Arsenal centre back Per Mertesacker has spoken of his “disappointment” at finding himself on the bench in recent weeks – but insists he is staying positive and is ready should he be called upon again.
The 31-year-old World Cup winner last turned out for the Gunners into the 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Watford on March 13 but, following a brief spell on the sidelines with injury, has not been restored to the starting line-up.
Manager Arsene Wenger has put his faith, instead, in Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel in the heart of defence, with the duo earning the title-chasers back-to-back clean sheets against Everton and Watford.
Speaking to German media outlet SPORT1, Mertesacker said: “It is a different perspective, I have added [being on the bench]. It was not so much on the agenda. Nevertheless, I am in good shape, I am fit and have absolutely no pain. Sure, I play less. Still, I stay tuned. Perhaps there is again the possibility. Nowadays it is quite fast.
“Ups and downs are part of being a footballer. One must always remain professional. I was all those years always. That’s why I also survived this long in the business. I listen to what the coach says at such moments and he knows that he can count on me, no matter what happens.
“You have to always look from a different perspective. Then it is easier to give the gas again. I want to show in every training session that I’m ready when I’m needed.
“The team needs all players – whether you now times on the bench or not. Nowadays the more so because the intensity is very high.
“Therefore always look positively forward. That always helps most to bridge the disappointment of not playing.”
Whatever you think of him, it cannot be denied that he is the consummate professional. His attitude is spot on and I don’t doubt his work rate remains every bit as high as if he were a 25-year-old again.
He is also well aware of his limitations and, as he phrases it, looks at his contribution with a “different perspective”. He knows his mobility is poor and his pace lacking, but he plays to his strengths and mitigates in areas where he is not as good.
Personally, I don’t think he can particularly be blamed for the miserable run of form between February and the middle of March, but changes had to be made in a side short of confidence and, let’s face it, Koscielny was never in danger of being dropped.
Between February 2 and March 19 – Arsenal took just 11 points from a possible 21 in the league, lost twice to Barcelona in the Champions League, and were knocked out of the FA Cup, too.
For me, Gabriel remains a little raw. I think, in particular, of the way he was so easily turned in the 2-1 defeat to Watford for the opening goal, but he has relative youth on his side, and the aggression and pace needed to keep up in the Premier League.
I don’t think the door is completely closed for Per. He is reliable and experienced and, as he says, will be ready at a moment’s notice to step in should any injury or loss of form occur.
His best years, however, are behind him now and a spot on the bench is something that he will probably have to become accustomed to, especially in the Premier League and European competition.
There is also the pressing need for Arsene to invest in a new centre back in the summer, which could see the German fall further in the pecking order.
It would be foolish to move him on in the summer, however. He has such a wealth of talent and experience and I suspect he is a big presence in the dressing room – a pair of boots that would be hard to fill in the short term, particularly with a lot of young players in the side.
He may not be the most gifted footballer in the world – but his contribution to the side should not be underestimated.
How Per shapes up against himself in key areas over the least four Premier League seasons.