Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal exile: footballing reasons or political?

German playmaker questions the club’s loyalty after omission from the Premier League squad

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil
(Image credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Mesut Ozil has called out Arsenal’s lack of loyalty after he was left out of the club’s 25-man Premier League squad.

The German playmaker, 32, signed for the Gunners for a then club record £42.4m deal in 2013. He has won three FA Cup winners’ medals during his time at the Emirates Stadium, but his career in north London looks set to come to a sorry end.

As well as being omitted from the Premier League list, the 2014 Fifa World Cup winner is also out of Arsenal’s Europa League squad.

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In a statement on social media he said: “I’m really deeply disappointed by the fact that I have not been registered for the Premier League season for the time being.

“Upon signing my new contract in 2018, I pledged my loyalty and allegiance to the club that I love, Arsenal, and it saddens me that this has not been reciprocated.

“I’ve always tried to remain positive from week to week that there’s maybe a chance to get back in the squad soon again. That’s why I kept silent so far.”

Arteta: I’ve failed Ozil

Since joining from Real Madrid, Ozil has scored 44 goals in 254 appearances in all competitions for the Gunners, BBC Sport reports. However, he has not featured in the first-team since March and his omission from both squads means he can now only play for the Under-23s until his contract expires next summer.

When asked for a response to Ozil’s statement, Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta stressed that the omission from the Premier League and Europa League squads was entirely down to footballing reasons. The Spaniard explained that he was fair in his decision, but admitted he had “failed” with Ozil.

“What I can say from my side is that it is just a football decision,” said Arteta. “My level of communication with him has been really high and we know what to expect with each other.

“Obviously a player of that dimension, with the career he has had, everything that happens around him has a big impact. It has been the case for the last eight years, it is nothing new that is just happening now. A lot of things have happened over these eight years.

“My job is to get the best out of every player, to contribute to the team performance. Here I feel at the moment, today, that I have failed. I want the best possible Mesut for the team. And in some moments I was able to get close to that, and at the moment I have not been able to do it because I have to make the decision to leave him out of the squad.”

Mesut Ozil Germany quit

(Image credit: Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images)

Quitting Germany and Erdogan links

Ozil’s international career with Germany ended in controversy in 2018 after he accused the German FA of “racism and disrespect”.

Germany, the defending champions, were dumped out of the 2018 Fifa World Cup at the group stage and Ozil bore the brunt of fans’ displeasure for his performances in Russia.

He also angered supporters and sections of the media after posing for a photograph with Turkey’s controversial president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a visit to London.

That led some Germans to question where Ozil’s loyalties lay – given his Turkish background – and the midfielder never managed to win back the trust of the fans.

Last year Turkish president Erdogan was the best man at Ozil’s wedding in Istanbul.

Politics over football?

Arteta said the decision to drop Ozil from the two squads was taken for “footballing reasons”. However, the player is “convinced” that Arsenal’s commercial interests in China influenced the decision, the Daily Mail reports.

Last December Ozil went public with his criticism of the way China is treating the Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region.

His comments sparked a furious reaction among many of his four million social media followers in China, with several burning his shirts in protest. He was “airbrushed from Chinese TV” and coverage of Arsenal’s game against Manchester City on 15 December 2019 was initially pulled.

In the statement posted on Wednesday, Ozil insisted he will keep fighting and continue using his voice for justice.

“Before the coronavirus break I was really happy with my development under our new coach Mikel Arteta - we’ve been on a positive way and I would say my performances were on a really good level,” he said. “But then things changed, again, and I was no longer allowed to play football for Arsenal.

“No matter what, I will keep fighting for my chance and not let my eighth season at Arsenal end like this.

“I can promise you that this hard decision won’t change anything in my mindset - I will continue to train as best as I can and wherever possible use my voice against inhumanity and for justice.”

‘Sad for everyone involved’

Arsenal legend Ian Wright was one of the many fans and pundits to react to Ozil’s situation.

The former Gunners and England striker said on Twitter: “Football will never stop surprising me. The fact that whatever has gone on couldn’t be resolved between the club and Mesut is sad. Sad for everyone involved and I can only send him strength for what will be a difficult few months knowing he won’t even have a chance to play. Gutted.”

Before the pandemic Ozil was still a regular starter under Arteta. Now he’s a footballer being paid £18m a year not to play football.

Commenting on the “absurdity” of Ozil’s exile, The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew says: “Mikel Arteta wants quick, solid lads who can play to a plan, press like dogs, who relish contact rather than avoid it. The club wants good, loyal lads who will take a pay cut when asked and won’t piss off the Chinese government on Twitter.

“Perhaps this was a relationship that was always going to run aground.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.