Finding his (big) Feet
Per Mertesacker has been at the club since transfer deadline day in 2011. After a shaky start to his Arsenal career, as defenders quickly took advantage of his lack of pace, he adapted to the speed of the league and has become a formidable captain for Arsenal.
Since his arrival at the club, excluding the last two seasons in which he has made only a handful of appearances, the team has conceded a total of 199 goals. In the five years previously, Arsenal conceded 187.
While there have been other significant factors that have increased the number of goals that Arsenal have conceded over the last five years, it does show how the arrival of the BFG didn’t have the required effect in sharpening up the defence.
The Defensive Partnership
Between 2011-12 and 2015-16, Arsenal have maintained 75 clean sheets. Therefore, in the last five years, Arsenal have recorded a clean sheet every 2.53 games. Per Mertesacker has been in the team for 57 clean sheets.
Meanwhile, Mertesacker has recorded a clean sheet every 2.65 games, lower than the team average. While his cult status is warranted, and his ability to turn in a world class performance is commendable (as Chelsea well know), it would seem that Mertesacker is not the dependable defender that Arsenal have been crying out for.
His partnership with Koscielny, particularly in the 2013-14 season, was superb. The blend of speed and physicality from Koscielny, and the intelligence of the BFG meant that very few defences could make the incision through the Arsenal back line.
Unfortunately, the wealth of goals that Arsenal have conceded over the years have come from teams exploiting the most obvious weakness in the Arsenal back line. Even the most basic of opposition attacks can determine that a well-placed through ball mixed with a quick striker could undo Arsenals defensive tactics.
Koscielny, by contrast, made the exact same number of appearances as Mertesacker between Autumn 2011 and May 2016, 150. He was in the squad for 60 clean sheets, recording one every 2.5 games.
This means that throughout that period, Koscielny recorded more clean sheets per game than Mertesacker, and even the team as a whole.
The stats certainly indicate that Mertesacker is not the most effective defender in Arsenal’s history, but it’s likely that fans were fully aware of that fact anyway.
But Mertesacker has many qualities besides his ability to maintain a clean sheet. Arsenal win a game every 1.75 games with Mertesacker in the side. The team average over the same five year period is a win every 1.76 games.
While not a huge difference, it demonstrates the effect that a captain can have on his team.
While Mertesacker is not particularly mobile, and can be caught out in defence, his ability to motivate and inspire those around him is an attribute that sometimes gets overlooked.
The BFG is a vital part of the Arsenal club, and while this may be his final year as an Arsenal player, he will be sure to become a key component of Arsenals long-term future.