Arsenal: Why Per Mertesacker Is Emerging as One of Arsenal's Leaders
Per Mertesacker is not your typical leader.
The German defender is softly spoken and often passive. He is, in many senses, a gentle giant. However, over the course of this season, the totemic centre-half has emerged as one of the most influential figures in an otherwise inexperienced Arsenal squad.
As soon as he was parachuted in after Arsenal's Old Trafford humiliation in August 2011, Mertesacker quickly became a popular figure in the dressing room. His experience at international level and reputation as a defensive organiser meant that Arsenal fans were excited about the possibility of a more secure central defence.
However, like many central defenders who arrive from abroad, Mertesacker had to undergo a period of adaptation. By the end of the season, injury and poor form saw him fall behind Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny in Arsene Wenger's pecking order.
This season, however, he has been first choice for much of the campaign, superseding even the skipper Vermaelen. When Arsene Wenger has chosen to leave him out, such as in the home fixture against Chelsea, it has proved calamitous.
Arsenal's defence experienced their nadir in the North London derby with Tottenham this month, but in the wake of that defeat, Mertesacker has emerged as the leader of a defence that has gone on to keep two consecutive clean sheets.
Mertesacker has spoken with honesty and eloquence about the work Arsenal have done defensively in recent weeks (via the Daily Mail):
We all had the feeling after the Tottenham game that there was something to do, so everybody was involved and everyone felt we needed to improve and speak.
We watch the previous game back before every game but the defenders did it on our own and I thought there was quite an improvement against Swansea.
We saw ourselves as a unit on the television and I think it was a good thing to do because sometimes you have a different view on the pitch and you feel different.
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Arsenal are finally taking defending seriously, and Mertesacker is a key figure in that process.
Encouragingly for Arsenal fans, it seems he intends to be around for the long term. The big German recently rubbished rumours of a return to the Bundesliga (via The Independent):
It is strange for me. I am playing all the time, getting positive feedback from my coach, but for some time now I am being told I should leave as quickly as possible. Maybe it is because our [German] fans love me too much.
Having taken Vermaelen's place in the team, Mertesacker may now be eyeing the captain's armband. The gentle giant is making himself heard, and Arsenal are reaping the benefits.
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