Who Is Better: John Terry or Per Mertesacker?

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Who Is Better: John Terry or Per Mertesacker?
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The result of Arsenal and Chelsea's upcoming battle will largely be determined by defense.

Both sides have extremely potent attacks and are managed by men who put emphasis on the attacking side of the game. Olivier Giroud and Fernando Torres are prone to misfiring, but Juan Mata, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Eden Hazard are both teams' keys to victory.

Defending requires a team effort, but much of the responsibility for doing so will fall to each team's back four.

And there is no question about who the centerpiece of each defense is.

John Terry and Per Mertesacker have very different personalities and somewhat different playing styles, but both are integral to the integrity of their respective defenses and have been started by their managers in almost every Premier League game for which they have been eligible.

It is natural, then, to juxtapose the two men and determine which one is the better centre-back. Let's start with Chelsea's captain.

 

John Terry

Jose Mourinho loves the guy a lot more than Rafa Benitez does. Consider this: Terry had started at least 20 Premier League games in 10 of the last 11 seasons prior to Benitez taking over at Chelsea. Last year, he led the team onto the pitch only 11 times.

Many of his absences were due to injury, of course, and Branislav Ivanovic did an excellent job deputizing alongside David Luiz. But Terry's consistent benching was remarkable given his superhuman stature at the club.

He is Chelsea's corollary to Tony Adams at Arsenal—Mr. Chelsea, the rock at the back, a fearsome leader and a man who is despised by supporters of other clubs and adored at his own stadium.

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Terry is beginning to get a little long in the tooth at 33 years old, and over a decade of fearlessly running around the pitch and smashing into opponents will eventually take its toll on the Englishman's body. For now, though, he is doing just fine.

Mourinho still trusts him to organize the defense and lead the team on the pitch. Even when Terry's body begins to fail him—and, though he is losing pace, it has not yet—he will still be able to draw on a wealth of experience and intangible grit to get the job done.

It is a skill all the best wily veterans have. And it is Terry's greatest strength. He will be bullied by no one. He will defend his teammates just as fiercely as he will his goal. His positional sense compensates for his average pace and allows him to aggressively snuff out attacks before they really begin.

Terry also has a knack for scoring goals, which has only added to his heroic status at Stamford Bridge. In almost 600 appearances—597, to be exact—he has netted 57 times. That is an excellent total for a centre-back—Tony Adams scored 10 fewer times in 75 more games.

So, while Terry is visibly aging and still has his old flaws, he continues to be an intimidating, dynamic threat for Chelsea.

 

Per Mertesacker

On the last day of the summer 2011 transfer window, Arsenal signed five players in a desperate attempt to reinforce the squad. Of that quintet—Yossi Benayoun, Andre Santos, Park Chu-Young, Mikel Arteta and Mertesacker—the last looks to be the best buy.

He is utterly unique in Arsenal's squad. In a team that prides itself on an intricate, swift, ground-based attack, Mertesacker is, quite literally, a gigantic outlier.

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At 6'6", he towers over everyone else Arsene Wenger has at his disposal. For some time after Mertesacker was purchased, pundits were worried about his obvious lack of pace—the giant German sometimes appears as if he is moving in slow motion compared to the fleet-footed attackers he marks.

Incredibly, though, Mertesacker manages to overcome his handicap and, moreover, steal the ball from forwards' feet with what looks like minimal effort.

Much of his ability to do so is the result of extraordinary positional awareness and, more importantly, the ability to read the game and anticipate his opponent's move before it is made. The deep-lying position he is forced into by his slowness makes this even easier.

Mertesacker is actually not as dominant in the air as one would expect a man so tall to be. He cannot jump very high, and his vertical leap is often matched by that of Laurent Koscielny, who is several inches shorter.

Interestingly—and perhaps most importantly—Mertesacker contributes a tremendous amount to Arsenal on the ground and with the ball at his feet.

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With a more dynamic partner like Koscielny or Thomas Vermaelen at his side, Mertesacker can coolly distribute the ball from a very deep position. He is often the last outlet relied on by the midfield to retain possession of the ball and restart failed attacks.

And Mertesacker does all this with an air of leadership and an aura of quiet confidence about him. He is rapidly emerging as a respected commander within the team—collecting fines and disciplining his teammates when necessary.

For example, there was nothing mellow about Mertesacker's bellowing at Mesut Ozil last weekend after the latter did not applaud Arsenal's traveling support following the Gunners' thrashing at the Etihad Stadium.

 

Who's better?

Both men would instantly slot into almost any defense in the Premier League, if not every single one. Neither is significantly worse than the other.

But Terry's most important strength—his natural ability to lead his club—is somewhat blunted by Mertesacker's emerging role as third-string captain and discipline-enforcer.

Who is better?

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Moreover, Terry is not as vital to the efficiency of Chelsea's midfield and attack as Mertesacker is to Arsenal's. A certain calmness and confidence is missing from Arsenal's defense when the German is absent, and those have massively contributed to the Gunners' outstanding form in 2013.

While Terry and Mertesacker are in some ways very similar and improve their respective teams by playing, there is a clear, if narrow, victor in this matchup.

The winner is: Per Mertesacker.

 

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