Tag Archives: mertesacker

Arteta and the New Defence

You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so the saying goes.

For a number of seasons, Arsenal have been top-heavy. Ridiculously powerful up top, capable of out-gunning any opponent, but porous at the back, like putting cowboy saloon doors on a bank vault.

Or a bodybuilder skipping leg day so much that his top half looks like it’s mid-way through swallowing his bottom half.

When was the last time we had a solid defence behind us that filled us with confidence? The last time we came close to that was the peak years of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. Before and since, we’ve been fed on a diet of mediocre or average, which has been off-kilter to what we’ve had in attack.

Unai Emery recruited the likes of Sokratis to beef up our weak backline, offer some physical security. But if you’re also asking that same defence to play out from the back, Emery was ultimately trying to fit square pegs in round holes.

Then there is the capacity for mistakes in our defenders. Shkodran Mustafi can withstand pressure from teams for 80-85 minutes and be a prime candidate for Man of the Match, but he carries with him a warning sticker, that lets everyone know that there are mistakes within that can capitulate the efforts of the team, and override any decent aspects that Mustafi has contributed previously.

David Luiz is a huge character on and off the pitch, helping youngsters grow and also being a conduit for the positivity and work that Mikel Arteta’s new regime extolls. But every once in a while, Luiz will put his studded foot in his figurative mouth and inexplicably gift the opposition a goal.

It is a characteristic that has beset us for more than a decade, unfortunately.

But Mikel Arteta is instilling something at Arsenal. Something special. Something that is getting all of the players excited and looking to the next game. This tantalising project is luring players in. Both summer recruits thus far – Willian and Gabriel Magalhaes – have both spoken of other offers for their services coming in before joining Arsenal. Why did they shun these other, more lucrative deals?

Mikel Arteta.

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Magalhaes even spoke of a phone call from Arteta to convince him of his growth at Arsenal and the end goal of the club and how Magalhaes can be intrinsic to that.

We now have a solid looking nucleus of defenders at Arsenal.

Magalhaes was wanted by top clubs and chose Arsenal.

William Saliba is another top young talent that lit up Ligue Un last season. The Frenchman is younger than Magalhaes, but both could form part of a new-look backline – especially if Arteta continues to get his players adapting to a 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 formation. It involves a bank of three central defenders, with two wing-backs shutting down the flanks and then offering an avenue in attack. Put the experienced Luiz in the centre, with the youthful exuberance and skills of Magalhaes and Saliba, and we are looking at a brand new backline that is capable of following Arteta’s wishes.

We also have depth too. With the cultured Pablo Mari to come back into the fold, and Calum Chambers – who impressed last season before injury cut his campaign short – we now have the resources available to withstand the annual Arsenal injury crises at the back.

With the impressive Kieran Tierney able to play centrally too, Arteta may well have what he needs at the back to push this club forward and toward where he wants – and we want – us to be.

 

The Best of Koscielny

Laurent Koscielny’s injury suffered during our Europa League Semi-Final not only ended his season, but his World Cup dream.

He had to watch from the sidelines as his compatriots enjoyed the perfect World Cup, lifting the famous trophy to be crowned World Champions.

All while Koscielny was nursing himself nearer to a return to the pitch.

It must have been pretty difficult to overcome the knowledge that if it weren’t for his achilles injury, the defender would have gotten his hands on the World Cup. It is a thought that is perfectly designed to torment for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

Koscielny stuck gamely to his task and now we have our club captain back and available for selection – but is his Arsenal career now merely passing the torch to his students?

Koscielny has been a fine defender for us. His arrival in 2011 was pretty unheralded, despite the relatively high transfer fee. We saw a rough but adept defender, who resembled Kolo Toure in style, but with a shorter temper.

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Koscielny always had a tendency to jump into tackles, giving away needless set-plays thanks to his penchant for going to ground. It took years to coach out of him, but for the last five seasons, Koscielny, has been amongst the greatest defenders to grace the Premier League.

His reading of the game benefitted from partnering the sage Per Mertesacker. His aerial ability has always been strong, and his strength belies his streamlined physique. Koscielny’s greatest asset though?

His undying loyalty.

The Frenchman stayed with us through the miasma of struggles we have endured. In the seven years he has been with us, approaching eight, Kos has seen many stars depart for greener pastures, he has seen seasons crumble into the abyss, he has been humbled by the odd thrashing.

Yet, much like how we herald the fact that the likes of Rosicky stayed during times of distress and precious little success, Kos too did the same thing. He stayed because he loves the club, and we adore him too.

This is why we must keep Kos in amongst the squad. He has much to teach the likes of Medley, Holding, Chambers and others pushing through. He can show them what it means to put on the jersey, he can show them about recovering from a mistake, or when a partner leaves a path open.

Kos can pass on his learnings from seasons of under-par partners, from under-strength squads. He may have lost the peak abilities he once had, but he still has enough to see he is one of our stronger defenders, and is well worthy of a place.

We may have seen the best of Koscielny, but no one wants to see him go just yet. He deserves every bit of our respect.

Forest Vs Arsenal FA Cup Preview

With our league hopes suffering a battering of late, we welcome the return of the FA Cup as we take on Nottingham Forest in the 3rd round.





We are the holders, and as we also hold the record as the most successful FA Cup team – ever – we need to make a good stab of defending it. The first hurdle is this tricky tie.


Our recent Carabao Cup tie against fellow Championship outfit Norwich shows that we cannot afford to take Forest lightly, as we only just squeezed past the Canaries thanks to a brace from Eddie Nketiah.


Forest aren’t in a good place however. They recently sacked their manager, Mark Warburton, and it will be caretaker manager Gary Brazil that will oversee their attempt to cause an FA Cup upset.


Their last game was an admirable draw with Leeds United, but they are languishing in the bottom half of the Championship table and even at this halfway stage, they are in danger of either having nothing to play for – or getting sucked into the relegation mire.


They have some quality in their ranks in Michael Mancienne, Eric Lichaj and Liam Bridcutt and they also boast top flight experience, but Gary Brazil could opt to rotate his squad and concentrate on improving his side’s standing in the league, crazy as that may seem.


Rotating is something we must do, after a frenetic run of games recently. It demands we rest some of our men as there are a fair few that have played the majority – and some of our fringe players who have played precisely zero minutes and are gagging for some action.


With Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Mesut Ozil, Alexis and a few others having the lions share of the many minutes of gametime in offer in December – we played nine games in all – some of our lesser lights with much to prove have a great opportunity to send a timely reminder to Wenger that they are still of use.


David Ospina should come into the side to take the gloves, and in defence there will be changes too. Mathieu Debuchy, Mohamed Elneny and Per Mertesacker are three that could comprise our backline, but it is all dependant on whether we play three or four at the back.


Reiss Nelson could take a full-back spot, and in midfield, Francis Coquelin and Jo Willock could do a job in containing Forest and put out any fires.


In attack, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi are suffering from a dip in confidence, so a full game and plenty of chances will do them the world of good.


Make no mistake, we all expect a comfortable win, but however we achieve it will be welcome. If it is another tight game but we achieve safe passage to the fourth round, then I’ll take it.


It’d be great to give players like Ben Sheaf, Josh DaSilva and Eddie Nketiah a good runout, but with our chances for silverware hanging on by a thread and only one bad match from disappearing in each competition, we need to prioritise. Cups need to be put 

in the front of our view, as well as our Premier League position.


Basically then, we need to concentrate on every match. This is what our poor form has done. We have no breathing space, and every game must be given our utmost attention.


Forest must feel the force, and our second string must do the job, otherwise our first teamers will be suffering from exhaustion far quicker than we expect.


Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Debuchy, Elneny, Mertesacker, Nelson, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck


Predicted scoreline – 2-0 to The Arsenal

Gabriel and Decisions

Published on Goonersphere.

For years, us Gooners were crying out for a bit of mettle on the pitch.


Season after season of matches where we folded like a wet pack of cards, in the face of the merest hint of physicality from our opposition.


With concerted pressing and a few choice kicks off the ball, our aesthetically pleasing football was reduced to a plodding display which lacked the dynamism to really optimise our footballing brain.


We needed a hatchet man.


Arsenal have always had that player that rode into view when our enemy were getting ideas above their station. When his teammates needed protecting, players like Peter Storey, the entire famous Back4, Patrick Vieira – that ilk of player that never backed down. Sometimes to the cost of a red card, but their strength inspired their cohorts, and they felt braver as a result.


So when Brazilian Gabriel was signed in 2015, the omens were good that we had a player to crack a few skulls when the time came to it.








The toothy defender joined from Villareal, and the Spanish side had been climbing La Liga thanks to their imperious defence. 


Along with Mateo Musacchio and Victor Ruiz, the ‘Yellow Submarine’ had proved the toughest nut to crack in Spain.


Gabriel had a reputation for no-nonsense defending, but could carry the ball if he was asked to. His transfer fee meant hopes were high amongst us all, and I went to the match which was his debut in an Arsenal shirt – the FA Cup tie versus Middlesbrough.


It was a 2-0 routine game which really should have seen Arsenal score more, but Gabriel stood out with his aerial prominence. He looked strong, and had the potential to form a bedrock should he be given the chance.


He made 21 appearances in the league that season, 19 the season after. There were also plenty of opportunities in the various cups too.


These numbers represent ample chances to prove his worth, to show he can handle the unique demands the Premier League offers.


What has been abundantly clear is that whilst Gabriel’s reactionary defences are strong, his decision-making is not up to par. When given the time, the Brazilian made constant rash decisions which gave away set-pieces.


There were periods when Gabriel looked the part. Last season he was called into the side to play as an emergency right-back, and he did not let us down. He was solid, his positioning was error-free – he did the job effectively.


He couldn’t keep his place though. Gabriel simply gives away too many fouls, goes to ground too often in last-gasp tackles that have a low percentage of success, and couldn’t bond with his defensive partners.


His much-vaunted troubles with the English language didn’t help, but we have had many foreign imports and they have all had to learn the dialect, so why was it so difficult for Gabriel?


Who knows. What is certain is that his departure, for slightly less than he was purchased for, was a dilemma of sorts.


Some cried out after he was sold, saying he was a great backup and we still need defensive numbers. The dilemma though, was that it was either Gabriel or Calum Chambers who would have left the club – and Chambers is a far better long-term option.


Firstly, the England man’s age weighs in his favour. Secondly, his Under-21 displays as Captain show what he is capable of – as well as his record under severe duress in his season on loan with a poor Middlesbrough side.


Chambers could still develop into a fantastic defender. He IS a fantastic defender, but needs a chance.


Gabriel had his chance, and whilst he could have forged a career in the Premiership, Arsenal deserved better than what he could give. It feels sad to say that because, above all else – Gabriel left everything on the pitch when he pulled on the shirt.

If we could have all of our current players have the same burning desire Gabriel showed in every minute he played for us, then we would have a squad that competes far more than it does right now.


Thank you Gabriel, and we all hope you find your way at Valencia.

​Arsenal Look to Change

Published Originally on Arsenal Review – and adapted.

Towards the end of the underwhelming 2016-17 season, Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis moved to placate the growing unrest amongst supporters, with comments touching upon the need for change if Arsenal were to move forward.

Gazidis touched upon how disappointing the campaign had been, and how there was a real ‘catalyst for change’ amongst everyone at the club. So fans could have been forgiven for thinking that there would be a freshening up of the staff, a changing of the guard if you will. Something that may give Arsene Wenger a differing view.

Well, the recent news coming from Arsenal definitely has a whiff of the Tories during the General Election.





Strong and stable seems to be the order of the day rather than the winds of change, as Arsenal have announced that Gerry Peyton, Boro Primorac, Neil Banfield, Tony Colbert and Steve Bould will all be offered contract extensions. This means that along with Arsene Wenger staying for another two years – exactly nothing will have changed despite Gazidis’ promises to the contrary – or so we thought initially.


After last season’s fifth placed finish, it showed that Arsenal had fallen behind the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea – and even worse, Tottenham –  by quite some distance. From the months of January through till April, the Gunners were battered from pillar to post and slumped down the league table. The now customary Champions League exit was delivered with aplomb by Bayern Munich, and things were looking bleak at The Emirates.


Ivan Gazidis’s comments were meant to apply a salve of sorts, to soothe irate Gooners who could see quite painfully our rivals driving off into the distance. The regime needed to adapt or to be replaced. Arsenal’s Chief Executive could recognise the bubbling undercurrent of dissatisfaction was rising to higher levels than ever seen before. We all thought his comments were hollow at first, but brick by brick, we are seeing that behind the scenes, Arsenal may be taking a different tack.


Did Gazidis and the Board actually have intent to push through changes, and that if Wenger wanted to continue in the job, he would have to adapt?


We will surely never know, but winning the FA Cup will have reminded the Board that Wenger continues to be able to do the job. 


What is now clear is that our whilst our rivals will look to improve their squads with the mountains of cash provided by the TV rights deal, our own squad must also be boosted.


Wenger has started early in that respect, bringing in highly rated Schalke left-back Sead Kolasinac and record signing Alexandre Lacazette, but there is still much work to do. The news will continue to dole out rumours and speculation about targets, but Arsenal need something new if they are to claw themselves back into contention – after being so far away from the top in the last campaign.


Worries in previous seasons about the fitness regime at London Colney, reports about Gerry Peyton clashing with our goalkeepers. All of this may or may not be true, but after twenty one years of this regimen – we can say that this setup now needs to be reworked.


There was a reshuffle of sorts a few seasons ago with the appointment of fitness guru Shad Forsythe who had previously worked with the German international team, but Tony Colbert still resides in his position. Whether this correlates to Arsenal’s annual injury woes is inconclusive, but it is yet another stick on the bonfire.


Gerry Peyton has been goalkeeping coach since Wenger joined the club, and Boro Primorac was rumoured to be taking a Head Coach role somewhere in Europe, but both will be at the club next season.


Much has been made of Steve Bould’s role as Assistant Manager. The former Gunners defensive stalwart has been credited by some players as the reason for more defensive solidarity – but his muted appearances in the Arsenal dugout have left some wondering whether his role is limited. Is Bould simply a scarecrow, designed only to stave off suggestion that Wenger’s power at Arsenal is not open to defiance? Or does Bould have more input than his silent appearances on the Arsenal bench suggest?


With the appointment of Darren Burgess freshening up the fitness side of things, former Gunner Jens Lehmann coming in to the fold as First Team Coach and now Per Mertesacker being given the role of overseeing the future of the Academy, it appears as though the penny has finally dropped. Arsenal have gone for a transfusion of sorts in a bid to meld the old with the new. 


The 12th of August is nearly upon us, and Ivan Gazidis’s words now appear to have been made tangible. 

Stoke Vs Arsenal Preview

The Premiership came back with a bang last week, and Arsenal’s win over Leicester showed the good and bad of the League.

A hatful of goals and some diabolical defending – mostly from our own motley crew – meant we were left biting our nails for the whole match, with late goals sealing the points.


While we can castigate our side over our naivety regarding Leicester’s ‘highly original’ gameplan, we must remember a couple of things.


Firstly, the defence that lined up was a patchwork quilt of a backline, with our three first choice central defenders out through a combination of injury and suspension.


Secondly, the defending may be partially blamed on Arsene Wenger, but he can also take credit for the inspired substitutions which grabbed us the points. Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud snaffled us the points from a losing position, but will they be part of the team?


If Giroud gets a spot, that would mean either Alexandre Lacazette being benched or we change formation. Wenger isn’t a big fan of changing a winning team, and rightfully so. Lacazette also scored last week, and the new French striker should get the chance to pit himself against the quintessential English defence in Stoke.


Aaron Ramsey though, should have a better chance of coming back into the side, at the expense of Mohamed Elneny. It wasn’t a case of the Egyptian having a bad game, but more that Ramsey and Xhaka look like the first choice pairing and Wenger will want to play them together as much as possible to forge a stronger bond between the pair.


Alexis Sanchez’s story looks like it will never end, with his Instagram antics being extrapolated in a vain bid to find out where his future lies. His immediate future is not in the side though, as his abdominal strain will keep him out again. Wenger stated in his Presser though, that he should be OK for next week against Liverpool at Anfield.


Mesut Ozil was not effective against Leicester, and looked way off the pace. Every game will give him a step nearer to where he needs to be, so expect the German to play. In regards to our defence, Per Mertesacker and Shkodran Mustafi should be fit to play against Stoke, so a firmer rearguard is on the horizon, although Koscielny is still suspended.


Stoke have some players to hurt us, with Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan able to play at the highest level, but consistency evades them. 

However, on their day they are a handful and we must be watchful. It is their defence though, that looks strongest.


With Kurt Zouma on loan from Chelsea and Ryan Shawcross an excellent aerial defender, the Potters are equipped to not only stave off set-pieces, but also pose a threat from their own. 


They also have in their ranks Jese on loan from PSG, so their attack may be hard to predict. Will Peter Crouch bombard us? Or will the Spanish new boy be given a shot?


We have a record at the Britannia that must be improved. Two wins from ten games shows a weakness when visiting the Potteries, and Mark Hughes will be keen to extend this. A win for the Gunners though, could show that this season is where our backbone has become evident and where it needs to be to be considered a title contender.


We may all be consumed with ins and outs at The Emirates, but let us not lose sight of the real reason we obsess over signings – and that is to win games. We have a game, an important one. Let us forget about the infernal window and support the team.


Predicted Lineup – Cech, Mustafi, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac, Welbeck, Ozil, Lacazette.


Predicted Scoreline – Stoke 0-2 Arsenal

Mertesacker the Best Man to Lead Academy

Arsenal have been lucky enough to enjoy some of the finest exponents of the game wearing the cannon. Players who have illuminated the pitch with their talents and inspired millions of supporters.

These blessed men were given assets and they used them for the benefit of the club, and for this we must be thankful. Some of them though, never quite got on board with the ethos of The Arsenal – the fabled ‘Arsenal Way’ – and as such, the transition from playing titan to coach is one that is best done at another outfit.


Arsenal are not just a team, they are a way of life. It is the way you carry yourself, it is the manner in which you do everything, not just what you do on the pitch. Youngsters must first learn this before they wear the shirt for the first team.

Just like ‘Gentleman’ Bob Wilson said;


“It was this feeling you were wearing this big gun on your chest and everywhere you went, my word, you felt proud to be wearing it.”


So we can count ourselves lucky that we have a manager that looks to carry on these fine traditions. It is our identity and it means every new appointment behind the scenes – especially the coaching side – must be made with the sagest of decisions.














This is why Per Mertesacker’s posting as Head of the Arsenal Academy from next season is yet another brick in the foundation, and a continuation of the work that has taken place since 1886.


The lanky German has been front and centre of most media involvement from the moment the top of his head scraped the London Colney doorframe in 2011. So many Arsenal catalogue images of this gangly fellow on Arsenal emblazoned trikes, or ensconced in an Arsenal branded sleeping bag. On foreign tours he was first up to dress up and be the face of our own brand.


Per has not only been enthusiastic about representing Arsenal in any way, he has led the most professional of lives and reportedly trains diligently every week. In and out of the team in the last couple of years, Mertesacker has done nothing other than fight to force his way back into Wenger’s plans.


There are two key points though, that highlight just how effective the decision was to give Mertesacker the job of overseeing the next generation of Arsenal players.


Firstly, his performance in last season’s FA Cup Final was nothing short of miraculous. Not to diminish Big Per’s level of talent, but who expected the German to pull a performance like that out of the bag? No starts last season, up against title-winning Chelsea, and with a green defensive partner to keep an eye on, Mertesacker not only snuffed out the Blue threat for the majority, he did so without any nefarious methods. It was pure defending, and proof that pace may be useful, but just like Italian legend Paolo Maldini once said;


If I have to make a tackle, then I have already made a mistake.”


True dat Paolo.


We can also look to Mertesacker’s insistence on spreading his knowledge to the younger members of the squad, and his role as the senior member who all look to under moments of duress. Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin, Ozil and others have all mentioned how Per is the one to take players aside and set them back on track should their courses need correcting, or if anyone needs a stern talking to, then it is the big man himself who assumes the role.


Mertesacker, whenever he leads the line on the pitch, looks like he has the ear of everyone in the team. He has been a great leader for us, and now our Academy recruits can look forward to learning so much from this World Cup winner.


Mertesacker is au fait with The Arsenal Way, he adores the club, and we should all be delighted that his experience will be pumped back into the club rather than anywhere else. Our traditions will be carried on, and the kids will benefit from one of the wisest players available.

Chambers and Holding are the Future

From the hottest temperatures are the most valuable of treasures born. The most precious metals are twisted and formed in unbelievably scorching heat, and under duress are beautiful objects crafted and hewn.

The same rule applies for footballers. 

Hector Bellerin – who some rate as the best right-back in the Premiership – had his debut in 2014 against a rampant Borussia Dortmund side and was taught the most severe lesson in a 2-0 defeat. The young Spaniard learned a years worth of lessons in ninety minutes. 

It was not just a baptism of fire, it was akin to tying him to a pyre.

Calum Chambers and Rob Holding went through a similar unveiling ceremony in the first game of last season, when Liverpool smelled a hint of blood and eviscerated the duo in a brutal – if slightly lucky – 4-3 win at The Emirates.

Arsenal were in control when the second half began, but Liverpool’s Mane, Coutinho and their cohorts took advantage of the green nature of the Gunners defensive centre, and cashed in opportunistically.

It was the harshest of lessons, but one that needed to be taught. Chambers was fresh from leading the England youngsters to victory as Captain in the Toulon tournament in the summer and his stock was high, as well as his confidence. An unceremonious bringing back down to earth meant that whatever illusions Chambers may or may not have had about having ‘made it’ were dissipated quickly.

The same goes for Rob Holding. He was making his competitive debut for Arsenal and he must have been counting his lucky stars. Snatched from the bowels of Bolton and now playing a Premier League fixture against Liverpool, Holding could well have thought this was where he deserved to be. 

The bottom line that was emphatically delivered to both is that the work had not yet finished for the starlets. The lesson they must learn is that the work NEVER finishes. All top class defenders will extoll this loudly when asked.

This is why defenders reach their peak later than their outfield compatriots. Different strikers bring different challenges and defenders must constantly shift and adapt to meet the task head on. 

In pre-season before the Liverpool game, Holding and Chambers saw plenty of minutes and with the pressure off to a degree, they shone. With Krystian Bielik as another youngster given the opportunity to play, the three young defenders gave great accounts of themselves. the level of competition and the lack of competitive heat was not present though. 

This is why Chambers going on loan was the best idea for his progress. With Koscielny, Mustafi, Gabriel and Mertesacker as rivals for the two central spots, Chambers’s development would have been hampered by a lack of gametime. With this season-long loan at Middlesbrough, we saw what he was capable of on a weekly basis. It was the perfect way to gauge whether he truly is up to the mark of playing for Arsenal.

The answer is yes, very much so. Chambers has been a pivotal member of the Boro back four which has put up a brave resistance. With their attacking threat being far less than the majority of teams in the Premiership, it has meant more time defending for the Teessiders. A real scrutiny has been on Chambers and he has passed with flying colours. 

Rob Holding was retained within the Gunners squad, and his sporadic appearances have been an indicator as to what type of player the former Trotter will be. He plays it safe, is not prone to panicking and makes correct decisions. There is much room for improvement, but at such a tender age, the signs on his progression are that the only way is up. Just look at his display in the FA Cup Final and his shackling of Chelsea’s malevolent force of Diego Costa – the boy done good.

Both players allow Arsenal to plana a little ahead. They represent the future of Arsenal’s defence, and if they can keep hold of Hector Bellerin, then many years of solidity stand in the Gunners future. What other clubs can boast of such things?

Mertesacker Signs Extension

Originally featured on Goonersphere.

The news of club Captain Per Mertesacker being offered and signing a one year extension to his current contract was met with a mixed reception by Gooners, but while fans may be unmoved by the German’s extended stay, there are a raft of positives to consider too.

The lanky German has yet to play a minute this season after injuring his knee in pre-season, and it appears it may be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for Mertesacker. 

The severity of his injury and the occasional wobble last season forced Wenger’s hand into purchasing Shkodran Mustafi, and his fellow German has taken to the Arsenal backline like pickled cabbage to bratwurst. 

Mustafi has a great record in a Gunners jersey, and his budding partnership with Laurent Koscielny has reinvigorated our defence. The decision to bring in the German from Valencia looks to be a shrewd one, but as Mustafi found his feet quickly and began to assert himself upon Gooners affections, the man he was brought in to replace was fighting hard to regain fitness.

The defender known as ‘BFG’ has not rested on his laurels. He has recognised the challenge that faces him in regards to gaining sufficient playing time and regaining fitness and has sought to overcome them. 

Mertesacker has taken up yoga in a bid to strengthen his limbs and aid his rehabilitation, all the while he has also done his duty for the club and taken part in the various events that involve being part of a global franchise.

When the moment comes that Per is included in a matchday squad, it is clear that he will be understudy to Shkodran Mustafi and Koscielny. There will come a time when his services are called upon though, and we should have no doubt that he can perform more than adequately for the team he so clearly is devoted to.

Fans who express concern over his pace are one hundred percent correct to do so. Mertesacker has all the speed of an overweight panda trying to scratch its nether regions. The thing is though, we knew that when we signed him. Also, he was the same speed when he picked up the majority of his Germany caps, and they deemed him more than fast enough to be part of their plans for world domination.

Mertesacker is not our first choice defender. People who think that offering him an extension is a bad decision though? How can it be a bad decision?

His defensive nous is far better than Gabriel’s and Rob Holding’s. His aerial ability is just as good as his colleagues. His distribution is far better than a defender should be able to boast of, and his tendency to vocalise his opinions on the pitch give him an air of leadership that few in the squad can muster.

To decry this decision as madness is madness in itself. The outlook that he is taking up a valuable squad space that someone better can use is simply wrong. Gabriel is strong in some areas, but it can be successfully argued that his weaknesses amount to a bigger deficiency than Mertesacker. In Rob Holding we have a true starlet, but he needs experience and a mentor. Well, Mertesacker has been touted as a future coach purely for his attitude and ethics toward the kids at London Colney.

What about bringing someone in who is better? Ok, we would need to bring in someone who is not established as they would not be happy to sit on the bench behind our current first choice pairing. They would have to be experienced, but satisfied with playing a bit-part role. 

Know anyone? 

Mertesacker can come into the team and out seamlessly as he knows the tactics and his cohorts inside out. He is experienced, still talented and he can ensure two of the brightest prospects at our club – Calum Chambers and Rob Holding – have all the information and protection they need to succeed. 

Mertesacker staying for another season is a good thing, on and off the pitch. 

Shkodran Mustafi – The Thinking Man’s Defender

Originally posted on Goonersphere

Shkodran Mustafi has earned his former club a decent sum via the defender’s transfer to Arsenal, and while there are mitigating factors to the high transfer fee, it should not overshadow what a special player we have signed.

The figure is a reported £35million, and Valencia were always going to hold out for the maximum amount. The Spanish club are in dire straights in regards to their fiscal situation, and despite their wishes to hold on to the German, a large amount of numbers on a cheque was always going to be the answer they were looking for.

With Mustafi also being 24, it means he can provide a stable foundation for many years to come. 

The German international is of course a World Cup winner, which addsa certain lustre to his name, but he did so playing on the right of the defence. His versatility is another string to his bow, as he is just as comfortable in either position. 

The man with the name that cannot fit into a chant can boast of a wealth of experience, which at such a young age is a huge asset over defenders of the same age. Mustafi started in the youth systems of Germany, but an early move to Everton – where he made a single substitute appearance – and subsequent transfers to Sampdoria and Valencia have given him a baptism to all styles of football. His spell in Italy in particular, where defending is an art form, will be of particular use.

His experience, his versatility, all make a huge difference. Another tick in the box is his exemplary technique. There are a host of videos on Youtube which showcase the German’s deft touch, juggling the ball with all parts of his boots and making it look simple. Not exactly in the typical defenders skillset – aside from Laurent Koscielny of course (who can forget his skill and rabona finish from twenty odd yards in a warm up last year?).

Mustafi you see, is more of your modern-day cerebral defender. The monolithic sentry-type of defender still exist, and the best partnerships are often a mix of the two, but Mustafi isn’t a tackle merchant. 

He is strong in the air, but what is most apparent is that there isn’t a weakness in his armour. He can deal with all types of threat, from the speedster on his shoulder to the target man with the flailing elbows. Physical battles, a flat dash to a loose ball – all of these situations Mustafi can, and has, dealt with succinctly.

He is the perfect successor to the aging Mertesacker. Our very own BFG still has much to offer, but his heir apparent is in the same mould as his fellow German. Both have excellent positioning and can quell threats with a simple movement, rather than a madcap reactionary run. With Mustafi also possessing adequate pace, we have potentially a Mertesacker 2.0.

Which should be excellent news for Koscielny, who formed the other half of one of our better partnerships in recent years – but also us fans.

With Koscielny and Mustafi in the centre of our defence, we have a bedrock to build on, and even when we have committed more men forward than we should have, with those two at the back, we will be on surer footing than in previous years.

We really can now boast of a defence worthy of a title tilt. Shkodran Mustafi is worth every penny if he can show why he was in last seasons LaLiga Team of the Season as part of a struggling Valencia side.