Experience alone makes Per Mertesacker worthy of a new Arsenal deal

From a contractual point of view, next summer will be an important one for Arsenal, with plenty of deals expiring or entering their last 12 months.

The closest scrutiny will be, of course, on the future of Arsene Wenger, who is out of contract and, potentially, looking to secure another extension.

The contracts of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez will also be entering their final years and much will be made of whether the club’s two biggest stars put pen to paper.

But spare a thought for the less-reported contractual situation of German defender Per Mertesacker, who will be a free agent in 2017 as his deal at the club comes to an end.

Arsene has touched briefly on Per’s future but, for the most part, it is a situation that has gone under the radar, especially amid the furore that has, and will continue, to swirl around the manager’s own situation.

I’m certain there are many who will attach no great important to tying Per down to a new deal, but I believe it is very much in the interests of the current squad, and of the club, to see that the German’s deal is extended.

On BBC Radio 5 Live at the weekend, during the build-up to England’s clash with Malta, Chris Waddle touched on the importance of experience in football, and the value of having senior figures around a team.

Of all the coaches and managers he had worked with in his career, Waddle said that it was in fact the senior players who helped him the most. In his view, their advice and guidance to him, as a younger player, was more influential on his development than the instructions of any of his managers.

And it was a point backed up by Mesut Ozil, who spoke last week about the importance of having someone like Per around the team, even at times when he is not involved in the match day squad.

Mesut said: “I’ve known Per for a while, because we’ve played together in Bremen, for the national team and here too. I can only say positives about him. He gives everything for the team, not just for himself, but for everyone.

“Off the pitch, he watches the games and comes into the dressing room. He’s just a role model and we’re pleased to have him here. I want him to get fit again and back on the pitch as quickly as possible.”

When Tomas Rosicky, Mathieu Flamini, and Mikael Arteta left the club last summer, a great deal of experience left with them – in excess of 30 years at the top of professional football – and I’m sure that would have had an impact on the squad.

Of course, players like Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny, both of whom are into their 30s, will have stepped up to fill the void but it’s important that we don’t find ourselves in a position again where Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould are the only people with recollection of a time before Facebook and mobile phones.

Arsene has touched on the maturity and readiness of his squad this year, on having a group of men instead of a group of boys, and I tend to agree. We’ve seen a lot of squads over the years with average ages in the early 20s and, clearly, that just hasn’t been enough to see us through the lean times in the depths of winter.

If we are to build a squad capable of challenging for trophies every year, we must have a core of experienced heads, and that includes people who are not necessarily involved week-in and week-out on the pitch. It should include players who are as good off the pitch as they are on it.

It should include players who are not shy in knocking a few heads together when things aren’t going well, and are equally as capable at motivating teams when they are on top.

Per fits that mould very well. It is well known that he is ‘enforcer’ in the dressing room, the player who makes sure the rules are followed and collects fines when they are not. He is a big personality, figuratively and literally, and I believe his experience and know-how could be put to good use on the training ground.

That’s not to say we should pay the man just to float around London Colney dispensing advice, he can do that when his playing days are done, but he is player who is entering the latter years of his career and the club needs to adjust his role accordingly.

He should be the match-ready backup should we find ourselves struggling with injury, and the player who slots seamlessly into the starting line-up for cup games, and dead rubbers in other competitions.

In short, and in line with the club’s well-documented policy, I think we should grant Per another year at the club – at the least. It may be that he fancies another year of first-team football and is happy to move to pastures new to find it – if so, fair enough.

But if the World Cup winner is content to be a first-team back-up, while becoming a bigger figures behind the scenes, then I think he has earned a shot at that.

Those less sympathetic fans may well be content to see Per leave, with the onus then put on Rob Holding and Callum Chambers to step up, but I think the transition between playing ‘generations’ needs to be a little smoother.

Throwing players in at the deep end may work in isolated cases, but it won’t work every time, as the match against Liverpool amply demonstrated.

Here’s to another year of the BFG!

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