The transient nature of football means that, as in life, people come and people go.
And, as in life, some of those comings and goings in football are more difficult to take than others. Not many would have mourned the departure of Sebastian Squillaci, for example, but the sale of Thierry Henry to Barcelona felt like the fall of the Roman empire.
There are a million factors at play in those emotional connections which can take in everything from the attitude of the player, to their commitment, their brilliance, or their trophy cabinet. In some cases, a catchphrase is enough for us to take a player into our hearts (Emmanuel Frimpong anyone?)
With Mesut Ozil, however, there is something altogether different that bonds us to him in a way few others have over the years. His talent played a big part, without doubt. After all, it’s not everyday that you sign a player at the peak of his powers from Real Madrid. But, there again, Arsenal have had plenty of talented players over the years who failed to capture the imagination quite like the German.
What set Mesut apart from the long list of exceptional players we have seen pull on the red and white of Arsenal was the manner of his arrival. Like Gandalf atop the white horse at dawn, when all hope seemed lost, the German rode into the breach in the summer of 2013 to turn the tide.
It was the first time, perhaps since Dennis Bergkamp’s arrival, that Arsenal had acquired a player of such proven pedigree. This was a player who’s reputation as a superstar went before him rather than came after. After years of seeing our best talent slip away, here was Arsenal emerging into a new era. Whether he planned it or not, Mesut came to symbolize the start of something better after long years of drought.
And what excitement that deadline day created. Confirmation of Ozil’s signature felt like a coming of age for us all, like we’d been accepted by the cool kids at last. Now we were a force to be reckoned with, Arsenal were back.
In the end, Ozil’s arrival never quite heralded a return to the top or to the halcyon Invincible days but, in truth, the football landscape had changed. From a two or three-horse race and a league devoid of much quality, we saw the rise of the billionaire owner and the influx of cash that saw mediocre clubs transformed into title contenders over the course of a summer.
Arsenal, meanwhile, continued swimming against the tide, even freed from the shackles of the stadium move that had for so long hampered us. Ozil was by no means our last big signing but, ever aware of our financial fragility, we remained cautious, never really building the team that might have allowed the German to star.
For all that, Mesut’s arrival did herald the return of silverware, and of big-ticket finals, and he brought us all an album of unforgettable moments of artistry along the way. Who can forget his partnership with Alexis Sanchez? His part in the goal against Leicester? His 19 assists in a single season? Four FA Cups? Ludogoretz?
There will be dozens of obituaries written about the end of the Ozil era over the coming days and many of them will lament the way it ended. Frozen out of the team and marginalised by the club, it was undoubtedly an ignominious way to call it quits, even if the timing was right. But let us not forget amidst all the bad, this was a player who, at his best, lit up our lives with his ability and his swagger.
This was a player who carried all of our hopes and represented a new dawn for our club. Where so many players will soon be forgotten, this is one player who should live long in all our memories. Parting will truly be sweet sorrow.