A guest post by @GBVishJourno
“He’s slow”. That he is, I agree.
“And that’s why he sucks.” And that’s where you are wrong.
Just because Per Mertesacker is slow does not mean he sucks. What is that they say about Occam’s razor? That the simplest solution is always the most obvious one?
Arsene Wenger often drops nuggets of information that are more precious than gold. What not gold nuggets, no. That would cheapen his wisdom. Even comparing his life lessons to veins of platinum wouldn’t suffice.
“We have moved from a thinking society to an emotional society and we have to live with that” was what he once said.
Add the words of Mister Occam and Le Professeur and you get exactly why a majority of Arsenal fans – nay, football fans – are annoyed with Per Mertesacker. In a word where we seek instant gratification and overnight results, we fail to take a step back and see the bigger picture.
Newspapers, pundits and websites only add to this emotional side. What comes to mind is Goal.com’s post-match player ratings of Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester United at the back end of last season, when Daniel Welbeck and Antonio Valencia scored for United and the gek azel (do pardon my Dutch) who plays for them now scored for us.
During this game, Welbeck was put through on goal and had well beaten Wojciech Szczesny and was about to get the ball under control and stroke home, only for Mertesacker to intervene.
The score at the time was nil-nil.
And how did Goal.com report this particular incident? They said Mertesacker was ‘running in treacle’. To them, describing what Mertesacker didn’t have was more important than actually acknowledging that he had actually saved Arsenal’s blushes by putting his body on the line.
Sure Mertesacker doesn’t have pace. But since when was pace alone the yardstick for measuring the ability of a good defender?
When was the last time Arsenal had a defender who was as technically skilled as the Big F*cking German? Before him, we had Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny as first-choice. Both players who have playing styles that are very similar to each other. Both of them are aggressive players who are a lot more sparky than six-foot six inch Per.
And how have they performed this season? Vermaelen has been inconsistent at best while Koscielny has been relegated to the bench more often than not this season. Of late, he has featured ahead of Vermaelen in the pecking order and one of the reasons for that is that the Belgian’s form and mental conditioning has been bad of late.
Of course, you can’t remove the captain of a side, so you remove his partner if you want to play both Vermaelen and Koscielny. But Wenger has always stuck by Mertesacker. That shows not just how much Wenger believes in him.
It also shows how much Wenger trusts him.
But what about before Vermaelen and Koscielny? There was Kolo Toure and William Gallas, players who were once again very similar in their style of play. Gallas ultimately ousted the last main Invincible from our beloved club.
And before that were the forty-niners. Toure was there and he was protégé to one Jeremiah Sulzeer Campbell, a man-mountain of a centre-back who was not afraid of getting stuck in and doing what had to be done to ensure victory.
But Mertesacker does not fit the template laid out by all these centre-backs. He does, however, match one that was last filled by one of Arsenal’s greatest ever.
Tony Adams, Mr Arsenal himself.
Like Adams, Mertesacker displays that deceptively languid quality that automatically makes strikers lower their guard when they approach him. Beneath the surface you have a player who demonstrates an excellent reading of the game who possesses the anticipatory reflexes that prompts football clubs to fork out millions for predatory strikers out there. Vermaelen may sport the captain’s armband, but it is Mertesacker who possesses that calm authority that shapes a leader.
That was very evident during Arsenal’s recent games against Bayern Munich and Swansea City. Mertesacker was like an orchestral conductor, waving his arms this way and that as he marshalled the Gunners to two back to back clean sheets.
Arsenal have kept twelve clean-sheets this season. Mertesacker has played in every one of those twelve games.
But as it is with defenders, their prowess comes from qualities that are not discernible at face value.
And maybe that is why Mertesacker is being given so much stick. The one-size-fits-all approach that a significant number of modern-day football fans resort to when it comes to sizing up players does not quite do Per justice.
As early as 2006, when Mertesacker was only 21 years old, he was first choice for Germany at the World Cup, then paired with Christoph Metzelder. His antics with Germany – who finally finished third – earned him a move to Werder Bremen soon after the Weltmeisterschaft in his homeland. Thomas Schaaf was quick to praise his new recruit at the time:
“Per was convincing at the World Cup and anyone who plays such a strong tournament at such a young age can strengthen us. He has enormous potential.”
He is now realising that potential at Arsenal. It is also small wonder that Bremen’s rise up the table corresponds with Mertesacker’s time at the club. Of the five seasons he did spend in the north-east of Germany, Bremen finished in the top three on three separate occasions. They also reached the final of the 2008-09 UEFA Cup, where they lost to Shakhtar Donetsk. During that run, Mertesacker was a constant presence at the back until he was forced off in the semis due to injury.
As I sat down to pen this article on Thursday, a fellow Gooner told me that nobody on this site had dared to write on Mertesacker in the past. Keeping that in mind, permit me – as blasphemous and sacrilegious as it may seem – to borrow the motto of Tottenham Hotspur FC.
Audere est Facere does not mean to dare is to do, but rather daring is achieving.
At a time when there are several Facebook groups peppered with diatribe towards Per and a number of Twitter accounts which tend to write him off rather quickly, I dare to stand out in praise of our Beloved Fantastic German who has been brilliant this season.
You don’t have to believe me now. We may be eating humble pie at present, but the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Methinks it’s gonna taste like German chocolate cake in the future.