Since returning from World Cup international duty this summer with his native Germany, Per Mertesacker’s performances in an Arsenal shirt have been the subject of stringent analysis within the English footballing community. Several in the game – most notably some of the more high-profile figures in TV punditry – have been quick to highlight the 30-year-old’s distinct lack of pace as reason enough for Arsene Wenger to cut loose his trusted centre-back.
Mertesacker’s role in the Gunners’ ill-fated Champions League first leg against Monaco has seen the defender receive the most intense level of criticism so far in his 2014/15 season, and as the Daily Mail are reporting that both Neven Subotic and Aleksandar Dragovic remain defensive targets for Arsenal throughout the coming summer months, the World Cup winner’s Emirates career seemingly looks to be in doubt.
However, despite the recycled claims that the big German is no longer good enough to ply his trade in the Premier League anymore, a series of questions still surround Per Mertescaker and his future with the north Londoners.
With Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulsita also now among the ranks of Arsenal’s squad, is Mertesacker seemingly too slow and out of form to be given such important responsibility at the Emirates, or has the recently retired German international simply been made into a scapegoat in what has only been a brief lapses in performance for the towering No. 4?
One thing that doesn’t bode too well for Per Mertesacker is the fact that he is – with all due respect – simply not the quickest across the pitch when it comes to defending in the Premier League. His height and elevated physicality make his ability to rush back into position and stop an impending attack all the more difficult. This much seemingly goes without saying.
The former Werder Bremem man has also been criticized for his lack of aerial strength, despite his apparent advantage in the height department. On a couple of occasions this term, Mertesacker has been beaten in the air by strikers who simply wouldn’t be expected to achieve such a feat with their difference in stature.
This is what many pundits and fans alike in the modern game have had to say about the German centre-back however, but as is the case with most arguments within the beautiful game – there are always two sides to every story.
When Per Mertesacker puts in a good shift for the Gunners – as he had done throughout most of the 2013/14 campaign, building up a formidable partnership with Laurent Koscielny at the back – his critics rarely seem to be as giving with their praise as they are with their attacks.
On his day, the ex-Bundesliga star can simply have some of the Premier League’s best strikers firmly locked in his back pocket. His positional sense is usually on point – despite the fact that hardly anyone ever notices it – and his composure on the ball is also something that holds him in good stead down at the Emirates. Wenger notoriously prefers defenders who are adept with the ball at their feet, and although he may not initially seem it on first impressions, Per Mertesacker certainly falls into that category.
Yes, he didn’t have a good game against Monaco. And yes, his lack of pace invariably holds his progress in the Premier League back to a certain degree. But as most quicker defenders out there are in fact nowhere near the German’s overall defensive game, Arsenal fans must be willing to give the ‘BFG’ another chance.
Perhaps if circumstances had allowed for Wenger’s collective back four to be more consistent and organised this season, Per Mertesacker wouldn’t have been handed the scapegoat status that currently tarnishes his reputation in the modern game.
The Gunners nevertheless have every chance of returning to their very best form at the tail end of the season, with 2015 proving to be a particularly impressive period for Arsene Wenger and Co. already.