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Analysing Per Mertesacker’s maestro display on return to the side as Arsenal defeated Chelsea

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Per Mertesacker Arsenal

When the team-sheets for the FA Cup final on Saturday were announced an hour before kick-off, not many people would have given Arsenal a chance against newly-crowned champions Chelsea.

David Ospina was preferred to the obdurate Petr Cech in goal, and varying suspensions and injuries meant that the Gunners’ back three was incredibly make-shift with Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal.

Perhaps the biggest risk of all, however, was starting veteran defender Per Mertesacker in the heart of the three-man defensive system after only playing 37 minutes of this Premier League season.

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Ruled out for season through injury, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was left with no choice but to throw the 32-year-old in at the deep end, making him captain of the side for his first game in a year.

Mertesacker’s renowned lack of pace, plus lack of match fitness, allied with the rampant nature of Chelsea’s attacking trio this season just pointed in the direction of a long afternoon for the Gunners.

Yet contrary to pre-match belief, the German centre-back was absolutely magnificent throughout the 90 minutes at Wembley Stadium, truly putting in a gritty captain’s performance to help spear-head his side towards a record 13th FA Cup triumph – and their third win in the past four seasons.

What Mertesacker lacks in pace he more than makes up for with brute strength and intelligent positioning, nullifying Diego Costa’s threat all day and keeping his back-three tight and compact.

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It’s easy to forget that the 32-year-old has been part of a World Cup-winning squad with Germany during his career, and this big-game experience is only something that Mertesacker now thrives on.

He’s undeniably a born leader at the Emirates, and in a back-three that were playing together for the first time he did extremely well at maintaining their focus – particularly as the Blues pushed late on.

His full-on commitment and passion for the club was also on display – and has perhaps been something the club have been missing this year – and this was summarised in no better way than his desperate sprint and diving lunge to block a goal-bound Costa effort from inside the 18-yard box.

He kept a careful eye on the runners of Pedro and Eden Hazard (and later Willian) and ensured that he never dived in to a challenge, holding them up on the edge of the area and crowding them out.

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Not only this but Mertesacker’s ability to read the game, stepping out of his defensive line at opportune moments to intercept a Chelsea attack, was second-to-none and set a huge example.

As the old footballing cliché goes, the stats don’t lie, and the German managed a mammoth seven clearances, five recoveries and two key blocks to send Arsenal on their way to a deserved trophy.

Whilst Alexis Sanchez is most likely to take the plaudits for his work at the other end of the field, Arsenal are indebted to Per Mertesacker in some way for a truly warrior-like display for his team.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Tricia H Kuhn.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

Arsenal

Criticism of Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson unfair? stats suggest he’s England’s best option

The midfielder came under scrutiny for his latest performance.

Jamie Watts

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England put an end to the World Cup opener curse after Harry Kane’s stoppage time header ensured England started the tournament with maximum points, with Tunisia looking more than likely to take their share of points in Volograd.

A promising opening 20 minutes was encored by ponderous and slow football in the second half, after the team began looking seemingly affected by Tunisia’s equaliser.

The additions of Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek added impetus and purpose to the attack late on.

But prior to that, England struggled in pursuit of a second, and Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson came under fire for what was deemed to be a lack of creativity.

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Many fans were questioning the omission of Jack Wilshere from England duties, as Gareth Southgate opted for the Liverpool man as the regular in central midfield. But last season’s statistics show some maybe being preemptive in wanting to replace the 28-year-old this World Cup.

Squawka stats (below) show that the Liverpool man was superior to both Eric Dier and Jack Wilshere in all aspects of midfield play in the Premier League last term, suggesting he could very well be the right man to continue starting for the Three Lions.

The former Sunderland man bested his two counterparts for number of forward passes, average pass length, key passes, tackles won, aerial duels won and chances created (all per 90 minutes), which sheds some light on why he’s a regular in Southgate’s team.

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Fans criticise Jack Wilshere omission after Jordan Henderson’s ‘toothless’ England performance

Gareth Southgate’s bold decision is already being questioned.

Jamie Watts

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England put an end to the World Cup opener curse after Harry Kane’s stoppage time winner ensured England started the tournament with a victory, with Tunisia looking more than likely to take their share of the points in Volgograd.

After a promising opening 20 minutes, England’s shortcomings in front of goal were punished as Tunisia were awarded a penalty – using VAR – and Ferjani Sassi equalised from the spot, heaping pressure on Gareth Southgate’s outfit to score a second.

But creativity was scarce from the Three Lions, in what was a stressful and frustrating half to watch for the nation.

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And Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson has come under fire for his performance in the heart of the midfield, with many believing that Arsenal‘s Jack Wilshere would have been more creative and imaginative in central midfield, if he wasn’t omitted from international duties this earlier this summer.

Henderson frequently opted for possession over creativity and was guilty of taking too many touches in the midfield yesterday, particularly in the second half and the speed of play was directly affected as a result.

Here’s the Twitter reaction:

By no means did the 28-year-old have an awful game, but his choice of pass was often safe and as a result England lacked impetus and drive in the second-half, until the additions of Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek added a spark in the final third.

Gareth Southgate will often opt for control in central midfield against tougher opposition – with Belgium on the horizon – but against the likes of Tunisia and Panama, the side can afford to take more risks and be more inventive, and the decision to leave Wilshere at home is already being questioned after just one game.

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Crystal Palace fans thrilled with reports of Jack Wilshere interest

Crystal Palace fans are keen on the reported deal.

Jamie Watts

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Crystal Palace are keen on landing long-serving Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, if the 26-year-old leaves the Emirates this summer, according to reports from Evening Standard.

A move to Selhurst Park would reunite Wilshere with Roy Hodgson, his former England manager and a coach, whose belief in the Gunner is undeniable.

Hodgson displayed his admiration for the midfielder, after taking him the 2016 Euros despite him barely playing all season and he believes he could add the perfect balance to the Eagles’ midfield alongside enforcer Luka Milivojevic.

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Wilshere was left out of the England squad for the World Cup this summer due to his diminished role with Arsenal, and revealed his “disappointment” on the day through his official Twitter account.

It now appears he will prioritise making himself essential at both club and international level next season, and that is unlikely with Arsenal.

Having improved his fitness, which has widely been considered his primary weakness, making 38 appearances in all competitions last season, Wilshere could become a serious asset at Selhurst Park, and fans have taken to Twitter to discuss the reports.

Here’s the reaction:

Yohan Cabaye’s situation is currently unresolved at Selhurst Park, with reports suggesting that the 32-year-old could potentially move to Ligue 1 giants Marseille this summer, and the Frenchman would need replacing.

Having joined in 2015 for £10 million from French champions Paris Saint Germain, the veteran midfielder played a key role in the Eagles relegation survival, acting as the catalyst for control and mobility in the centre of the park.

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And Wilshere would play a similar role. His agility and vision are reminiscent of Cabaye, but he has far more left in the tank.

It is safe to say the Englishman would be a real coup for Hodgson at Palace this summer and the fans agree its a deal the club should make happen.

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