Is Per Mertesacker’s Injury A Blessing In Disguise For Arsenal?
A player getting injured is never good news. From one perspective, Per Mertesacker’s knee problem seems particularly unfortunate. The giant German now looks set to miss at least half of what could be his final season with Arsenal—his contract expires next summer and there has not been much talk of a renewal. After the retirement of Mikel Arteta, Mertesacker was due to be named club captain. Now, even if he is handed the armband, it seems he’ll be restricted to a largely ceremonial role. However, there could be an unexpected benefit to his protracted absence.
It’s not the one the player himself has suggested. After Mertesacker underwent surgery on a damaged knee ligament, he took to social media to claim that the doctor had built in the capacity to score 20 goals a season, negating the need for a new striker. It’s exactly that kind of charm and wit that has endeared Mertesacker to the Arsenal supporters, but the reality is that his injury hasn’t reduced Arsenal’s requirements in the transfer market—it’s added to them.
However, that may not be such a bad thing. Prior to Mertesacker’s injury, it appeared as if Arsenal were looking primarily for attacking players to improve their squad. His absence will now force them to add the central defender they need before the window closes.
Arguably they should have been looking for one before the bad news about Mertesacker. Last season, Laurent Koscielny was the undisputed first-choice, but there was genuine uncertainty about who should partner him. Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista both had runs alongside the Frenchman, although neither were particularly convincing.
One of the secrets of a back four is stability. Arsenal finally have an established first-choice goalkeeper in Petr Cech, and have two of the Premier League’s best full-backs in the Spanish pair of Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin. Now they need to complete that unit by finding someone with the requisite calibre to regularly partner Koscielny.
Wenger may have been hoping to muddle through 2016-17 with Mertesacker and Gabriel, but that option is no longer available to him. He has to act now to fill the void; his hand has been forced.
There are several requirements this transfer target ought to meet. Ideally, Arsenal need someone with some height—neither Koscielny, Bellerin nor Monreal are particularly tall. However, they should also be trying to identify a defender considerably quicker than Mertesacker. The German’s lack of pace has seen Arsenal caught out on several occasions over the last few seasons. Gabriel is speedier but lacks Mertesacker’s positional sense and leadership qualities. Wenger must try to identify someone who combines the German and the Brazilian’s best qualities.
It may simply be a case of accelerating the acquisition of a long-term target. When Arsenal found themselves short of central midfielders in January, they pushed through a deal for the Egyptian Mohamed Elneny. Elneny has originally been earmarked as a summer purchase, but the decision to move the deal forward was ultimately proved correct. The former Basel man went on to become an integral part of the side after his Premier League debut in March.
Once again, Arsenal stand to benefit from hurrying a deal through. After Mertesacker’s injury, many commentators have observed that the Gunners need a new centre-half. The truth is that they’ve needed one all along. The difference now is that they may actually buy one.