Opinion: Is Per Mertesacker as reliable as some supporters suggest?

We take a look at whether Per Mertesacker is actually a good choice for Arséne Wenger's backline.

Opinion: Is Per Mertesacker as reliable as some supporters suggest?
Is Mertesacker as reliable as some supporters suggest?

Let's be honest here, Arsenal fans are not the most liked fans in the world football. Aside from the few Arsenal fans out there that can accept their club's shortcomings, 'Gooners' have become somewhat a joke of the footballing world.

They constantly want Arséne Wenger out whenever the Gunners lose or even draw a game, and they are the one factor that I as an Arsenal fan can't stand about the club.

For instance, on Saturday, fans thought a win against Leicester City would not be enough to see us challenge for the Premier League title. 24 hours later and one 95th minute winner from Danny Welbeck, Arsenal fans now believe that they can not only win the league this term - but also take down Barcelona in the Champions League.

However when these fans do see their beloved Arsenal slip up, there is one player that the fans usually point fingers at, aside from Wenger of course, and that man is centre-back Per Mertesacker.

To some, the German defender is too old and too slow to be able to compete with the speed of the Premier League, and that Wenger should pair Laurent Koscielny with Brazilian defender Gabriel. So is the criticism on Mertesacker fair?

The giant has fallen

In the 2013/14 season, Mertesacker was one of the defenders of the season as him and Koscielny formed a very sturdy partnership in the back four, and for the first time in a while, Arsenal looked to have a very good base for a spine in their team.

However, time has not been kind for the German. Whilst many claim that Koscielny is now the league's best centre-back, which is an article for another day, Mertesacker’s ability has dropped greatly.

The former Werder Bremen defender is now slower, somehow, both physically and mentally. Mertesacker now looks to read the game at a slower rate than he did in his prime, but this can be down tot a number of factors, such as the evolution of opposing tactics that the BFG has found harder to defend against.

The stats

So let's now talk about the stats. When you look at the numbers, it's clear to see that Mertesacker is the worst out of Arsenal’s three main centre-backs. The German has made the least interceptions, the second most clearances and the second most aerial duels.

Considering that Gabriel has played eight less games that Mertesacker, and that the Brazilian is close to overtaking the German in both clearances and aerial duels, there is some substance to the claim that Mertesacker is not much of a reliable defender anymore.

The best partnership

But does that mean he shouldn’t play? Whenever you watch Arsenal play and you see the Koscielny and Mertesacker partnership in the defence, some fans, including myself, have a sense of protection. Whilst Mertesacker independently might not be reliable, the connection he has with Koscielny is one of the best in the Premier League.

Mertesacker plays the rock in the defence that just defends, defends, defends, whilst Koscielny is the centre-back that can set up attacks by playing from the ball out from the defence, and do a great job defending because of his great pace. 

With Koscielny and Gabriel or Calum Chambers as the two centre-backs, you don’t get this kind of connection because these two are too similar to Koscielny, defenders who like to dribble out of their own half and occasionally join the attack.

Mertesacker might be seen as a scapegoat for Arsenal fans, but these fans to accept that the partnership of Koscielny and Mertesacker is the safest and best pairing Wenger can utilise in this current Arsenal side.