Remembering Per Mertesacker: So Much More Than Just a ‘Big German’

Per Mertesacker
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Sometimes the impact a player has on a club, not just the squad, is measured far beyond the realms of just the pitch itself.

Sometimes there is someone within the squad who both embodies the ethos of what the club preaches and stays true to the core values that have been instilled from the get-go.

Sometimes you’ll get a player who strengthens a dressing room without ever kicking a ball.

Sometimes, while never being the most naturally talented footballer, the sheer desire and dedication to improving both you and those around you will result in a career far more successful than your own raw ability should have permitted.

Sometimes we’ll come across someone like Per Mertesacker. A man whose impact on Arsenal as a whole is far more profound than it may appear at first glance.

Per MertesackerPer Mertesacker
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Brought in by Arsene Wenger shortly after the demoralising and crippling humiliation the side suffered during that 8-2 defeat against Manchester United, Mertesacker’s assignment was clear: sort this lot out. Most likely in far harsher terms.

But that never meant that he had to simply boost the quality of the defence. While that certainly fell within the parameters of his assignment, the German was always brought in to do so much more. His job was to unite, assert, settle and improve the squad from back to front. Moreover, his assistance was needed from top to bottom.

William Gallas, Mikaël Silvestre and Gaël Clichy had all departed in the previous 12 months, and while 66% of those departures were welcome, it meant a lot of experience had walked out of the door.

Stepping into the fold was a German international with plenty of that. His experience was truly invaluable.

Arsenal's German defender Per MertesackeArsenal's German defender Per Mertesacke
PATRIK STOLLARZ/Getty Images

Just on first viewing he appears like the model centre-half. He’s a giant, after all, and someone whose reading of the game and leadership qualities shine through even from a just a brief glance his direction. For five seasons in north London, he was all of that and more.

Quickly establishing himself as a fan favourite with his vocal, dominant and aggressive style of defending, he never shied away from giving his teammates an earful. His aerial prowess was clear, and he read the game effortlessly.

It’s no secret in mentioning that he had deficiencies in his game though. He wasn’t the ball-playing sub-genre of defender, one to link defence and attack with a marauding run forward, nor was he the most mobile. The joke that ‘milk turns quicker than Per Mertesacker’ was a constant jibe, and it would be wrong to suggest his lack of pace didn’t catch him out on a number of occasions.

But while his natural ability was not in the world-class bracket, Mertsesacker’s professionalism and attitude certainly were.

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OLLY GREENWOOD/Getty Images

Under Wenger’s guidance, the German was the embodiment of his manager’s philosophy. His approach to hard work and self-improvement meant his game was always elevated, but keeping a watchful eye on those around him to ensure similar progress was achieved.

In many ways, Mertesacker could be seen as the Frenchman’s number two. He was a shoulder to lean on for fellow struggling teammates, an experienced mentor for the young players and an upstanding, intelligent and respected human being outside of football.

He always conducted himself with the upmost grace and decorum, never speaking ill of another person or club.

But all that may seem like a discounting of his impact on the pitch. His role off it and the manner with which he upheld the values of Arsenal may be the everlasting legacy he left behind, but Mertesacker was fundamental in the Gunners lifting silverware for the first time in 3,283 days.

Mesut Oezil, Lukasz Fabianski, Yaya Sanogo, Lukas PodolskiMesut Oezil, Lukasz Fabianski, Yaya Sanogo, Lukas Podolski
Clive Mason/Getty Images

He came up with the crucial late equaliser against Wigan in their 2014 FA Cup semi-final, and maintained order in the final against Hull City with the Gunners rocked after their early two-goal setback. The pressure facing Arsenal in that final was immense. It’s been spoken about since, but Mertesacker’s level head on the day proved to be the calming presence that would springboard the side to glory.

One year later and he’d have his say again, this time netting the third goal of their FA Cup final victory over Aston Villa – as captain – to end the clash as a contest.

But if ever you needed a better example of his character, look no further than the 2017 FA Cup final.

Injury had plagued the 2016/17 season for Mertesacker, but as was evident with his stature among this squad and admiration from all those at the club, he was still named captain following Mikel Arteta’s (whatever happened to him?) retirement at then end of the previous campaign.

Mikel Arteta, Per MertesackerMikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker
Boris Streubel/Getty Images

He didn’t make a single start all season due to his fitness issues, only making a brief cameo on the final day of the season at home to Everton. While that would be the eventual downfall of the Wenger era at Arsenal – with the Gunners missing out on the Champions League for first time in 20 years – another FA Cup final beckoned.

Laurent Koscielny’s red card on the final day of the Premier League season – alongside
Shkodran Mustafi and Gabriel’s injuries – meant Mertesacker’s inclusion was inevitable for their Wembley showpiece against Chelsea.

What wasn’t inevitable, however, was the performance he would put in. In matches like these experience is the vital framework for any level of success, but with just 37 minutes of football under his belt all season, many claimed the writing was already on the wall – especially since Chelsea secured the league title just a few days before.

Instead, Mertesacker produced his greatest performance in an Arsenal shirt. With a cloud of uncertainty filled with concerns over match fitness, age and agility hovering above his head prior to kick off, he towered above it all.

In his reading of the game, protection of Rob Holding, tackling, positioning, leadership…the lot. He was flawless. If ever there was a captain’s performance, that was it.

Arsenal’s attacking prowess throughout was superb, but the gigantic defensive foundations put in place by Mertesacker were the platform for success. It’s been aptly named the ‘Per Mertesacker Final’ by Gunners supporters.

“I’m just humbled by the trust in my ability, in my person, of the manager, my teammates,” he said. “I could never feel any doubt that I’m probably not capable even with the background I came in with.

“What stood out was the trust in me that I could still bring it on final occasions, at Wembley. Then when it really counts you cannot afford to make mistakes. I was amazed by that trust of the whole club in me personally.”

His fellow teammates had trusted in him because he had ingrained that very same sense of belief into each and every one of them from the moment he set foot through the door.

A man with so much more to offer than just a steady head and an experienced pair of feet on the pitch, it came as little surprise that Mertesacker’s Arsenal affiliation didn’t end after his retirement. As head of the academy, he has the position with which to maintain and build on the philosophy Wenger worked so hard to imprint on the club – as a figure who youngsters will look up to and respect.

Per MertesackerPer Mertesacker
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

While his new goal may have been born out of gratitude to his former mentor, there was never any doubt that the World Cup winner was going to do anything other than teach and guide. It’s in his blood, and Arsenal were major benefactors of him during his time in north London.

Through his loyalty to the club and adherence to the ‘Arsenal way’ he earned himself an affectionate name from his supporters. But….

He was so much more than just a Big F—ing German.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!

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Arsenal 2020/21 Home Shirt Spotted on Sale Ahead of Official Release

Footy Headlines

Arsenal’s new home shirt for the 2020/21 Premier League season has been found already on sale, suggesting adidas are set to officially release the kit over the next few weeks.

adidas had to postpone their initial launch date due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted releases for the company’s other clubs like Juventus, Real Madrid and Manchester United.

SHOP NOW: Keep an eye on Arsenal Direct for new Arsenal items!

It’s not officially known when these release dates have been pushed back to, but Footy Headlines suggest something could happen over the next few weeks after Arsenal’s home kit for next season was spotted on sale.

The new image of Arsenal’s shirt on sale appears to confirm the leaks which have emerged over the last few weeks and months, which suggests the new design will very loosely pay homage to their home kit during the 1994/95 season.

The design has received a mix reception from Arsenal fans on social media, unlike when adidas released their first set of kits after taking back control from the club’s former manufacturer Puma.

The only noticeable change based off previous leaks is how the pattern on Arsenal’s new home shirt will be much more defined, compared to what had been expected.

Arsenal’s kit for next season isn’t the only new adidas design which has been spotted on sale, as Juventus’ new shirt was also spotted at the same retail store.

The Bianconeri’s new shirt has received a similar amount of backlash as they’ve only half-heartedly returned to their traditional black and white stripes.

As well as (another) new pattern for the stripes, Juventus’ new shirt will also be laced with gold on the sides, as well as for the adidas logo, Jeep sponsor and even the club crest.

It’s only a minor change based off what had been leaked prior to Juventus’ new shirt apparently going on sale.

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Building Arsenal’s Perfect Premier League Footballer

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FBL-BRITAIN-ARSENAL-CHARLTON | CARL DE SOUZA/Getty Images

As one of the most successful clubs of the Premier League era, it comes as no surprise to anyone that Arsenal have had a few pretty decent players on their books over the past two-plus decades.

Such is the heap of quality the club have had – Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh aside – creating a perfect Gunners footballer is no easy task.

For some Arsenal fans they already had their perfect footballer in Thierry Henry, but picked Henry would be too easy, wouldn’t it? So instead, Let’s lave a look then at our mouthwatering creation of Arsenal’s perfect Premier League footballer, made up of some the club’s greatest ever talents – and Theo Walcott.

Olivier GiroudOlivier Giroud
Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion – Premier League | Julian Finney/Getty Images

Perhaps the most harshly treated man on this list by fans and pundits alike, the suave Frenchman never truly got the love he deserved under Arsene Wenger.

However, that being said, he certainly knew how to put the ball in the back of the net, and often did so with his forehead – when he wasn’t popping in scorpion kicks that is.

As headers of the ball go, Giroud ain’t half bad, notching an impressive 30 headed goals in the Premier League to date.

While he’s not exactly a forgotten figure in Premier League history, he certainly deserves a lot more credit than he receives.

The Dutchman joined Arsenal in 1995, and helped transform the Gunners into genuine title contenders, laying on a number of assists for both Ian Wright and Henry as Arsene Wenger’s side grappled with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.

As for his brain, well there is perhaps no finer one in football, as he was able to find his teammates time and time again from seemingly impossible angles. Legend.

While Bergkamp would also be worthy of a selection here, few can disagree with the choice of Cesc Fabregas.

Although he perhaps may have shown off his quarterback skills more impressively at Chelsea – with his Arsenal performances often more all-action and swashbuckling – he still possessed the ability to assist his teammates regularly in Wenger’s side.

Such a travesty that he never returned to the Emirates.

Ashley Cole celebrates scoring the first goalAshley Cole celebrates scoring the first goal
Ashley Cole celebrates scoring the first goal | Phil Cole/Getty Images

While he may not be every Arsenal fans’ favourite player, the Englishman had the ability to bomb up and down the left flank like few others.

Whether it be sticking a firm tackle in at the back, or laying on an assist at the top end of the pitch, Cole could do it all.

Arguably the world’s greatest left-back at his peak, the former England international revolutionised the full-back position, and was vital as Arsenal went unbeaten in 2004.

Patrick VieiraPatrick Vieira
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The big Frenchman had it all really, including a ridiculous amount of strength on and off the ball.

The image of Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane going toe-to-toe in the tunnel and on the pitch is one to behold – far removed from the tame clashes of the modern game – with Vieira rarely coming out second best against the fierce Irishman.

Robin van PersieRobin van Persie
Arsenal v Queens Park Rangers – Premier League | Clive Mason/Getty Images

Another player who isn’t exactly liked by Gunners’ fans, it is hard to deny just how good the man’s left foot was.

Van Persie’s eight-year stay at Arsenal saw him emerge from the shadows of Henry and Bergkamp to become the main man at the Emirates, forming an exciting attack alongside Samir Nasri and Fabregas.

In total, he scored 85 Premier League goals for both United and Arsenal with his left boot.

Thierry HenryThierry Henry
Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

What more can be said about Thierry Henry?

While his managerial career has gone down like a lead balloon, his days at Arsenal as player were extraordinary. So much so, that he is widely regarded as the greatest player in Premier League history.

The way he could glide across the park was glorious, yet it was his potent finishing with his right boot that made him the legend that he is today.

Va Va Voom

Theo WalcottTheo Walcott
Arsenal v Stoke City – Premier League | Clive Rose/Getty Images

The current Everton man could never truly live up to his early hype, but he forged a relatively successful career at Arsenal nonetheless.

While his end-product was at times found wanting, the sheer raw speed of his play was frightening, with only perhaps Marc Overmars able to give him a run for his money.

The sight of the Englishman tearing away from an opposition defender was a joy to behold, and became even better when he did manage to slot one away – eventually.

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On This Day in Football History – 26 May: Man Utd’s Treble Heroics, ‘The Greatest End to a Season Ever’ & More

players of Manchester United jubilate with the tro
players of Manchester United jubilate with the tro | ERIC CABANIS/Getty Images

Champions League final season always throws up some amazing memories, and 26 May has seen more than its fair share of those.

Plenty of sides have reached European glory on this day in history, although there’s probably one which sticks out a little bit more than most…

Without further ado, let’s take a look at what went down on 26 May in history.

Starting with the birthday of one of the most influential figures in football history, Manchester United legend Matt Busby was born on this day in 1909.

Busby led United to five First Division titles, two of which came after he rebuilt the squad following the Munich air disaster, but his greatest moment came as he lifted the European Cup in 1968, sealing his place as one of the club’s true heroes.

Aston Villa lifted the only European Cup in their history thanks to a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in 1982, but the hero of this game was not goalscorer Peter Withe.

Instead, it was reserve goalkeeper, 23-year-old Nigel Spink, who stole the headlines. Thrust into the action after just ten minutes following an injury to Jimmy Rimmer, Spink pulled off countless outstanding saves to keep the prolific Germans out – and it was just his second senior appearance!

One of the most prolific strikers in England history, a young Gary Lineker made his first appearance for England in a 1-1 draw with Scotland in the 1984 British Home Championship.

The 23-year-old was given 18 minutes at the end of the game, and he became the first-choice striker a little over a year later, firing 48 goals in 80 appearances before hanging up his boots in 1992.

The end to the 1988/89 First Division season is often touted as one of the greatest endings to a season ever, and rightly so.

Arsenal had fallen three points behind Liverpool heading into the final day of the season, when the two sides just so happened to face off. Arsenal’s inferior goal difference left them needing a 2-0 win at Anfield (something had not happened for over three years) if they were to win the title. You’ll never guess what happened.

Arsenal held a 1-0 lead heading into the dying embers, so Liverpool were confident of winning the title. However, John Barnes declined to run the ball into the corner and eventually lost it, allowing Arsenal to run down the other end, net a second with just one minute left on the clock and somehow win the title.

After an underwhelming campaign, AC Milan said goodbye to legendary manager Arrigo Sacchi following a 0-0 draw with Parma on this day in 1991.

He departed having won one Serie A title and two European Cups during his four-year spell at the club and is widely heralded as one of the greatest bosses of all time.

In what was the first Champions League final after the tournament’s rebranding, Marseille became the first French side to win Europe’s biggest prize with a 1-0 win over AC Milan, which also happened to be Marco van Basten’s final match.

Marseille may have been the first winners, but they weren’t actually allowed to defend their trophy. They were found guilty of match fixing during the 1992/93 Ligue 1 season and banned from competing in Europe as a result.

There have been plenty of European finals on this day in history, but none come anywhere close to matching the importance of this one.

After winning both the Premier League and FA Cup, Manchester United sealed a historic treble with a dramatic 2-1 win over Bayern Munich, who were chasing the treble themselves.

Trailing 1-0 in the 90th minute, United grabbed a late equaliser through Teddy Sheringham, before going on to bag a 93rd-minute winner through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, leaving Peter Schmeichel cartwheeling with joy.

José Mourinho won the first Champions League trophy of his career as he spectacularly led his Porto side to glory against Monaco in 2004.

Just a few months after he announced himself by sprinting down the Old Trafford touchline, Mourinho proved to the world why he was the greatest up-and-coming manager around, and it was Chelsea who won the race for his signature that summer.

Huddersfield Town came out on top against Sheffield United in the League One playoff final in 2012, but only after a dramatic 22-penalty shoot-out.

Huddersfield goalkeeper Alex Smithies netted the crucial penalty which, after United counterpart Steve Simonsen fired his effort over the bar, proved to be the winner.

Real Madrid won their third consecutive Champions League title in 2018 by beating Liverpool in a game which is remembered for both outstanding and atrocious football.

A collision with Sergio Ramos forced Mohamed Salah off early, before goalkeeper Loris Karius forgot how to play football and gifted Real two shocking goals. However, the highlight was obviously Gareth Bale’s overhead kick, which could well be the greatest goal in the history of the competition.

David BeckhamDavid Beckham
Manchester United ’99 Legends v FC Bayern Legends | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

A team of Manchester United legends gathered to face a lineup of Bayern icons to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their historic treble win in 2019.

The Treble Reunion ended in a 5-0 win for United, with David Beckham rolling back the years and dominating the game. Many fans even wanted to see him given a contract with the first team, and it’s not hard to see why.

For more from ​Tom Gott, follow him on ​Twitter!

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Premier League Restart Date Could Be Set This Week as Clubs Return to Contact Training

A date for the Premier League’s return could be set this week, with clubs poised to give the go ahead for phase two of training on Wednesday.

Top-flight sides began to return to non-contact group training last week, as the Premier League continues to edge closer to resumption thanks to ‘Project Restart’.

Teams are to vote on Wednesday whether to push on with phase two, which will permit contact training sessions once more.

According to Sky Sports, the majority of clubs are to support the introduction of phase two, and this could see a proposed fixture list drafted up and a date for the return of competitive action.

The date of 19 June has been targeted, but this could be pushed back a week to 26 June.

Several clubs have voiced concerns about the proposed return to contact training, with the primary worry regarding what would happen should a player test positive for coronavirus.

Clubs are concerned that such a scenario would result in all squad members being quarantined for 14 days, jeopardising the league’s return plans.

However, the Telegraph reports that Premier League clubs are not expected to have to put their entire squad into quarantine if one player tests positive.

According to the government’s latest advice, if a factory worker contracts coronavirus, the entire factory will not have to shut down – and this same rule can be applied to football.

Previous guidelines had stated that anyone who comes into contact with an individual who tests positive is required to isolate for 14 days.

However, new guidelines have drawn distinctions between those you are living with and work colleagues – with the nature and length of interaction different between the two groups.

An individual player will instead be required to isolate for seven days should they test positive, as opposed to the entire squad.

The fact that training takes place outdoors and not in an enclosed space also gives the return to football a reduced risk.

However, critics will argue that contact training will still involve interactions of closer proximity than work places adhering to social distancing guidelines – such is the physical nature of football.

Let’