 2009 could not have missed his special talent. Germany's Under-21 manager, Horst Hrubesch, was fulsome in his praise. "We in Germany are prone to rave about foreign players … but we have our own Messi. Our Messi is Ozil."

It really is an enormous deal for Arsenal. Wenger had said that he might surprise us on deadline day. He certainly did. Although Arsenal would have loved a couple more surprises.

 Amy Lawrence is deputy football correspondent for the Observer.



  1. I am relishing seeing Ozil dazzle in Arsenal jersey! Its going to be magical!



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