In a North London derby with major ramifications, Arsenal had to show toughness and resilience. Per Mertesacker, along with centre-back partner Laurent Koscielny, were toughness and resilience personified. With both North London pride and a vital three points on the line, Mertesacker was tested time and time again and he passed every test with flying colours.
If Arsenal had lost this game to Tottenham, that would have let the Gunners’ arch rivals right back into the race for the top four. Arsenal were able to grab the three points with huge credit going to the entire defence. Arsenal put in a very “un-Arsenal” performance, but in a derby game, it doesn’t matter how you get the points as long as you get them.
Mertesacker made 20 clearances, a season high, with 17 of those being headed clearances. He completed 17 of his 23 passes (76%) despite being under pressure on many of them. The German international was able to win his only ground duel and also win seven out of his eight aerial duels. Mertesacker had 48 touches, three more than striker Olivier Giroud. That shows how much of the game Arsenal were defending.
The partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny has been fantastic for Arsenal. That centre-back partnership is what Arsenal have built their success on this season. Normally, the two are higher up the pitch with Koscielny slightly further forward than Mertesacker. In a normal Arsenal game, Koscielny is allowed the freedom to go out to the ball and try and win the ball back if he feels he is able to do so. If he fails to do so, Mertesacker’s reading of the game is good enough for him to cover up the danger and allow Koscielny to get back into position. The two players cover for each other perfectly, forming a great partnership.
All that was applicable to the first half of the game. However, the second half of the game was not a normal Arsenal game. In the second half, Arsenal sat very deep and had very little possession. Both centre-backs were forced to sit much deeper than they usually do. The main Tottenham threat, Emmanuel Adebayor, was up for the task against his former club and was difficult to defend against. He chose to run off the shoulder of Laurent Koscielny, often meaning that Mertesacker was left to get the second balls and sweep up any other danger.
The flashpoint in the game came from a goalkeeping error. Arsenal goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, failed to claim a cross from Kyle Naughton, dropping it to Nacer Chadli in the penalty box. As soon as Chaldi received the ball, Mertesacker and Koscielny both scrambled back to their goal to attempt to be makeshift goalkeepers. Mertesacker stretched out his 6’6 frame on the floor, while Koscielny tried to stay in front of Chadli. Chadli eventually put his shot right at Koscielny allowing Arsenal to scramble the ball away and keep the score at 1-0. If Tottenham had scored from that chance, the game could have been totally different.
In the end, Arsenal didn’t play up to their usual standard but they came away with an important three points. A victory over your biggest rivals always means a lot to the fans and the players. This was apparent by the players celebrating with the fans after the final whistle. This three points could mean a lot to Arsenal in the long run and they wouldn’t have grabbed them without their imperious centre-back, Per Mertesacker.