PER MERTESACKER’S final gift to Arsenal is restoring pride in the shirt.
With brutal honesty, the club captain admits that key ingredient has sometimes been missing.
He saw at the 4-0 humiliation at Liverpool, 35 days ago, then the baby steps to recovery with a gutsy 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Mertesacker rubs his beard and considers his answer when it is suggested they have shown some balls in six unbeaten matches since their Anfield humiliation.
He said: “It is basically about pride. The pride of being Arsenal. That is what we have lacked in recent history and it is what we want to bring to the table every single time.
“It is not just my job, it is everyone’s job to remind ourselves what we are and what we represent. That is in terms of intensity and how we competed on the pitch.
“First and foremost it is the standard. That is what we said after the Chelsea game. That is the standard we want to bring every single time. It is really important to get us going and obviously for success.”
Mertesacker has been among the second-string playing in the EFL Cup and Europa League — but his role has been to pick through the wreckage.
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There have been frank discussions about the standards expected in Arsene Wenger’s squad.
And the 32-year-old admits he has been “testing” players on the pitches of Arsenal’s London Colney HQ.
He said: “Obviously you want to learn in adversity and difficult moments. And that was one of those where you can definitely say that everyone looked in the mirror and said ‘that is not where we are and not where we want to be’.
“There are different things you can implement. It is not always verbally. When you are in the squad, I demand from everyone to bring their absolute best. If they see me they know what is at stake. It is more presence.
“You can’t always be loud, vocal and just scream. Sometimes. But it is not always the case. I think less about myself, the team always comes first. That is basically what I want from everyone, to think like that.”
At stake for Mertesacker is leaving a legacy at the club.
The German has won three FA Cups and two Community Shields during his six-year stint in North London.
He is desperate to end his glittering career on a high, with his retirement confirmed at the end of the season before he starts his coaching role with the Academy.
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“The boffins at Sun Bets tell me there has never been a Premier League game end 0-0 between these sides too so expect goals.
“I’m going to have to go with Jurgen Klopp’s men as on paper they are the much better side.
“12/1 on a 3-1 away win is very tempting.”
Lifting another trophy would be one goal — but it is more important is putting that pride back in the squad.
He said: “I have very high demands of myself and of the team. To give that in every single training session.
“I am not playing at the minute in the Premier League so I have a go in every training session to test everyone’s attitude and I think that is good for us.
“At the minute it works for us in the Europa League with the young lads and for me it is down to leading them and to learn from these games. It is an unbelievable experience for them and special to be part of that, to leave something behind when I am not there next season.
“Everyone gets replaced at some stage but you want to lead well and give something for the younger players that they can take into next season.”
It could be a successful swansong for Mertesacker if Arsenal build on their form since their Merseyside meltdown. They face Brighton today and could make it a seventh game unbeaten, with the impressive display at Chelsea the only dropped points in that run.
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Mertesacker said: “It was tough to take but the results after that speak for themselves. And those results show we are ready to compete. That is the first thing we want to do, to compete in every competition.
“The squad is that deep that we can afford to give players a break. So everyone looks fit and healthy and we can really push. Not only push themselves but push each other. We need to push again against Brighton as well.
“Those who didn’t travel in midweek, they have now got even more motivation to go out there and compete.
“We want to compete — to be intense from the first minute. Talking about where we will finish is not our focus at the minute. After a bad game you are not going to think about it. We focus on ourselves and the intensity at the start of every game.”
He may not be playing every game, but the role of the captain has been vital in keeping him involved.
Mertesacker said: “The best thing is if you have respect and you have the influence. Those are the two things you try to get — and you need to earn that in every single training session and every game that you play. You need to be at your best.
“Then you have the responsibility to keep everyone happy and keep them ready to go.”
That has worked since returning from Anfield.