Why keeping Per Mertesacker at Arsenal is about more than just squad depth

While some have grumbled at the decision to activate a 12-month extension clause in Per Mertesacker’s contract, it may yet prove to be an astute move from the club.

While the big German’s days as a starting centre back are more than likely over, barring a major injury crisis of course, a player of his experience has so much more to offer the club, both on and off the field.

As a mentor, who better than a World Cup winner and international with more than 100 caps for his country? The list of players within the game with that number of caps is far from extensive and it is testament to his enduring quality, whatever his perceived shortcomings.

And, with Callum Chambers, Rob Holding, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and new arrival Cohen Brammall in the Arsenal ranks, the need for experience is as acute as ever.

Per is big voice in the dressing room so, along with the likes of Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny, a steadying influence is crucial, a leader who the squad can look up to, someone who is out there doing it on the pitch and not simply a coach or sports psychologist.

Those sorts of voices are hard to come by and their value should not be downplayed in the delicate balance of a squad.

As club captain – and vice-captain last year – Per has shown himself to be a model professional. He doesn’t indulge in histrionics, his focus is always on the task at hand and he conducts himself superbly as an ambassador for the club.

While that may not necessarily be enough in some people’s minds to justify a contract extension, it is a quality that should not be so lightly disregarded.

Arsenal is a club built on class, with long traditions and a certain way of doing things – Per reflects that and it has to be one of the things we look for from our captain.

In his pre-Burnley programme notes, Per, 32, said:

“I would like to say how very grateful I am to have extended my contract here. It makes me really proud and also a bit emotional. I’ve been out for six months now and to have such trust and belief from the manager makes me very humble and thankful.

“Trust me, I’ll do everything possible on a daily basis to make myself better and everybody around me better. I’m working really hard to come back and show that I’m still capable on the pitch, because I want to help make this great club as successful as possible.

“My love for this club is authentic. I care a lot about team-mates, about fans, and I want people to identify with us. It’s very important to me now and it always has been. I feel like there’s always been a link between myself and Arsenal.”

So while there will doubtless be many fans who think extended Per’s contract for another year, given his relative decline as a starting centre back in the last 18 months, is a waste of money, I take a broader view.

The recipe for a successful squad has to include many elements, it seems to me, and that means a variety of ages. Too many young players and you risk a squad faltering when the pressure is on, too many old hands and you risk, quite literally, falling behind the pack in the chase.

If we are to be successful this season, be in league or cup competition, we are going to need squad depth, and a squad that is made up of all the best elements, including older and wiser heads.

Handing Per another 12 months keeps his mind fixed in the present, gives him the authority to keep the team in line, and ensures we have a good transition between generations, as we move from the Mertesacker and Koscielny years, into the Chambers and Holding era.

We need discipline and focus, and the sort of efficiency in both attack and defence that means we keep picking up the points as those around us falter. If those qualities aren’t embodied in your average 6ft 6” German, I don’t know where else to look.

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