Everyone wrote me off - Critics inspired Mertesacker before Arsenal FA Cup triumph

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The Germany international said that the Gunners are an "exceptional" team and had particular praise reserved for manager Arsene Wenger

Per Mertesacker says his critics helped him to produce an impressive display which guided Arsenal to FA Cup glory against Chelsea as captain in his first start for over a year.

With Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Gabriel and Kieran Gibbs all unavailable in a defensive selection crisis, the former Germany international was named in the starting line-up by Arsene Wenger for the first time since April 2016.

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Many observers wrote off Arsenal's chances before the game due to Mertesacker's impending involvement, but the 32-year-old used that negativity as motivation and went on to produce an assured display in his side's 2-1 victory.

He told reporters: "You can always say it was a first start of the season and first of being captain. 

"But I went into the game saying to myself, 'There is nothing to expect, everyone has written me off already' and I went through my normal routine – 15 years and you never forget.

Per Mertesacker Arsenal Chelsea FA Cup final

"You know what you have achieved and what you have been through. I trusted myself in a good way.

"I expect myself to perform at that level every single week. I don't know if I'm capable but I have done it for 15 years. The more people that write me off, the stronger I get. That's my feeling."

Mertesacker was quick to thank Wenger for the faith he had shown in selecting him as he described his emotions after a rollercoaster week.

"Two weeks ago I was on holiday – I didn't expect to play," he said.

"Everyone trusted me and supported me throughout the season when I was not playing and the manager gave me the opportunity.

"Our team had three centre-backs out and he could have gone small but he went with the big fella and that is something I need to give him credit for because I haven't played a lot.

"I just trained, always with the same focus and mentality because in football things change quickly.

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"I'm just blessed for this opportunity. For the trust from my team-mates and my manager because being sidelined for such a long time, I suffered a lot this season because you want to contribute on the pitch.

"To be able to do that was a very proud moment for myself and to lead the team out for the first time officially as captain is great.

"I think we have shown great support in him [Wenger] as well and for his trust in us. We have shown with that performance, it's a statement. This is a very exceptional team."

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