38 Comments

All Hail the BFG!

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.

You?

38 comments on “All Hail the BFG!

  1. Great stuff. A fair summation of the contribution this season of our often under-rated German. What I could not get over when I first saw him is quite how enormous he is, tall, wide, you name it he is hooooooje all round. Combine that immensity with a shrewd football brain ( I read that his red card at WBA was his first ever as a pro) and you have a mighty weapon in your defensive armament. his two goals against Spuds have done him no harm in my book either.

    As far as Wenger dropping gold nuggets I have noticed that when he does that there are plenty of our fellow fans who moan the nuggests are the wrong shape, or too big or too small.

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  2. Excellent piece…stats speak loader than words

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  3. right i simply can not digest fergusons comments and how theyve been accepted. about him having his ways to apply pressurE on refs and how its PART OF THE GAME……..

    what game is that then?

    pppppppiiiiiiiissssss rrrriiiiighggggghhhtttttt OFF !

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  4. Emotional vs Thinking fans. Instead of getting betting it is getting worse if you go by the drivel on Twitter and Facebook. It will only get worse as soon as the season closes and transfer rumors take center stage.

    Good piece by Vish in exposing the nonsense about the BFG by emotive fans who think they know better than the experienced, qualified professionals who manage the football team. One detail which I quibble with is your statement that “Koscielny has been relegated to the bench more often than not this season.” According to the dot com [http://tiny.cc/s937ww], only 7 players have more starts this season. He has had 28 starts and 5 appearances from the bench, which coincidentally, is similar to Gibbs.

    As someone once said figures don’t lie.

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  5. ADI
    nicely written and well deserved praise for the SACKER ( don’t really like BFG ). A good footballing brain on that one and he seems so very emotionaly under control too. MIKEL and NACHO also have these qualities. Fire & ice baby. KOSHER THE FIRE & SACKER THE ICE. when he came I felt that our defensive issues will gradually improve and they have. SACKER/TV OR SACKER/KOSHER OR KOSHER/TV depending on the opposing team. With big JOHANNE AND IGGY as back up. I am not sure regarding JD’s future right now but if he is to stay , we would have the most solid back line in the EPL for years to come. I do rate them all and in TV’s and JD’s case we have the added benefits they bring in as far as their versatility to fill in the DM position in an emergency until LE COQ is deemed ready to make that position his when ARTTETA starts thinking of hanging the boots.
    Very happy we brought him over and very happy you decided to give him a write up and much deserved praise.
    Lets hope this weekends results really go our way. Would be fantastic if we did indeed finish ahead of chelski and totteringham

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  6. BFG has been our best player along with Sant

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  7. I think you’ll find plenty here who’ve been singing Per’s praises for a very long time. Nice to read a piece from someone who sees what’s actually happening rather than what they’re told to think.

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  8. Private Eye on Ferguson – The media suffers collective ‘Stockholm Syndrome’

    http://www.private-eye.co.uk/sections.php?section_link=street_of_shame&issue=1340

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  9. Great post Adi! I’m already a confirmed fan of the BFG, but I guess you know you are preaching to the already converted in these parts.

    Cheers for the link ‘Coll. The fact that Fergie counts Alastair Campbell as a “long-standing friend”, speaks volumes.

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  10. The goals tally, for and against, home and away, this season relative to other teams speaks more any other statistic of the growing effectiveness and confidence of this squad, of which Per is and will become even more of an integral cog.

    The more interesting statistical element is that the excellent various goals differentials this season has not translated into enough points, and this is directly relative to Chelsea and City, and even more Spuds (and how did they get all those points with a relatively weak goals differential?); which indicates other factors at play. To my mind this reflects a team in a transitional and still relatively unstable phase earlier in the season, and despite excellent away record, 3 too many draws, one too many losses especially at home, and 9 points “dropped” so to speak.

    The positives are just as important: how effectively RvP was replaced in terms of goals return, and critically the spread of goals – despite all this silly talk of 30-goal strikers, actually the dream for a manager is having goals and goal threat spread through 4 to 5 players; and finally how effectively the defensive side to Arsenal has performed.

    No doubt Arsenal’s performances since the Bayern turnaround and in the last quarter of the season easily place us statistically in the top 2 in EPL, maybe even top on this current run of form. Yes, we can’t pick and choose our purple patches, we are judged by the whole season and fair enough to that. Still one can’t but notice a team finding its form, and this is seen not only in the flow of actual matches, but in the statistics.

    A section of “fans” clamored, hollered, agonized (friends on ACLF in this category) and some all but inflicted self-wounds (ie vitriol against their own team) to achieve this objective, a squad and players with attributes to realistically compete to win the league and more: now it seems they have it, it is instructive to hear what the same fans say. The fact that they ignore what is being achieved before their eyes, and mostly what they “demanded” earlier on (in performance, defense, goals, spirit, guts, will to win and results), says everything about real motives. It can only be football consumer entitlement plus a deep desire for endorsement by the pundits and media who most dislike Arsenal. Now, I wonder, if you really want Arsenal to “conform” accordingly – to become “like” Man United, or Chelsea and Spuds even, to win those endorsements, how is it possible to then be Arsenal at the same time? They are fake fans.

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  11. Hear hear GB Vish,
    Our Beloved Fantastic German is one heck of a leader.
    “…it is Mertesacker who possesses that calm authority that shapes a leader.”

    His calm feeds the backline, keeper and allows everyone else to concentrate and just get on with it.
    Here’s to Newcastle feeling his wrath come Sunday

    COYG!

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  12. The player of the season, overall contribution, the whole season, is unquestionably the whole team. It’s an odd concept to grasp I know but when your front-runners are Arteta, Kos, Santi, Giroud, Per, Theo, Sagna (when available) and Ramsey, it becomes easier to fathom.

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  13. We have to play out of our skins so to speak against Newcastle. 90 minutes of the best of … There must be no ifs and buts and maybes. No second guessing.

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  14. well well well…..looks like weve finally signed yaya

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  15. Get yer Ya-Yas Out !

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  16. Yes, Per deserves a lot of credit. An excellent commentary. The cookie cutter mindset is a detriment to seeing the truth. It is nonesense. Lest we forget, Per also showed what he could last season and he brought calm to the team then. His injury was a big blow. Yes, he does not have speed as far as running but his speed of thought and composure more than make up for any lack of pace, he has shown that repeatedly but getting a leg stuck in and intercepting a pass when you thought he was about to get caught out, a class player.

    ZP @ 1:27…Yeh.

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  17. So once again we are going to get a player that no one has ever had on their cards. Tells you all you need to know about all the rumours floating in the media.

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  18. @ Evil

    Right on! The media rumours are downright silly. I count a signing when then actually sign, and knowning the manager, the signings will come from unexpected quarters. Wenger is a ninja!

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  19. Always makes me grin when people call some footballers slow (not in the derogatory Rooney sense), usually big defenders, But I bet he’s faster than most of us. Just a tad slower than the average footballer is all.

    Anyway hope his best is yet to come.

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  20. Zimpaul – you are such a brilliant poster.

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  21. I agree with Steww.

    What comes to mind is what could possibly have been if the support really got behind the team? I wonder how many more points we could have gained. I know the support is not playing but surely we have a huge part to play in making sure that the team plays with total freedom, especially at home.

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  22. ZIMPAUL @127
    A bit early but post of the day for me.. Closely followed by anicoll5 ” get your ya-ya’s out “.
    Profound. double smiley face..

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  23. Top, top post by ZimPaul at 1:27pm.
    Football consumer entitlement indeed
    No wonder owners who spend gargantum sums and their fans (Chelsea and City) can never be satisfied.

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  24. As something of a self declared expert on Pace in Football *coughs – try not to laugh* I feel like I should attempt to write something.

    The first time that I was fortunate enough to see Per play live was against Bolton (Home) last season. I don’t often show such cunning but that was my first game last season, and apart from the combinations between our leading goal scorer this season and some twit the biggest impression made was the presence of Per. I’d had a minor panic attack whilst confusing the initial rumour of his signing with Metzelder (I know, I know…) but fortunately I managed to eventually remember the strong rumours linking Arsenal with the Breman skipper from the Summer before. I also remembered his fifty odd caps for a very competitive German national team and that was all I needed to know.
    Some of you know I have written in the past of why Football & Cricket are two of the greatest team sports ever: It allows the big ‘uns to compete with the little ‘uns. The fleet of foot with the quick witted, you know what I mean. And Per definitely has more wits then most.
    I have also observed (along with most football fans!) that the game has become more athletic. Alas that didn’t please the fans of the Don Revie school out there. Ah well, you can’t please ’em all. I guess prejudice blinds the Revieites to the understanding that a ‘big ‘un’ who only picked up his first red recently is just ‘not that kind of player’. Heh.

    I once wrote a critique on Vermaelan’s positioning after the first Barcelona Home game and got told off for being too negative elsewhere. Alas I was just trying to highlight the lack of sincerity when comparing what went wrong on the pitch when a goal of is scored by opponents with the repetitive & negative memes about the defence and of the players themselves that have bored us all to death. Those observations were made just before Zonal Markings essays on Vermaelan, thank you very much! *coughs*

    Going forwards, I see a return to form for Tommy Vermaelan next season. Maybe not at the start but at some point. What was it, one and a half seasons out with ankle horrors? That’s a long long time for an athlete. Are air kicks that surprising when form and confidence have been lost tot the ravages of injury and rehab. People forget that Koscielny and Vermaelan have had some very good games together before this season. If either Mertesacker or Koscielny are out for a bit next season I won’t be crying!

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  25. And to think they wanted to shove Samba, Cahill and any number of horrible defenders down our throats just because they could defend a fecking set piece. I absolutely adore the BFG.

    In order to appreciate Per one has to watch him carefully. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times we’d have an opponent break through only to see him stay wide because he knew he wasn’t going to get any change from big Merte. Or how many times did an opponent try to cut back close to our box and Per was there waiting for the ball as if he knew it was always going to come to him? A quality which seems to have rubbed off on young Koscielny, since I’ve seen him add that trick to his Arsenal in recent months.

    .
    [i]“We have moved from a thinking society to an emotional society and we have to live with that”[/i]

    – Wenger

    Can anyone blame this guy for never wanting to talk about football, or anything for that matter, with stupid people?

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  26. Fin, thanks to a rather large influx of Caribbeans from former British colonies, we here in south Florida have a cricket stadium which hosts internationally sanctioned cricket matches. Starting next season I’m going to start watching cricket, whether I understand it or not.

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  27. I think Vermaelen is struggling to get into the side because Koscielny and Mertesacker, on current form, are two of the best central defenders in Europe at the moment. Personally, I wouldn’t mind it if Wenger made him a CM the way he did with Petit. If I were a central attacker and had to play against Vermaelen, Koscielny and Mertesacker, I’d shit my pants.

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  28. Fins – Speaking of lack of sincerity, I have a similar experience. Do you remember earlier in the year when I criticized Szech for leaking too many goals? Was there a shitstorm? Simply because he was the favorite of a little clique of know-it-alls. Verily, verily it came to pass that the Boss had to bench Szech after the Spurs game because of one too many cock-ups. In came Fabianski, member of the deadwood brigade, whose talents had been derided by the clique and departure from the club is continually touted. Yet “Flappy-handski” saved our asses with his clean catching in the games that commenced our current run of success and one of the heroes of our historic victory at Bayern. Of course it is now conventional wisdom that Szech is a better player for being benched. Where was the bravery to speak the truth when it was not popular to highlight his flaws?

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  29. @Shotta
    In fact, you had done the same thing even back on ACLF and the reaction was predictable. Some players are not to be criticised, while others will be made scapegoats, no matter what they do. There was a time where you weren’t allowed to say a positive thing about Almunia or Fabianski, but if you pointed out one of Szczesny’s flaws (and it has to be noted that since being benched this season he has come back a much better player!) there would be several people right on you.

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  30. Ha! I got thrown off the other blog because I relentlessly fucked with an idiot who had it in for Flapianski. You want to know why that blog is the way it is? Look no further than that twat.

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  31. Off topic but spotted this,
    Orcs acting like orcs.
    http://www.goal.com/en-gb/news/2896/premier-league/2013/05/12/3974043/-?

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  32. Name names Gains

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  33. Drag abut, fucking technology,
    This is what was supposed to happen:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/22575668

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  34. Per:
    Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

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  35. Must agree with gainsborough on vermalen in mid field I’d love to see him per & kos on the pitch together, not that I no better than arsene I’d just like to see it. Great posts from everyone over the last week its ben a pleasure reading the blog, since its inception actually
    Arsenal!!

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  36. If the BFG was English or in another shade of red shirt he would be hailed as a great defender (that maybe me just being paranoid), like other defenders in the EPL he is not blessed with great pace but makes up for this in organisation an positioning. In his first months in the EPL he went to ground to quickly to make his tackles but with games and the more pacy Kos beside him he has cut this out. He is the leader in defence Arsenal have been crying out for, I think the Arsenal fans can see how good he is but the one eyed media and so called experts refuse to see this. If it was down to me I would have him a captain on the field, he is calm but passionate he is determined but rearly over the top.
    With BFG and Kos and a pair we have a solid centre back team

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  37. Evil @ 9:26 pm – Poor old Almunia. He is gone to now and excelling at Watford contrary to conventional wisdom was he would never be 1st choice at a club challenging for honors.

    My only reason for re-hashing his unfair treatment is make a point about the dangers of scapegoating without looking at the deeper reasons for our conceding goals during his tenure. A few of us made the point that our defending further upfield was the main problem. Our midfielders and wide players were either missing in action or out of position leaving us susceptible to counter-attacks. The blogger, Desigunner, in particular would break it down in excruciating detail. But Almunia is Spanish and most importantly did not come with a big price tag. So his strengths as a shot-stopper were belittled and any mistake exaggerated. Show me a keeper who never makes a howler?

    So we are now shopping for Julio Cesar it seems? Seeing is believing as far as I am concerned.

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