Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Mertesacker’s performance against Wolves showed the German has finally settled at Arsenal

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Today Joss Bennett looks at Per Mertesacker's performance against Wolves.

Per Mertesacker, an £8m signing from German side Werder Bremen, has constantly split opinion at Arsenal. His arrival – for some at least – was seen as necessary to complete the final piece of the Arsenal puzzle; height and supposed no-nonsense defending was apparently all that was missing from a side who had so often been so close, but yet so far from trophy glory.

Others were more cautious, aware of the German’s weaknesses in the pace department, and nervous about how his lean build would cope in the physical Premier League environment. For most, the fact that Arséne Wenger had placed his trust in Mertesacker was enough and now – nearly three months after his arrival – he seems to have finally found his place in North London.

Although untested for most of the game, Mertesacker’s performance in the otherwise disappointing 1-1 draw with Wolves demonstrated a composure and coolness previously unseen from the man who now even has a nickname amongst the Emirates faithful.

The ‘BFG’ – perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature of the game – had a low tackle and interception rate against Wolves; attempting zero ground tackles and making just the one interception, although he did win all three of his aerial duels*.

Interestingly, however, Mertesacker’s stats against Wolves are remarkably similar to those that may have helped the Arsenal boss to sign him in the first place. In his last season at Bremen, the 6’ 6” defender averaged just 1.3 tackles per game – less than his usual defensive partner, Sebastien Prodl, who averaged 2.2 per game*. Mertesacker did manage more interceptions than Prodl, however, with 3.5 to Prodl’s 2.4 per game*.

Mertesacker also averaged 3.4 clearances last season – slightly lower than his average of 3.6 per game this season. Against Wolves, we saw Mertesacker look much calmer in possession – able to keep possession at the back with 92% pass accuracy but also perfectly able to clear without panicking when called upon; finding an Arsenal player with both of his clearances*.

Whilst recognising his lack of creativity with several short passes back to the goalkeeper and just six touches that weren’t passes, Mertesacker wasn’t completely stationary during the game – venturing forward and almost grabbing a goal with his only shot, whilst also attempting and completing the joint-most long balls (5/6) along with Mikel Arteta*.

The old footballing cliché says that a true test of a defender’s quality is his ability to concentrate even when his side have 73% possession and are dominating the opposition. Mertesacker did this with ultimate coolness – suffice to say he (together with most of the Arsenal defence to be completely fair) was not able to do anything about the hugely fortuitous equaliser.

By all accounts, Mertesacker had a near perfect defensive performance and, judging by his stats this season and last season, there’s plenty more to come from him. After somewhat of a ‘baptism of fire’ during a mass of defensive injuries, Mertesacker has grown into the side and appears to have finally settled and built a rapport with the players around him.

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Video produced by CWDailyGoonerCulann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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