Per Mertesacker is the lone rock in Arsenal’s defence, their one fit centre-back, and he is not finding it easy. However, it is not just the pressure of the season that has been troubling Mertesacker. It is the difficulty of remotivating himself after what will be the highlight of his career, winning the World Cup this summer with Germany.
After Arsenal’s 2-1 victory at Anderlecht on Wednesday night, Mertesacker spoke candidly about mental fatigue and the difficulty of readjusting to the rhythms of the club game just weeks after the final in the Maracana Stadium.
“For me personally, it is difficult at the moment,” Mertesacker revealed. “It was a really long season last year, and to come back from the World Cup and get the motivation back. I am nearly back but you can feel there is something missing at the moment. The belief and the mentality is there, with these games the motivation will come back quicker.”
Having returned to pre-season just four weeks after the World Cup final against Argentina, Mertesacker said the events of June and July had not fully sunk in yet.
“We didn’t even have time to celebrate properly, “ he said. “You realise, month by month, what happened, but we are still not there. Maybe in five or 10 years we can really realise what was going on there. But we didn’t even have time to celebrate.
“We came back to Berlin, got on the stage, waved our hands, showed the World Cup and then everyone disappeared to their family, to get some holidays, to get some rest, calm, and it was very difficult, to get into a proper holiday, where you feel the holiday. Then the restart is even more in your head than anything else, that was really a problem.”
Four weeks after the final, Arsenal won the Community Shield against Manchester City and Mertesacker – who started pre-season the following day – found it difficult to see his team-mates on the pitch without him. “We started [pre-season] literally when the season started,” he said. “I’ve never experienced that. We won a cup, the Community Shield, and we weren’t there at the time. We were still on holiday, that was really strange.”
Mertesacker, though, realises his responsibilities and is confident of returning to full focus soon. “It is nearly 100 days after the World Cup,” he said. “It is time to raise the game, raise the mentality, to come back and just think about Arsenal.”
Mertesacker made just as honest an assessment of his team as he did of his own form, after a very fortunate win over Anderlecht. “The last five minutes were great, the 85 minutes before we lacked a bit of everything,” he said, summing the game up perfectly.
Arsenal play at Sunderland on Saturday in the Premier League but Mertesacker admitted they need to improve after just two league wins this season.
“Everyone knows that it is a difficult start to the season for us, and the confidence is not as we want it,” Mertesacker said. “The character is good and the mentality is good. But football-wise we lack a few things.
“The passing game is not as efficient as last year. We are not at our best, we have to admit that. We have to be honest to ourselves and train harder.”
Anderlecht 1 Arsenal 2 player ratings
Anderlecht 1 Arsenal 2 player ratings
1/12 Arsenal: Emiliano Martinez
Made some decent saves and looked confident coming out to deal with through balls. Could not be faulted for the goal. 6/10
2/12 Calum Chambers
Beaten on a few occasions by the pacy Gohi Bi Cyriac but did excellently to set up Kieran Gibbs’s equaliser with strong run and cross. 6
3/12 Per Mertesacker
Lost his way towards the end as Arsenal became stretched looking for goals after falling behind. 5
4/12 Nacho Monreal
Didn’t look entirely comfortable at centre-back, and received a booking after just eight minutes. 5
5/12 Kieran Gibbs
Reigned in his attacking instincts for much of the game but popped up with wonderfully-taken late goal. 6
6/12 Mathieu Flamini
Patrolled the midfield with his usual tenacity and kept the ball sensibly for the most part. Substituted for the final 15 minutes. 5
7/12 Jack Wilshere
Tried to make things happen in the middle of the park but found himself shackled for long periods and made way seven minutes before the end. 5
8/12 Santi Cazorla
Worked hard but missed good chance with low effort early in the second half and lost the ball on a few occasions. 5
9/12 Aaron Ramsey
Didn’t look fully fit and struggled to get into the game. Surprising he was allowed to stay on for the whole 90 minutes. 5
10/12 Alexis Sanchez
Worked hard but missed good chance with low effort early in the second half and lost the ball on a few occasions. 7
11/12 Danny Welbeck
Took up some good positions with intelligent darts in behind the hosts’ defence but couldn’t make telling contribution. 5
12/12 Best of the bench: Lukas Podolski
The German predator was only on the pitch for the final seven minutes but he scored the winner from close range with typical aplomb. 6
Mertesacker diagnosed that Arsenal need to be stronger and sharper on the ball, moving it wide rather than endlessly trying to pick their way through the middle.
“I think we have to do better with our own possession,” he admitted, “to put more pressure on them [the opposition], not to lose so many balls in the middle of the park, and to play more in wide areas. I think it is better to expose them there, instead of playing one-twos through the middle. It doesn’t work as much as last season, so we have to work on that.”
The one positive Mertesacker took from Wednesday night was the winning goal by close friend Lukas Podolski, whom the defender rates as the best finisher he has ever played with, even as he is in a “difficult period”.
“You can wake him up any second in the day and he will score with his left foot. We need it sometimes. We play a lot of football around the box, but when it comes to finishing and shooting, we lack that. So he gives us another quality.” which he had to find on.
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