After a weekend away visiting its friends and doing its laundry, the TSF reviewinator is back on this lovely Monday morning, to cast its opinions of Per Mertesacker into (digital) stone. What say you, reviewers?
I'm usually pretty level-headed, especially when it comes to sports. I am normally not the person who gets all overwrought and over-emotional; I used to be, but it didn't really pay off, so I mellowed out. But every single time I see Per Mertesacker do something good - and I see it happen a lot - I want to stand up and shout SUCK IT HATERZZZZ at my TV or my internet tubes as loudly as possible, and do a little Homer Simpson IN YOUR FACE dance, because I feel like I was one of the only people who was extremely happy he was signed in the first place, amid a sea of HE'S A SLOW GERMAN WHO WILL NEVER CATCH UP TO THE ENGLISH GAME. Guess what? He did.
Yes, Per Mertesacker is slow. Yes, Per Mertesacker is oldish. But you know what? Per Mertesacker's a damn fine defender, and he knows what an attacking player's going to do, many times two steps before the attacker does. His lack of speed means that when Arsenal have a high back line, he's exposed, but 99% of the time, that's not a problem, because he's smart enough to deal with threats before they're threats. He keeps his head well, he knows how to clear a ball, and he's one of the most consistent players Arsenal have had in years. I'm naturally biased towards defenders, because I like a well-organized defense (I also like 1-0 pitchers duels in baseball!), and Per makes it easy to love his game. This is one of the easiest grades I'll give this season.
For me, Per Mertesacker would have got an easy A had there not been a few times where his positioning up high and lack of any foot speed got the best of him and let a opposing player free with just the keeper to beat.
Otherwise, Mertesacker displayed yet again traits of a world-class defender. He heads and clears the ball well. He's got other-worldly vision and positioning, and of course he's a fantastic asset on corners and free kicks. With his lack of speed, we quickly saw that he was best paired with a center back who wasn't hellbent on abandoning his spot on the field, who wasn't overly-aggressive in pursuit and tackles. Whether this is an indictment on Mertesacker or Thomas Vermaelen, I'm not sure yet. But it's no coincidence that Mertesacker shined with the Belgian off the pitch.
Per Mertesacker basically fills me with dread. He reminds me too much of me out on the pitch--tall, but without a great leap, blond. I am probably faster, though. At any rate, it's good that he's intelligent out there, because physically he doesn't bring a ton to the table. But he reads the game well, he can tackle well, and as long as defenders don't get past him, he does fine. When they do get the ball behind him, though, he is in trouble usually. Overall, though, I give him a solid grade because when he can play in an organized way with a partner like Kos, he's useful. And he scored against Tottenham.
Per Mertesacker was Arsenal's most consistent centre back this season. He was the only one not to have a prolonged loss of form, and while there was a patch in January when he wasn't at his best, he spent most of the season doing the same thing; using his excellent game-reading skills and positioning to ensure his pace often wasn't a problem. Mertesacker is slow, yes, and for a man of 6'6 he's not exactly the best in the air, but when partnered with a defender who will cover if he does get beaten by pace, he's a very useful piece. His calmness and ability to organise saw Arsene Wenger grow trust in Mertesacker, and while Koscielny got a lot of plaudits for the end of season tightness at the back, Mertesacker was a huge part of that as well.
In fact, Mertesacker played most of the season doing the same, consistent thing. He's not the tackler of the pairing, but that's ok; he wins his fair share, and makes up for it with his interceptions and positioning. He looked far better suited to the Premier League this time around, and even looked fine in a high-line. If you read "Mertesacker's lack of pace means he can't be a good defender", whoever wrote that is wrong.
Per Mertesacker can be a bit of a divisive player, partially because he looks funny as a 6'6" man in a sport full of elves and partially because he's slow and honestly other than that I really don't get it. He looks awkward and gawky sometimes, but as a Tall Thin Guy let me tell you, that happens a lot. It doesn't mean much.
What Mertesacker doesn't do (run fast) is outweighed by what he does do. He reads the game well and positions himself well, which leads to interceptions pretty much all the time. And really that's his job in this defense, when he combines with Laurent Koscielny. Per isn't great with pace or tricks, but that's where Kos comes in. The two combine well together, and we saw how effective they were for the last two months or so of the season. Part of that job also was directing the defense ahead of Wojciech Szczesny, which he did well.
Mertesacker was the anchor of the defense in their stingy late-season run. While I'm not going to sit here and tell you he's the greatest defender on the face of the planet, he was crucial in solidifying what was a relatively un-solid defense when it needed it. So there.