Arsene Wenger believes Per Mertesacker can follow Laurent Koscielny’s lead by adapting to the rigours of English football.
The German has been roundly criticised for his performance in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Norwich after being disposed on the edge of the area in the build-up to the Canaries opener. In the fickle world of the internet football fan, questions were immediately raised about whether the summer signing can cut the mustard in England.
Dismissing suggestions that Mertesacker is lacking the necessary quality to play in the Premier League, Wenger pointed at the improvements made by teammate Koscielny – a man whose mistake in the Carling Cup final seems a distant memory given his current tip-top form.
“He had not completely recovered [from the internationals],” said Wenger of the German. “It is a different game in England, a very demanding game for the defender.
“In every second of the game you are really tested with full commitment, and it takes some time to adapt.
“We have seen that with [Laurent] Koscielny, who played at right-back and was exceptional.
“Last year he would not have delivered this kind of performance because you learn that from fighting in every game. That is why it is so difficult to buy defenders from abroad.”
It’s worth noting at this point that the level of abuse which Johan Djourou has been subjected to in recent weeks is also completely out of kilter with the view held by many at the beginning of the year. The Swiss defender went more than 16 months without tasting defeat in an Arsenal jersey and was a lynchpin in the Gunners defence in the first half of last term. Granted his performances this season have not matched that, but with injuries likely to take their toil at some point he still represents a decent and tall squad member.
Talking of height, the penny seems to have dropped with Arsene that physical presence makes a difference. While he still has a penchant for men of a lower centre of gravity, the Frenchman admitted that the side he sent out against Norwich benefitted from their aerial presence.
“One of the advantages – I said before the game – is that I have not seen such a tall Arsenal team at the back,” stressed Arsene.
“You have Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen and Santos who are tall. I look a bit lost because there are no small players in there.”
Pleased with the five options he has in the heart of defence (six if you include Miquel), Wenger also ruled out a new bid for Gary Cahill. The Bolton centre-back was a target for Arsenal in the summer, but saw a move South quashed by his high asking-price.
“Cahill is good enough to play Champions League, but he is not someone I would be interested in,” confirmed Wenger.
“I have got five central defenders – [Laurent] Koscielny, [Sebastien] Squillaci, Mertesacker, [Thomas] Vermaelen and [Johan] Djourou. Of this five, four are international players.
“We were in the market in the summer, but at that time they [Bolton] were greedy.”
You hear that Bolton – you Trotters are greedy pigs!