Mertesacker a legend in the making

Posted by John Cross

One thing stands out in the memory from Villa Park ahead of everything else: Not the goals, nor Jack Wilshere's return to his best form, nor even Arsenal returning to the top of the Premier League, although that was pretty satisfying for Arsene Wenger.

- Mangan: Arsenal make a tedious match terrifying

There was something else really striking when Arsenal conceded a late goal to Aston Villa after Christian Benteke pounced following Santi Cazorla's mistake. Per Mertesacker stood there, in the heart of Arsenal's penalty area, looking absolutely appalled, shouting his frustration at his teammates for letting in a goal.

It made for a nervy last quarter of an hour. Arsenal went from cruise control in the first half -- when it looked so easy -- to a white-knuckle ride as they had to hang on for victory. They managed to cling to the goals by Wilshere and Olivier Giroud to see out a 2-1 win. But that wasn't the point for Mertesacker.

Mertesacker, the vastly experienced German defender, realised Arsenal had lost their focus and concentration. And when you do that, you risk losing leads and throwing away points. In the heat of a Premier League title race, you can't do that.

The top teams are neck and neck, and there is little room for slipups. Increasingly, there is no margin for error. Chelsea and Manchester City had laid down the marker and Arsenal needed to respond.

Afterward, Mertesacker spoke maturely about that, too -- about handling pressure and winning games. That's him all over. That's why Arsenal are close to tying him down to a new contract. It's all but signed. Mertesacker has taken Arsenal to his heart, and the Arsenal fans -- after (by his own admission) a difficult first season -- have accepted him as a real club man.

He looks fun; the fans have their own song for him. "Big F---ing German" is sung loud and proud. He likes it so much that he's endorsed a T-shirt with the words.

But there's a serious side. I saw Tony Adams in the press room before the game at Villa Park, and he will go down as one of Arsenal's greatest-ever leaders. While Mertesacker has some catching up to do on domestic medals and cups, the similarities are obvious.

Mertesacker is driven, and he has a will to win and a burning desire to lift trophies this season. That's why conceding even a consolation goal hurt. Mertesacker has a great big-man, small-man understanding, and his partnership with Laurent Koscielny and Arsenal looks so solid.

And in Mertesacker, they also have a man driven to succeed. And driven to lead Arsenal to succeed. (I also like Mikel Arteta's leadership qualities as a stand-in captain.)

Mertesacker is still young enough to become an Arsenal legend. The fans love him, and with some trophies to remember him by, he will become even more popular.

A legend in the making.


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