Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career is over. He knows it. The club knows it. Every single fan knows it.
The German World Cup winner has not played a single minute of football under Mikel Arteta since March and has been left out of the club’s Premier League and Europa League squads.
“I’ve always tried to remain positive from week to week that there’s maybe a chance to get back in the squad soon. That’s why I kept silent so far.
“Before the coronavirus break I was really happy with the 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.
“But then things changed, again, and I was no longer allowed to play football for Arsenal.”
Ozil will spend this season on the periphery of the Arsenal first-team squad, simply waiting for his contract to expire next summer or could be sold in January, should an unlikely buyer be found.
Arsenal will have to find a replacement, however. While there are plenty of valid frustrations with the attacking midfielder, his creativity in the final third is unparalleled by those currently within Arteta’s squad.
Moreover, such incision and invention has been lacking in the Gunners’ play under the Spanish coach, and long before him in truth.
So, here are three potential Ozil replacements Arsenal could and should target either in January or next summer.
You don’t need to search too hard to find evidence that Arsenal recognise their own creative shortcomings.
This summer, at the request of Arteta, the Gunners heavily pursued Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar.
They had a bid – thought to be in the region of £35 million – rejected late on, as confirmed by Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, and ultimately settled on Thomas Partey to bolster the midfield.
Aouar remained with Lyon. His future, though, is still very much up in the air, and there is reason to believe Arsenal’s pursuit has not ended because the 2020 summer deadline has passed.
The creative hole in midfield still remains, and Aouar represents an ideal solution.
He may have only produced four Ligue 1 assists in just under 2,000 minutes last term, per FBREF, but he notched seven goals and teed up seven more the year prior.
Perhaps more pertinently, given the quality of competition, it’s worth noting he also provided one goal and four assists in just 711 Champions League minutes. Only three players provided more assists in the competition – Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe, and Robert Lewandowksi, all of whom reached the final with their respective sides.
Aouar is also a sensational dribbler and ball carrier. Last year, he completed 62.5% of his 4.79 attempts per 90 minutes. He dribbled past 3.32 players per 90 and carried the ball a progressive distance of 217.1 yards per 90. All of those rank in the top 15 in Ligue 1.
Arsenal wanted Aouar this summer. His performances vindicate such interest. While they never landed their man, they should yet return for his services. If they did, he would be the ideal Ozil successor.
Outside of the top six, there might not be a more inventive, effective, and dynamic attacking player in the Premier League than Grealish.
Almost single-handedly dragging Aston Villa out of the relegation zone last season, Grealish is now leading the only team with a 100% record this year.
His infectious dribbling, deceptive speed, athleticism, vision, strength, and improving end product, all comprise one of the most dangerous and delightful attacking midfielders in the top flight.
And, while everyone expected him to leave Villa Park in the summer, he remained with the club, signing a new long-term deal.
That contract signified that Grealish would be available long term, but it’s made it much more difficult and expensive for Arsenal to prise him away from Villa, should they want to do so.
Nevertheless, while the now England international might be the most costly Ozil replacement out there, he is also Premier League proven.
Despite playing for a ‘weaker’ side, Grealish’s creative statistics are among the very best in the top flight. Per FBREF, last season, he ranked ninth in expected assists and second in chances created.
Moreover, only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kevin De Bruyne played more passes into the penalty area, showing that Grealish was among the most dangerous with his passing.
He also ranked first for fouls won, fourth for progressive distance covered per 90 among midfielders, and, excluding defenders and defensive midfielders, second in passes received.
This year, only John McGinn and Harry Kane have more assists. He is joint-sixth for non-penalty goals with three and is bettered by only Kane for expected assists per 90 minutes.
Only Mohamed Salah has had more touches in the penalty area, only Adama Traore has completed more dribbles, and he ranks fifth and third in shot-and-creating actions respectively.
By whichever metric you want to use, Grealish is among the best attack-minded players in the Premier League.
Insert him into the Arsenal team, one in which he is no longer the primary focus of opposing defences, and his quality could explode.
There have been plenty of brilliant players to emerge from the Reb Bull Salzburg development machine: Sadio Mane, Erling Haaland, Naby Keita and Dauot Upamecano are just four.
The Hungarian has long been among the young European stars to keep a close eye on. He has also mentioned as a potential Ozil replacement, even at his tender age of just 19.
But over the course of the last year, Szobozlai has proven that he is more than just a prospective young talent. Instead, he is a bonafide star, ready to make his move to an elite European club.
Last season, as Salzburg waltzed their way to the title, Szobozlai provided nine goals and 10 assists in just 1,664 minutes of action. He was just 18 years old at the beginning of the campaign.
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This year, in just 193 minutes of game time, the midfielder already has one goal and two assists. He also has one goal in his only Champions League outing thus far, too, a stunning strike that sent Arsenal fans into a frenzy.
Most alluringly, Szobozlai would be more attainable than other candidates, both from a football and financial perspective.
A reported £22.5 million release clause makes him much more affordable, while Grealish, Aouar, and other creative stars could attract interest from clubs that the Gunners would be unable to compete with financially.
Still a young and developing player, but with excellent production for a team renowned for its ability to produce world-class stars, Szobozlai could be the next superstar, and Arsenal would be wise to ensure he is theirs.