Per Mertesacker Deserves More Respect From Arsenal Faithful


Per Mertesacker has come under a great deal of scrutiny for his lack of pace and athletic ability. However Arsenal’s ‘Big Flippin German’ is proving to be one of the Gunner’s greatest assets.

Since the arrival of Gabriel Paulista from Villareal last January, Arsenal supporters have essentially been counting down the days until the feisty Brazilian usurped Per Mertesacker’s role in the startingood XI. However Mertesacker shouldn’t be ushered off to the bench just yet. Despite his flagrant lack of pace and athleticsm, Mertesacker brings many qualities to the Arsenal back four that may go unnoticed.

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Mertesacker is the sturdy pillar that keeps Arsenal’s defense upright. While Lauren Koiscelny may get most of the plaudits, it’s the big German who gives the ferocious Frenchman the cover to pull off the more dazzling defensive displays. During the Gunner’s recent match against Manchester City,  there was a moment right at the half hour mark that essentially  decided the course of the bout.

As he tends to do, Koscielny was pressing high and attempting to win the  ball further up the pitch. However the center half was caught out when Sergio Aguero used a simple flick to release Kevin De Bruyne down the right flank. De Bruyne found himself in acres of space with the lumbering German giant and you would basically bet your house that the £54 million man would score in this situation.  However Mertesacker showed great positional awareness to make De Bruyne second guess himself. By narrowing the angle for the pass while remaining tight to De Bruyne, Mertesacker forced the Belgian sensation into taking a pretty difficult shot.

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Rather than pass to David Silva, who was being ran down by the speedy Hector Bellerin, De Bruyne fired a low shot to the far post. To be fair, a player of his calibre and price tag should have the skill to either make that tight pass or put the ball into the net from that angle. It was Mertesacker’s positioning which forced an obviously nervous De Bruyne into shooting a hurried shot.

Moments later we saw why Mertesacker’s sturdiness is so crucial for this Arsenal side. Acting almost as a deep lying play maker, Lauren Koscielny strode forward into City’s  half and slipped in a beautiful ball to Mesut Ozil, who in turn supplied Theo Walcott for Arsenal’s first goal. Koscielny passed a ball directly to Arsenal’s best playmaker, think about that.

A center half connected directly to a No. 10. Why is that important? Because very few central defenders would stride forward with the near-capricious confidence that Koscielny exuded. If he lost the ball in that area of the pitch, City could have really hurt the Gunner’s on the counter. However only a few moments before that attacking move, Per Mertesacker essentially stopped a fast breaking Manchester attack with his positioning alone.

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Mertesacker posted some outrageous defensive numbers as well. Arsenal’s  “Big Flippin German” posted a perfect tackle and aerial duel percentage, winning all three of his aerial duels and both of his tackles. But what really sets him apart from other defenders is the fact that he is always in the right place to deal with a cross or through ball. Mertesacker posted a whopping ten clearances to go along with an interception and a 91% pass accuracy (all stats via whoscored), proving that not only is he tidy in possession but he is cool under pressure as well.

Koscielny on the other hand won one of his two tackle attempts, didn’t win a single aerial duel, made only four clearances but did make five interceptions. This is why they are such a great partnership. One does the less spectacular things like clearing and heading the ball, while the other runs around snagging interceptions and invoking havoc far up the pitch. They work in such a great tandem that Arsenal currently have the best goal differential in the Premier League.  Of course that has a lot to do with Petr Cech, but the pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny is also crucial.

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Gabriel has already shown his prowess as defender. He will certainly be an elite center half for Arsenal one day in the mold of Laurent Koscielny.  However, at the moment the Gunner’s don’t need two feisty fighters at the heart of defense. Mertesacker may not be flashy and exciting but he is the sturdy foundation that Arsenal need in order to claim glory this season.