Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker has attracted a fair bit of criticism during his time in England but after a strong start to the present campaign, hopes were high that this would be his finest season in a Gunners shirt. However it hasn’t quite turned out that way and it could be a disappointing finale for the German and his team.
Mertesacker joined the Gunners in 2011 just days after Arsenal’s most humiliating ever Premier League defeat when they were hammered 8-2 at Old Trafford. The result most likely played a big role in Wenger’s decision to sign him and bringing in an experienced German international defender seemed like a very smart move at the time and was greeted with optimism by Arsenal fans.
At 6 foot 6 inches tall Mertesacker was the towering figure that was supposed to bolster Arsenal’s shaky defence and few can argue that he was not an upgrade on Johan Djourou, who started that game alongside Laurent Koscielny.
For the past five seasons Koscielny and Mertesacker have been Arsenal’s principal centre-backs and they have formed a strong partnership, but the German in particular has not been without his critics and this season they have had a fair amount of ammunition to pick holes in his game.
An illness hampered the start of his season and he didn’t really get to see regular game time until late September and his return to fitness certainly helped the Gunners out. Impressive showings from Mertesacker came as Arsenal picked up clean sheets and impressive victories over Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Watford in October and he was also a rock as Arsenal won their crucial final Champions League group game at Olympiakos to make the last 16.
Since then though he has struggled for form much like his team. His early sending off in the home defeat to Chelsea was perhaps a turning point in Arsenal’s season and a game they were favourites to win and may well have done with 11 men turned into a defeat and Arsenal have taken just 8 points from their last seven league matches including that one as they’ve watched Leicester and Spurs move clear of them in the league.
Mertesacker has talked of tiredness affecting himself and his teammates at various times this season but it is hard to sympathise too much with him on that. Arsene Wenger has referred to him as one of the leaders inside the Arsenal dressing room when questioned, as he often is, about his team’s lack of character.
It is certainly no coincidence that some of Arsenal’s best performances this season have come when Mertesacker has been at his best and his calming presence and personality does help spread confidence throughout the team at times.
His solid showing when Arsenal were down to 10 men and fought back to draw at White Hart Lane was an example of that and he is clearly still an important figure for the team.
However, there have been too many jittery displays from the German in recent months and he needs to rediscover his best form quickly and be a real leader for the side if they are to have a chance of claiming that elusive Premier League title.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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