Arsenal vs Aston Villa: Per Mertesacker credits yoga for helping him get back to best

The German defender will lead the Gunners out at Wembley for this weekend's FA Cup final

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The World Cup winner’s medal has weighed heavily on Per Mertesacker this season. He describes the comedown from Brazil 2014 as “a kind of trauma” and yet he has found a way to deal with it, to recover mental focus and physical freshness just in time: yoga.

Mertesacker’s form has picked up in the second half of the season and he will lead Arsenal out at Wembley on Saturday afternoon, hoping to win his second FA Cup in two years. The recovery of his fitness and performances he puts down to his weekly hour-long yoga sessions.

“Every week, I can’t miss it,” Mertesacker explained. “When you are superstitious – which most footballers are – you need to have your habits every week. The benefits are physical and mental, to strengthen my body, to stretch my body, and mentally to relax and calm down.”

Mertesacker certainly felt like he needed support when he arrived back at Arsenal in August, a few weeks on from what would be the high point of anyone’s career. “The first months, in particular, were difficult to come down and forget the feeling of being World Cup champion,” he said. “You need to forget about that, come down, calm down and re-start. It took nearly half a year to realise that. Most Germany players got injured, I avoided that but didn’t play my best, because I hadn’t experienced this  feeling before. One day you think you have a rhythm and yet you have no rhythm. I didn’t know how to handle the situation.”

Manager Arsène Wenger tried to help Mertesacker by pointing to the example of Patrick Vieira, who came back from winning the World Cup in 1998 and sustained his best form for Arsenal.

But through his own methods, Mertesacker found the way. “I tried to prepare even more – more yoga, more treatment, to come to a level where I can compete again. It took half a year.”