We’ve Got a Big Fucking Leader!

“Yes, a little bit like that. Not the quickest but he uses his brains. He is 26 with 74 Germany caps”

“We have had more quieter defences recently but I think Mertesacker can be a talker.”

“He will come out of himself more, don’t worry.”

Arsène Wenger on comparisons of Per Mertesacker & Tony Adams

So, after a relatively dismal beginning to the season (3 games played; 1 draw; 2 losses), and the – much-anticipated yet still dreaded – door shutting on the transfer window looming, Arsène Wenger had little time to revive himself amongst Arsenal fans. After an 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United (which still haunts me to this day), the world was expecting a strong, leading central-defender to arrive at The Grove. As usual at Arsenal, nobody could be sure on who, if a anybody, was going to join. Until, finally, it was announced. Per Mertesacker, the experienced German International, was linking up with the underachieving North London club. However, the ex-Werder Bremen man wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms. Pundits, media, and fans alike were questioning Le Prof’s decision. After all; he’s slow, lanky, and not used to the physicality of our rough & tough Premier League. And, to an extent, those fans were right in Per’s first season. He was mistake-ridden; a liability; rubbish.

Fast forward to 22nd of September 2012, and Per Mertesacker is being lauded for his solid performances against Manchester City and previously, Liverpool and Stoke. Perhaps a bit too premature to say, but our ‘Big Fucking German’ has won over me.

Can Per Mertesacker be our leader in defence?

It’s come as a shock, but a welcome one. At the end of last season, there were only two central defenders we wanted to see in the starting eleven, and they didn’t include Mertesacker. However, at the beginning of this season – when Koscielny was unavailable – Mertesacker has stepped in and been a brick wall in partnership with Arsenal captain, Thomas Vermaelen. Clean sheets against the likes of Stoke at the Britannia, and Liverpool at Anfield, have earned Mertesacker well-deserved praise.

Per Mertesacker, quite unbelievably, is arguably the hottest defender in Europe at the moment. That, honestly, is something I didn’t think I’d be saying/typing at the beginning of this season.

So, what has made Mertesacker so good this season? Well, despite Per’s pace, or lack of it, his positional awareness, reading of the game, passing ability, and, a needed attribute for a defender, tackling has more than made up for Mertesacker’s lack of the old-fashioned attributes of pace and brutal force. His positioning, especially, almost makes you forget the fact that he’s about as fast as a queue at the midnight launch of the latest release of the FIFA franchise (thought it was fitting at this moment of time). On the topic of FIFA; his ‘Sprint Speed’ is 36, which proves that he’s no Usain Bolt as FIFA is always right, right? This season, Mertesacker has also shown off his passing range while playing his way out of danger – the majority being received by Mikel Arteta. His composure, which the 6ft 6in defender wasn’t known for last season, has dramatically improved.

Per Mertesacker isn’t the only Arsenal defender who has had to count on his footballing brain to cover his lack of speed. A certain Tony Adams was similar, which is what makes the quotes from Arsène Wenger (from September 2011) so much more better. As I said before; Arsène Wenger was questioned about the signing of Mertesacker, quite stupidly as we should have learned by our mistakes by then, and even had the audacity to compare Mertesacker and ‘MrArsenal’. Now, the majority are nodding their head in agreement at the possibility of Mertesacker being our next defensive leader. This, if it’s possible, puzzles me even more on how some fans think Arsène is clueless and doesn’t know what he’s doing.

I think this leadership (or lack of it) was shown against Chelsea. ‘Twas the first game Per Mertesacker had missed this season, and you could say it showed. As Gary Neville – who in my opinion, is currently the best pundit on TV – pointed out in his column for the Daily Mail; In those two avoidable goals, Arsenal lacked a leader. A Tony Adams-esque leader, who’ll put his team straight before himself. Laurent Koscielny tried to do it with Chamberlain, but it unfortunately resulted in Chelsea’s first goal. Before the Chelsea game, we had conceded just one goal from a set-piece in 5 games with Mertesacker leading the defence. Against Chelsea; we conceded 2 goals from set-pieces with Laurent Koscielny trying to lead the defence. Basically, Per Mertesacker has grown a voice. He’s the one telling his teammates who to mark or, in the debatable zonal marking strategy, where to mark – which is what we missed on Saturday.

Not only on set-pieces, but in open play as well. In my opinion, Mertesacker and Koscielny/Vermaelen is the perfect partnership. Why? Because Koscielny/Vermaelen possess a decent amount of pace, and like to push forward on times, Mertesacker prefers to stay back; Watch the game to see how it develops. On Saturday, on a few occasions, we were caught a bit light at the back which ultimately led to a silly free-kick being given away and consequently a goal.

The perfect example of a similar partnership; Kolo Touré and Sol Campbell in the Invincible era. While Kolo Touré was more of an erratic/attacking type of centre defender, Campbell preferred to, somewhat, protect him. He stayed back and saved Touré from an Arsène Wenger style hairdryer.

It’s not just the German’s much-improved performances and newly-found leadership skills which has made Arsenal fans take him to heart; Mertesacker confirmed that he’s been a Gooner since 10-years-old after a picture of Mertesacker in an Arsenal shirt as a child started circulating around Twitter:

“England was always my favourite football land and if ever there was a chance to come to this country then it was always going to be to sign for this club [Arsenal].”

“I was at a good club but Arsenal was another step for me. It was my wish to make it happen if everyone could agree.”

- Per Mertesacker on joining Arsenal

For the thrice time of mentioning it; Arsène Wenger was, somewhat, a walking joke when he said that Per Mertesacker could become the “New Tony Adams“, but after one year, the joke is on the doubters, as it seems Our Big Fucking German has all the attributes, characteristics and the personality to become Our Big Fucking Leader after all.

Read, share and enjoy — Follow us on Twitter: @InAFCWeTrust & @ChapmansGoal

(Originally on A Touch of Dennis)

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