The German giant who keeps growing

Posted by Sam Limbert

Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty ImagesPer Mertesacker has become a force for Arsenal on the Gunners' back line.

While it might seem strange to have transfer rumours about Arsenal signing players for more than £20 million after recent comments from Ivan Gazidis, it's also unusual to have a transfer window without one of the main priorities for Arsenal being to sign a centre back. There have been a few rumours about Ashley Williams, but that would only be as a replacement for Thomas Vermaelen should the captain decide to move elsewhere as there is no guarantee of regular football at Arsenal.

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One the main reasons behind the new found stability at the back has been the excellent season from Per Mertesacker. Laurent Koscielny grabbed a lot of the attention at the end of the season for his notable return to the team during the season run-in, however his performances were only as impressive as they were because he forged a good partnership with Mertesacker.

For the final home game of the season against Wigan, I was sitting lower than usual in the Emirates Stadium so I was closer to pitch level. I had a good view across the Arsenal back four and it was clear how the big German was the leader of the defence. He was barking out the instructions and he was holding the line together to play offside. Mertesacker's leadership hasn't gone unnoticed. It was no coincidence that he was given the captain's armband when Mikel Arteta limped off during the vital final day at Newcastle.

Earlier in the season, there was a lot of criticism aimed toward Mertesacker, and it's true that he was occasionally at fault for a few goals. For example, in the home match with Tottenham, Jermain Defoe was able to easily spin off the back of Mertesacker to have the shot that led to the opening goal. However, Mertesacker has worked hard to learn from those mistakes and has been able to read the movement of strikers better, especially as it’s widely known that his biggest weakest is a lack of pace.

Mertesacker's positioning and ability to pre-empt what the striker will do is key to him being a good defender. While it has always been good during his time at Arsenal, it was noticeable as the season wore on how much he improved on that aspect of his game.

That's also where his partnership with Koscielny works so well. If there is a striker that runs in behind the German to try and expose his pace, the pass has to be very good to not be intercepted by Mertesacker, and Koscielny has the pace and awareness to sweep up if needed. Thomas Vermaelen tends to try and win the ball earlier in the attacks, and while Koscielny can also do that, it benefits Mertesacker to have a centre back partner who covers behind him when required.

Along with his performances, the other thing that has helped endear Mertesacker to the Arsenal fans is that he clearly understands the importance of playing for Arsenal Football Club. It might seem like an obvious, or even slightly trivial thing to say about a professional footballer, but in the eyes of the supporters, it is crucial that players have a grasp on how much the club means to the fans. Going back to the earlier mistake made in the North London derby that led to Tottenham going 1-0 up, it showed the character of Mertesacker that he was the one who scored the equaliser with a brilliant header. His reaction to that goal also highlighted the importance of that match to him.

Per Mertesacker is the most similar centre back to Tony Adams I've seen at Arsenal since the legendary captain left. He doesn't quite have the buccaneering style that Adams sometimes showed, but there are clear similarities, even down to his running style. Mertesacker was the main unsung heroes for Arsenal last season, so if the club don’t sign a centre back, fans can be confident that the German will continue to grow as the leader of the Gunners' back line.

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