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Mertesacker’s Injury Hurts Arsenal More Than Lack of Striker

Per Mertesacker is an enigma. You look at him and his slow meandering pace and you couldn’t be blamed if your mind wondered to whether or not he was Peter Crouch’s long-lost brother. But then he turns in performances like he did away at Leicester or home to United last season and you wonder how could we live without him.

Well, we’re about to find out. Two days ago when Arsenal departed England for it’s US “tour” (can it be a tour if they go to one state and two cities?) the most noticeable absence from the team picture was the BFG. No news came out. That was until Kike Marin on twitter suggested that Mertesacker was set for a 5 month layoff due to a knee injury.

Now if you are like me, you take what anyone says on twitter with grain of salt and skeptical eye. However, 24 hours later at his press conference, Wenger confirmed:

We have bad news on Per Mertesacker. He played in Lens on Friday night, he finished the game and had a little pain on his knee. We found out the next day that it was much more serious than expected. He had surgery yesterday in Germany. It all went well. I know you will ask me for how long he will be out. I don’t know that, it’s [some] months, but I don’t know [exactly] how long he will be out for.

The months seem to align with Kike’s first report of 5 months. Two people I tend to trust with Arsenal-related news insinuated it could be longer. Regardless of the duration, it means the heat and soul of Arsenal’s defense is out and if we’re honest, it’s likely that he may never be a starter again.

It’s quite sad really. He is a player like our striker, Oliver Giroud, that divides opinion. His detractors focus solely on his lack of pace in the greased lightning style of play that is the Premier League. They look at his lack of jumping prowess in aerial duels. What they ignore is what makes Per Mertesacker so integral to our back 4.

In Germany the man we know as the BFG was affectionately nicknamed, the Defence Pole (his stature) and Mr. Clean (lack of bookings.) Let’s be fair those aren’t names that garner much praise in the rough and tumble of the Premier League.

But for what he lacks for in those areas he more than makes up in the cerebral sense for which he plays a game. Now, Per Mertesacker like any defender is prone to errors. But Mertesacker’s aren’t as frequent as others.

Mertesacker’s greatest strengths are his positional awareness, ability to read the game and anticipation. When he is on his game he simply bends but never breaks. For the most part he is always able to put himself in a position to win versus an opponent than lose. In the 2010 World Cup this was evidenced against England where Wayne Rooney is still trying to figure ways around him.

Fast forward to this last season and look at the way he handled the quicker more agile strikers of Leciester City and United (at home.) Heading into those matches people feared the quickness of the opposition would get the better of the cerebral center half. Martial and Vardy were well mustered by Mertesacker and he never was in the wrong place against them.

Another area that he excels in those static clinching battles that happen around the box or the top of the  final third. And while he gets stick for his “lack of strength” he is hardly afraid of the ball. The Guardian said it best:

Mertesacker may not have stitches in his head, or a Keown-like ability to balk and block and smother but he is undeniably brave on the ball, where a more wholehearted English-style centre-half will so often resort to the panic-stricken punt into the channels.

Then there is his distribution from the back. Arsenal depend on the ability of the center backs to start play. When under pressure up top Arsenal utilize the central defenders as an outlet to get things going again. In that role Mertesacker is stellar for Arsenal. Since the 12/13 season has averaged a passing completion rate of 91% putting him consistently near the top of the league.

Finally, with Mertesacker you get a whole phalanx of intangibles the most important being his leadership. It was widely rumoured that Per was going to be given the Captain’s arm band after the departure of Mikel Arteta. The team’s vice-captain during Arteta’s reign as captain, players spoke of his presence in the locker room as well as on the pitch.

He was the field marshal that directed the back line and added an air of calmness to an area of the pitch that has been hare kari at other times. His leadership lead to a settled partnership with Laurent Koscielny – one that only a few season ago led Arsenal to its longest unbeaten run in recent memory.

He is the quiet leader. He doesn’t fancy himself in the Tony Adams fire and brimstone mold. And that likely irks the more traditional English Arsenal fans. But he goes about his work so effectively that his worth and presence are missed when he isn’t there. He is a player of craft and of intelligence and as one writer put it brain on stilts.

His absence from Arsenal for whatever duration will be missed both for the tangible and intangible reasons. While another striker is a must  in the transfer market, Arsenal must prioritize finding an apt replacement who offers similar qualities of leadership and craft.








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