The majority of Chelsea and even Arsenal fans must have thought that with Per Mertesacker in the starting eleven of the FA Cup Final back in May, a Chelsea victory was a given. The fans were way off the mark and as Chelsea underestimated their opponents and one name in the Arsenal side literally stood up to be counted.
Club captain, Mertesacker was making his first start of the season in the last and what turned out to be the most important game of the season, against a team that has consistently overpowered the Gunners in the last decade or so.
He marshalled the defence, in what was probably his finest ever performance in an Arsenal shirt, and reminded everyone that he is a man that is capable of producing when it matters most against the very best teams.
Highly regarded by Wenger, who retained his captain despite an entire season with injury, Wenger sees attributes that shows that he will make a good coach in the future. The likes of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Mikel Arteta are strutting their managerial acumen elsewhere, a scenario 67-year-old manager, Wenger wants to avoid with the Big German.
Mertesacker will retire at the end of the season and will take over as the club’s academy manager, Wenger is potentially grooming the German to turn him into his replacement when/if he leaves at the end of this two year deal.
The 32-year-old still has what it takes to play longer but feels that he will be better suited to imparting his knowledge to youngsters, as his body can’t carry him enough to be an undisputed starter for the club, and knows it’s time to leave.
Highly intelligent, he displays a calmness that is reminiscent of Tony Adams on the pitch. He carries himself gracefully and commands the respect of everyone at the club, teammates especially.
He will use this season to work on his coaching badges while playing the odd minutes here and there, perhaps in the cups, and resume fully as academy manager next season to help develop the new breed of Arsenal players.
The two year contract Wenger signed at the end of last season is likely to be his last, and he is making sure he leaves the club in good hands. Who knows, if Per does well with the academy, and he may be promoted to the senior management team?
He could well turn out to be the Pep Guardiola or Zinedine Zidane for Arsenal, both of who were given their club’s senior team full time job despite their relative coaching inexperience.