When Mesut Ozil joined Real Madrid from Werder Bremen in the summer of 2010, it was a huge coup for the Spanish giants. For just €18 million, Los Blancos signed a player who at the time looked destined to follow in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane at the Bernabeu and become the best playmaker in the world.
Three years later, Ozil has been shown the door. Real signed Isco and Gareth Bale this summer, and Carlo Ancelotti made a clear decision of his preferred No. 10 on Sunday when he benched Ozil for the full 90 minutes of Los Blancos' 3-1 win against Bilbao.
Ozil it seems will be given a lifeline on transfer deadline day, with Arsenal reportedly in advanced negotiations to sign him for a fee that various reports agree is in the range of €45 to 50 million. And if he indeed does move to the Emirates, Ozil will find himself in a locale much more suited to his style of play than Madrid.
It's easy to look at Ozil's assist tally at Madrid and assume that he played to his potential at Real but was not quite good enough. And indeed, he did give 81 assists in 157 games during his stay at the Bernabeu. Adding in his 27 goals during that time, directly contributing to 0.69 goals per game is a very respectable rate.
Still, those who watched Ozil in his youth and on the international stage know he is capable of so much more. In spite of his very good stats at Real, Ozil was not best suited to play in the teams coached by Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho. Simply put, the Real attack was built around Cristiano Ronaldo, meaning fewer touches for Ozil.
And critically, wingers Ronaldo and Angel di Maria were more individualistic players whose off-ball movement is unrefined, meaning that slick, one-touch passing sequences such as that which led to Ozil's wonder-goal in a 2011 friendly against the Netherlands were few and far between.
Ozil is a very specific type of player, whose strengths are superlative and whose weaknesses are obvious. His marvelous brain is easily overlooked but may be his greatest strength. Ozil has a tremendous economy; when he has the ball, he rarely makes a wrong decision. The ex-Schalke star has near-prophetic foresight and his passing vision and technique in the final third is perhaps the best in the world.
At the same time, Ozil has limited strength and stamina. He lacks explosiveness which, along with his rather poor finishing, makes him relatively non-prolific in front of goal. To see the true extent of his qualities, the 24-year-old must be the center of his team's attack.
Consider Ozil's performance for Germany since his move to Madrid. In Joachim Low's system, the Gelsenkirchen native was the key focal point. And in 29 appearances, he scored 12 goals and gave 19 assists—directly contributing to an average of 1.07 goals per game, his rate was much better for country than for club.
Should he sign with Arsenal, Ozil will be regarded as some kind of savior. Fans have waited all summer for Arsene Wenger to sign a star player, and their frustration has been exacerbated by the fact that arch-rivals Tottenham have spent some £108 million on the likes of Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Christian Eriksen and more. Ozil is a world-class player, and comes for a fee in excess of triple the then-record £13m the Gunners splashed on Sylvain Wiltord in 2000. The gravity of his signing cannot be understated.
The question will not be how Ozil will fit into Wenger's lineup at Arsenal, but how Wenger will adapt his system to best complement the playmaker's talents—consideration the German was not given at Real. The Gunners currently play a counterattacking game, which suited Ozil perfectly at the 2010 World Cup. He'll be the first outlet from the back, and his ability to evade defenders and play the ball forward to the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will add a new dimension to the Arsenal counterattack.
In the attacking third, Ozil will be a great asset for picking apart defenses. Santi Cazorla has been and will remain a key figure, but the ex-Bremen star will provide the kind of passes not seen at the Emirates since the time of Cesc Fabregas. His assist to Sami Khedira in a friendly against France earlier this year is a prime example of the type of ball-playing quality Ozil can provide.
It may take some time for Ozil to adapt to life at the Emirates and to the style of play in the Premier League. He may even record fewer assists than at Real, partly due to Arsenal's lack of pace in the main striker position and also because one of his main functions will be to play in the lightning-quick Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs, who will then deliver the final ball.
Even if Ozil does record fewer assists, he will still benefit from a move to Arsenal. Many great passers, namely Xavi and Andres Iniesta, were able to make names for themselves without often playing the final ball. As the key man at Arsenal, Ozil will finally have the right environment to show the full extent of his qualities on a regular basis. Gunners rejoice: the wait was well worth it.