Arriving at the end of August, when the season is already under way, is a challenge for most anybody. Arriving as a defender and taking your place in a back line that desperately needs a calming influence is a huge task, though, and that's the task Per Mertesacker was set when he arrived in North London. He soon became that calming influence, and also brought to the back line something Arsenal had lacked in previous years - height. He was great at stopping aerial attacking moves, and in only 27 pre-injury appearances showed exactly why Wenger thought so highly of him.
Ted: When Arsenal signed Per Mertesacker in the wake of the 8-2 match at Old Trafford, I was nonplussed. While he had a huge number of caps for Germany for a 26-year old, the overwhelming consensus on his abilities was that he was very slow and weak in the air for a 6'6" person. Neither of these things sounded good for someone in the Premier League, the league of speedy wing play and hoof-ball. However, what became clear as Mertesacker (by his own admission) started to adapt to the pace of the new opposition was that the reason he had all those caps and all those accolades was his intelligence. He's just almost always in the right spot. Will he still be beaten in the air sometimes? Yes. Will he still be outrun sometimes? Probably, but it doesn't matter, because he just moves to where he needs to be in anticipation. 27 solid matches for Arsenal before sustaining an ankle injury on the Stadium of Light moor, and I feel much better about having Mertesacker back there, especially with one of the speedy Thomas Vermaelen or Laurent Koscielny working in partnership with him. Much like his fellow new arrival Mikel Arteta, Mertesacker makes the most of his lesser athleticism (relatively speaking) by just knowing where to be and when to be there. Much like former Arsenal defenders Sol Campbell and Tony Adams, Mertesacker makes a mockery of the "donkey" label; just ask Everton.
Aidan: Per Mertesacker doesn't seem like your average Arsenal defender. He's not very good with the ball, and he's painfully slow. Despite all that, he was an important piece in an Arsenal defence lacking confidence following the concession of 12 goals to United and Blackburn. Mertesacker was a large reason why; the role of leadership and experience is annoyingly overstated in soccer, but Mertesacker, having captained Werder Bremen and Germany (at times) and being a very experienced defender, brought added game intelligence to Arsenal's back four. He might be very ungainly, but his positioning is superb, and it's hard to remember Mertesacker being completely done for pace; he just always seemed to be in the right place. Going forward, he's a very nice problem for Arsene Wenger to have, and it may turn out that Koscielny/Mertesacker is the preferred pairing for difficult away games.
Thomas: I'd liked Per Mertesacker for a while before we signed him this summer. I'm (more or less) a fan of the German national team, and so I usually prefer their players, unless they sign with Chelsea. He'd been linked with us for a while, so I guess I got used to the idea of him being at Arsenal before he actually was. The day we finally actually got him, the first thought I had was that FINALLY there was an Arsenal player somewhere in my neighborhood, height-wise. He's slow, and ungainly at first glance, but he positions well (I can't count the number of times he just appeared between a passer and his target) and as time passed, he got more and more accustomed to Premier League football. Unfortunately just as he was really starting to play well, he stepped in a hole in Sunderland's pitch and ended his season. He's not the best center back in the world, but next year I think he'll be a fine alternative to either Laurent Koscielny or Thomas Vermaelen when one needs a rest.
Grade: nice, bro
Paul: Of all the big pile of signings Arsene made at the very last second in August, I was probably most excited about Per Mertesacker. Arsenal’s defense, once a hallmark, has ranged from pedestrian to clownshoes in the last few years; Mertesacker’s signing promised a certain amount of stability and experience to a back line that was lacking both. And, until he tore up his ankle in February against Sunderland, he delivered exactly as hoped; it was thought that the relatively slow Mertesacker would struggle to adapt to the pace of the Premier League, but he immediately brought calm (and size!) to a defense that desperately needed it. I wouldn’t call his absence a turning point in Arsenal’s season, necessarily, but the back line was definitely less capable without him and I can’t wait to get him back next season.