Morning girls and boys – it’s been a while since we last spoke – please accept my apologies.
Below is a piece I wrote for the official Arsenal magazine, for which I was posed the question: “Which player gave the best individual performance this season – and in which game?”. The answer is below…
“It’s been a difficult season following Arsenal, with the all too familiar feeling of being over-powered by a European giant in the Champions League knockout stages, coupled with the far less familiar sensation of finishing outside of the top four in the league. Nonetheless, it was a season punctuated by a heroic cup final victory at Wembley in May – which for the record is one of the best days I’ve had as an Arsenal supporter for many years. Pure euphoria is a rare commodity, but that game certainly hit the heights.
One constant throughout my memory of following the club is, regardless of final league position, there are always a smattering of virtuoso performances during a campaign, and 2016/17 proved to be no exception. When considering the best individual performance of the season, Mesut Ozil’s hat-trick and assist combo against Ludogorets at home, Alexis’ unerring hat-trick at West Ham, the former pair’s demolition of Chelsea at the Emirates and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at Wembley in the semi-final against City all came to mind.
When I was given this brief though, there really only ever was one winner, and it came in Arsenal’s season ending exclamation mark. It can only be Per.
Everyone has favourite players, who aren’t your favourite because they’re the best, but because they embody something you can admire or identify with as a supporter, and our BFG falls into that category. As an ageing centre-back myself with ever diminishing speed (which was never really there to lose), his ability to perform at the very highest level in spite of his ‘leisurely’ stride puts him in cult hero territory immediately, and that’s without mentioning the genuine affection he seems to hold for the club.
His totemic showing in May’s showpiece against Chelsea solidified his position as cult-hero in-chief, which he produced against all of the odds. Some of the pre-match coverage verged on the disrespectful, with some making out Arsenal would be starting with a ringer at centre-half, and not the World Cup winning, 100-German-caps earning defender.
However, his preparation was hardly ideal, having not started a game in 13 months and with only 37 first-team minutes under his belt (not to mention playing in an unfamiliar back three) whilst facing the league champions.
We need not have worried though. Per’s performance was astoundingly good. His dominance over Diego Costa and organisation of the defence was staggering and, most satisfyingly perhaps, it was a performance borne out of experience, know-how and an oversized football brain.
To borrow the cliché (as our manager did after the game), his performance was a genuine exemplar of intelligent defending and draws one to think of the other football cliché about the first yard being in your head – on this basis, our captain is a zephyr-like flier.
Anyhow, pace is overrated – give me intelligence all day long. And intelligence is something Per Mertesaker possesses in abundance.”
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