FA Cup Final 2014: Arsenal's German Gang have taste for silverware

The unlikely trio of Mertesacker, Podolski and Özil have supported each other through Arsenal's struggles this year, they tell Robin Scott-Elliot

Lukas Podolski has a loud voice. It booms around Arsenal's indoor training pitch. Outside the sun is shining, there is Wembley to prepare for. The mood is happily upbeat. "We love you Özil, we do," chants Podolski in English. "We love you Özil, we do. Oh, Özil we love you."

Mesut Özil looks embarrassed as the two disappear for their post-training lunch. Per Mertesacker is already there, the third of a German contingent who will ensure there is more interest from their country than ever before in this year's FA Cup final. Mertesacker's doppelgänger brother, Timo, who likes to travel to away games on the fans' coaches to improve his English, is bringing a large group of friends.

Once domestic duties are done Mertesacker, Özil and Podolski will head home, but not for long. Bags will be repacked and red kit exchanged for white with the next stop Brazil. Back home the expectation is for the Nationalmannschaft to win the World Cup. There is a groundswell of opinion that after impressing at the last two major tournaments now is the time to deliver – after all, promise can only sustain you for so long. There is a similar feeling around north London.

The three Germans are likely to start against Hull at Wembley and if all three play well then it is probable Arsenal will win, particularly if Özil is at his will-o-the-wisp best. There have been recent signs of a return to the sort of form that lit up the autumn at the Emirates. Since the leaves fell from the trees Özil has flickered sporadically, at times very, very good, at others peripheral. By the new year, without the winter break he and his body are accustomed to, the midfielder was flagging. Then came that dreadful penalty miss against Bayern Munich and an experience that had begun so sweetly was turning sour. "He looks lost," was Michael Ballack's judgement.

Mertesacker's presence was vital. The defender and Özil played together at Werder Bremen, where Özil scored the goal to win the German Cup in 2009 as an injured Mertesacker watched from the stands, and the elder (by four years) knew how to look after the younger. After Arsenal were battered at Manchester City in December, Mertesacker publicly berated Özil for not acknowledging Arsenal's fans afterwards, but this called for a gentler approach. His compatriots could see he was struggling.

"We tried every day," says Mertesacker of how he and Podolski sought to help Özil. "We tried to talk to him every day. I think it is very important to keep his confidence high because sometimes you go through that moment when you suffer a bit and you feel low.

"It is easier for me to explain [to him] in German what is going on and what will help him. I knew before he would suffer at some moment in his first Premier League season, so we are happy that he is fit again and that he has got a few games under his belt to go now to Wembley and show everything.

"I think he is improving as well with his English – that is very important in his first season [so he can] start the next season with much more confidence to play and speak."

They make a contrasting threesome, a cross-section of modern Germany: Podolski's parents moved there from Poland when he was a toddler, Özil is the grandson of Turkish immigrants. At home he spoke Turkish, at school German. Mertesacker was born and bred in Hanover, where his father was a coach, and juggled his early football career with working in a home for the mentally ill having decided against doing his national service in the armed forces.

Podolski has the self-assurance of a man who has played for Germany for a decade, while Mertesacker, also an international veteran, is at home in England – he used to visit an aunt here as a child – and a firm favourite of the Arsenal fans. They call him the BFG, although after Big it does not follow the title of the Roald Dahl book from which it is inspired (Mertesacker has released a line of BFG T-shirts to raise money for his foundation, originally set up to gather funds for the family of Robert Enke, his friend and former Germany goalkeeper who committed suicide five years ago). Özil is quieter, more reserved. He admits this season has been an eye-opening battle to adjust.

"We had many matches," he says of learning a new footballing language. "The pace was massive. The matches were exhausting, always forward and backwards, even against the smaller clubs, even if it was 3-0. In Spain the opponents stopped fighting when it was 2-0. It was the first time that I didn't have a break in the winter. It was the first time that I had a muscle injury."

It was in Munich in March that he suffered a hamstring injury. He sat in the stands and watched his new team's Premier League challenge fade, and he sat in the stands at Wembley to watch Mertesacker score in the semi-final and Arsenal earn their return for the FA Cup final – just.

"It looked a bit timid from the start," recalls Mertesacker of that nerve-ridden afternoon against Wigan. "When they scored, we were a bit frightened. It seemed to be that we couldn't score that day so a defender had to take responsibility and try to get something."

It was his second goal at Wembley this season, having also scored the winner for Germany in a friendly in November. There are parallels between his two teams, both easy on the eye, both have promised much and both, in terms of the hard currency of trophies, have delivered little in recent years. One trophy, just one trophy, so the north London mantra goes, and…

"That would be a big step for our team," says Mertesacker. "We went through a lot of difficulties. We were top of the league, then we dropped points and then came back to fourth position.

"With Arsenal it's difficult [these] days with all the financial power [of] the big clubs at the Premier League. We have done a remarkable job we think and so that raises our confidence. When you look at training today, everyone is very excited. A bit nervous, I think, but that's good to keep our focus."

Podolski has had his own ups and downs this season, injury hampering the early part, and his form fluctuated before settling in recent weeks. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out he has started the last eight games and scored four times in Arsenal's run of five straight wins. For the last four of those Özil has been back too, the three Germans lining up to start together for the first time since Podolski scored the winner against Liverpool in the fifth round.

"We can win titles with this squad," suggests Özil. "This is very important for the fans as well. They have been waiting for so long."

Özil has learnt about the waiting game at Arsenal. If he can play a lead role in ending that wait then Podolski will be right and everyone in the red-and-white corner of north London really will love Özil.

The Per Mertesacker foundation supports socially disadvantaged children in Hanover by encouraging them to take up sports. To make a donation visit: www.per-mertesacker-stiftung.de/en

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor