The summer before this season commenced has been unanimously declared a disaster by all associated with the Arsenal. The messy departures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas stripped the club of their two most creative talents and Gael Clichy’s refusal to renew his contract meant we were short in the left-back area. Welcome high-profile departures came in the form of Eboue, Traore, Denilson, Bendtner and Vela, albeit only the former two sold completely. Of course it wouldn’t be Arsenal unless a player was ruled out for the majority of the season and the tradition continued when Jack Wilshere’s ankle injury became serious during pre-season, ruling him out until February. We are yet to see him take to the field this season.
In reaction to this raft of departures, Wenger was unusually active in the transfer window. The early capture of young Carl Jenkinson from Charlton went largely unnoticed. Long-term target Gervinho was finally captured from Lille in July to add some much-needed quality to the attack and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived from Southampton to some derision (‘another expensive young winger!?’) which has now been blown out of the water.
The final 48 hours of the transfer window were very bizarre as Wenger embarked on a spending spree that must have been the equivalent of a man buying his wife an expensive gift, he knows he has to impress but there must be a cheaper way of doing it. Park Chu-Young joined in comical fashion after a last-gasp dash to the airport, Yossi Benayoun joined on loan from Chelsea and Andre Santos and Per Mertesacker arrived to bolster the defense. In the dying hours, Mikel Arteta forced through a transfer from Everton and the window was closed. By this stage of the season, Arsenal were 17th in the table after suffering a humiliating 8-2 defeat courtesy of Man United. As the season has went on, Wenger’s transfers have varied from impressive to anonymous. I’ll be taking a look at each one in a (hopefully!) weekly article. First up, as it was confirmed this week he would miss the rest of the season and therefore can’t mess up this article, well any more than I can, is our Big F***ing German; Per Mertesacker.
There were calls throughout the summer, in fact over the last couple of the seasons, for Arsenal to sign a tall, strong no-nonsense defender. Christopher Samba and Gary Cahill were the two most strongly linked. Hilariously there were even calls for Scott Dann or Roger Johnson to be snapped up from relegated Birmingham. When you are talking about Arsene Wenger though, the unexpected is the most likely route of action. He signed Mertesacker for around £10 million from Werder Bremen, a player with 79 caps for Germany and had also captained the national side on many occasions. At 6 ft 6, many expected him to be the aerially dominating centre-back it seemed we required, the reality has been very different though.
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Next Page: Mertesacker performance analysis…
The most noticeable thing about Mertesacker is that despite his size, he looks in need of a few trips to McDonald’s. What he’s become most renowned for is possessing the turning circle of the Costa Concordia and the pace to match it. Even with all these negatives, I really like him. While Vermaelen draws all the plaudits for his strength and last-ditch, never say die battles, Mertesacker is often criticised. I feel this is because his work goes unnoticed. He rarely lets situations descend to the point where a last man tackle is required, he has only had to make 3 this season. His reading of the game really is fantastic and his organisational ability has been missed in his absence. You can bet if he was on the field in the North London Derby the other week, Koscielny would have never drifted so far wide to close down Adebayor, leaving Saha unmarked to open the scoring. The player himself has admitted that he has struggled to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League, the mistake against Norwich the most notable example, but he has put in some impressive performances. In December, Arsenal had only conceded 3 goals in 6 games, aided by two great performances from Mertesacker against Wigan and QPR.
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These two games probably highlight where Mertesacker’s mental abilities are vital, when we are dominating and likely to lose concentration and when we are chasing a win against a stubborn opponent playing on the break. These two games really highlight the minimalist efficiency he possesses, he very rarely needs to make challenges and when he does he ensures they are clean and strong. In 21 appearances the big German was only booked twice, compared to eight times for the more active Koscielny.
Next Page: How does Per compare to other last summer targets Cahill and Samba?
How does he compare to the other rumoured transfer targets from the summer, Gary Cahill and Christoper Samba though? Cahill has since moved to Chelsea from Bolton and Samba put in a transfer request at Blackburn before joining Anzhi Makchakala, both had tough seasons at the bottom end of the table. For ease of use I’ll only be looking at Cahill at Bolton.
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Cahill is more of an active defender, however he is less efficient. Noticeably, Mertesacker is the only one to have made any last man tackles. Despite the fact that he tries to avoid them, Arsenal’s high line is something that would be difficult to adapt to and he has been forced into a few. Despite his lack of pace, he has been dribbled past the least of the 3, even more impressive when you factor in the high line. Disappointingly, Samba and Cahill contribute significantly to attacks, whereas Mertesacker has done very little. I often feel he should be more of a threat at corners, although his lack of aggression often lets him down in the rough and tumble scenarios of these set pieces. Frustratingly, and possibly a by-product of his days at Werder Bremen, he often goes up front and stays there when Arsenal are in need of a goal. The frustrating aspect of this being that he plays for Arsenal, route one football is an anathema to Wenger and as a result Mertesacker is often left standing about while a player of more use attacking-wise has to cover for his absence.
After his tumble on the disgraceful pitch at the Stadium of Light, we won’t get to see Mertesacker again until next season, possibly the Euros. Despite a few growing pains, I’ve really been impressed with the qualities he has brought to our defence, which before this season was more twitchy, nervous and implosive than calm, calculating and efficient. His wry smile and later admission of love for the ‘Big f***ing German, we’ve got a…’ chant endeared him to me even more and I for one can’t wait to see him back.
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