Position : Centre-Back
Nation : Germany
2011/2012 Appearances : 27
A deadline day signing from Werder Bremen, Per Mertesacker immediately slotted into the centre back position, along with Laurent Koscielny. A well established defender, with renowned abilities, and nearly 80 German caps under his name, the 26 year old was one of the best buys that Arsene Wenger has made.
Often referred to as ‘The Big F*cking German’, and ‘The Gentle German Giant’, Mertesacker has helped out the team during a turbulent phase, of the season. He made his debut in an edgy 1-0 win over Swansea. He was constantly troubled by Danny Graham, but a calm display marked his debut.
His very second game was a return to Germany in the Champions League group clash with German champions Borussia Dortmund, where he gave a composed performance, even though the Gunners conceded a late equalizer.
The German, meanwhile, visibly took time to settle into the English league. He was caught out of position many a times, against the wily Aiyegbani Yakubu of Blackburn Rovers, as well as van der Vaart, both of whom scored goals, which inflicted defeat upon the Gunners.
However, he slowly got into his groove, with decent displays against Sunderland and Stoke, where he came up against the likes of Stephane Sessegnon, and the similarly built Peter Crouch. After a sturdy display at the Stade Velodrome, in a 1-0 win, he put in a gritty second half display at Stamford Bridge, as Arsenal won 5-3, though he was guilty for the first goal, where his hesitancy lead to a Frank Lampard opening goal.
Robin van Persie saved the blushes of Mertesacker, with two goals, after an uncharacteristic error allowed Steve Morison to slot past Szczesny. He made up for it with commanding displays against Borussia Dortmund, Fulham, Wigan and Everton. Another fine display against Manchester City followed, though the Gunners went down 1-0, in a closely contested game.
A defensive mix up between him and Vermaelen allowed Marc Albrighton an easy goal, though Arsenal clawed a late winner. Near flawless displays in home games against Wolves and QPR, ended in 4 points. This was then followed by a poor display against Fulham. Having taken the lead early on, Arsenal’s defence struggled against the physicality of Zamora, Dempsey, Dembele and Ruiz. Mertesacker appeared slow, and unsuited to the demands of the league, as Fulham won 2-1.
He played in the next league fixture against Swansea, despite having an illness, and it was clear to see as a fragile Arsenal crumbled to some slick Swansea passing. Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham caused enough trouble for the centre-backs and the Welsh side won 3-2.
Arsenal suffered their 3rd league loss in a row to Manchester United, but Mertesacker was impressive. He won several headers, against Wellbeck, and also a few duels with Rooney. Eventually, it was some calamitous defending, which resulted in both of United’s goals. He continued it with a good display at Bolton, though he almost conceded a penalty late on.
His season came to an abrupt end, when he landed akwardly, after losing his footing, in the league match at Sunderland. James McClean went on to score, but there was more concern for the German, as he was stretchered off. He would go on to miss the rest of the season, to be fit, just in time for the Euro’s.
How has the season been so far for Per Mertesacker? Here’s a look at some key features.
At first, slow to adapt, Mertesacker was slowly become well versed with Arsenal’s style of play, before he suffered the injury, which ended his season. In a league, where the pace is relentless, his transition has been slow, but he has shown he can be effective, commanding and a good organizer.
The vicious pace of the league has exposed the German’s lack of it. Easily caught out by the pacier striker like Graham, Morison, Holt, he needs quite a bit of working on his pace, if he wants to be first choice defender.
As tall as a California fir, you would expect Mertesacker to be a physical roughneck defender, something the sort of Chris Samba. However, he is a well accomplished, disciplined, neat tackler of the ball, who has picked up very few bookings in his career. He does, need to adapt to the league’s more physical and skillful players, such as Yakubu, Drogba, Sessegnon, Zamora, Rooney etc. His heading has been criticized in the past, and for a player of his height, you would expect him to win every header. But, he has not. Another aspect that needs fine tuning.
As I said earlier, he is a clean no nonsense defender. Rarely this season, have we seen him put a foot wrong in tackle, or concede free-kicks in crucial places, which is a breath of fresh air, in an Arsenal defence, usually accused of lack of discipline.
SUMMARY AND RATING
There is no doubt, in my mind, that, it will be pleasant headache for the manager for having to choose between Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker in the centre of defence, alongside Laurent Koscielny. A mixed first season seemed to be fast improving, before it was cut short by injury. Arsenal fans will be hoping to see a lot more of the German, in the coming season. He gets a rating of 7.