Per Mertesacker says the way Mikel Arteta has helped several Arsenal players rehabilitate their reputations this season is a testament to the Spaniard’s leadership qualities.
Defenders David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi and midfielders Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos have arguably been the biggest winners since the 38-year-old took over as head coach in December, all becoming mainstays of the first team after various issues in the first half of the season.
Ahead of the FA Cup final – sponsored this year by mental health charities Mind, CALM, Sporting Chance and Heads Together – the BFG paid tribute to his friend and colleague for fostering a sense of togetherness that has allowed players to tackle problems collectively.
“I’m absolutely pleased to see a turnaround in a lot of players that have been written off,” Mertesacker told Henry Winter of The Times (£).
“Mikel came in [last December] and turned it around, and created a new energy and a new chance for players willing to contribute to the cause.
“He gives a sense of belonging to players and, with that unity, the players are stronger in tackling all the struggles that come into our world — doubts, family issues.”
Mertesacker, who won the FA Cup on three occasions in 2014, 2015 and 2017, now holds one of the most important roles at the club; heading up the club’s Academy. He knows it falls on former players like him and Arteta to pass on Arsenal’s traditions to the youngsters.
“The most important piece [element] at this club is we have seen a lot of great players wear that Arsenal shirt with a sense of belonging and togetherness, a sense of pride and respect, trying to improve and always with humility and class.
“I’m very honoured to give my all to guide the next generation of players and then guide the club in the right direction. We finished eighth in the Premier League, that’s not where we belong. With the club of this history we aim for much higher. But we need to be realistic, get better and learn from opposition who are above us.
“I was never able to win the Premier League, which is a major flaw but three FA Cup wins in four years was an incredible achievement. For us as a club, the FA Cup is our competition. We take a lot of pride in it. It is the oldest competition. The FA Cup is still important, absolutely. We shouldn’t belittle it because it could kick-start something, and it’s a route to Europe — never underestimate that.”
The full interview is well worth a read. Check it out, here.