Yesterday afternoon Germany defender, and SV Werder Bremen captain, Per Mertesacker jetted in to London to undergo a medical ahead of a proposed move to Arsenal. It’s plain to football fans the world over that Arsene Wenger needs reinforcements at the back (he actually needs reinforcements all over), but Sunday’s 8-2 annihilation at the hands of rivals Manchester United made the need for defensive stability abundantly clear.
So what of Per Mertesacker then? He is the current captain of Werder Bremen and has been one of the first names on veteran coach Thomas Schaaf’s team sheet since he signed for Bremen in 2006 after a highly impressive performance at the FIFA World Cup. He has a multitude of experience having played Champions League and UEFA Cup/Europa League football for the past six seasons. At his relatively young age of 26 he has amassed 75 caps for the German national team and become an undisputed regular in competitive matches. And at 6”6’ he is an absolute giant of a man – he’ll probably look even taller when you watch him live as well, a bit like Blackburn’s Chris Samba.
Looking at Arsenal’s current defensive options (and defensive record) it’s fair to say Mertesacker will undoubtedly improve the squad. Koscielny had a mixed first season in the Premier League, being sent off on his debut before finding form towards the middle of the campaign. He is, alas, probably still haunted by his mistake at Wembley against Birmingham in the Carling Cup final in February, which gifted the Blues the win and derailed Arsenal’s season. Sebastian Squillaci was meant to provide the defensive experience Arsene Wenger wanted when William Gallas departed, but he has also found life difficult in the Premier League, and would have played far less had Thomas Vermaelen been fit. Johan Djourou has endured season after season interrupted by injury, while Vermaelen himself, so impressive for Arsenal in his first season, also missed most of the last campaign through injury.
He won’t be the next Tony Adams by any stretch of the imagination, but he will give the Arsenal team some steel
So where will Mertesacker fit in? I’m fairly certain that he’ll slot straight into the first team for Arsenal’s next game against Swansea at the Emirates on Saturday 10th September, and indeed that would probably be the case even if Wenger wasn’t struggling to pick eleven players. As aforementioned, his experience will certainly bring some stability to the Arsenal defence. Apart from Robin van Persie and the recently departed Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal simply don’t really have any real experience in their team. For a number of years now they have sorely missed that type of reliable old head in the mould of previous club stalwarts like Gilberto Silva, Sol Campbell or, dare I say it Tony Adams. As well as his experience he should help shore up a defence that is shipping goals, from set-pieces in particular. His height and imposing frame should be an instant help to Arsene Wenger, in both penalty boxes. He pitches in with a few goals each season and he’s very much like Chris Samba in that respect, although perhaps less aggressive.
As a follower of the Bundesliga, I would have some reservations about Mertesacker, not many though. The speed of the Premier League is nothing like what he will have been used to in Germany. German top-flight football is played at a higher tempo than in Spain or France, so his transition should be smoother than those of Koscielny or Squillaci, but it won’t be instant. When he faces some of the tougher teams in the division he’ll have his work cut out, and in a footrace my money wouldn’t be on him. That said, however, his imposing frame should be both a formidable obstacle and a good compliment to the speedy Thomas Vermaelen (although a deeper defensive line for a large Emirates pitch might be wise if he plays).
He also will be joining from a team which play an extreme brand of attacking football and don’t have the best defensive record. That ‘win-by-scoring-more-goals-than-the opposition’ mentality shouldn’t be foreign to him if and when he arrives at Arsenal. Even if he is caught out for pace at times, he’ll bring the experience that younger players need and leadership for set-piece situations, which Arsenal have so blatantly been missing or the past six years. His injury record is also good, and Wenger will be hoping he can stay fit. He won’t be the next Tony Adams by any stretch of the imagination, but he will give the Arsenal team some steel. And, without wishing to sound too cynical, he can’t be much worse than what the Gunners already have, can he?
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